Earlier this year the Vatican backed a Brazilian bishop who excommunicated the mother and doctors of a nine-year-old girl after they arranged an abortion of the twins conceived when she was raped by her step-father. In 2003, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo of Nicaragua excommunicated the parents and doctors of a nine-year-old girl. They too had arranged for an abortion after the girl was raped and became pregnant.
Taking a line from those actions, you would think the Vatican was serious about its strident anti-abortion policy. But there is evidence the Vatican only gets tough on abortion in jurisdictions where it has significant sway over the political system. When its abortion policy could conceivably threaten its finances in less authoritarian liberal democracies, it goes to water.
This paper argues that if the Vatican was serious about abortion in western liberal democracies, it would: stop complaining about its availability; purge those members of the church who do not share its supposed hard line, including bishops; excommunicate Catholic politicians who dissemble on abortion; suffer the consequences, whatever they may be, for holding to its principles.
Rather than do this, I argue, the Vatican uses abortion as a Machiavellian feint, feigned outrage, designed to situate itself on a contrived high moral ground for perceived political advantage. It has no intention of taking a tougher line when the price is too high, as we shall see below.
An instructive book, published by Threshold, NY, in March 2008, details some of the evidence for this. It is entitled Onward Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States.
The book was written by Professor Deal W. Hudson, a formerly successful Catholic political activist whose work helped sway the result of the 2004 US Presidential election, resulting in the defeat of Catholic John Kerry, and the victory of the born-again Christian, George Bush.
Hudson’s research found a core of conservative Americans, especially Catholic Hispanic and evangelical, who were unhappy about the availability of abortion in America following the 1973 Supreme Court case, Row v Wade.
These voters were sufficient in number to influence an election if the right pitch was made to them. George Bush’s advisor, Karl Rove, picked up on this, and in what reads like a tell-all insider’s account, Hudson details how meetings were held to reconcile Bush to a firmer position on abortion to outflank Kerry.
Most importantly, Hudson details a meeting including John Klink, a Vatican diplomat, and George Bush. Bush was asked whether he would (1) support signing the partial-birth abortion ban (2) encourage US states to demand parent-notification bills be passed (when young girls presented for abortions) (3) ban abortion in the third trimester (4) end abortions conducted at federal facilities in the US and abroad (5) disallow federal funding for abortion domestically and under UN auspices.
Bush said the list was a “no brainer” - of course he would agree to all of the above.
Amazingly, the “liberal” US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the peak organisational body of the church in America, was sidelined with publicity carefully generated for bishops who took a harder line on abortion and who criticised Kerry for not being Catholic enough.
With evangelicals and hard line Catholics combining as never before, Bush was on the road to victory and Hudson was installed as the White House liaison person with Catholics, even over the head of the Conference of Bishops. Hudson boasted that columnist Ellen Goodman wrote that “Letting Hudson define Catholicism is like letting Osama define Islam.”
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Max Wallace is vice-president of the Rationalists Assn of NSW and a council member of the New Zealand Assn of Rationalists and Humanists.