“A people of life & a people for life”: Statement of the Catholic Bishops of Victoria, Australia

Statement of the Catholic Bishops of Victoria, Australia, on the first anniversary of the decriminalisation of abortion 22 OCTOBER 2009

 How can you help? Three things you can do

1. Come, pray and be inspired. On 25 October 2009, come to the 11am Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, pray with us at the Prayer Service at 12.30pm and be inspired to change the culture at a Conference at 2pm in the Cardinal Knox Centre (Cathedral Grounds).

 2. Tell your politician of the problems, especially the loss of life, the lack of protection for women and the loss of the right to conscientious objection. To be effective, know how your local member voted and what he or she said. Take that into account at the next election. Pro-life organisations can provide this information. It is important to listen to what politicians say and to respond in a way that encourages them to promote human goodness, respect for every human being, especially the weak and the vulnerable, and the need to offer real options and support for women in difficulty.

3. Find out what you can do to help a woman in difficulty with pregnancy, and support those agencies that provide women with professional counselling and support. They can also advise you on how best to help. (The new ACBC Walking with Love DVD includes a Pregnancy Support Guide that has been designed to raise awareness and assist in this task. It is available from the Life Marriage and Family Office http://www.lmf.cam.org.au).

Statement of the Catholic Bishops of Victoria, Australia, on the first anniversary of the decriminalisation of abortion.Abortion Law Reform Act 2008

A year has passed since abortion was “decriminalised” in the State of Victoria on 22nd October 2008.

As a result abortion is available virtually on demand up to 24 weeks in Victoria.

From 25 weeks and up to birth, abortion is “legal” providing a woman has the consent of two doctors. For the first time nurses and pharmacists can also dispense drugs designed to cause abortions of foetuses of less than 24 weeks gestation, without consulting a medical practitioner. From 25 weeks and up to birth they can only do so if under the supervision of a medical practitioner and if they work in a hospital, and they must do so if the doctor claims that it is an emergency.

The law not only overrides the conscientious objection of nurses, it also requires doctors who have a conscientious objection to abortion to refer a woman seeking abortion to another doctor who they know has no objection to abortion.

Victoria has therefore not merely “decriminalised” abortion but has overseen the implementation of one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world.

We are grateful to all those who worked hard to defeat the legislation, and especially to those men and women in our State Parliament who argued that abortion was not in the best interests of women or unborn children.

At a period in our history when so many consciences are confused and compromised, they have given witness to life and hope.

An impoverished view of human life

We invite all Victorians to reflect on the peculiar situation we now have in Victoria.

A certain kind of hypocrisy now prevails in hospitals. In one room a premature baby will be saved with great effort and the best technology. In another room an unborn infant, perhaps older than the premature baby, can be killed with impunity.

In this State the unborn human being has few, if any, rights. In Victoria there is no requirement to record abortion procedures or even to report the adverse effects for women. Women seeking an abortion have no access to accurate information about what happens to their child or the risks to themselves. The proposals to establish a data base were rejected.

Abortion is a life changing event for the pregnant woman and a life ending event for the child. Yet, in Victoria a woman can elect to have an abortion without first speaking with an independent counsellor. Mandatory counselling affords a woman who is being coerced into an abortion the opportunity to discover her own thoughts and feelings in relation to her pregnancy. The involvement of an independent counsellor affords the sexually abused woman the opportunity to disclose the circumstances of her pregnancy.

Now that abortion has been decriminalised, many people will assume that it is therefore moral and acceptable. This further corrupts and confuses people and may make it harder for a woman to resist abortion, especially if her partner or family do not support her motherhood.

A profound crisis of culture

We should not see the legalisation of abortion in Victoria as an isolated problem, but a symptom of a much deeper cultural problem of increasing secularisation and relativism. Last year at World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI observed: 

“This secularist vision seeks to explain human life and shape society with little or no reference to the creator. It presents itself as neutral, impartial and inclusive of everyone. But in reality, like every ideology, secularism imposes a world-view. If God is irrelevant to public life, then society will be shaped in a godless image. When God is eclipsed, our ability to recognise the natural order, purpose, and the “good” begins to wane. What was ostensibly promoted as human ingenuity soon manifests itself as folly, greed and selfish exploitation.”1

False view of freedom

At the heart of relativism is the false idea that there is no absolute truth which can guide our lives. Freedom separated from truth does not lead to happiness but to “moral and intellectual confusion, to a lowering of standards, to a loss of self-respect, and even to despair.”2

We are not free to kill the innocent

Life is not governed by chance; it is not random. Our very existence has been willed by God, blessed and given a purpose.3 Therefore every human life deserves our reverence, love and respect. From the beginning of human history, even before the birth of Moses, we have not been free to kill the innocent.

Abortion is always wrong

The Catholic Church clearly teaches that direct abortion involves the taking of innocent human life and is always wrong. Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the Catholic Church teaching on abortion in The Gospel of Life (1995), declaring that all unborn children have a right to life. He said that, “no one more absolutely innocent could be imagined”4 adding that “nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a foetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying.”5

Parliament undermining human rights

Laws such as the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 represent a direct threat to the entire culture of human rights because the theory of human rights is based on the affirmation that the human person cannot be subjected to domination by others.

How are we to transform our culture into a civilisation of love?

The task of building a new culture of life does not end with the passing of this legislation, but becomes all the more necessary and important. We must continue the work, already begun, which is aimed toward cultural transformation. “By insisting that the Catholic people must be ‘a people of life and a people for life,’ Pope John Paul II outlined the mission of the Catholic people in the conversion of culture. In this way Catholics will bear witness to truth, to conscience, and to the possibility of building a culture of life.”6

Pope John Paul II believed that this new culture should be founded on three fundamental principles:

The first is the incomparable value and dignity of every human being regardless of age, condition, or race. This is especially true in the case of the poor, the weak, and the defenceless. The second is that it is always a violation of human dignity to treat anyone as a means to an end. Instead, every person must be seen as good in himself or herself and never as an object to be manipulated. The third principle is that the intentional killing of an innocent human being, whatever the circumstances and particularly in cases of abortion and euthanasia cannot be morally justified.7

For him, “The Gospel of God’s love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the human person and the Gospel of Life are a single and indivisible Gospel.”8

Pastoral Program: Who is my neighbour?

We contribute to a better world by personally doing good now, with full commitment and wherever we have the opportunity, independently of partisan strategies and programs. The Christian’s program – the program of the Good Samaritan, the program of Jesus – is “a heart which sees.” This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly.9

Each encounter with those in need is actually an opportunity to create a civilisation of love, one person, one act at a time.10 Charity is as indispensable for those of us giving, as it is for those who receive, for each charitable act speaks the very language of faith and hope, and each time that language is spoken, it builds up a civilisation of love.11

Seeking reform

Now that abortion is decriminalised, we encourage Catholics to press for the reform of abortion laws to reform a brutal situation, including introducing safeguards to protect women from being coerced. Such coercion may happen directly or by the threat of withdrawal of support by partners or by family.

Many women who have had an abortion say that they would have continued the pregnancy if someone, partner, family or friend, had supported them.

Sadly our society abandons women to abortion, often providing no step along the way by which they might be offered alternatives and support. Without those safeguards they are not really free.

Commitment to women

The Church is aware that, far from helping women, abortion has left many women wounded and grieving for their unborn children. Sadly often women are not given other options, and are abandoned or pressured into abortion. It is a grave and serious lack of love and compassion to offer women abortion rather than care. The Church is committed more than ever not only to discouraging abortions but to reaching out with mercy and care to women who have had an abortion.

Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have encouraged women (and men) who have been involved in abortions to seek the healing mercy of God. Pope Benedict XVI recently recalled Pope John Paul II’s words to women who have had an abortion:

I would like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give into discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourself over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. Through your commitment to life, whereby accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those in most need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.12

The Church is working to raise awareness of the deep harm abortion is doing to women and their unborn children as well as to men. Initiatives such as the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s new DVD Walking with Love is highly recommended in this context.

Our hospitals

All pro-life Victorians are grateful to those doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who openly stood for life in October 2008. Our solidarity with them must continue as they follow their informed consciences and refuse to cooperate with this evil.

We are still waiting for medical regulations that would implement the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 and which will indicate the extent of the legal difficulty doctors and nurses face.

The legality of this coercion is open to question. The medical profession is corrupted when doctors and nurses are entangled in the taking of innocent life, either by abortion or euthanasia both of which are strongly promoted by elements in the media and some politicians.

Medical students are compromised when abortion becomes an essential component of their training. Are pro-life Victorians to be excluded from obstetrics and gynaecology? The Catholic Church will continue to pray and to work to overturn the decriminalisation of abortion in Victoria and to better protect women from being coerced to accept abortion as a necessary evil.

We will continue to work to restore legal protection for unborn children and to provide better long term solutions for pregnant women.

22 October 2009

Most Reverend Denis J Hart DD ARCHBISHOP OF MELBOURNE
Most Reverend Peter Connors DD BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF BALLARAT
Most Reverend Peter Elliott DD AUXILIARY BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF MELBOURNE
Most Reverend Leslie Tomlinson DD AUXILIARY BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF MELBOURNE
Most Reverend Joseph Grech DD BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF SANDHURST
Most Reverend Christopher Prowse DD BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF SALE
Most Reverend Timothy Costelloe DD AUXILIARY BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF MELBOURNE

Footnotes

1 Pope Benedict XVI, Welcoming Address 23rd World Youth Day, Barangaroo, Sydney Habour, 17/7/08
2 Pope Benedict XVI, Barangaroo Address, also see The Gospel of Life, n.18
3 ibid
4 The Gospel of Life, n.58
5 The Gospel of Life, n.57
6 Carl Anderson, A Civilisation of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World, 2008, Harper Collins New York, p140
7 Carl Anderson, A Civilisation of Love, p140
8 Carl Anderson, A Civilisation of Love, p140
9 Pope Benedict XVI DCE 31 b and Carl Anderson A Civilisation of Love, p164
10 Carl Anderson, 28/8/09 http://www.kofc.org
11 Carl Anderson ibid
12 John Paul II, The Gospel of Life n.99, Cf Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the International Congress “‘Oil on the wounds’: A response to the ills of abortion and divorce” sponsored by the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in collaboration with the Knights of Columbus,

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