No Euphemisms about Abortion from Cardinal Ruini
Cardinal Camillo Ruini, 89, was one of the major figures in the Italian Church and the Vatican during the years of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. After his ordination in 1954, he taught philosophy and theology in the seminaries of his diocese until he became a bishop in 1983. Pope John Paul II named him the secretary-general of the Italian bishops conference in 1986, later becoming its president in 1991. He retired from this office and numerous others in the Vatican in 2007. In 2010 he headed a commission to report on the Medjugorje phenomenon. In 2014 he seemed in the main to be positive about this pilgrimage centre. This February he and Senator Gaetano Quagliariello published, Another Freedom: Against the new prophets of ‘Heaven and Earth’. The book contains a series of reflections by two eminent scholars on the crisis of the modern world, in particular, the concept of the individual’s autonomous freedom without limits, thereby making one’s desires into human rights. The two authors discuss whether this is genuine freedom or the dictatorship of the strong over the weak.
A section written by Cardinal Ruini deals with one expression of this mindset, namely voluntary or elective abortion, entitled Abortion, Mirror of the Crisis of the West.
1. The Courage to call it “Murder”
If you admit the reality of abortion, then it is the deliberate taking of the life of another human being, in this case the child in the womb. Ruini calls the modern myth that the unborn child is part of the mother’s body “an unsustainable absurdity” since the unborn has his own DNA, directs his own physical growth and interacts independently with his mother throughout the nine months. A variation of this myth is the claim that the foetus only becomes a human being at implantation, or the formation of the nervous system, or even at or after birth. The science of embryology teaches that from conception one and the same being continues to develop and grow, before and after birth, until he attains the fulness of adulthood. “He is therefore at no stage an ‘animalcule’ (a tiny animal) of a non-human species”. “Therefore the encyclical Evangelium Vitae of John Paul II does not hesitate to speak of murder” (§ 58) and warns against the manipulation of language to hide this reality, like the aseptic “termination of pregnancy”. In fact, the word “murder” occurs 29 times in the encyclical.
Pope John Paul II’s encyclical connects the attack of life to the crisis of thought in the West. What he wrote is as true today as in 1995, the only difference now is that his warnings have been realised in most countries. He points to the root cause for these attacks on human life as the claim for absolute freedom, “My body, my choice” and the demand, binding others including doctors to carry out my “free choice”, be it infanticide or suicide.
This “escape from ourselves and from reality” is both a contradiction and a source of profound unhappiness. On one hand, total freedom of choice in a world without God is seen as the crowning privilege of the modern individual; on the other hand, if we are a “speck of nature” in the vast, blind forces of an uncaring universe, our lives are without meaning and freedom is an illusion. For John Paul II, there is only one way out of this contradiction—it is necessary to assert the existence of God to make sense of our freedom. And not just some distant Supreme Being, but “God our creator, author and foundation of our life and our freedom”.
Since our life and freedom come from God as a gift, claiming that we are “masters of life and death… ours alone for which we need to answer to no one” is a major error. We must answer to the reality of the self, the family and the society in which we live, and ultimately to God himself.
3. A ‘Do Not Kill’ that Applies even more to Catholics
The truth about the inviolate dignity of every human person from conception to death should be grasped by Catholics with greater understanding and certainty by reason of their religious beliefs. Pope John Paul II invokes the witness of Scripture and the constant teaching of the Church to declare the Do Not Kill command as an absolute value when it refers to “innocent persons”.
According to Evangelium Vitae, this “absolute inviolability of innocent human life is a moral truth clearly taught by Sacred Scripture, constantly upheld in the Church's Tradition and consistently proposed by her Magisterium.” It is the fruit of the sensus fidei, prompted and guided by the Holy Spirit, who safeguards the People of God from error when “it shows universal agreement in matters of faith and morals”. “Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors”, John Paul II wrote, “and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral”
(no. 57). This solemn formula expresses an infallible and irreformable pronouncement. [...] The Pope uses the word “I confirm”, and not “I declare”, to underline that this is a matter of a truth already belonging to the patrimony of the Catholic faith. (emphasis added)
Cardinal Ruini adds two comments to the above. First, he acknowleges that an atheist can base a defence of unborn life on rational grounds alone, an example of this being the American Nat Hentoff who died in 2017. For this reason Catholics may avoid introducing religious arguments to defend unborn life when addressing non-believers; the evil of abortion is not a religious doctrine like the Trinity but a truth based on reason apart from any one religion.
It is right to do this, according to the encyclical which the Pope addressed to “all people of good will”, believers and non-believers alike. Believers are asked to find new ways to propose the defence of life, “without fear of unpopularity and without stooping to compromises”. As the quote above illustrates, Pope John Paul II invoked his solemn teaching authority when he condemned abortion, and it is hard to think how he could have made himself clearer. Yet, as Ruini notes, “unfortunately many Catholics, even practicing, do not seem aware of all this; in fact they support and even put into practice regarding abortion positions incompatible with the faith they profess.” Here in Ireland do we need to go further than Dáil Eireann?
Second, this encyclical must be read together with Veritatis Splendor published two years earlier. There, the Pope affirmed that the infallible teaching authority of the Church covers moral truths like abortion and euthanasia, and he had in mind a number of influential moral theologians in the Eighties who argued that the Church has no authority in the area of human behaviour.