The archbishop of Québec, Marc Cardinal Ouellet, has been violently criticised for the following remark, which he made in an interview. He was asked about the Church’s teaching on abortion in the case of rape, and answered:
“[T]he child is not responsible for how he was conceived, it is the aggressor who is responsible. We can see him (the child) as another victim.”
“I understand very well that a woman who’s been raped is dealing with trauma and that she needs to be helped. But she needs to do so with respect for the being that is in her womb. It is not responsible for what happened. It’s the rapist who is responsible. But there’s already a victim. Do we need to have another one?”
Replies from pro-abortion groups and the Canadian government have been unremittingly hostile, with some even wishing a long and painful death for the cardinal. You can read a sampling here.
In all honesty, I am surprised by the hostility. Is what the cardinal said truly so shocking? I can’t imagine it is, unless it strikes a nerve for those who accept abortion as a fundamental human right. Cardinal Ouellet underlines the right to life of the unborn child, who is innocent of how he was conceived, as well as the necessity of help for the victim of rape. Both can be very well defended and lauded.
In a matter of life and death you can’t place one innocent person above the other. The reactions from certain quarters, and certainly the one columnist who wishes the cardinal a painful death, say more about them than anything the cardinal said or the Church teaches.
A question that’s been popping up here and there, following a meeting between the Austrian bishops and representatives of the parish councils of Austria in Mariazell. First Bishop Paul Iby of Eisenstadt says in an interview that the choice of celibacy should be made by every priests individually, and also that the ordination of women should be opened in the future. And then later Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, says he shares the concerns of the other bishops about these matters, although he does not endorse a change in Church discipline in these matters.
I think that, in the case of Bishop Iby, who is 75 and has already offered his resignation to the pope, it is the old guard talking. The pressure on the Austrian bishops from liberal groups to end mandatory celibacy for priests is said to be quite high. Certain bishops, formed and ordained in the tumultuous 60s, 70s and 80s, are only to keen to go along with that. Bishops and priests are, after all, still products of their time. It is the malformed ‘spirit of Vatican II’ at work. I have to wonder if these issues are truly on the minds of the faithful, though.
In the case of Cardinal Schönborn the situation is a bit different, I think. I find it hard to read the man; one moment he says things that are fully in line with a sensible faith, and the next he does or says something naive and inconsiderate. But on this issue we should understand him to speak as the chair of the Austrian bishops’ conference. As such he can’t do anything but recognise the concerns raised in that conference. He also added that he is “happy to be in a Church in which there is freedom of speech and opinion.” And that’s very true: contrary to the impression of some outside the Church, there is ample room for debate and discussion about all manner of topics. But at a certain point the time for debate is over and decisions need to be made and upheld. That too is part of the Catholic understanding of authority: bishops, priests and laity are free to question everything (after all, questions can lead to understanding), but there must also be a good understanding of who can decide and enforce what. Celibacy is not a dogmatic institution and can indeed be discussed (and who knows, it may even be (partly) abolished in the future), but Rome will have the final say on the matter. Not Bishop Iby or a ‘We Are Church’ group.