Your Excellency, one of the hottest themes today, concerning “rights” and their ethical and moral implications certainly is abortion. Truly this has always been divisive, ever since the referendum over 40 years ago. What is the best approach to face this and yet remain faithful to the pro-life concept?
First, I will answer the last part of this question, to then return to your observation on the “divisiveness” of abortion. Voluntary abortion is one of the actions that Catholic morality considers essentially evil, with no discretionality, it just should not be done and should be opposed. What makes an action good or bad is the end, which determines its type and its material content. In the case of abortion, the action is the elimination of an innocent human life. And because of this, its end cannot ever be accepted. This does not mean entering into the question of personal responsibility, which concerns conscience that only God has access to. Because this is what abortion is, public authorities must stop it and must remove the cultural, social or economic conditions that abet it. In other words, political authorities must activate pro-life policies. The only course of action for those who are pro life, for me: to act and to put pressure for a change from a culture of death to a culture (and politics) of life.
As to the “divisiveness” of the theme, I must acknowledge that today this fear endangers pastoral activity itself, therefore it is preferable to avoid speaking about abortion to prevent dividing the Christian community from other communities and even division within the Christian community. However, I would like to remind that unity is not an end in itself (not all unity is good), it requires truth: unity is achieved in truth. Without truth it is only an apparent unity and, in reality, disunites.
I also believe that it is wrong and counterproductive to think about convergence, precisely to avoid creating divisions, by recognising law 194 which opened Italy to abortion. That law, while declaring in the opening statement that it defended life, in reality is against life and therefore cannot be accepted.
Some, even within the ecclesial world, have been attacked for having compared abortion to the death penalty and, in general, to homicide. What do you think?
There is no doubt, scientific or philosophical, that gestation, if continued, would end up in the birth of a human being, belonging to our same species. The voluntary interruption of pregnancy kills a human being, as is shown by the images of a simple ultrasound.
The comparison with the death penalty, instead, must be clarified. The death penalty is imposed upon a person believed to be guilty. Abortion, instead, is inflicted on a completely innocent human being. This person is deemed “guilty” of something it hasn’t done because it couldn’t do it. There is a “collective responsibility of guilt” of the unborn, which as pointed out by the historian Ernst Nolte, is typical of totalitarian regimes. The child in the womb is “guilty regardless”.
The Church has certainly always had an important role. How do you approach this theme, as priest first and then as bishop, and which teachings will you bring with your magisterium?
A large part of my service in the Church was done in the field of the Social Doctrine of the Church, at the beginning in the national office for social problems and the work of the Italian Episcopal Conference, then as the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Therefore, I can say that I have faced the problem of abortion not only from the bio-ethical point of view but also the bio-political one, hence not only a question of personal morality but also public morality. My collaboration with the Holy See during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI up to 2009, when I was nominated the Bishop of Trieste, concerned many activities of that Dicastery about the problematics we are dealing with. In particular, however, I would like to point out the publishing of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2004) and the Encyclical Caritas in veritate (2009) by Benedict XVI. The Compendium speaks profusely and very precisely about abortion within the Project of God for humanity, at whose service the Social Doctrine of the Church is placed. Caritas in veritate clearly points out how the theme of life is fundamental for its development. I have developed these concepts in many of my books and in my work with the Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân for the Social Doctrine of the Church, which I founded in 2004.
I believe that this way of facing abortion in the public, social and political sense is still fundamental today, and perhaps more so today than yesterday. In fact the laws and policies that are destructive to life and family – two concepts tightly bound to each other – have increased greatly. But I also need to say about the theme of the public coherence of Catholics on the themes of life and family, which I confronted especially in my book “The Catholic in Politics”, there is still much to be desired.
Often the theme of abortion becomes so heated and divisive that it turns into a direct confrontation between pro-life and pro-choice. According to you, how can we achieve a formation and a debate truly for women’s health and the health of the child in the womb?
I think it’s important to keep in mind two aspects or requirements. The first is the statement, Biblical and theological, that the logic of the world bears within itself something that is not reconcilable with the Gospel and this will last forever, till the end of time. Due to the fallen condition of man after sin, the world maintains the tendency to do without God, or goes against God. This tendency concentrates especially and in a particular way on life and family specifically. This is no simple confrontation of opinions between the Church and the world going on regarding these two issues, there is something more relevant at stake here, a properly religious tension. I remind this, not to demonise or to exclude, but to try to avoid forms of naïve and ineffective irenicism in relations with the so-called pro-choice world.
The second aspect is that the pro-life world must first of all strengthen itself, before even thinking of measuring itself with the opposite side. True, even in confrontation one can mature, but today the Catholic world and, in general, those who are in favour of the absolute respect for life, is quite divided. Right now, for example, we can see this in the concerns about “vaccines”, which I would rather not touch upon here, but I feel that it highlights the fragmentation that I was speaking about. Two paths must be taken at the same time and in a converging way: on the one hand our Catholic communities must go back to talking about this theme without fear and point out the vision of sane reason and the Church’s vision; on the other hand, we must proceed with a more widespread and solid formation, not extemporaneous but systematic. Only with these bases can there be confrontation in an open field.