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A senior Catholic cleric blessing abortion? Who’d bet on that?


I don’t understand how betting odds work. Otherwise, I might be moonlighting as Steggles the bookmaker and taking bets for ‘The Most Inane Episcopal Sermon’ contest, inspired by P G Wodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves.

I’ve never bet on anything. I’d have made a few bob guessing the Welby horse was going to win the Canterbury race. I’d have lost the Bishop of London race, as not even Ladbrokes knew the Mullally mare was galloping.

Until last week I’d have gambled my loot on a morality contest between a politician and a priest. If Paddy Power were taking bets whether a politician or a senior Roman Catholic cleric would oppose abortion, I’d have plonked my bitcoins on the bookie’s counter in favour of the Catholic horse.

It’s no mystery. My Catholic DNA dates back to St Francis Xavier. I grew up as an altar boy, listening to Father Fernandes struggling to translate coitus interruptus into Konkani, Goa’s native tongue, as he preached against abortion and contraception. The Rock of St Peter doesn’t turn into quicksand when it comes to abortion. Catholicism categorically rejects abortion as murder while compassionately embracing the sinner through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In his letter to US bishops on abortion, Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), spoke of ‘a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia’.

My politician in this tale of two moralities would cheer for Pope Benedict. He is Jacob Rees-Mogg. Last year, he told Good Morning Britain that he is completely opposed to abortion, including in cases of rape or incest. His reasoning was as easy as pie. ‘I am a Catholic and I take the teachings of the Catholic Church seriously.’

My priest in this tale would curse Pope Benedict. He is Monsignor John Devine OBE, Dean of the Roman Catholic Church, Isle of Man. He was chair of Liverpool Hope University Council and represents the Archdiocese of Liverpool on the island.

When the debate on the Abortion Reform Bill on the Isle of Man began in 2017, Msgr Devine sat on the fence until his butt ached. When Abort67 was protesting outside the Manx Parliament, near his church, Devine scuttled away like a hassled hen, not uttering a word.

Now he’s written to the Chief Minister of the Isle of Man. Devine’s epistle scandalously misrepresents and seriously distorts Catholic teaching. It abounds in logical fallacies and moral contradictions. He first derides members of his church and other Christians as the ‘lunatic fringe’ for using images of aborted babies in demonstrations.

He claims that ‘these protesters cannot presume to speak on the Church’s behalf’. Perhaps Devine missed Vatican II’s aggiornamento which made it clear that the Church is not the hierarchy but the People of God. Perhaps he regards himself as the voice of the Church.

After dismissing the lunatic fringe, he rolls in the hay with the heretic fringe. ‘People who have abortions are not murderers and are not bad people,’ he pontificates. Devine is blissfully ignorant or wilfully lying. For 2,000 years the Catholic Church has called abortion murder.

The Declaration on Procured Abortion asserts: ‘In the Didache it is clearly said: “You shall not kill by abortion the fruit of the womb and you shall not murder the infant already born.” Athenagoras emphasises that Christians consider as murderers those women who take medicines to procure an abortion; he condemns the killers of children, including those still living in their mother’s womb, “where they are already the object of the care of divine Providence”.’

Devine adopts a goodies/baddies dichotomy (the Bible teaches that we’re all baddies) but concludes that all who commit abortion and who legislate in favour of it must be goodies! So there are no baddies (except the ‘extreme . . . lunatic fringe’) and bad things do not happen, right, Father?

More dangerously, Devine adopts Ann Furedi’s ‘we trust women’ position and Anne Robinson’s ‘I’ve had an abortion and I’m not a bad person therefore abortion isn’t bad’ position from the BBC’s programme Abortion on Trial.

‘The Catholic church wishes to be supportive of those who find themselves contemplating an abortion whatever decision they take,’ he writes. Yes, but only if the sinner repents. If not, ‘a person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae (i.e. automatic) excommunication’ (Canon 1398). In fact, ‘Any Catholic politician who casts a vote with the intention of legalising abortion, or of protecting laws allowing abortion, or of widening access to abortion, commits a mortal sin.’ But for Devine, ‘Politicians proposing changes to legislation on abortion are not bad people either but individuals attempting to do what is right.’

Devine’s argument caves in when he refers to ‘every abortion’ as ‘an act of desperation’. How does he know? Even Marie Stopes International admits that ‘alcohol-fuelled Christmas parties, which led to unprotected sex, are believed to be the reason behind a record number of abortions’. How desperate is an abortion after drunken sex on the photocopier with Santa to get a leg-up the promotion ladder after the annual office orgy?

Murder, theft, and child abuse are also ‘acts of desperation’. In the Monsignor’s world we’d be making provision for murderers, thieves and child abusers.

Except, perhaps, child abusers. The Church has a ‘poor track record’ on child abuse, confesses Devine, so he doesn’t want to be ‘accused of double standards, if not hypocrisy’. You can only be accused of hypocrisy when you have moral standards! If you have no standards you’re never going to fall short of anything so you can never be called a hypocrite.

Should Catholics abandon the church’s teaching on marriage because some Catholics are adulterers? Rather, to defend killing unborn babies would be to add to his church’s ‘poor track record on sexual morality’.

The answer to hypocrisy is encouraging people to live moral lives, not giving up on being moral. Deo Gratias! For once, I’m grateful not to be a betting man.

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Jules Gomes
Jules Gomes
The Rev’d Dr Jules Gomes, BA, BD, MTh, PhD (Cantab) is a journalist and academic.

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