By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, OCT. 12, 2008 ( A heated debate over changes to the laws regulating abortion has divided opinion in the Australian state of Victoria over the past weeks. The bill was introduced into the lower house in August and reached the final stages of voting last week.

In spite of strong opposition from Church and pro-life groups the bill succeeded in passing through the state's lower house. In the upper house a vote on October 10 saw the bill passed in its second reading by 23 votes to 17, reported the Herald Sun newspaper the same day.

Debate continued on a number of amendments proposed to the bill, with a final vote taking place late that night, approving the bill by the same margin as the previous vote, reported the Age newspaper the following day.

The bill decriminalized abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy and permitted later-term abortions with the approval of two doctors. Apart from making abortion easier, one of the major innovations is the elimination of the right of conscientious objection by doctors and other health care workers.

"The bill is an unprecedented attack on the freedom to hold and exercise fundamental religious beliefs," exclaimed Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, in his Sept. 19 pastoral letter concerning the bill.

He pointed out that it is in contradiction to the state's charter of human rights, in that it requires health care professionals with a conscientious objection to abortion to refer patients seeking an abortion to other places where they can procure an abortion.

Moreover, it also requires health care workers with a conscientious objection to abortion to perform an abortion in whatever is deemed an emergency.

"The bill is clearly intended to require Catholic hospitals to permit the referral of women for abortions," he warned.

Hospital threat

Archbishop Hart pointed out that the bill poses a real threat to the continued existence of Catholic hospitals. "Under these circumstances, it is difficult to foresee how Catholic hospitals could continue to operate maternity or emergency departments in this state in their current form," he said.

The Catholic Church operates 15 not-for-profit hospitals in this state and handles about a third of all births in Victoria, according to Martin Laverty, the CEO of Catholic Health Australia. Laverty wrote an article on the abortion law debate, published Sept. 24 in the Herald Sun.

One of Melbourne's auxiliary bishops, Christopher Prowse, pointed out that the new law would place nurses in a particularly vulnerable position. In an article published by the Herald Sun on Sept. 9, he explained that many would be under a duty to assist in an abortion if a doctor requests, and determines that it is an emergency.

"I do not believe that our community wants to force nurses, many of whom have a conscientious objection, to assist in late term abortions," stated Bishop Prowse.

Archbishop Hart's pastoral letter also highlighted a number of other defects with the legislation, such as the failure to safeguard the health of women by permitting abortions to be performed by doctors who have no qualifications or training in obstetrics.

As well, the bill fails to include any safeguards in terms of giving women information about possible side effects of abortion, and it also fails to put safeguards in place to protect women who may be pressured into seeking an abortion.


Nevertheless, defenders of the new law were vociferous in their support. The head of Pro-Choice Victoria, Leslie Cannold, dismissed as "hysterical scaremongering" the protests by doctors who defended their right to conscientiously object to performing an abortion or referring a patient to another doctor, reported the Australian newspaper, Oct. 7.

Ray Cassin, an opinion-writer for the Age newspaper, in a Sept. 12 article pointed out, however, that other Australian jurisdictions that have decriminalized abortion have not gone so far as the Victorian law in constraining conscience rights.

"What an insidious irony it is that this coercion of conscience is being carried out in the name of choice," he concluded.

Lawyers Timothy Ginnane and Greg Craven pointed out another irony, in an opinion article published Oct. 6 by the Herald Sun newspaper. The Members of Parliament voting on the bill were given the right to a conscience vote by their parties, but the new law denies that very same right.

They also argued that the bill contradicts the intent of Victoria's own Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. The charter, however, in a subterfuge, has a savings clause saying it has no effect on laws applicable to abortion.

The bill is also contrary to international law, according to the group "Doctors in Conscience Against Abortion Bill," reported the Australian newspaper, Oct. 7. The group argues that the new law contradicts the U.N. International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.

"The bill is unprecedented in the Western world, in imposing laws that would force doctors to act in violation of their conscientious beliefs by actively assisting patients to obtain an abortion, stated Mary Lewis, on behalf of the group.

Religious freedom

The United States, too, is debating the conscience rights of health care workers. The Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing a draft regulation that would deny federal funding to any hospital, clinic, health plan or other entity that does not allow employees to opt out of participating in care that runs counter to their personal convictions, reported the Washington Post, July 31.

This would include duties such as providing birth control pills, IUDs and the "morning after" emergency contraceptives.

''Women's ability to manage their own health care is at risk of being compromised by politics and ideology,'' said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the largest abortion provider in the United States, reported the Associated Press, Aug. 21.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, by contrast, wrote to all members of Congress recommending "the freedom of health care providers to serve the public without violating their most deeply held moral and religious convictions on the sanctity of human life."

In the letter, Cardinal Rigali, who is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said that the proposed regulation "provides self-described ‘pro-choice' advocates with an opportunity to demonstrate their true convictions. [...] [I]s the ‘pro-choice' label a misleading mask for an agenda of actively promoting and even imposing morally controversial procedures on those who conscientiously hold different views?"


In Canada, meanwhile, conscience rights came under threat in a proposal from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, reported the National Post newspaper, Aug. 15.

Currently doctors in Canada are allowed to opt out of prescribing birth control or morning-after pills or doing abortions when it goes against their conscience. The proposals sought to change that, saying that doctors should be prepared to set aside their personal beliefs.

Following a storm of criticism, the Ontario college amended the proposed norms, but the end document is still unsatisfactory, according to an article published Sept. 19 by the Catholic Register newspaper.

The policy now states that doctors should be aware that a decision to not offer some medical services may be contrary to the province's human rights code.

Extending violence

Benedict XVI warned Oct. 5 in his homily during the opening Mass for the synod of bishops that when man rids himself of God and fails to expect salvation from Him, he then "believes he can do as he pleases and that he can make himself the sole judge of himself and his actions."

"When men proclaim themselves the absolute proprietors of themselves and the sole masters of creation, can they truly buil d a society where freedom, justice and peace prevail?," he asked. "Does it not happen instead -- as the daily news amply illustrates -- that arbitrary power, selfish interests, injustice and exploitation and violence in all its forms are extended?"

Injustices that continue to happen, as the new abortion law in Victoria demonstrates.

Synod Interventions of 10th General Congregation

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 12, 2008 ( Here are summaries of the interventions given Saturday morning at the 10th general congregation of the world Synod of Bishops, which is underway in the Vatican through Oct. 26. The theme of the assembly is “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.”

* * *

— H.E. Most. Rev. Joseph VÕ ĐÚC MINH, Bishop Coadjutor of Nha Trang (VIETNAM)

The Church of Christ in Vietnam, after receiving the Gospel in 1533 and especially after the nomination of the first bishops in 1659, has led a life full of crosses. Through the high and low points of its history, like the Jews at the time of their exile, the Vietnamese Catholics understood that only the Word of God remains and never deceives. This Word, which fills prayers, the Way of the Cross and the Angelus, the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary to be meditated on, the hymns, the chanting of Biblical themes, the catechism lessons, popular worship, para-liturgies, the evenings of prayer in lectio divina, etc., has become a source of comfort and strength that gives a sense of security to all the members of the People of God, and at the same time, the focal point that helps them to discover their future.

The Word of God helps discover the true figure of Jesus Christ, who incarnates the saving love of God, through the mystery of the Cross. Because of the painful experience lived by the Church of Christ in Vietnam, the Mystery of the Cross has become not only close to daily life, but also an essential element that reunites the people of God. Inheriting the millenary culture of the “cult of ancestors”, which expresses the filial piety of our people, the Christians, in celebrating the anniversary of the death of a family member, is inspired by the Last Supper, the Passion, the Death and the Resurrection of Our Lord, whose example always touches upon the Vietnamese soul. The stories about the trials experienced by the Patriarchs and prophets, in particular “saint” Job in the Old Testament, and by the Holy Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and the apostles of the New Testament continue to support the faith of the Catholics.

[Original text: French]

— H.E. Most. Rev. Stanislav ZVOLENSKÝ, Archbishop of Bratislava (SLOVAKIA)

In its history we meet many men and women who have read Sacred Scripture in a way that led them to a complete reorientation of their lives, a change in their way of thinking and acting, or at least to a new reason to give to their position of faith. The history of the Church is continually characterized by a return to the existential radicalism of Scripture. The sanctity of many Christians is a consequence of the sincere and often radical response to the call of the Word of God.

Verifying how we read the Writing of the Saints can lead us to the discovery of ways to read sacred Scripture which even though they aren’t all new have been a bit neglected.

For example, what might be useful for us is the Franciscan reading of the Bible that we will undoubtedly find surprising if we look at it from the point of view of the modern scientific criteria of interpretation and from the point of view of the faith that this reading has brought. One of the characteristic signs of this reading was the sine glossa principle. This involved welcoming the Word of God as it is written in Sacred Scripture, without any academic commentary. According to St Francis, Divine Truth is not made the object, in the words and phrases of the Bible, it is not always available to provide an answer to all problems. It can only be discovered in the whole and personal context, it does not focus on textual material but on the actions of God. The exegesis of St Francis leads to the recognition of the sacramental character of the Word of God.

The above points represent only an illustration of how the saints can provide us with hermeneutic perspectives for a reading of Scripture that leads to a radicalism of faith. Therefore, as we can find a certain hermeneutic principle from St Francis, it is useful and perhaps necessary to find one in the lives of the other saints as well, with whose riches the Church abounds.

[Original text: Italian]

— H. Em. Card. Daniel N. DI NARDO, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA)

The Eternal Word emptied himself for our salvation. In an analogous way the Holy Spirit has also given and “humbled” himself in the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. With great courtesy he has adapted the divine “language” with thought towards our human nature (Dei Verbum, 9 and 11). The record of even small, seemingly trivial events in Sacred Scripture, are•taken up into the very economy of our salvation and deification.

I speak in behalf of Catholics who live in the famous Bible Belt of the Southern United States. It is a genuine location, but it is also a frame of mind, diffused through many places in the world. There are surely issues and problems with this mind set, but it has kept alive a Biblical imagination and vocabulary and a sense of divine agency in the world that is important for us In the Instrumentum Laboris, #18 a-g and 22 c-d, the Word of God is spoken about in a deeply rich christological way. The pneumatology however is more discrete. Catholics in the Bible Belt need a pneumatology that can help them in reading Scripture.

I would recommend the publication of a Compendium, similar to other such documents, that would be directed to the faithful. It would be a clear and direct guide that would highlight the rich and useful methods of the Church for reading and sharing the Sacred Scriptures. Such a Compendium would be an immeasurable help for personal bible reading, for Bible Study groups etc. Totally ecclesial and Catholic, it would also be of great help in ecumenical bible studies in which many of our people are enrolled. It would help retrieve a vivid and excellent sense of the Catholic understanding of the Holy Spirit’ s inspiration in the Sacred Scriptures.

[Original text: English]

— H.E. Most. Rev. Ramón Alfredo DUS, Bishop of Reconquista (ARGENTINA)

In No. 17 of the Instrumentum Laboris a situation was mentioned that “urgently requires a formation centred on a reading of the Old Testament with Christ in mind, which acknowledges the bond between the two testaments and the permanent value of the Old Testament”. As concerns this point, the DV 16 asserts that the Old Testament “sheds light on it and explains it”, which should be remembered. If this is so, the reading and interpretation of the Old Testament cannot be given up, in principle or in practice, in the understanding of the New Testament.

A text by Saint Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses, IV, 33,13) emphasized the unity of the salvific work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit from the beginning of time, and brought to recognize that such a divine action is carried out in the Old Testament for the Patriarchs, prophets and for all the people of God, in favor of all humanity. The salvation that the Trinitarian God realizes in each moment of history participates, on an ontological level, to all His salvifical work, thus it is always complete. The assertion of a “complete salvation” in the Old Testament can overshadow the essential character of the New Testament. But Saint Irenaeus himself responds to this difficulty: “What does the Lord add with His coming? He adds something completely new: He presents Himself! (Adversus Haereses, IV, 34,1; cf. Instrumentum Laboris 11).

The salvation that ties us to Christ, seen and understood since the Old Testament, reveals a Trinitarian structure of the relationship between the Old and the New Testament. Such a relationship, before its occurrence from the viewpoint of a temporal scheme, falls more suitably into the categories of participation and analogy. This presentation can overcome the weaknesses derived from the scheme promise-fulfilment and from a purported uselessness of the Old Testament.

Jesus and His community – His Church – is the historical key that makes th
e fulness of salvation of the Old Testament perfectly comprehensible; for this reason greater knowledge of it is fundamental for every disciple’s life and for the mission of a priest of Christ’s Church.

[Original text: Spanish]

— H.E. Most. Rev. Enrique DÍAZ DÍAZ, Titular Bishop of Izirzada, Auxiliary Bishop of San Cristóbal de Las Casas (MEXICO)

“Faithfulness to the Word of God exists when the first form of charity is realized in a respect for the rights of the human person and in defence of the oppressed and those who suffer” (IL 39). The indigenous of our communities in Latin America are among those who suffer. At Aparecida, the bishops took on a serious commitment: “Our pastoral service to the indigenous communities requires that we proclaim Jesus Christ and the Good News of the Kingdom of God, denouncing situations of sin, structures of death, internal and external violence and injustice, to promote intercultural dialogue… Jesus Christ is the fullness of Revelation for all peoples” (95).

In many places, the relationship between the Word and autochthonous cultures has begun. In a certain way, the Bible is very close to their concepts and cosmogonies for the common rural culture. Creation, the concept of God, the meaning of Redemption and the Cross, life in a community, offer many possibilities for encounter. However, these are different cultures, a path just started and that needs to be trod with care, to not condemn what we do not understand, to clarify and give worth to the Revealed Word, to avoid destroying cultures and truly incarnate the Gospel in our people.

On the part of Catholics, little has been done to translate the Bible in the indigenous languages and there has been little understanding of their culture and their concepts. Until the Revealed Word becomes “living word, written in their cultures and in their lives”, it will be very difficult for it to reach and penetrate the heart and be incarnated in these peoples. As Church, we must proclaim this incultured “good news”, that their hearts may bloom and keep it standing, with dignity and to offer their evangelizing word to us (IL 40 and 46).

[Original text: Spanish]

— H.E. Most. Rev. Basil Myron SCHOTT, O.F.M., Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh of Byzantines, President of the Council of the Ruthene Church (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA)

In the East, the scriptures are found in the preaching of the Fathers of the Church, Tradition and Liturgical Services. The Incarnate Word remains present in the Church in two ways: the biblical word and in the Eucharist, effected in the life of the Church by the Holy Spirit.