From her May 2009 TV3 interview (see earlier post for video) to an official rebuke and order to proclaim her loyalty this month, Sr. Teresa has quickly joined the ranks of fine Catholic theologians who have had their wrists slapped by the Vatican. And while she clarifies her position, she doesn't back down.
Cardinal Franc Rodé CM, prefect for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, has sent a letter to the abbess of the Benedictine monastery of Sant Benet de Montserrat, in which he asks that Sr. Teresa Forcades be required to publicly express her commitment to the doctrinal principles of the Church. Forcades last June granted an interview on TV3 in which she argued for the mother's "right to decide" on abortion and favored the distribution of the morning-after pill. The nun has responded in an article in Foc Nou ("Un aclariment sobre l’avortament", October 2009), asserting that she respects the Magisterium of the Church but has the right to express opinions contrary to it. Furthermore, she reaffirms her position on abortion.
A Clarification on Abortion
by Teresa Forcades
(English translation by Rebel Girl, as reviewed and approved by Sr. Teresa)
On May 16, 2009 the program 'Singulars' on TV3 aired an interview on various topics, during which the journalist asked me my opinion as a theologian and physician on the morning-after pill and on abortion.
Reacting to the answers I gave to those two questions, some people criticized me publicly, calling into question my loyalty to the Church and its legitimate teaching. People of goodwill who take very seriously both the issue of freedom of expression and thought in the Church and the issue of abortion have expressed also publicly their perplexity about these criticisms. My abbess received a letter from Cardinal Rodé, prefect for the Congregation for the Consecrated Life, demanding that I express publicly my commitment to the doctrinal principles of the Church, something I am ready to do immediately while clarifying more precisely than one can do in a television interview my position regarding this issue.
The Roman Catholic Church, unlike other Christian Churches, has a magisterial function, the head of which is the Pope, who is responsible for ensuring the authenticity of the interpretations and applications of the Gospel message. The magisterial role is to be respected by all baptized Roman Catholics, and in particular by all Roman Catholic theologians, but this respect does not exclude the public demonstration of reasonable hypotheses that could advance the Church's teachings according to God's will. Throughout the history of the Roman Catholic Magisterium, the importance of this theology 'from below' has been expressed on various occasions, most notably regarding the Marian dogmas.
No Roman Catholic -- whether a theologian or not -- should be afraid to publicly express reasonable doubt about a point of doctrine, with the trust and freedom that belongs to the children of God, as one who feels and knows that he or she is among family, without fear of being denounced or discredited. To express one's doubt in a prudent and reasonable manner is a sign of loyalty and trust. It is also a sign of humility and it is taking seriously one's own membership in the Church and the co-responsibility that it entails.
Now I will set out my doubt regarding the topic of the morning-after pill and abortion.
My doubt does not question the principle of defense of life as a gift from God. I totally agree with that principle: the sanctity of life as a gift from God must be respected from conception until natural death (Benedict XVI). My question is whether it can be right according to Roman Catholic morality to violate the mother's right to self-determination in order to save the life of the child.
The right to self-determination is a fundamental right that protects human dignity and prohibits absolutely and under any circumstances that a person be used as an object, as a means to achieve good, even when that good is saving the life of another person or even all of humanity. The right to self-determination so-conceived is as substantial and absolute as the right to life; in fact, the right to self-determination is the right to spiritual life -- it is what allows us to recognize human life as something more than biological life. Nobody, neither the State nor the Church, has the right to violate it under any circumstances. Nor does anyone, not the State or the Church or the mother, have the right to violate the right to life of the fetus. Under no circumstances. The right to abortion does not exist. What exists is a collision, a conflict of two fundamental rights: the right to self-determination of the mother on the one hand and the right to life of the child on the other.
Three clarifications about what I just said:
1. In relation to self-determination: According to Christian theological anthropology the right to self-determination does not mean that we as humans are in a neutral position between good and evil, nor does it imply that what is good can be identified with what is decided without external coercion; for Christians, Good is ultimately identified with God Himself and His loving will for each person; the right to self-determination is nothing more and nothing less than the condition of possibility for answering Yes to God without that Yes being empty; human freedom can not be identified with the right to self-determination because we are free only to the extent that we say Yes to God and to His plan of love for us and for all Creation. Points 8 and 9 of the Declaration on Procured Abortion of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1974) affirm the right to so-conceived self-determination and they particularly emphasize that human beings can not be treated as a means to achieve a good, however lofty that good might be.
2. Regarding the validity of raising the issue of abortion as a conflict of rights: This is the approach of Professor Johannes Reiter, a moral theologian who specializes in bioethics and is a member of the international theological commission to which he was appointed by John Paul II in 2004 and reappointed by Benedict XVI in 2009 (cf. Reiter J, Keller R, ed.: Herausforderungen Schwangerschaftsabbruch. Freiburg 1992, pp. 74-75); after raising the issue of abortion as a conflict of rights, Professor Reiter concludes that the right to life always has precedence over the right to self-determination.
3. In what sense can the precedence of the right to life over the right to self-determination be considered problematic? This precedence can not be considered problematic in the sense of what is the will of God (God wants us to use our freedom for the sake of life), but only in the sense of whether it is a precedence that might be imposed from the outside.
To illustrate the conflict between the right to life and the right to self-determination we can take as an example the case of kidney transplants. There are hundreds of thousands of people around the world (just over 75,000 in the U.S. alone, more than 3,000 of whom die each year) whose lives could be saved by a kidney transplant. Why not pass a law requiring people whose kidneys are compatible to donate them to those patients to save their lives? The state could pass such a law and the Roman Catholic Church could excommunicate potential donors who refuse to undergo the surgical removal of the kidney, as well as all the people who provide support to them in the name of an alleged right to self-determination or self-possession of one’s own body which would collide with the right to life of an innocent patient. Please note that today the removal of the kidney from the donor can be done by laparoscopy thus leaving a scar that is much smaller than an episiotomy scar, and bear in mind that it is proven that living with one kidney does not shorten the life expectancy of the donor. If God has given them a compatible kidney that they do not need and that can directly save an innocent life, on what principle can Roman Catholic moral teaching consider legitimate their refusal to save an innocent life? If there is a moral principle that legitimizes this refusal, why not apply this principle in the case of pregnant women, especially if the mother's life is in danger or if the pregnancy was the result of rape?
My conscience brings me to raise this question with confidence and in all honesty.
My faith brings me to express my allegiance to the current Magisterium.