With all of the Vatican's recent orders to silence this or that progressive priest or nun, it's starting to feel like that old Whac-a-Mole game. The moment one person is reprimanded, another pops up only to be smacked down by the powers-that-be in Rome.
When Sr. Teresa Forcades was ordered to toe the Vatican line in her writing and speaking about abortion, Jesuit priest and bioethicist Juan Masiá Clavel rose to her defense with an article on his blog (English translation by Rebel Girl below). Fr. Masiá, whose own position in favor of condoms and other bioethical stances contrary to the Church hierarchy's cost him his Spanish university career, has received a letter from his superior in Japan ordering him to abandon "all activity related to Spain and to concentrate fully on [his] work in Japan".
In an unrelated development, Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Donna Quinn, who also advocates for artificial contraception, freedom of choice on abortion, and ordination of women, was reprimanded by her order after photos circulated showing her serving as a patient escort at the ACU Health Clinic, where abortions are performed. According to news reports, Sr. Quinn had been serving as an escort for at least 6 years. Sr. Quinn chose to suspend her escort activities pending conversations with her congregation, but she reiterated that "[r]espect for women's moral agency is of critical importance to me." The order put a statement on its Web site disassociating itself from Quinn's position: "As Dominican religious, we fully support the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the dignity and value of every human life from conception to natural death. We believe that abortion is an act of violence that destroys the life of the unborn. We do not engage in activity that witnesses to support of abortion."
Quinn is also a coordinator of the National Coalition of American Nuns and most recently tangled with the Church hierarchy over the excommunication of Fr. Roy Bourgeois for his support of women's ordination.
And in a surprising burst of candor, Cardinal Franc Rodé, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, admitted in a radio interview that concern about feminism was a significant factor in the decision to conduct the controversial apostolic visitation to U.S. women's religious congregations. The cardinal said a "representative -- whose identity was not revealed -- had 'alerted' him 'to some irregularities or deficiencies' in the way the religious sisters were living. 'Above all, you could speak of a certain secularist mentality that has spread among these religious families, perhaps even a certain 'feminist' spirit'."
WHACK...WHACK...WHACK..OK....Now for Fr. Masiá's article about Teresa Forcades:
Teresa Forcades, theologian and bioethicist: She thinks, she believes, and she has respect
by Fr. Juan Masiá Clavel
October 13, 2009
I read this morning's early news that, from the offices of the Roman curia, the thoughts of the Benedictine theologian Teresa Forcades have been challenged. As the people and media that brought the news are known for their habit of defamation and false testimony with acrimony and violence (they say they belong to the Catholic church but daily violate the eighth commandment: to not bear false witness or lie), although I was concerned, I did not speak on the subject without finding accurate information. I was glad to see that a person never suspected of yielding to radical extremism such as Mrs. Carmen Bellver, wrote with care and accuracy to deactivate the explosive hatred of the above commentators of inquisitorial court.
As I have witnessed a few such cases in which I have seen how religious women have been silenced, taking advantage of their vulnerability as women, as religious and lacking the opportunity to defend themselves canonically, and have seen how skillfully their superiors have been manipulated, without any ecclesiastical body, or any theologian or cleric or lay person coming to their defense; ... I have been concerned about the need to publicly repair the damaged reputation of a theologian whom we have to thank for her fruitful discussions. (Just last year I presented to a Buddhist group Teresa's reflections on the Trinity, which received a very favorable reception. And a few days ago I made known to physicians and bioethicists in Japan her reflections on the hype about influenza and the abuses of the pharmaceutical companies).
That is why, as soon as I finished my academic occupations this afternoon, I turned to slowly reading and rereading Teresa Forcades' text in Foc nou (See: "Entre els principis i la realitat", Foc nou, May 2009).
With the desire to contribute to thanking Teresa for her reflections, to repairing the damage to her reputation inflicted by the irresponsible statements of the "usual groups of inquisitional complainers in the Spanish government" and to inviting readers to deepen their knowledge of the theology of this woman religious who thinks, believes and respects people, I have written the following commentary on her words.
* * *
The theologian explains exactly the condition of fetus: neither just a part of the body of the mother (as it would be for someone who thought of it as a simple tumor), nor a fully independent being. For anthropology, this tension between biological dependence and independence is crucial and symbolically expressed in the mother-embryo interchange during the early stages of pregnancy.
Teresa Forcades says:
"God has put the life of the fetus while it is not viable in the hands of its mother (in the womb of its mother) and has linked its biological life to her spiritual life. We would do well to respect this primary relationship. As long as the fetus can not survive independently of the mother, she has the moral responsibility of deciding on its future, which is also hers, since she not only gestates it biologically, but also spiritually, with her love, her wish that it live, the joy of bringing it into the world. To respect the decision of the mother is to respect the integrity of her moral conscience, even accepting that objectively she can be wrong." (Note in these last two lines the compatibility between respect for the subjective decision of conscience of others and the admission that it is possible to objectively make a mistake. A third person who considers the case from the outside can say "I would not abort in this case" and, at the same time, say: "I would not penalize this woman or throw her crime in her face").
Teresa Forcades makes these reflections from the tradition of moral theology. She says:
"Respect for conscience has been a slow acquisition in the history of mankind. For many centuries forced religious conversions under threat of torture or death penalty have been the order of the day. There are still people today who find it inconsistent, for example, that the Catholic Church celebrates the right to religious freedom that allows thousands of children to be educated in worldviews openly contrary to the Christian faith. In the midst of the Second Vatican Council many bishops of goodwill found the proposal that the Catholic Church promote the right to religious freedom in countries where it was the majority -- Spain, for example -- absolutely senseless."
Having laid out her personal hypothesis about the implications of mother-embryo bonding, our theologian admits the possibility and need for a debate on controversial issues, a debate that should be had calmly and without hitting each other over the head with ideological labels or insults.
"To believe that the will of the mother when she decides to abort the child that can not survive without her should be respected and not be penalized, does not mean that there does not need to be a debate on this subject in the Church or in society."
But she does not limit herself to recommending a theoretical debate, but adds a concern for accompanying persons and for the need to raise social justice considerations about the social causes of abortion, as follows:
"How can you prevent abortion? What is the best way to accompany the woman who aborts without misplaced paternalism, but also without minimizing the pain or internal struggle in cases where these occur? This debate is fundamental and must take place in arenas as far away as possible from tension and violence. In society we have to discuss to what extent the socioeconomic factors that may lead to abortion (the case of an African American girl) are structural problems and we need to create the conditions so that it will not happen; the society as a whole must also discuss in depth the psychosocial factors that may lead to an abortion (the potential case of a Latin American girl) and we have to educate new generations so that relations between women and men are mostly respectful and free."
I find particularly worth noting the strength Teresa Forcades puts in the anthropological approach. I am convinced that the failure to take this approach creates many of the most frequent confusions that plague church documents about these issues: the confusion between contraception and abortion, the error of considering the morning after pill to be abortive, the commitment to not separating the unitive and procreative aspects in the use of sexuality (to which I referred in a recent article in this blog, etc.).
In addition, Teresa Forcades relates this anthropological approach to the key ideas of social thought of the Church (cf. the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church): human dignity, common good, social justice and reconciling compassion. She continues:
"Christians must participate in the public debate from the perspective of the concept of common good that is proper to us and from the assumptions of our theological anthropology. Unlike other contemporary anthropology, Christian theological anthropology does not base the dignity of the individual on unlimited freedom that is an end in itself but on a freedom inseparable from love. Christians must proclaim the respect for life as a gift from God and we should especially preach and exemplify the principle of hope associated with faith: the profound conviction that the strength of love is superior to all violence and that there is no circumstance that would justify despair."
At the root of all these reflections is a concept of personal liberty and self-determination that avoids the dual pitfalls of the whim of a shallow ego or submission to a super-ego, whether legal or ecclesiastical. Navigating between the two pitfalls is risky and confronts us with the "complex reality" in which, to find unexpected answers that are not generalizable to cases that seem unresolvable, we must trust, as Teresa says, that "Jesus waits for us there". Our theologian says:
"The Church has found it hard to accept that our mission of evangelization can not be achieved without respect for freedom of conscience. Because of the intimate relationship of mother to child as long as it is not viable outside of her, the decision to abort is inseparable from the mother's self-determination, from her personal freedom. This unique relationship between two lives means that we can not save the child against the wishes of the mother without violating the personal liberty of the mother. Therein lies, from the theoretical point of view, the nerve center of the debate on abortion: what value must we give to the personal liberty of the mother? From a practical point of view we can not simply defend the right of self determination of the mother because under this theoretical right, the worst submission and servitude can proliferate. It comes down to reality, which is complex. That is where Jesus awaits us."
Thanks to Teresa, praying and hoping that she will not be discouraged by the lack of understanding within the Church and will continue to walk in hope and do good with her reflection rooted in contemplation.