Monday, September 24, 2012

To forgive Devine?

I've been wondering if it was worth saying anything about Bishop Devine's comparison of abortion clinics to Auschwitz since he's someone who has a long and ignoble record of making amazingly crass and insensitive statements whenever the opportunity presents itself and while it may not be a representative sample, I know that few of his co-religionists consider him to be anything other than an embarrassment.

 Nevertheless, a couple of thoughts present themselves. One has to do with the way extreme positions on sensitive issues like abortion are given the oxygen of publicity. The extremists are the first to the microphone - partly because they are the first invited to the microphone, on account of the extreme positions they hold. There are some who think abortion not only raises no moral issues at all but is something to be celebrated. Others take the Augustinian view that the soul is infused at the point of conception and therefore conclude that abortion cannot be justified under any circumstances. Most of us, I suspect, find ourselves on a spectrum somewhere between these absolutes but my point is that even if you take the latter view, it is still possible to dismiss Bishop Devine as a moral idiot. Possible and also desirable because anyone who compares the actions of a seventeen year old who has become pregnant after being raped with what happened in Eastern Europe during the Second World War is exactly that.

 There's also the specifics of the comparison he made. For those unfamiliar with the story, Devine defended the acquittal of two Christian anti-abortion campaigners who had asked themselves the question, "What would Jesus do?". Being obviously ill-acquainted with the New Testament, they came to the conclusion that he would have waved enormous pictures of aborted foetuses in the faces of distressed women attending an abortion clinic in Brighton. This Devine compares to the publication of photographs from Auschwitz. Now, whenever anyone compares anything to the Holocaust, they are suggesting that the issue they have chosen is something that demands and justifies an unequivocal and uncompromising moral stance.

 It is not my intent to implicate Bishop Devine in matters that he was, despite his age, too young to have participated in. Nor do I want to join in the thinly-veiled Catholic-bashing that some of the historiography of this period indulges in. The Catholic Church was not, is not, a homogeneous entity and it is not my purpose to debate the position it took in relation to National Socialism. It had underground networks that aided and rescued some of Europe's Jewry - and it also had those that allowed some of the most blood-soaked criminals in the history of the world to escape justice. The role that Pope Pius XII played in relation to these is a matter of heated historical debate, to say no more than that. The point in this context is that while I take the view that the 'Nazi-Pope' interpretation is too partisan and simplistic, in making the Auschwitz comparison Bishop Devine has not chosen something that prompted an unequivocal moral stance from the Catholic Church and for this reason alone he should show more humility.

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