in Catholic Circles

Northern Ireland’s Court of Appeal Sends Abortion Question Back to Assembly

On June 29, Northern Ireland’s Court of Appeal quashed 2015 and 2016 High Court rulings that separately found the country’s abortion law—which restricts abor­tion even in cases of fatal fetal abnormality and preg­nancies resulting from sexual violence—breached the European Convention on Human Rights. Claiming a strong preference for judi­cial restraint, the Lord Justices declined to rule on the issue; ironically, the court also invited legal submissions for the case to go to the UK Supreme Court. In the meantime, the Lord Justices suggest that the balancing of local and international legal standards and the recognition of human rights should be handled by the Northern Irish legislature.

Significant Steps Towards Abortion Law Reform in Chile

A bill set to relax Chile’s highly restrictive abortion ban has stumbled in the legislature, but it still marks an important high-water mark for democracy and reproductive healthcare in the country. Abortion has been criminalized in Chile since 1989 and the dictato­rial regime of Augusto Pino­chet Ugarte; Chile is now one of only six countries in the world that prohibit abor­tion in all cases. Despite legislative resistance, recent polls have suggested that nearly 70 percent of Chileans support abortion in cases where the woman’s life is at risk, when a fetus has a fatal abnormality or when a preg­nancy results from rape. That a bill seeking to reduce rather than to further penalize abortion has been seriously debated in the legis­lature, polled by state and private actors and discussed by the people is a significant departure from the country’s recent past. The impressive shift is demonstrated by the successful mobilization and coming together of broad sectors of civil society to move towards reform as well as the key leadership of Pres­ident Michelle Bachelet. The official legal outcome remains in flux, but it is clear that the voice of prochoice Chileans can no longer be silenced in the public sphere.

New Cardinal Suggests “College of Women”

Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm has called for the creation of an advisory body of women that would, in addition to providing important counsel, offer more leader­ship roles for women within the church. Recently elevated by Pope Francis to the position of Sweden’s first-ever cardinal, the remarks build on earlier calls by the pope to increase the meaningful participa­tion of women at all levels of the church—at least in nonclerical ways. Describing the church as “a bit behind” in allowing for the leader­ship of women seen else­where in society, the new cardinal suggested that a college of women could be a significant step forward for Catholic women. Neverthe­less, the suggestion is consistent with the church’s ban on the ordination of women, meaning that such a college would likely be insufficient as a means of truly conferring authority on par with the highest ranking male members of the Magisterium.


Recent Appointments to Pontifical Council for Life Worry Conservative Catholics

Pope Francis has appointed Anglican reverend Nigel Biggar, who condones abor­tions up to 18 weeks of preg­nancy, and Rabbi Avraham Sternberg, who supports abortion in some cases, to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Life. While the appointments have not changed the Vatican’s offi­cial position on abortion, some conservative Catholics view the changes as a shift in the previously staunchly antiabortion ideology of the academy’s usual makeup; former academy member Christine Vollmer, for example, describes Reverend Biggar’s appointment as the effective elimination of the institution. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the pontifical council, suggested that Reverend Biggar had been tapped for his work on end-of-life issues, on which his views align more with conserva­tive Catholic positions.

Australian Cardinal and Vatican Finance Chief Charged with Multiple Sexual Offences

Cardinal George Pell of Australia was granted a leave of absence from the Vatican on June 29 to return to Australia to face multiple sexual offence charges. Cardinal Pell was brought to the Vatican by Pope Francis to reform the institution’s aging financial system in 2014, though a number of sexual abuse allegations were already following the cardinal at the time. The Vatican has not stated how the cardinal’s leave of absence will affect the finan­cial reform work.

Deputy Police Commis­sioner Shane Patton served the charges on Cardinal Pell’s legal representatives in Melbourne, summoning him to a mid-July court date in Melbourne’s Magistrate’s court. Commissioner Patton describes the investigation and procedures as being indifferent to the cardinal’s position, “the same that have been applied in a whole range of historical sex offenses.”

The cardinal maintains he is innocent of all charges against him.


Illinois Bishop Publicly Condemns Same-Sex Marriage

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, decreed in June that people in same-sex marriages “should not present themselves for Holy Communion, nor should they be admitted to Holy Communion.” Addi­tionally, such Catholics should be kept out of the public ministry, “including but not limited to reader and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.” He concluded with a proscrip­tion against Catholic funeral rights for those who have “lived openly in a same-sex marriage,” though the decree does allow a Catholic funeral for those who have “given some sign of repen­tance before their death.”

The decree has been met with a considerable degree of disappointment from many Catholics. Father James Martin, an active voice in church-LGBT issues, publicly rebutted the decree as discriminatory and cruel. Pointing to the myriad reasons Holy Communion should theoretically be denied to a parishioner, including extramarital cohabitation and the use of contraceptive services, Fr. Martin asserted that being inconsistent on these issues to specifically target the LGBT community is a “sign of unjust discrimina­tion.” Overwhelmingly, Catholic voices discontented with the bishop’s decree center on its being a cruel, public display of condemna­tion for an already mistreated group of people.

In a follow-up interview with Catholic World Report, Bishop Paprocki agreed with Father Martin in part, but described same-sex marriage as an “immoral lifestyle” particularly deserving of condemnation. He stressed, however, that LGBT people are equally capable of repen­tance and conversion as straight people living in sin, and that the decree specifi­cally targets same-sex marriage rather than any particular sexual orientation.