A pope who refuses to compromise
By Peter Popham in Rome
Published: 13 August 2007
The Church may change its mind about some things, but abortion is not one of them. The latest development on the subject, under Pope Benedict XVI, is nothing to do with the basic policy but rather with its ramifications for politicians and organisations such as Amnesty International.
The row with Amnesty marks a hardening of the Catholic Church's resolve to take on liberal figures and organisations which have formerly been seen as the church's natural allies; a greater readiness to insist that its convictions on subjects such as abortion, where the Church has no intention of compromising, are more important than alliances with people and groups whose roots and values are secular - values from which the church establishment feels estranged.
The essence of the Church's teaching on abortion is that a human being possesses a soul from the moment of conception. "Surely I was sinful at the time of my birth, sinful from the moment my mother conceived me," declares David in Psalm 51. Since sinfulness belongs to the spirit not to the body, the growing foetus must be in possession of a soul quite as much as the growing child.
The church's teaching on abortion, said Pope John Paul II in 1995, "is unchanged and unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God."
The position is an absolute one: no balance of possible gains and losses is admitted to the debate. For the Church, the mental or physical suffering of the mother, the circumstances of the child's conception or its life prospects are equally irrelevant.
It was a grave problem for the Church when Mexico voted in the spring to legalise abortion. Asked if he would support Mexican bishops who excommunicated congressmen who had voted for the legalisation, Pope Benedict told reporters that he would. "It is part of the code. It is based simply on the principle that the killing of an innocent human child is incompatible with going in Communion with the body of Christ."