The National Catholic Register reports that the president of the apparently ironically named Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Renato Martino, is telling Catholics they should withdraw all support from Amnesty International. Three guesses why and you won’t need the last two.
Abortion has driven a wedge between the Catholic Church and an organization that began as an ally.
Amnesty International (AI) was founded in 1961 by Peter Benenson, a British convert to Catholicism. But today, as a result of Amnesty International’s recent decision to promote abortion rights, Church leaders say that Catholics should withdraw all financial support from the London-based human-rights organization.
“I believe that, if in fact Amnesty International persists in this course of action, individuals and Catholic organizations must withdraw their support, because, in deciding to promote abortion rights, AI has betrayed its mission,” Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said in an e-mail interview.
Sadly, a man I used to greatly respect for his dedication to justice for all has caved in to his church’s primeval stance.
The abortion policy has already cost Amnesty International the support of one long-time Catholic backer: Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan.
Said Father Berrigan, “One cannot support an organization financially or even individually that is contravening something very serious in our ethic.”
This was a man who fought for the right of Catholic Americans to divorce, who supported Bill Baird when he was illegally passing out condoms in public, and who supported Roe v Wade because he had seen the results of too many back-alley abortions. After being beaten about the head and shoulders with the blunt instrument of ultra-conservative Catholicism for 40 years, he has apparently had enough. Perhaps Benedict threatened to ex-communicate him if he didn’t publicly renounce AI, I don’t know.
What is clear is that this is the opening shot in a wider war by Benedict’s surrogates on AI, an agency they’ve hated for decades. Martino went on to say that AI “has betrayed all of its faithful supporters throughout the years, both individuals and organizations, who have trusted AI for its integral mission of promoting and protecting human rights.” This is payback for all the grief AI has given the Church over its either outright support of dictatorial regimes as long as they left Catholics alone, or its quiescence in the face of massive human rights violations in Catholic countries, especially in the Americas.
People forget sometimes that, for example, far from openly supporting Bishop Romero’s work, the untraconservative elements in the Curia wanted him removed. First they claimed that his outspokenness created a great danger for the Catholic laity. When that didn’t work because the people he was supposedly endangering rallied around him, they tried again, claiming it was for his own safety. Both were excuses. Romero was mixing into the politics of a repressive regime otherwise friendly to the Church, a regime with whom the ultraconservatives in the hierarchy had a friendly relationship. They felt betrayed.
Romero was a surprise in history. The poor never expected him to take their side and the elites of church and state felt betrayed. He was a compromise candidate elected to head the bishop’s episcopacy by conservative fellow bishops. He was predictable, an orthodox, pious bookworm who was known to criticize the progressive liberation theology clergy so aligned with the impoverished farmers seeking land reform.
But when his “first priest” was ambushed and murdered three weeks after Romero became archbishop for supporting peasant’s rights to organize farm cooperatives, he changed his mind. The ultracons never forgave him.
It’s important to remember who Benedict is – and who he represents. He is the top notch of the Catholic hierarchy’s most reactionary elements, men who have been furious ever since John XXIII about ecumenical outreach, the liberalization of the Mass, the general acceptance of divorce and birth control by ordinary Catholics in Western Europe and the US, and the overall movement of the Church away from the rigid doctrines of several centuries ago and toward more modern and flexible policies. They see all of this as undermining Catholicism itself, as fundamentalists always see any deviation from their chosen and highly restrictive interpretation of their faith, no matter how minor, as a dangerous heresy. Benedict is and always has been one of their own. They’ve been waiting for him for decades. He represents them. He is them.
AI has not been friendly toward these elements in the Church. It has been their enemy on more than one occasion, and the far right never forgives or forgets what it considers betrayal. There’s a reason Martino used that word, but AI’s decision is just an excuse.
Amnesty International is not, of course, promoting abortion. It is merely including abortion in its list of women’s human rights.
Widney Brown, Amnesty International’s senior director of international law, policy and campaigns, said that discussion about the new abortion policy began more than two years ago, after Amnesty International became involved in a global campaign to stop violence against women.
According to Brown, in the context of that initiative Amnesty International officials talked to a lot of women who had been raped and wanted access to abortions as a consequence.
Brown also cited a World Health Organization estimate that 68,000 women die annually as a result of unsafe abortions.
“Once we looked at that figure, neutrality would have meant essentially saying it’s okay that 68,000 women a year die because of criminalization of abortion,” Brown said.
In a statement issued by AI in response to Martino’s injunction (via Diane at ToughEnough), AI said:
Defending the right of women to sexual and reproductive integrity in the face of grave human rights violations, Amnesty International recently incorporated a focus on selected aspects of abortion into its broader policy on sexual and reproductive rights. These additions do not promote abortion as a universal right and Amnesty International remains silent on the rights and wrongs of abortion.
“Amnesty International’s position is not for abortion as a right but for women’s human rights to be free of fear, threat and coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave human rights violations,” clarified Kate Gilmore.
For the men in the upper councils of Benedict’s Church whose hatred of women is legendary, that explanation is clearly not sufficient.