Monday, October 13, 2008

Secular liberal democracy vs. the confessional State: which is the better defender of conscience?

[Updated, October 17, 2008, approx. 1600 hrs.: I have corrected the paragraph beginning "Now it was not" in order to make clear that one cannot force anyone to disobey his conscience, but that if someone is going to disobey it, then others must not co-operate with this disobedience except under the conditions that I mention.]
So the Victorian Upper House has passed its monstrous abortion liberalisation laws, and they now await Vice-Regal assent. (If only the Governor could exercise a ‘conscience vote’ like everyone else at the other stages of the passage of the laws.) But of course a law that contravenes the eternal moral law is no law at all. It is a mere piece of human scribbling, worthy of nothing but our defiance and contempt; the pages on which these laws are written would be more suitable as a lining for one’s spittoon than as an addition to the statute books.

Obviously, any freeing-up of access to the means to the wanton destruction of unborn human life is repugnant enough in itself. But what makes these laws uniquely odious (as far as I know) among the various pieces of anti-baby legislation floating around the unflushed toilet bowl of present-day Western ‘civilisation’ is their provision, or rather non-provision, for conscientious objectors. It is these non-provisions that elevate Her Majesty’s Government into the annals of infamy occupied by régimes, like those in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, that thought that they could trample on individual conscience at will. Fr. Brennan reported on these conscience non-provisions recently, and the Sydney Catholic Weekly reminded us of them at the weekend:
Under the legislation doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion would be required to refer a woman to doctor [sic] who didn’t. They would also be obliged to perform abortions in an emergency if necessary to protect the woman’s life.
It is a basic truth of Catholic moral theology that it is a sin to disobey one’s conscience, and that sin is a free act—no-one is forced to sin. Yet these laws attempt to do just that. Furthermore, it is wrong to co-operate in someone else’s wrongdoing, except under very restricted conditions. His late Grace Msgr. Lefebvre reminds us of these conditions in his excellent Religious Liberty Questioned. He writes that
To act against one’s honestly erroneous conscience is to sin. Thus, to force someone to act against such conscience is to cooperate in his sin; but again, we need to further distinguish between two different cases:

To formally cooperate in someone else’s sin is never permissible (in this case, willing precisely to extort from someone an act against his wishes); it is a sin against charity.

It is, however, permissible to cooperate materially in someone else’s sin (desiring that someone do willingly what at first he did not want to do without opposing the eventuality of a forced act) provided that this cooperation be remote and that there is a grievous proportional cause for such a course of action.
(emphasis in the original)
So the conditions are that the co-operation be: purely material, remote, and that it is involves a grievous proportional cause. So let’s see, then, if the Bill’s conscience clauses satisfy these criteria, examining firstly the requirement to perform an abortion in the case of an emergency:

The co-operation is indeed material—the authors of the law (presumably) do not desire to elicit disobedience of conscience as an end in itself.

The co-operation involves a grievous proportional cause—they think that the baby is just a ‘clump of cells’, a human non-person, while the mother is indeed a human person. (This is wrong, of course, since if we are to adopt a radically materialist outlook then the mother is just a ‘clump of cells’ too, and in any case, an organism is never a mere ‘clump of cells’—it is a united whole; perhaps the ‘clump of cells’ folk need to consult an elementary biology textbook.)

But I cannot see how the co-operation is remote, since it requires a direct order to perform an abortion.

Now for the requirement for conscientious objectors to refer infanticidal mothers to a neutral second doctor. Could a conscientious objector make such a referral with a clear conscience? By making the referral his co-operation would clearly be purely material, and possibly remote too, but there can be no possibility of a grievous proportional cause, since what ‘proportion’ can there possibly be between mere financial livelihood and the very destruction of human life? So the laws are morally wrong on both counts, even when evaluated on the pro-abortion crowd’s own terms (assuming, of course, that they agree that it is wrong to force someone to disobey his conscience except under limited conditions—one hopes desperately that they are not so far gone as to disagree on that point).

Now it was not for no reason that I chose Religious Liberty Questioned as my source for the conditions necessary for co-operation in evil. Respect for honestly-erroneous conscience would be one of the basic principles of a Catholic confessional State. It is licit, of course, to restrain someone from acting to obey his conscience, but one cannot force him actively to disobey his conscience, and one may only co-operate in such disobedience under the most limited of circumstances. So examination of these horrendous laws produces the remarkable result that a Catholic confessional State would be a better defender of conscience than the secularist abortocratic brutopia.

This conclusion raises two important questions, one for secularists and one for Catholics. For the secularists, how do you feel about the fact that your cherished liberal democracy is less sympathetic to individual conscience than the supposedly ‘mediæval’, ‘fundamentalist’ confessional State? It is not so long ago that you would no doubt have been scoffing at then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s warning of the rise of a ‘dictatorship of relativism’, yet now you have passed laws that encapsulate perfectly the paradox of a régime that is simultaneously relativistic and dictatorial.

And for Catholics who are opposed to the doctrine of the confessional State, how can you continue in your opposition when this vile legislation gives the decisive proof of H.H. The Pope’s words during WYD08:

There are many today who claim that God should be left on the sidelines, and that religion and faith, while fine for individuals, should either be excluded from the public forum altogether or included only in the pursuit of limited pragmatic goals. This secularist vision seeks to explain human life and shape society with little or no reference to the Creator. It presents itself as neutral, impartial and inclusive of everyone. But in reality, like every ideology, secularism imposes a world-view. If God is irrelevant to public life, then society will be shaped in a godless image. When God is eclipsed, our ability to recognize the natural order, purpose, and the “good” begins to wane. What was ostensibly promoted as human ingenuity soon manifests itself as folly, greed and selfish exploitation. And so we have become more and more aware of our need for humility before the delicate complexity of God’s world.
(my emphasis)
Given that no régime is truly neutral, why continue to defend one whose agnosticism towards faith and morals constitutes a veritable Social Reign of Pontius Pilate, washing its hands of guilt while permitting injustice to fester? All States are confessional, it’s just a matter of whether they confess Christ or Belial. The ‘integral humanism’ advanced by Fr. Maritain and influential even at the highest levels of the Hierarchy has been shown to be a pipe dream; the benign phase of secular liberal democracy has now well and truly passed.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. Edward, Confessor, 2008 A.D.


Louise said...

So examination of these horrendous laws produces the remarkable result that a Catholic confessional State would be a better defender of conscience than the secularist abortocratic brutopia.

You are right, Pole. I have been slowly coming to the same conclusion over a number of years.

Joshua said...

Let us at least give thanks that East Timor is to sign a concordat with the Holy See that will amongst other provisions undertake to maintain in law the Church's teaching against abortion and other infamies.

May Australia, repentant, one day be vouchsafed a like grace.

Cardinal Pole said...

Very interesting, Joshua--do you know where one might find the text of that concordat?

Cardinal Pole said...

Ah, I see you've posted on it at your blog, Joshua. I'll be interested to see the text when it's finalised; the useful (but secularist) has not covered it yet.

Louise said...

Unreal! There is a secularist website called!!!!

And check this out: "women need secularism!"

LOL! Women need secularism like a hole in the head.

Pole, you're a mine of information.

Cardinal Pole said...

Yes, they're a funny old bunch, the secularists. At, they say that

"The contributors have diverse viewpoints, but we are united in the conviction that separation of church and state is urgently needed to ensure human rights for all."

Judging by the Victorian Abortion Law Reform Bill, though, that doesn't include the human right to obey one's conscience. (They actually deal with abortion and conscience at

And they think that "Concordats help enforce Canon Law, the Vatican version of Sharia"

It's a nice irony, though, that the secularists are providing such a useful service to a Traditionalist like me! To paraphrase St. Augustine: 'The secularists will be our librarians ...'