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Kristina Keneally's rational Catholic conscience


'Kristina Keneally' by Chris JohnstonThe New South Wales state election next March looks certain to end the 15 year reign of the Labor Government. Many MPs will lose their seats because voters have become disillusioned with Labor's broken promises, policy failures, unprincipled ministerial behaviour and instability.

Paradoxically, while Labor's popularity has declined, the personal standing of Premier Kristina Keneally has grown. But this apparent inconsistency in public approval is not the only complexity about Premier Keneally. While Australia's Labor Prime Minister embraces atheism and the federal opposition boasts a number of Catholics, Keneally's faith makes an interesting study.

Traditionally, Catholic-Labor links have been so strong that wits described the Church as 'the Labor Party at prayer'. Catholics in a distinctly Irish republican culture who felt socially powerless tended to vote Labor while protestants supported anti-Labor parties.

Over the last 50 years however, religion and politics have changed radically. The sectarian divide has weakened and political scientists have noted newer links between religious and political behaviour.

Marion Maddox has noted the opportunistic way that the federal Coalition exploited the rise of the 'megachurch' such as Hillsong, whose conservatism mimics American fundamentalism. Gary Bouma has argued that as the state manages conflicts, attention is moving from inter-Christian sectarianism to relations between majority religions and the fastest growing, such as Islam and Hinduism.

In a secular, postmodern, multi-faith society, some religious stances appeal more because they are committed to mutual respect and tolerance.

Some politicians, and not just those of the Fred Nile Christian Democrats, project images of an arcane, wowserish Christianity. In considering constitutional reform and in demanding greater assimilation of migrants, the Coalition Government (1996–2007) regarded Christianity as central to Australian values, and the current Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott shows great enthusiasm for Catholic orthodoxy.

By contrast Premier Keneally represents a growingly assertive Catholicism which might be described as progressive, rational and independent.

Keneally has stated plainly her belief that Catholic women should not be excluded from ordination. This potentially brings her into conflict with the Vatican and the Australian Catholic bishops.

In explaining her decision to support a bill to remove anomalies from the Adoption Act so that same sex couples would be eligible to adopt, Keneally noted the importance of allowing all MPs a 'conscience vote'. She described how her conscience was informed by Catholic teaching about the 'primacy' of conscience and the importance of actively developing the conscience.

These specific stances — on women's ordination and same sex adoption — and the more general principle of the importance of conscience are courageous. When the issue of same sex marriage was raised during the recent federal election campaign, both Prime Minister Gillard and Opposition Leader Abbott subjugated their personal positions to a vaguely understood general social expectation.

When Keneally became premier, her opponents and sections of the media accused her of being a puppet. They argued that she had been installed by Labor factional power brokers as a premier they could easily manipulate. Keneally denied she was subject to undue influence and said she would be her 'own woman'.

Other observers thought that while Keneally believed she could maintain her independence, she would eventually succumb to Labor wheeling and dealing. Despite the continuing ministerial resignations and revelations about Labor MPs lacking dedication to public service, Keneally has maintained a high degree of political integrity. She is no-one's puppet.

Keneally has not compromised her religious faith. Rather, she has taken positions that will inspire several categories of people. Many Catholics feel proud when the hierarchy opposes war or sides uncompromisingly with the poor, but quite contrasting emotions when it is socially conservative.

Keneally's intelligent approach to her faith creates hope among the many Catholics searching for new ways to maintain their own faith in a conservative Church. It should convince Labor supporters that with dedicated leadership, the party can put principle before pragmatism.

In Acting on Conscience Frank Brennan pointed out that the Pope himself noted that conscience is the common ground enabling dialogue between Christians and others. In a society that values the separation of religion and politics, Keneally's stance will reassure people generally that there is nothing threatening about a politician whose decisions are informed by a strong personal conscience.

While such achievements might not secure Labor's return to government next March, they should ensure that Keneally will retain her self-respect and a degree of public gratitude. 

Tony SmithTony Smith holds a PhD in political science. He has taught at several universities including the University of Sydney.


Topic tags: Tony Smith, Kristina Keneally, catholic, abbott, gillard, nsw labor, labor at prayer



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Existing comments

In an interview on ABC local radio on December 11 2009, Kristana Kaneally said:

"I would say that my position on abortion probably most closely resembles that of the former president Bill Clinton which was that abortion should be safe, it should be available..."

While it is laudable that Mrs Keneally has been stringent in defending the position of the Church with regards to embryonic stem cell research, to hold this position on the issue of abortion is disturbing.

The position of the Catholic Church on abortion is clear and unequivocal. Pope John Paul II states in Evangelium Vitae "Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops -- who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine -- I declare that 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".

I am not a canon lawyer and thus can not give a qualified opinion, however, I note the content of Can. 1364.

While it could be said that holding such views is progressive, rational and independent, I fail to see how supporting an act which has been condemed by the pontiffs as the murder of an innocent human beings, can be thought of in anyway as pertaining to progression. It seems to me that it is a falling back to the infaticide of the Carthaginians. Also, I doubt that it is particularly rational opinion to hold. As Christ said, and I note that it is something Mrs Keneally agrees with as evidenced by this quote from the same interveiw mentioned above "when it comes to the core teachings of the Church, who Jesus was, what he taught, what his message was, I'm in complete and utter agreement with the Church.", "And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell".

I guess, as she is a politician, my diatribe would not be complete without commenting on the morals of voting for her. I am not a moral theologian, however, I would guess that as to whether a person of goodwill could vote for someone who holds such a view would boil down to how remote the material cooperation in evil is. Some have said that there is enough remoteness if a person votes for her sound economic management. However, I will shamelessly invoke Godwin's Law and point out that voting for Hitler because he was a pioneer of road construction and gave Germany the magnificent autobahns that they now have, is not a good look on the history sheet.

It should be noted that this is not a shameless plug for the Liberal Party as I suspect that the sitution is not that different with them especially in NSW.

Franics | 12 October 2010  

An excellent post, Francis. Unfortunately it will make no difference to the vast majority of contributors to Eureka Street. It is of no concern to them that their views on abortion, embryonic cell research, homosexuality and euthanasia are contrary to the those of the official Catholic Church. It is almost a badge of honour for them.

If you are looking for a well reasoned defence of many of the Church's postions on such matters, try Mercator.net. Someone here once recommended it and I have been a regular subscriber since.

Patrick James | 12 October 2010  

Interesting article Tony - one of my favourite topics.

Francis, the issue of abortion is very fraught. I espouse a traditional Catholic position on abortion but would be loath to criminalise women who have abortions, or return to days of backyard abortions where babies and their mothers died.

I once heard it said that 'no woman in her right mind wants an abortion'. I'd hope that all women are empowered enough not to end up with an unwanted pregnancy, but if so, that they are empowered enough to reach out to the life within them.

On female ordination, I'm probably one of Patrick's 'vast majority of contributors to Eureka St' in that I struggle with the Church's position. Actually, I struggle with the Church's reluctance to even countenance a discussion on women's ordination. Arguments about priests in the early church only ordaining males are moot. Women were once ordained deacons; and once the men who were ordained were only Jewish. At some point it was decided to broaden ordination to uncircumcised gentiles. I don't know why we can't have a discussion about broadening the requirements again ...
And on the subject of same-sex adoption, I simply note that there is a separation of church and state in Australia and what is law in the church should not necessarily follow for society. As Ms Keneally noted in her speech on the matter, isn't it great for a child to have two parents that love them?

I think I'm more comfortable with Kristina Keneally representing Catholicism in a political sphere than I am with some other Catholic politicians ...

MBG | 12 October 2010  

When all is done and dusted MBG, Abortion is either one of two things, murder in a manner similar to infanticide, or another form of contraception.

Contraception has been condemned by the church from a very early date as a grave moral evil. However, I believe that is irrelevant in this discussion as I argue that abortion is clearly not contraception, although sadly, the opposite doesn't is not always true.

If a baby is killed immediately after birth, I believe everyone, excepting maybe Peter Singer, would agree that it is murder and morally reprehensible. It would take some pretty brave illogicality to say that, if you kill the baby before its head comes out, it is not as bad. And thus, we can see that being contained inside the mother does not remove the dignity or rights of the person. Incidentally, from a biological perspective, the baby is not actually considered to be inside the mother.

So now the only thing that we can base the dignity and rights of the person is on its growth and development. From a utilitarianism perspective, this means that the baby gets its right to not be killed or oppressed from how well the baby experiences pain or pleasure. This line of thought is incompatible with 6000 years of Judeo-Christianity. According to the catechism of the Catholic Church,
"The murder of a human being is gravely contrary to the dignity of the person and the holiness of the Creator."
It offends against the holiness of the Creator because
"From its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being".

The catechism teaches that the dignity of the person stems from its creation in the image and likeness of god. I argue, along with the church, that from the moment of conception, the person created has the image and likeness of God. It is often asked how this is when it is just one human cell. This is often furthered to pointing out that thousands of human cells are shed every day and that is not a grave moral offence towards God. I reply to this by first pointing out that the cell is clearly a separate organism with its own individual genetic makeup. However, to fully understand the issue one must go deeper than the physical. It is the soul, described by Aquinas as the “first principle of life of those things which live... without matter or form”, that is created in the image and likeness of God. It is clear that, if the cell is a separate living human organism, it must also have a human soul made in the image and likeness of its Creator. As this separate person is made in the image and likeness of God, it has the full dignity of the person that flows from this.

That a mother could driven to infanticide is a dreadful tragedy for the mother, and whenever I read about such an occurrence in the news I cannot help but feel for the poor mother. This does not however, necessarily mean that she should not be prosecuted. Nor does it mean that special centres should be set up for infanticide so that unwanted infants can be killed in a none harmful environment for the mother. If you truly believe that abortion is the murder of a human individual, as the Catholic Church teaches, then you cannot make a separate law for abortion or infanticide. However, when punishing the perpetrators of this evil act, consideration for the mother must occur as mothers are also victims our society, where we not only tell them that it is ok to kill their babies, but also pressure them into doing such an act. In fact we go as for to tell them that they are not even killing their babies

Any murder is a terrible reprehensible act and even more so when it is inflicted upon the most innocent and weak. Genesis describing the murder of Abel states “What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth to me from the earth”. Therefore, we must not let up in our fight against this evil while continuingly praying to Almighty God for all mothers, abortionists and politicians, as well as the innocent victims, that this evil may be ceased.

Francis | 13 October 2010  

Thank you, Francis. Your reductio ad absurdum argument is persuasive. You have given me food for thought.

MBG | 13 October 2010  

Well put Francis. Now apply the same line of logic to our treatment of asylum seekers, and to some of the suggestions being made. Now apply that same line of logic to our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now apply that same line of logic to the Israel-Palestine question.

Jim Jones | 15 October 2010  

Kristina,you cannot be a Cafeteria Catholic.

John Tobin | 15 October 2010  

How can you say Ms Keneally has not compromised her faith? People are not that gullible!

Indeed Some may think the exact opposite you the author here are just encouraging Kenneally to espouse her own choices on her faith. Now if ms Kenneally was a really true member of the faith she would graciously accept the fundamental tenets and teaching of the Church on a range of matters!

As a public figure, Kenneally has a duty to remember she coould be such an inspiring role model for young Catholic women, so her role in currently contradicting the Church may only serve to confuse the young Catholic women of the future.

So to some it would be so refeshing to say have a commited pro life leader, one who is opposed to same sex adoption and one who accepts that the Church wants men only priests

Now women can contribute to the Church but in their own unique special way well Australias first saint is such tantamount proof of that!

To be progressive is not to be pro choice nor same sex adoption rather to some that is both destructive and regressive as the social fabric of society eg the nuclear family will be eroded by same sex adoption! Australia also needs far less abortions as the late term abortion rate has escalated out of control in Victoria sice Brumbys government passed its Abortion Bill In 2008.

So as a suggestion please call progressive the people who work to save lives by being anti abortion and who try to keep traditional family structures intact.
So in future Ms Kenneally should perhaps stand up for the teachings of the faith instead of challenging them!

Patient | 15 October 2010  

Tony Smith makes about 24 points in his article, some of them about Kristina Keneally, some of them about the ALP, some of them about "a society that values the separation of religion and politics" and of course the one that critics of Keneally latch on to is her exercise of her conscience. May I call them cafeteria commentators?

I know there are some Catholics who are content with the hierarchial church telling them what to do and what to do. And these directives help them to live happy lives. There are other Catholics who cannot, despite their best endeavours, see the value in some directives from or rulings by the hierarchy. Why the previous group can and the latter group can't I don't know.

That "the deliberate killing of an innocent human being" is a bad thing and is to be avoided is a truism.
Where it becomes a moral issue is when a person has to decide if the killing is deliberate ie that all the circumstances surrounding the deed have been calmly and rationally considered; if the human being killed is a viable person, and if that person is innocent, ie is not causing any harm.

Uncle Pat | 15 October 2010  

I agree with John Tobin, cafeteria Catholics are not that great.

Yes, it's better than no religion at all and she is courageous to bring up her faith, but if Keneally was a practicing Catholic (which means agreeing with papal authority and accepting the Church's stance on moral issues) then she would not be advocating for abortion and same-sex marriage because that is not the stance of the Catholic Church and there is much literature to explain why.

Maryann | 15 October 2010  

Contrary to some of your commentators, I rather see it that the only logical argument for spiritual and religious growth is that one must be what is sneeringly referred to as a “cafeteria Catholic”. Some years ago, one of the units in the Queensland subject, Study of Religion, concerned conscience. In one particular Catholic school that I am aware of, the unit began with this stunning phrase (perhaps just a little too Vatican 2):

Your conscience is your own sacred, private revelation.

The It suggests that simply accepting something that somebody else says (by definition, second-hand) as gospel truth, without cogitating and reflecting on it, means that it remains second-hand. First-hand knowledge is always based on your own experience . . . and the spiritual truths that we know (as opposed to believe) are those which come from our own experience.

I read Francis’ contribution, and he sets out very well the possible ways of considering abortion . . . but it is possible, in good conscience, to argue through the things that he considers, and reach . . . by altering the aspects that one thinks are important . . . other conclusions. And in the Australian community, since it is a free country, we are entitled to do this.

Being able to see both sides of a question, and argue it through to a conclusion, is the sign of an educated adult. Most Australians, these days, do not leave school until at least the end of Year 10 . . . and the focus of education is very much to teach people to think for themselves. So in this sense, the old idea of “a sin against the faith”, committed when we dare to diverge from the content of the Magisterium, has been left behind by our educational system. Not to think . . . not to question . . . not to wonder . . . and never to come to an alternate conclusion (which may vary from that of the church hierarchy) is, I believe, a recipe for standing still . . . and not growing in one’s spiritual understanding.

I would congratulate Premier Kenneally for knowing her own mind, and choosing to go beyond spiritual stagnation.

Robert Rennick | 15 October 2010  

I try to justify my belief that abortion is wrong without bringing in God or the Church. I rely on natural law, so I can argue in a way that is acceptable to non-believers. And I can't see how abortion can be justified in any situation other than when the alternative is the death of both mother and child (if that is ever the case in modern medicine).

I can't see how "altering the aspects that one thinks are important" (Robert Rennick) can ever enable you to come to a conclusion other than that a human life begins at conception and that's when the right to life begins to apply. Conception is fundamental; any later development is comparatively trivial and can't, in justice, form a basis for the most fundamental of rights to begin to apply.

Gavan Breen | 15 October 2010  

To Gavan Breen . . . I think that is precisely the issue . . . does human life begin at conception or at some later point before birth? There are other possible positions on this matter . . .

Robert Rennick | 15 October 2010  

Jim, you make a valuable point. It's a paradox that a significant number of those supporting pro-life positions from conception do not extend their pro-life support to other situations.

It seems to me a number of you are being unduly harsh on Kristina Keneally. I would encourage you to look for the positives.

Patient, with regard to your statement that 'if Ms Kenneally was a really true member of the faith she would graciously accept the fundamental tenets and teaching of the Church on a range of matters!', I am reminded of St Anselm's motto of 'fides quaerens intellectum' - faith seeking understanding.

We should be very careful not to judge and dismiss those Catholics who simply express a view that may fail to completely incorporate the fullness of Catholic teaching in a particular area.

I doubt there are any among us who could claim to totally comprehend and implement in our lives every aspect of Catholic theology, doctrine and teaching of holy Scripture and Tradition.

MBG | 15 October 2010  

Francis - I don't mind being quoted on my views on abortion, but I would respectfully ask that you quote me in full. I believe abortion should be safe, should be available and should be rare. I have spoken more fully on these complexities in the Parliament when speaking against embryonic stem cell research. Kind regards Kristina Keneally

Kristina Keneally | 15 October 2010  

How disappointing it is that so many of the above comments, critical of Kenneally, completely miss the point. I am sure that she holds, as I do , that abortion is always a moral evil. But it does not follow that the criminal law is an appropriate way of trying to reduce the number of abortions.(Should adultery be made a criminal offence? It is immoral!)

It is not the function of the State to enforce morality by the application of the criminal law. It is to enact laws that are for the common good. Many would argue, as I do, that the present compromise, where abortions are sometimes criminal and some times not, is about right.

The recent acquittal in Queensland demonstrates that a severe law will simply not be enforced, leading to a disrespect for the law itself as well as a failure to achieve its objective of reducing the number of abortions.

Alan Hogan | 15 October 2010  

AH, your view sets up a paradox. The "current compromise" is not some static situation. It is the resultant of a great and unceasing struggle - a tug of war, if you will - between trenchantly opposed groups: those who want abortion totally legalized, and those who want it rendered totally illegal. And the flag in the middle of the rope has been slowly but steadily moving towards the pro-abortionists side, year on year. If pro-lifers (including the Church) were to adopt your viewpoint, or, say, that of Clinton/Keneally/Abbott, and abandon their quest to treat all Australians, however diverse in age, size or shape, as equal under the law, it would precipitate an enormous momentum shift in favour of the pro-abortionist campaign. No-one in his or her right mind can seriously imagine that they would not exploit this to the full and press on towards full liberalization. The "current compromise" would very soon become a nostalgic memory for anyone who cares to any degree about justice for the unborn.

So while you are, all things considered, happy with the present legal position, it's not in your interest, as someone who believes abortion to be immoral, to encourage anyone else, especially pro-lifers, to adopt your viewpoint, which encouragement you give merely by articulating it, as in the post above.

Machiavelli would advise you just to keep your approval to yourself. I pray rather that you dissolve the paradox by recognising that the issue is not about forcing morality, but securing justice, and that you commit yourself more decisively to the battle for the universal, inalienable, human right to life.

Nick | 16 October 2010  

To Robert Rennick.

If human life begins not at conception but at some later point before birth, (a) how do you establish the point and prove your point, and (b) How do you define 'life' in such a way that a quality that is characteristic of life for all other forms of life, for example, the ability to take in nourishment and metabolise it to produce growth and such other activity as is natural for the particular life form, is not a proof that life exists for this one life form during a particular stage of what would seem to be its life?

Gavan Breen | 18 October 2010  

Gavin Breen: well put.

The overwhelming view in embryology is that human life begins at conception. There are hundreds of embryological texts attesting to this. Among copious examples:

"Development of the embryo begins at Stage 1 when a sperm fertilizes an oocyte and together they form a zygote."

[England, Marjorie A. Life Before Birth. 2nd ed. England: Mosby-Wolfe, 1996, p.31]

"Human development begins after the union of male and female gametes or germ cells during a process known as fertilization (conception).
"Fertilization is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon) with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being."
[Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology. Toronto: B.C. Decker Inc, 1988, p.2]

Now: supposing there is now a minority of embryologists who radically disagree. (That's all it could be. It's certainly not a lot.) Well, that means that it's merely highly probable - not absolutely certain - that abortion kills an innocent human being. Does that make abortion OK? Consider: supposing I'm out on a deer-hunt. I see a movement in the woods, conclude it's probably a deer and take aim. My companion stays my hand: "Wait! It's very likely a deer, but, looking closely, it might just be a human."

Morally, may I shoot?

HH | 18 October 2010  

Arguments against abortion which pivot on the issue of when human life begins seem to me to miss what I think is the true battleground of the moral status of abortion: namely of the comparative moral value of the embryo and the adult (and some intermediate stages). Some clearly think it is seamless and the embryo should have equal regard in all circumstances - even though the doctrine of double effect would allow some backdoor exceptions. Others think the embryo should have less regard than a fully developed human - even though it seems difficult if not impossible to identify the points at which the moral regard should change.

The former position is founded on a notion that human life is intrinsically worth more than any other life form; it is also rooted in the idea that the animating principle of each human life is a "soul" known to God. On the other hand, the latter position is founded, I think, on the notion that what will be morally good or not will depend on circumstances, not on any universal assumption, certainly not one which is merely theological and speculative.

My own view is that just as different circumstances affect other moral questions, so they can in the case of abortion. The occasional thresholds for action (when really should we abort or kill a deer or send soldiers to war?) may be higher than those we apply for some other issues, but they too are capable of scrutiny.

Stephen Kellett | 20 October 2010  

"The former position is founded on a notion that human life is intrinsically worth more than any other life form; it is also rooted in the idea that the animating principle of each human life is a "soul" known to God." (R.Rennick) While I do hold this belief, I don't base my argumentation on it. I base it on the idea that human life is worth more that that of other life forms because I'm human; it's my own species.

I base my argument also partly on a consideration of what people lose by being killed. Euthanasia of a terminally ill person deprives them of just a tiny (and you might say worthless) portion of their life. If you killed me you might deprive me of just ten percent (but I hope rather more) of my life. If I killed a middle-aged man I would deprive him of half a life, so that's rather worse (other things being equal). If I killed a child I would deprive him of, say, 90% of his life, and anyone would agree that's a more dreadful thing to do. If a foetus is killed, I see that as the greatest deprivation of all, and yet many people regard it as almost a nothing. This sudden reversal of the progression: the more you deprive the victim of the worse it is, is, to me, bizarre.

Gavan Breen | 20 October 2010  

Stephen K, with respect, arguments which pivot on the issue of when human life begins are exactly on the point, given the poverty of arguments that sidestep this issue by morally discriminating between human beings of diverse age, shape, size and dependency.* For example – as you yourself point out – those who take the latter course have found it difficult or impossible to identify when gradations of moral status occur. The obvious explanation for this fundamental difficulty/impossibility is that the underlying thesis is false, there are no such gradations, and human beings in all their diversity are indeed equal in moral status.

You assert later your own belief that such gradations do exist and are capable of scrutiny. To advance the discussion, you need to supply what hitherto others haven’t: reasons which firmly ground this belief. Failing this, the presumption must remain that when one aborts, one is directly killing someone who has the moral status of an innocent adult human.

* For an recent, excellent summary and critique of many such arguments, see F Beckwith, “Defending Life”, CUP, 2007 Ch. 6.

HH | 20 October 2010  

Moral degree by quantifying deprivation is an argument that can work different ways. The way you frame it, Gavan, makes abortion "worse" than euthanasia or killing you, and many would not permit such a weighting. Given the fact that at no stage can we ever be certain what percentage of life remains to any living being (notwithstanding actuarial tables) I think your version of the argument is less sound. A more certain version of the argument would be that to kill a fully conscious, aware and remembering adult is to deprive them of much more and cause them more trauma than it is possible to deprive an embryo which cannot be said meaningfully to be aware of anything. One could conceivably still take an anti-abortion position, but to do so consistently on this line of thought means one must accept that to kill a deer in its wild forest majesty is worse than to abort an embryo.

Stephen Kellett | 20 October 2010  

HH: in conceding it was difficult if not impossible to identify exact points in embryonic development at which moral status changed, I was in fact highlighting the Zeno paradox-like character of the argument that would conclude that because one would find it difficult to so point out then it meant it only took two cells to attract full moral status, rather like Zeno’s single-grain bushel sophistry. My own view is that enriched sentience and capacity for pain and social and emotional consequences furnish the basis for gradation. There could be more that don’t immediately spring to mind. I don’t think that’s difficult. Nevertheless, I’ll take up your invitation to read F Beckwith’s book and see what it has to say. I'm open to considering other arguments than those usually offered on the subject.

Stephen Kellett | 20 October 2010  

Stephen Kellett and Robert Rennick, my apologies for attributing something I quoted from one of you to the other.
As an offence against God, taking any human life is equally bad. As an offence against the victim abortion is worse than other murder and far worse than euthanasia. Not bringing God into it (for the benefit of non-believers) I could argue against euthanasia only on the 'respect for human life' line and the 'thin edge of the wedge' line.
Arguments that refer to sentience and capacity for pain would apply also to an unconscious person, the difference being only that an unconscious person would normally recover these qualities in a rather shorter time than the embryo would acquire them.

Gavan Breen | 21 October 2010  

I'll be counter revolutionary and suggest that perhaps as Catholics we believe that abortion is wrong because.... the Catholic Church teaches that it is so. What?! Follow the teachings of the Church?! I don't think I've ever read one blogger suggest such a radical thing!

Cathy | 21 October 2010  

I cannot see how Kristina Keneally’s conscience has been informed by the Church’s teaching on the primacy of conscience. The Vatican II document "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church" states at paragraph n.25:

"[For Catholics] ...religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra...". See below.


Even in Vatican II's "Declaration on Human Freedom" it states at paragraph n.14:

"In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church. For the Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth. It is her duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach, that truth which is Christ Himself, and also to declare and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origins in human nature itself." See below.


Finally one should note the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1792 which includes as "Sources of Erroneous Judgment":

"...a mistaken notion of an autonomy of conscience, and the rejection of the Church's authority and her teaching..."

Colin | 21 October 2010  

Kristina Kenneally: You state that "abortion should be safe, should be available and should be rare." Should murder also be safe, available and rare?

Robert Haddad | 21 October 2010  

Colin's extracts and explanation boil down to this: (1) if you hold any other belief or opinion than that taught in the Catechism , you don't have a good or an informed conscience, and (2) conscience is primary only in the sense or so long as it conforms to the Catechism. He is entitled to that concept of religious faith. And he may be comforted by the fact that the hierarchy say he is correct. But I think he, and the authors of the Catechism, confuse conscience with obedience and supine conformity. Obedience is a positively loaded word, and sounds like a virtue, but as was shown in Nazi Germany, it is not intrinsically so.

Stephen Kellett | 21 October 2010  

I would like to understand why 'These specific stances — on women's ordination and same sex adoption — and the more general principle of the importance of conscience are courageous' in the case of Ms Keneally or anyone else in Australia? Or is it the case you agree with them and you would like to be seen as courageous. Courage in politics is usually related to standing on principal when the majority see otherwise. I doubt the facts and your premise holds up.

Andrew O'Brien | 24 October 2010  

Our argument has nothing to do with Zeno paradoxes, Stephen Kellett, since it is premised on the radical distinction described by embryologists between pre­conception and post­conception entities, a distinction in no way analogous to that played on by the sophists between one grain of wheat and two or more.

The difficulties (impossibilities) in positing moral gradations in humans beyond conception is nicely illustrated in the hazy and constantly shifting positions of Professor Peter Singer, with which positions you’re no doubt familiar. (The philosopher who thinks it’s perfectly OK for humans to have sex with animals.)

Bear in mind that we are talking about killing humans here. In courts of law the criminal standard of proof is Beyond Reasonable Doubt. I suggest it’s up to you pro­-abortionists (and pro infanticidalists? … and beyond? Where is the line?) to prove that it’s BRD that the unborn (etc) can be directly killed. So far you’ve offered nothing here but ungrounded assertions. We need more.

HH | 24 October 2010  

SK: wrt your reply to Colin, and I'm sure you're aware, but just for the record:

Obedience is per se a virtue and only per accidens a vice. Disobedience is per se a vice: "Of Man's First Disobedience and the Fruit..." (Milton)

HH | 24 October 2010  

HH: my point was those who reduce a good conscience to only what reflects an official teaching make the exercise of moral formation one of obedience and conformity rather than one of reasoning and discernment. This gives obedience an undeserved status. I’d have thought to say obedience is per se a virtue and only per accidens a vice, is to make an artificial distinction, for I can’t see obedience “exists” outside the circumstances in which it occurs. Obedience is promoted within different contexts to encourage various aims that may be beneficial but may not: “order within the ranks” (vs “non-resistance to injustice”); “efficiency to get a job done” (vs “creative sterility”) etc. Is not the so called “per se” virtue of obedience simply the inherited or accepted investment of meaning reflecting the aim of the powerful in the context? The history of revolutions and “heresy” show establishments always represent the disobedient as bad, especially when the dissident protest the intolerable.

I think there are two approaches: one, to ask simply what the Catechism says, and adopt it forthwith; the other, to ask, what’s the problem, what do various sources say about it and what makes most sense? The second approach may not result in an orthodox judgment, but I think anyone who concludes it is not in good conscience over-reaches him/herself.

Stephen Kellett | 25 October 2010  

SK, thanks for your considered response.

I disagree! I readily admit that obedience is contextual. Therefore, obedience has priority over disobedience, since the Great Context is what is (metaphysics) and, derivatively, history, rightly interpreted.

God exists and justly commands our obedience, He being our Creator, we being His creatures. But God is not only our Just Ruler. He is also infinite Love, and these two modes of His infinitude are one. His laws enable us to flourish. (“Incline my heart to your decrees”…) To be obedient to Him is also to participate in Infinite Love.

It’s very Reformation and Enlightenment to promote rebellion above obedience. But those movements in essence attacked straw men. Blind obedience, which you rightly attack, is false obedience ­ a vice condemned in traditional Catholic theology. But the sword cuts both ways. Blind disobedience and conscious disobedience to due authority are also vicious. And there’s a presumption in favour of obedience when there is doubt: a presumption in favour of disobedience would attack the notion that law in itself is a good thing.

“Establishments” are either legitimate or not. If legitimate, their concern about the disobedient is entirely appropriate. To the extent that they are not legitimate, all things abovementioned being factored in, resistance to them ­ in favour of legitimate establishments ­ is also entirely appropriate. So the debate here comes down to whether or not the Church is an establishment of Christ.

There is no “view from nowhere”.

HH | 25 October 2010  

HH, you make interesting points. I’m not sure they make a compelling argument, though your maxim that a presumption in favour of disobedience would attack the notion that law in itself is good sounds very reasonable (and very Kantian!). Though I wouldn’t value disobedience intrinsically over obedience any more than the reverse for similar reasons, I cannot agree conscious disobedience to due authority is always vicious: it must surely depend on distinguishing what we mean by “due authority” or “legitimacy”. Parliament or Congress are “legitimate authorities” by the foundational consent of the people in their constitutions. Here “authority” or “legitimacy” mean something like “proper foundation”. But occasionally people think this authority is abused/misused when they’re compelled by laws they’re convinced are unjust; they conclude the authority has no “authority” - here, in the sense of something like a “moral capacity” - to so compel them in a particular way. I believe it’s in this sense many Catholics disobey official formulations/prescriptions, because in good conscience they think the Church has exceeded its moral capacity to pronounce definitively on a particular matter. I don’t need to list all the possible reasons people might think that but an obvious one might include the incongruity of the moral judgments made and the frailty and apparent fallibility of the people promulgating them. Thus, it’s possible for an establishment to be legitimate but to be properly and in good conscience resisted. In which case, deciding whether disobedience in any given situation is appropriate or not doesn’t depend on debating whether the Church is an establishment of Christ or not.

I agree it’s an important question, and may underlie many disputes between fellow religionists, but, because of diverse ways terms like “Church” and “establishment of Christ” can be understood, it's probably an unresolvable debate.

Stephen Kellett | 25 October 2010  

Long before anyone described the (Australian) Catholic Church as 'the Labor Party at prayer', a Brit wit described the UK Anglican Church as 'The Conservative Party at prayer'.

Gordon Rowland | 29 October 2010  

The phrase is “Smorgasbord Catholics” and it is unfair to apply it to faithful Catholics who demur at some of the Church’s attempts to legislate morality.

One can believe that human life begins at conception and that abortion is the destruction of a life and still not consider that it is either wise or just to threaten those who procure an abortion with prosecution and imprisonment regardless of the circumstances.

One can also believe in the sanctity of marriage as a sacrament requiring a covenant between a man a woman and God and still believe that there are situations where a child’s best interests will be served by adoption by people living in other arrangements.

In the real world, people make decisions we do not like not because they are evil, but because they see only a limited choice of options, so women will seek an abortion because they cannot see any alternatives.

Similarly, given that almost 200 children known to child protection authorities die every year in NSW, the need for a child to have a safe loving environment may well mean that in an individual case adoption by a gay or lesbian couple is the best decision.

If we really want our fellow Australians to live as we would have them live, then we need to show them by example that the choices we have made are better than those they are considering. The only way to do that is to concern ourselves more with our own behaviour and less with the behaviour of everyone else.

Aidan Foy | 31 October 2010  

I've only just read Kristina Keneally's speech on gay adoption. For someone with a theology degree, she is surprisingly poorly informed on crucial points.

Keneally states "I do not accept the Church’s view that sexual activity must always be for the
purposes of conception and procreation."

No,Premier, that's manifestly not the Church's view. The Church's view is, rather, that in every sexual act, couples must be open to the good of procreation. All this means - as is abundantly clear from all the relevant magisterial documents - is that couples must not take steps precisely to close their completed sexual act from the possibility of conception.

Keneally goes on to say that "in reality" the Church allows infertile couples to have sexual intercourse, in a bid to suggest a telling inconsistency between Church teaching and Church "reality" tolerances.

But the only inconsistency is between Keneally's weird, seemingly untutored construction of Catholic teaching, and Catholic teaching itself.

For someone who purports to be so concerned about what her Church actually teaches in informing her own conscience, I'm surprised the theologically tertiary-educated Catholic Premier of an Australian state has missed a point that even young teenagers I talk to can readily grasp.

HH | 05 November 2010  

P.S. Premier Keneally, I've noticed above that you've sought to correct a distorted representation of your own position re. abortion. Fair enough. So will you be conscientiously consistent and publicly correct your own crucial misrepresentation to members of the NSW Parliament that, according to the Catholic Church "sexual activity must always be for the purposes of conception and procreation."?

It's not hard. You could just cite, for example, para. 15 of Humanae Vitae: "On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from — provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever." This suffices to dispose of your contention that the Church requires couples to adopt a procreative purpose in every act of sexual intercourse, since, as the Church fully knows, it is impossible for one to intend what one believes to be impossible.

HH | 09 November 2010  

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