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January 04, 2008


Bernard Brandt

Dear Fr. O'Leary (Father, bless!):

Thank you for this wonderful essay on your travels to Southern Italy and Magna Graecia (aka, Sicily). It would appear that in addition to having a lovely writing style in both English and French (rather like your literary forebears, Wilde and Beckett), and being an eminent scholar in Theology and Patristics, you are also a capable travel writer. I look forward to anything that you might write, and particularly when you are ready to write about your sojourn in Japan.

Very truly yours,

Bernard Brandt


Very lovely Travel writing indeed -
I am however not so sure if the issue of Abortion would be the one that would come to my mind as the primary one worth fighting for in the context of freedom and pluralism.
Particular in lovely rich and secure countries like Italy with world record low birth rates I think one has to be intellectually a bit dishonest to try to make a case for abortion.
In my view our official policy should be - educate and utilize the known birth control means to the fullest extent, but once you are pregnant, only for clear medical reasons and if a crime led to the pregnancy can the expecting mother and father have an abortion.
I find it absurd that we fight for preservation of natural habitats, against clear cuts etc. but still cater to folks on the left and right who do not get their act together and think they can 'manage' their unborn life in a freewheeling fashion.
Rich countries like all of the EU and North America should be able to provide plenty of financial aids and social policies to solidly knock any argument for social abortions out of the the ball park.

I think folks from the liberal and progressive wing of our church and out society should fight to disallow socially motivated abortions.
Intellectually this seems more honest to me than a situation where we fight for environmental laws, protect animals and trees but fail to live up to equally tough moral standards.

I am all for equal rights regarding gender, races and sexual inclinations but I do think we should reconsider our positions regarding Abortion.

Spirit of Vatican II

Grega, no one likes abortion. But the present crusade of Cardinal Ruini is inopportune for two reasons: (1) the present abortion law is satisfactory to the majority of Italians, and has been attended by a spectacular DECREASE in the number of abortions; (2) Italy has grave political challenges to face, if it is not to decline to lame-duck status, and it cannot afford yet another envenomed and distracting Church-State struggle.

Si Fractus Fortis

I very much enjoyed your description of your travels in Italy, which included some places I have been to recently myself.

However it does seem to me to be a bit contradictory to inveigh against traditionalists in the liturgy at the same time as you complain about a non-traditional production of "Il feudatorio". You also say that the abortion issue is satisfactory to the majority of Italians and therefore is inopportune. If you applied this logic to the Goldoni production, you would have no cause for complaint about it "because the audience seemed enthusiastic".

Spirit of Vatican II

I am not against non-traditional interpretations of plays and operas, just against the current reduction of plays to noisy choreographies that have nothing to do with the original.

Yes, just because a law is satisfactory to the population, e.g. capital punishment in Japan, would not be a reason for not contesting it. But in this case the law was strongly fought for, consciously adopted, as an expression of the general will of the Italian people; and it has proved its merit in at least one respect: the vast REDUCTION of the number of abortions in Italy. The demand that the political life of Italy be bedevilled by another divisive abortion debate is inopportune, as the only people dissatisfied with the law, as far as I know, are the teodem minority, and as no evidence has been offered that the law is worse than any practicable alternatives (nor have the teodems offered a practicable alternative as far as I know).

Si Fractus Fortis

Mussolini was always talking about the will of the Italian people, wasn't he?

And the general will of the German people in 1934 (by 84.6% of the electorate), was that the Presidency should be abolished and Hitler should be Fuehrer and Reichskanzler. Would you have characterised any Christian opponents of this as "the teodem minority".

I would like to check the figures for abortions. Can you give me a reference?

Spirit of Vatican II

It is true that democratic majority decision can undermine democracy. I think John Paul II argued that a State which legalized abortion had lost legitimacy, so he would not have had much respect for a democratic vote on this issue. However, the fruits of the current abortion legislation in Italy include a steep decline in abortions, so the Italian people have some reason to be satisfied with it. The alternatives in practice are backstreet abortions, or abortions in some neighboring country. You can google for the abortion statistics; e.g. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3634/is_199611/ai_n8756099.

Spirit of Vatican II

"According to the Higher Health Institute, [before 1978, when the law was passed] between 250,000 and 600,000 illegal abortions occurred each year and many women died of complications. In recent years the number of legal abortions has settled at about 135,000 a year, according to the National Statistics Institute, while the number of illegal abortions has settled between 20,000 and 25,000 per year."

Spirit of Vatican II

The above quote is from http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/2685.

Meanwhile huge rates of illegal abortions with many women dying remain typical of countries like Mexico where abortion remains illegal.

Si Fractus Fortis

Thank you very much for posting the references. I had indeed googled for the figures, but was unable to find any reliable ones for pre-1978.

However I am a bit puzzled by the references you give. The first one (at findarticles) doesn't actually say that abortions have declined since pre-1978. It says that abortions have declined since 1978, which is a quite different thing. It says that the figures for pre-1978 are unknown.

This contradicts your second reference which says there were 240-600,000 illegal abortions before 1978. But how they arrived at these figures is not stated. It seems a very wide spread - but I would hesitate to accuse a prestigious publication like womensenews.org of making wild guesses.

The experience in Italy seems to suggest that in fact the number of pre-legalisation abortions were wildly exaggerated, and that the subsequent legalisation of abortion exposed the exaggerated figures for what they were. Why would more women seek out unsafe, costly and illegal abortions than seek out safe, free, legal ones? It makes no sense.

First trimester abortions are now legal in Mexico, and one of the results is that the estimates given for illegal abortions there have also been shown to be wildly exaggerated.

Si Fractus Fortis

I'm sorry, I meant to say "a prestigious organisation like the Higher Health Institute" not "womensenews.org".

Eoin O'Leary

You might e-mail me on this address.


Eoin, what address?

Big news: I am spending a week at the Bayreuth Festspiel in early August -- a ticket landed on my plate like the miraculous descent of the Holy Grail from the clouds.

Spirit of Vatican II

I see that one of the 67 signatories of the letter criticizing the Pope has had his promotion blocked. F. Barbero reports:

E' stata sospesa la nomina a direttore del CNR del professor Maiani, uno dei più grandi fisici italiani, "in attesa che chiarisca la sua posizione".

Quale reato ha commesso il predetto professore da essere incorso in una simile censura clerico-fascista?

E' sconvolgente leggere la motivazione che sorregge questo iniquo provvedimento. Infatti il motivo addotto è il seguente: il professor Maiani è uno dei 67 docenti che ha firmato la lettera rispetto alla visita e al discorso del papa alla Sapienza.

Scrivere una lettera saggia, civile, intelligente in questo paese può costituire una colpa, un demerito. C'è da rabbrividire per questo inverno della democrazia e della laicità.

Esprimo tutta la mia convinta solidarietà al professor Maiani per questa censura gravissima che deve essere rimossa da subito.

Here is a piece on the abortion legislation:

Partito Democratico

La legge 194 nasce per le donne. E’ una buona legge. Applichiamola sempre meglio

La legge 194 è, come afferma il Ministro da Livia Turco, «saggia, lungimirante e attuale»; sostenuta dal referendum popolare, è stata una conquista di civiltà, che ha unito le donne convinte che per questa via, si ridava dignità al paese, attraverso l’eliminazione della piaga degli aborti clandestini, la tutela della salute delle donne e la promozione di una maternità consapevole nel rispetto del principio dell’autodeterminazione .

Chi oggi mette in discussione questa legge dimentica che la sua applicazione ha ridotto del 60% il ricorso all’aborto in Italia e fa prevalere una posizione ideologica che prescinde dai dati sull’applicazione della legge 194, che deve , al contrario essere valorizzata e sostenuta proprio a partire dai risultati ottenuti.

Chi sostiene la legge sottolinea il valore e l’efficacia che ha avuto sulla prevenzione dell’aborto e propone di applicarla potenziando il lavoro svolto dai consultori: attraverso la destinazione di risorse adeguate, potenziandone la visibilità per favorire l’accesso delle parti più fragili della popolazione femminile, a cominciare dalle donne straniere, dalle adolescenti e dalle giovani.

Per continuare in questa direzione occorre proporre e sostenere politiche di che promuovano la libertà delle donne, attraverso una distribuzione delle risorse più equa a partire dall’occupazione femminile, dal reddito , dalle risorse culturali, dalla formazione; politiche di sostegno alla natalità, alle famiglie, all’autonomia e alla responsabilità delle persone, per una cultura della condivsione delle responsabilità familiari.

Occorre investire sulla formazione di tutti, uomini e donne, per rendere gli italiani di oggi e soprattutto di domani fieri di immaginare e progettare il futuro, una società a misura di tutti e in una dimensione che possa accogliere e far crescere le bambine e i bambini dell’oggi e del domani.
Su queste basi le donne del partito democratico organizzeranno un’iniziativa di studio e riflessione collettiva aperta non solo a tutto il partito ma a tutti coloro che vorranno concorrere alla costruzione di un pensiero di genere plurale.

Spirit of Vatican II

CNR in the story of the censured physicist stands for National Research Council.

Povera Italia, povera Chiesa!

Si Fractus Fortis

1. Well, what on earth did Prof. Maiani expect? He's either very stupid (unlikely in his position) or very naïve.

2. As for the other article, it sounds like a typical propaganda piece pulling all the populistic strings, in fact it gets quite lyrical in places. But remarkably short of figures - which is not surprising as I don't believe any reliable ones exist. The "bambini dei domani" aren't going to exist if the Italian birthrate continues at its present level.

3. It's often the very same people who attack the Vatican for interfering in Italian politics who criticise it for not speaking out enough about the Jews in WW2.

Spirit  of Vatican II

Si Fractus, if you are American you enjoy the blessing of a democracy where there is separation of church and state. Thus if a man writes a letter critical of a religious leader he cannot be victimized for it by secular or governmental institutions. What would you say if Harvard University annulled the nomination of a Dean because he had written a civil, wise and intelligent letter critical of Billy Graham or of Mormonism? Would you not detect something unAmerican or fascistic or McCarthyite about such an incident? Do you think Italy is constitutionally fascist and too immature for democracy?

Spirit  of Vatican II

The statistics for legal abortions are presumably reliable; they show a decline from 1983. How the frequency of illegal abortions before and since the 1978 law factors into the equation is not easy to discern, because of a lack of reliable statistics.

Si Fractus Fortis

As a European I am very aware of the anti-religious and particularly anti-Catholic attitudes of the European governments today. I can certainly imagine the situation in reverse, i.e. a Catholic being refused promotion because of stating his/her opposition to secular views. In fact it has already happened several times. What you are seeing in Italy is an increasing intolerance to religious views for anyone, not just the Pope and the Vatican.

Si Fractus Fortis

I must say I admire the way you have edited both your comment and my comment to make my point about the pre-1978 figures your own!

Chi va con lo zoppo impara a zoppicare


Si Fractus, during the hearings of the commissioners designate before the European Parliament, italian lawmaker Rocco Buttiglione expressed the opinions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church about family and homosexuality and he was barred.
If you see this as an anti-catholic attitude, you also don’t see any difference between Parliament and Church.

Spirit of Vatican II

Si Fractus referred to people being denied promotion for their Catholic views. The anti-Catholic attitudes of Governments he refers to may only mean that the governments of UK, Holland, Germany, Spain, France legislate on life and marriage issues in way the Church (but not the voters) disapprove of.

My sympathies to you, Cris, on the absurd downfall of the excellent Prodi, for which the Church can claim credit. I get the impression that the leading churchmen have suddenly fallen silent after their barrage of provocative interventions in recent weeks. Is it the silence of satisfaction as they await the return of the innommable Berluscone? Or do they feel they have overdone it, acting more a a political party than as evangelists? Benedict lashed out at the media the other day -- does he feel he has walked into a media trap? -- for of course nothing delights journalists and sells newspapers as much as Popes nagging about sex-related topics.

Benedict has been too eloquent on Italian politics and his points are far too penetrating. John Paul II remained a foreigner in Italy, and reserved his most dazzling mediatic performances for the farflung countries of his numerous voyages or for strictly religious events in the Basilica.

Benedict and his Cardinals have reignited anticlericalism in Rome, as the Sapienza affair showed. But as in the aftermath of Regensburg they may be readjusting their style just now.

Si Fractus Fortis

Cris, I'm not sure that I understand the point you are trying to make. Are you saying that a parliament should be free to legislate what it likes without any reference to morality? I thought that idea was completely discredited after Europe's experience with the Nazis.

As Catholics we presumably think the Church's morality is objectively true - not just the result of the Pope getting up on the wrong side of the bed one morning - and that there are definite temporal, as well as eternal, consequences to acting contrary to it. Europe is reaping those consequences in family breakdown, the fall in the birthrate, alienation of the young, lack of role models, to mention a few. The rest of the world is reaping the consequences of Europe's lack of morality through the damage caused by its selfish protectionism and by its ghettoising of immigrants (again mainly because of anti-religious intolerance - this time of Islam).

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