Monday, 7 January 2013

Tony Abbott's 'liberal 'catholicism'

For some conservative Catholics, Tony Abbott, current leader of the Opposition is the great hope.

I'm continually bemused as to why.

The latest contribution to my bemusement on this subject is an article on how he has been supporting his female Chief of Staff's efforts to conceive using IVF!

Abbott on life issues: a failing mark

In an article in Marie Claire magazine that appears to be yet another attempt to overcome Abbott's low standing with female voters, Ms Credlin apparently claims that Mr Abbott supports abortion, contraception and IVF:

"According to reports on Sunday, Ms Credlin told Mr Abbott: ''I will just never agree with you on abortion. I think you are opposed to it, desperately opposed to it, and you would ban it if you could.''

Mr Abbott replied: ''Well, that's just bullshit. I believe it should be safe, legal and rare.''

Mr Abbott, who is a Catholic, also told her he strongly supported IVF and did not oppose contraception.

And he has apparently been supportive of her own efforts, even to allowing her to store fertility drugs in the Office fridge....

The official Church position on IVF is that it is not permitted, even within marriage, and even where no third party donation is involved, because, amongst other things, the procedure inevitably separates procreation from the conjugal act, and almost invariably involves the destruction of fetuses in the process.  You can read the full details of the arguments here in the official Vatican document, or read the Queensland Bioethics Centres' explanation of it here.

So I'm waiting (without any great expectation) for his bishop, Cardinal Pell, to publicly correct him on this subject...

Abbott's patchy record

I can perfectly understand conservatives (or indeed anyone's) desperation to find an alternative to the Gillard regime.

And it's not like the alternative contenders within the Liberal-National coalition (or Labor for that matter) are any better on these issues.

It is also true that as Health Minister under PM Howard Abbott took some positive steps, for example in funding genuine pregnancy support services and fighting the good fight on RU 486.

But as the ABC's Chris Uhlmann (who has strong pro-life credentials), has pointed out, when it comes to a perceived choice between getting elected and compromising his faith, Abbott chooses electoral expediency every time.

Commenting on David Marr's Quarterly Essay on Abbott, Uhlmann rejects the claims of those like Gerald Henderson that Marr's anti-Catholicism prejudices led to an unfair portrayal of Abbott's religious views.  Uhlmann argues, correctly in my view, that looking at the effects of Abbott's faith on his politics is perfectly legitimate:

"It's perfectly reasonable for Tony Abbott's political life to be informed by his Catholicism; many Greens are informed by a modern take on pantheism and no one seems troubled by that. And it's arguable that some of his best political impulses are those shaped by a rich tradition of theology and philosophy. It was therefore essential for Marr to examine the Opposition leader's faith, because it is impossible to understand Tony Abbott without it."

Uhlmann argues though that Marr missed the real issue:

What should have been the talking point of the essay is the glaring fault-line Marr draws between Tony's faith and Abbott's ruthless pragmatism. Tony's better angels have ever been at war with Abbott's earthly ambitions, a tension that appears even in his decision to train for the priesthood at St Patrick's College, Manly. Why? "He wanted to be Archbishop of Sydney," Father Michael Kelly told Four Corners in 2010. Given the church leadership's immersion in the darker arts of politics for nearly 2000 years, Father Kelly might have added St John Chrysostom's observation that, "The road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops."

Tony is guided by Christ's distillation of the law: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Abbott is driven by a parody of that dictum coined by another Catholic politician, James Curley, the three-time Boston mayor: "Do others, or they will do you."

In short, Abbott looks much more like those US Democrats who claim to be Catholic yet seem to think that doesn't actually require them to oppose abortion or defend religious freedom for those who actually do adhere to the teachings of the Church than he does a genuine conservative Catholic.

Can a politician win by standing up for truth?

The problem for Catholic politicians of actually standing up for the truth on life issues is that most of them think that they will get elected despite their pro-life views rather than because of them.  They may well be right, though there is some counter-evidence for example in the last Victorian State election.

Yet I think Abbott's problem actually lies more in the perception that there is a disjunction between his real views and what he says publicly than in what his views actually are.

If a politician actually stood up and said 'I oppose abortion because I oppose killing babies and hate what it is doing to women and our society', there are many feminists who would attack him or her viciously.

But I think many more Australians would respect the integrity of their views, even if they didn't agree with them.

They might even still vote for them.  Former PM John Howard, after all, was re-elected even after leading the fight for gun reform against the views of much of his own constituency.

And what's the point of being in politics at all if you aren't prepared to fight for a better society?  If Catholic politicians aren't prepared to fight the good fight on these issues, then it really does become hard to escape Uhlmann's conclusion that they are just in it out of naked ambition...


Joshua said...

I am not best pleased with Tony's latest revelations regarding his moral views - but (barring accidents) he will still be PM by year's end, and (as Blind Freddie could work out) he'll do a better job than Julia, who is after all an atheist with an even worse lust for power and lack of principles (think of all her backflips).

Catherine said...

How I would love to be able to vote for a consistently pro-life political leader!

When it comes to pro-life credentials both of our current options for the next Prime Minister are equally poor.

With one of them you have no expectation of her doing the right thing, so anything good is a nice surprise; with the other you can't be sure that even when he knows what the right thing to do is, that he will do it, inducing bitter disappointment.

These days I have to weigh up the pro-life credentials of all the party candidates on both sides, to see which has a greater proportion of people willing to stand up for marriage, and against abortion, contraception, euthanasia, IVF, human cloning and other nasties. (Although this method yielded a NSW Premier with an appalling pro-life track record, and sadly his morally good political colleagues haven't been able to lessen the disasterous policy decisions we have witnessed.)

Hobson's choice it is! May the good Lord grant that when Federal election time comes around we may have better Prime Ministerial candidates to choose from!

To my mind the best predictor for a politician who will provide for the needs of families, the sick, the elderly, and who will assist the poorest and most disadvantaged members of our communities is one who has a pro-life voting record.

A Canberra Observer said...

And now with today's Pyne IVF 'moral support' 'revelations' the cynic must conclude this is a crass ploy for the contraceiving female vote.
And the pride of "the Church got it wrong on IVF".
The choices we have (for political leaders) are hardly choices at all.

PM said...

We may indeed be waiting a long time for the rebuke from His Eminence or, sad to say, from the organised pro-life movement. They have always given Abbot and his politically conservative colleagues a much easier ride than they have to Labor politicians - I can still recall the extraordinary foray across the Murray from Magaret Tighe of Victorian Right (sic) to Life to unseat Michael Maher, whose adherence to Catholic teaching was exemplary. (The rseult, by the way, was to put into parliament a thoroughly unscrupulous political animal who was convited of fraud.)

I have long thought that the greatest impediment to the pro-life cause is its identification with the hard right of politics. It is used by Republicans in the US, but too many of its leaders are complicit in that exploitation. This is bad for two reasons. The first is pragmatic: such an approach will repel anyone who isn't a gun-toting, climate-change denying etc etc Tea Party social darwinist. More importantly, it isn't authentic Catholic teaching - as even the most cursory reading of any social encyclical from Rerum Novarum onwards will show.

In a perverse way, Abbot, amd even moreso Cameron in the UK, are doing us a favour in sparing us a form of the Republican Captivity that is taking hold in the US. (Starting a war that meets none of the traditional just-war criteria and causes hundreds of thousands of deaths is 'only' a 'prudential' matter? Spare me!)

R J said...

After one has read about the JFK campaign's "Catholic" cant in 1960, the pro-Abbott brigade's antics in 2012-2013 are a clear case (for those among us who, unlike the Tighes in our midst, have the misfortune to be historically and theologically literate) of "déjà vu all over again."

Cardinal Pole said...

If I'm not mistaken, Mr. Abbott's Local Ordinary is The Lord Bishop of Broken Bay, currently Msgr. Walker. (Reportedly, Cardinal Pell does hear Mr. Abbott's Confessions, but the jurisdiction involved is one of the privileges of the Cardinalate.)

Cardinal Pole said...

The "reports on Sunday" to which that Canberra Times article refers are presumably this Sydney Sunday Telegraph article and its online and print derivatives. And that Tele article refers, moreover, to its apparent companion article, by Mr. Abbott himself.