[Excerpts from John Allen's Friday missive in NCR:]
[T]he two most widely read news sources in and around the Vatican have commented on the Obama appearance: L'Osservatore Romano, the semi-official Vatican daily, and L'Avvenire,
the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference. . . . [B]oth papers broadly reflect what a substantial number of people in the corridors of power [i.e., the Vatican] think and feel.
L'Osservatore carried a brief news story about the Obama speech at the top of page three on Monday.
"The search for common ground: that seems to be the path chosen by
the President of the United States, Barack Obama, in dealing with the
delicate question of abortion," the L'Osservatore piece
began. "Setting aside the inflammatory tone of the electoral campaign,
Obama yesterday confirmed what he had said during a press conference
after his first 100 days in the White House when he affirmed that
launching a new law on abortion is not a priority of his
The article makes indirect reference to the controversy surrounding
Obama's appearance at Notre Dame, but never cites any of the American
bishops who criticized the university. It quotes favorably from Obama's
Not surprisingly, ardently pro-life American Catholics were appalled. One called the L'Osservatore article "a superficial and unsatisfying report."
Perhaps even more irritating from the point of view of pro-lifers in
the States, Vian gave a midweek interview to an Italian journalist in
which he asserted that Obama "is not a pro-abortion president." Such
comments sparked criticism from leading American Catholic
conservatives. George Weigel has lamented the "sorry ignorance of
recent American history" at L'Osservatore, while Deal Hudson has said the time has come for a new editor.
L'Avvenire, on the other hand, carried a harder-hitting
front-page editorial on Tuesday signed by Francesco D'Agostino, chair
of Italy's National Bioethics Committee, a member of the Pontifical
Academy for Life and a consulter to the Pontifical Council for the
D'Agostino challenged Obama's claim that abortion is always a
"heart-wrenching" decision for a woman, arguing that in some cases
abortion is simply viewed as a means of birth control, and one that
doesn't pose a particular ethical dilemma. In that sense, he accused
Obama of being either naïve or deliberately disingenuous.
D'Agostino also insisted that anti-abortion forces have been misrepresented.
"Contrary to how they're usually presented, opponents of abortion
are not people who want to send women who have abortions to jail at all
costs, or who want to see the doctors who help them at trial. They're
rather people who are convinced that it's essential, not only for moral
reasons but also for social reasons, that human life -- including
prenatal life -- be recognized for its intrinsic value, and, as a
result, be respected and protected," he wrote.
In that regard, D'Agostino argued that if Obama's desire to reduce
the actual number of abortions is to be meaningful, and not just
verbal, he must acknowledge that the legalization of abortion has
"strongly attenuated" the respect for prenatal human life in advanced
Although this was a more critical perspective than the L'Osservatore
piece, there's one interesting wrinkle. Towards the end, D'Agostino
argues that abortion is an anthropological problem before it's a legal
one, because it raises the fundamental question of whether abortion
truly involves the killing of a human life. He makes the following
parenthetical remark: "One can agree or disagree with the
decriminalization of voluntary abortion," appearing to suggest that
either view could be defended, as long as there's clarity on the
That's a more flexible position than many pro-life forces in the
States could accept, for whom the legal abolition of abortion is the
only morally defensible aim. It's another reminder of the gap between
Catholic cultures in Europe and America; in Europe, even the most
ardent pro-lifers sometimes seem "soft" by American standards.
May 22, 2009 | Permalink
| TrackBack (0)