WATCH ON THE RIGHT: The Pope Versus the Bible. John M. Swomley reveals why it is crucial that Vatican theology, ideology, and power be scrutinized, analyzed, and publicly opposed if essential freedoms are to be preserved by comparing Vatican dogma and the actions of Catholic bishops with biblical evidence. From: THE HUMANIST, November-December 1997
WATCH ON THE RIGHT
The Pope Versus the Bible
John M. Swomley
The Vatican has begun a multimillion dollar project that will strengthen its influence in the United States. After about ten years of planning, construction began this past September on what the July 23, 1997, Washington Times reported is a $50 million Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. The 100,000-square-foot center is being built next to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and is being financed by a Detroit foundation.
The key to the purpose of this center is found in its focus on the teachings of the current pope and on such issues as abortion, birth control, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and ordination of women. It was described as “part interactive museum and part think tank.” In other words, “it is intended to be akin to a presidential museum for the Pope” and also a right-wing propaganda agency to supplement the already Catholic-led Heritage Foundation, National Empowerment Television, and Free Congress Foundation. These have been promoting right-wing Vatican ideology in the American political sphere ever since Paul Weyrich, deacon in the Catholic church, founded them and turned over the leadership of National Empowerment Television to William Bennett of the right-wing Catholic Campaign for America. Bennett is the former secretary of education under the Reagan administration and the nation’s leading advocate of vouchers for private schools.
The Washington Times also report ed that Detroit’s Cardinal Adam Maida said the pope wanted this memorial in Washington. It did not speculate about a pope who would build such a memorial to himself instead of using such funds for efforts like eliminating poverty, war, disease, and other forms of injustice. As many progressive Catholics and others have long known, the Vatican is primarily a political and financial power institution functioning behind the pope’s facade of spirituality.
This has been demonstrated particularly with the issues of abortion and birth control. When the Catholic bishops launched the right-wing religious movement in the United States with their Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities on November 30, 1975, there was no right-wing religious consensus around which to unite. Abortion, including contraceptive birth control as the bishops defined it, became the major focus of both Catholic and Protestant right-wing groups. The use of contraceptives after intercourse to prevent im plantation in the uterus was defined as abortion.
Since there was no biblical basis for their position on abortion, the bishops relied exclusively on papal theology, using such phrases as “the sanctity of life from conception onwards” and “the church has a unique responsibility to transmit the teaching of Christ” with “regard to abortion” and “should show that abortion is a violation of God’s laws.”
In examining such statements and papal theology about abortion and birth control, it is essential to examine the biblical record. There is no reference in the Old or New Testament to the sacred ness or sanctity of either human or fetal life. In fact, throughout the Bible people are murdered, slaughtered by the millions, sacrificed, beheaded, and crucified - and, for a multitude of reasons, often at the instruction of or to appease God. This is especially true of the lack of sanctity of the fetus. In 2 Kings 15:16 there is reference to an order to smite all the people of a certain region “and all the women therein that were with child [are to be] ripped up.” In Hosea 13:16 it says, “Their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.”
When Isaiah seeks vengeance against Babylon, he asks God to see that “everyone that is found shall be thrust through.. . and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye shall not spare children (Isaiah 13:15-18). The separate reference to children and fruit of the womb is to fetal life. These are not isolated references to violent abortion, as evident in Amos 2:9, Psalms 21:10, Deuteronomy 33:11, and elsewhere. There are also three leading biblical figures who wished for an abortion or miscarriage. Job (3:16) laments, “Why was I not as a hidden untimely birth, as infants that never see the light.” Jeremiah (20:14-18) wishes he had been killed in his mother’s womb. And Hosea (9:14) asked God to “give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.”
Jesus, speaking of expected and time events, showed no special concern for fetal life: “Alas for those that are with child, and those that give suck in those days” (Matthew 24:19, Mark 13:11, and Luke 21:23). In Luke 23:29, he said the days are coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren and wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck.” There is actually one commandment from God to Moses to have a priest mix a potion that might produce an abortion if a man’s wife has become pregnant by another man (Numbers 5:11-31).
None of the above passages affect the Vatican or its fundamentalist Protestant allies who are intent on using abortion and pro-life emphases as a way of getting theocratic control over the United States and women worldwide.
Moreover, the Vatican idea that human life begins with conception is an attempt to override the biblical idea that human life begins with breathing. The Hebrew word that describes a human being is nephesh - the breathing one. It occurs 775 times in the Hebrew Bible.
It is obvious that in Hebrew thought a fetus is not a living human being be cause it does not breathe on its own.
Pro-life groups mistakenly apply one of the Ten Commandments--”You shall not kill”--to a fetus. That commandment did not refer to animals, as Israelites killed to eat and to sacrifice. It did not apply to their enemies in war, and it did not even apply to all Israelites because anyone who cursed his or her father or mother was to be killed (Exodus 21:17). It is desperation that makes “pro-lifers” apply the commandment to an embryo or fetus because there is no explicit reference in the entire Bible that is anti-abortion or pro-life with respect to a fetus.
The fact that the Catholic bishops are using abortion to control America is evident in the following excerpt from an article in the August 29, 1997, National Catholic Reporter discussing women who become pregnant by priests:
Some priest-fathers are willing to become involved with, if not willing to fully acknowledge, their off spring. But sadly, others simply arrange abortions, sometimes with the acknowledgment of their bishops.
If one examines Vatican dogma, it is only fetuses that have a “right to life.” The pregnant woman whose life or health is endangered by the fetus has no right to life. Over the centuries, the Vatican has been involved in the direct or indirect slaughter of millions of people, including the enemies in the Crusade; the heretics and Jews in the Holy Inquisition; Protestants in the religious wars in Europe; Moors driven out of Spain; Muslims driven out of Eastern Europe by Polish-led armies; Jews, gypsies, and communists in World War II; and both Orthodox and Muslim Serbs killed by the Croatian Ustashi Catholics during the 1930s and 1940s.
If it is argued by the pro-life movement that the Vatican has changed in recent years, it is only necessary to note that, since 1975 when the bishops wrote their pro-life pastoral, the Vatican has been involved with its Maronite militia in Lebanon and the thousands of murders of suspected communists and political dissidents in Argentina described by Emilio F. Mignona, a Roman Catholic, in his book Witness to Truth: The Complicity of Church and Dictatorship in Argentina.
Moreover, to show his devotion to “life,” Pope John Paul II on April 21, 1986, raised the twenty-nine military vicariates around the world to the status of dioceses. These have military jurisdiction and are governed by prelates with the same rights and privileges as a bishop. It was the military vicars in Argentina who gave the church’s approval for the military coup of March 24, 1976, which led to the murders in the subsequent “Dirty War” in that country. There are at least twelve such vicariates in the Americas (including the United States), nine in Europe, three in Asia, three in Africa, and two in Oceania. The pope also insisted--against the initial vote of the U.S. bishops--on maintaining the right to use nuclear weapons by pre serving the doctrine of deterrence.
It is thus obvious that the term pro-life refers only to embryos and fetuses and not to living human beings who incur the ill will of the Vatican from time to time. That is why the Vatican has institutionalized militarism within its own organization. It also goes to great lengths to prevent individual countries, as well as the United Nations, from saving the health and lives of women through family planning, birth control, and legalized abortion.
In the United States, the Vatican has convinced the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, the Mormons, the Southern Baptist Convention, and other Protestants to abandon biblical principles and accept papal theology. Together these groups have prevailed upon the Republican Party to write Vatican theology into the party platform as follows:
“The unborn child has a fundamental right to life that cannot be infringed.” This means that men and fetuses have a right to life at all times, but women lose that right when they become pregnant.
The Vatican has tremendous influence on many governments, on the military, on Congress, and on many Protestants. It is primarily the civil or ecclesiastical disobedience of progressive Catholics that keeps it from much greater political control over the lives of women and people generally. It is crucial that Vatican theology, ideology, and power be scrutinized, analyzed, and publicly opposed if essential freedoms are to be preserved.
John M Swomley is an emeritus professor of social ethics at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri and president of Americans for Religious Liberty.