Friday, December 24, 2010

Apologia: We May Not Do Evil So Good May Come

Preliminary Notes

apologian. a formal written defence of one’s opinions or conduct.[*]

I make no apologies, in the modern understanding of the term, for standing with the Catholic Church of course. However, I do offer this apologia to defend what I believe as a member of the Catholic Church.

Let me say this upright to those who would comment on this article: Comments which strike me as being uncivil or anti-Catholic will be deleted and their author will be banned from the site. I recognize that some people will disagree with what Catholics believe, but there is no excuse for behaving in a rude manner or making wild accusations.

Also it is important to understand that while this article is based on explaining why Catholics must oppose abortion, abortion is not a “Catholic” issue. There are non-Catholic pro-lifers out there, and I have even encountered some atheist pro-lifers. (A good philosophical discussion of abortion can be found HERE).

While some non-Catholics (or heterodox Catholics) may deny the premise that the unborn child is a person, Catholics accept the premise as true, and it is important to remember this in understanding this.

Preliminary Doctrine

It will help to understand the Catholic understanding about abortion if one keeps in mind these beliefs of the Catholic Church

1786 Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.

1787 Man is sometimes confronted by situations that make moral judgments less assured and decision difficult. But he must always seriously seek what is right and good and discern the will of God expressed in divine law.

1788 To this purpose, man strives to interpret the data of experience and the signs of the times assisted by the virtue of prudence, by the advice of competent people, and by the help of the Holy Spirit and his gifts.

1789 Some rules apply in every case:

  • One may never do evil so that good may result from it;
  • the Golden Rule: "Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them."56
  • charity always proceeds by way of respect for one's neighbor and his conscience: "Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience . . . you sin against Christ."57 Therefore "it is right not to … do anything that makes your brother stumble."58

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Non-Catholics may not agree with these principles. However, people professing to believe the Catholic faith do (or at least are required to) hold to these principles. Recognizing that Catholics do hold to these beliefs will help understand why some things must be held as absolutes and why the Catholic Church must sometimes say “No,” when the world says “Yes.”


While the secular anger over Bishop Olmstead's action continues, it seems very little based on the issues he had to deal with (the hospital refusing to agree to certain conditions), and tends to focus more on the attack on the Catholic position on abortion in general.

The typical response is to blame the Catholic Church of being indifferent to the suffering of the mother, and being unreasonable in opposing abortion in such conditions.

This is unjust and maligns us.  However, not all opposition is based on bigotry, and I write this to the men and women of good will.

Now there are two types of attacks I have seen.  The first is based on not knowing why the Catholic Church teaches as she does.  The second is based on an intolerance which assumes any position contrary to one's own must be held out of ignorance and/or bureaucratic indifference.

Now of course it is generally futile to try to explain to the intolerant why we hold what we do.  The intolerant person generally refuses to understand any view other than their own[†].  However the person who is merely uninformed about what we believe and is willing to understand us even if he or she disagrees with us is a person with which dialogue is possible.

It is to the second type of person to whom I address this apologia.

What is Abortion?  Why Does the Catholic Church Condemn It?

Abortion is the direct termination of a human life by the destruction of the unborn child.  Secular and non-Catholics may disagree with this, but this is the Catholic belief.

The Catholic Church teaches:

2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

So we have a belief that because human life must be respected and protected from the moment of conception.  It follows from this belief that a human person (born or unborn) may not be deliberately killed for the benefit of the mother.

Two things follow:

  1. We condemn the deliberate killing of the child to save the mother
  2. We condemn the deliberate killing of the mother to save the child

Medical treatment to save the mother is of course required when possible.  However, the killing of one life to save another is not morally permissible, and this is exactly what the "Life of the Mother" cases of abortion are.

So we can put it in a syllogism, showing that Catholics believe:

  1. It is [forbidden] to [Kill an innocent person to save another] (All A is B)
  2. [Abortion] is [Killing an innocent person to save another] (All C is B)
  3. Therefore [Abortion] is [Forbidden] (Therefore all C is A)

When one looks at it this way, one can see that Catholics cannot justify abortion to save the life of the mother on the grounds that it is the direct killing of an innocent person.

Doing Evil vs. Suffering Evil

Since we believe "One may never do evil so that good may result from it," we are sometimes faced with the problem of tragedy.  The common objection is this: “Since both the mother and child will die, you are guilty of both deaths by refusing abortion.”

This is false.  Since abortion chooses to kill one life in favor of another life, abortion means an active choice to do something evil with the intention that good may come of it.

So when it comes to doing evil (committing abortion) vs. suffering evil (recognizing the mother may die), we believe we may not do evil.

This is hardly a new issue.  It came up in the times of persecution under the Roman Empire, where some would argue that to admit to being a Christian would lead to hardship and even death.  Some heretics argued it was all right to deny the Christian faith because of the evils which would be suffered.  St. Augustine pointed out that this was in fact a case of doing evil before evil could be done to you.

In other words, the principle we reject is, "Do unto others before they do unto you."

If we accept the idea of "doing wrong to prevent wrong being done to you," as a moral premise, then we open up a Pandora's Box of moral evil.  Can the state make this decision to sacrifice an innocent citizen for the sake of the nation?  Can we condemn a innocent man for a crime he did not commit to avoid a riot?  The Catholic Church would say no to both, and say so on the same grounds she condemns abortion: We may not do evil to achieve a good end.

This is something which exists today. When the New York Times and the ACLU hold that Catholic hospitals should be forced to administer abortions, Catholic hospitals may be forced to close their doors rather than cooperate with evil. This would not be “permitting people to die because of a dogma.” This would be saying: If you say we must perform evil actions to run a hospital then you effectively make it impossible for us to run a hospital.

In other words, if the ACLU gets its way, Catholic hospitals may have to suffer evil by being shut down instead of doing evil by deliberately taking human lives. However, the evil being done would be done by the ACLU and the government, not the Catholic hospitals forced to shut down by this denial of our First Amendment rights.

What about Double Effect?

Double Effect is a principle which is often misunderstood. I have seen it misapplied to the Catholic Church to indicate that because she permits certain things, she is being arbitrary in not applying things universally.

So let’s start with what Double Effect is, and how it applies to pregnancy and illness.

Double Effect recognizes that there is an action which is intended. An unintended effect may be to cause harm to innocent bystanders. However, this evil is not intended and would not be done if it were possible to avoid it. Moreover, the good done must outweigh the unwanted evil.

So, for example, let us imagine an enemy is discovered flying over New York with an atomic bomb and must be shot down before he detonates the device. However, since he is flying over the heart of the city, if he is shot down, the wreckage will no doubt fall down and injure or kill people.

With this, we have the following:

  1. The direct intent is to shoot down the enemy to protect the innocent
  2. The unintended and unavoidable consequence is that some innocent person may be killed by the wreckage of the plane being shot down.
  3. The killing of the innocent is not directly intended and would be avoided if possible (that is, if it were possible drive the plane away from the populated area and then shoot it down, they would choose that action).
  4. The direct intent is not morally wrong in itself (defending the innocent by shooting down the plane)
  5. The good outweighs the unintended evil

In such a case it could be licit to shoot down the enemy plane if there was no other choice. However, it would not be licit to radio the pilot and tell him “We have your wife and children and we will kill them unless you turn back. Why?

In the second case, the direct intent is to kill the innocent to deter the guilty.  This evil is directly intended as a means of stopping the attack.  Therefore it is not a moral means and may not be used.

Now in this day and age, after 9/11/2001, many people might think this is an acceptable tradeoff under the concept of utilitarianism (putting the emphasis on benefitting the greatest number of people while harming the fewest). However, since the Catholic Church believes one may never directly intend do evil so good may come of it, the utilitarian concept is unacceptable.

Double Effect and Abortion

Now when it comes to abortion, we have the following situation.

  1. The good intended is to save the life of the mother.
  2. The means chosen is to directly kill the unborn child.
  3. Since this is directly intended to sacrifice one life to save another, this is not double effect.
  4. Since the Catholic believes the unborn child is innocent and believes that the willful taking of innocent life is always evil, it follows she must oppose things which directly intend an evil so good may come of it.

Since the death of the unborn is directly intended, we cannot call it an unintended effect, and since Catholics believe the means in this case is evil, we are not free to do this as a means to the end.

This is where the objections come in about the Catholic Church permitting the removal of a uterus from a pregnant woman (a Hysterectomy) and asking why abortion can’t be done instead. Isn’t it the same thing?


The concept of the Hysterectomy is that a diseased organ must be removed to save the mother’s life. The unborn child may be attached to the diseased uterus, but in this case the death of the fetus is not directly intended and if it were possible to save the unborn child, it would be done.

The difference is: One directly intends to kill the unborn child. The other does not.

Self Defense and Abortion

Self defense is the principle that one is permitted to use force necessary to protect one’s life from an unjust attacker. The Catholic Church has this to say on the subject:

2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one's own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not."65

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's.66

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

Some have made the point that abortion to save the life of the mother, or in the case of rape falls under the principle of self defense. The argument is that being made pregnant by a rapist or becoming gravely ill during a pregnancy is an attack on the mother and abortion is justified on the grounds of self defense.

The Catholic Church cannot accept this.  The idea of the unjust attacker being defended against must be directed to the person who unjustly attacks.  Not another person related to the unjust attacker (this rejects the idea of abortion in the case of rape/incest).  Nor is the fact that a person existing is harmful to the mother justifiable in doing abortion.  Just because the unborn child exists does not mean the unborn child is unjustly attacking the mother who is suffering.

Because of this, the Catholic cannot accept the appeal to Self Defense as anything other than legalism, distorting the intent to justify something which is not self defense in any sense of the term.


The key points here are that Catholics believe that in order to be faithful to Christ, we must behave in a way which seeks to do good and realize we may never do what we believe to be evil. Therefore:

  1. We may not choose an evil means to achieve a good end.
  2. The unborn child is a human person with human rights
  3. Abortion directly intends to end the life of the unborn child.
  4. Deliberately choosing to end an innocent human life to achieve an end is evil
  5. Because abortion directly intends to end an innocent human life, Catholics must consider it an evil act and may never participate in the act.
  6. The Catholic Church recognizes the life of the mother is also sacred, and the Church does not prefer one life over the other. We believe that all reasonable means which are not evil must be employed to save lives.
  7. Therefore it is false and scurrilous to accuse us of not caring about the life of the mother.

As a result, though individuals, groups and governments may hate us, revile us, seek to litigate against us or seek to restrict our rights as human beings by denying us our rights under the First Amendment to practice our faith without interference, we are required to obey God rather than man.

Since we believe we are forbidden to do evil, since we believe that the deliberate killing of an innocent person is evil, and since we believe abortion is the deliberate killing of an innocent person, we are obligated to stand up and say, “We will not do this evil you demand of us.”

[*] Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[†] By “understand” I do not mean to automatically “accept.” Rather, I mean understand in the sense of knowing what we believe and why we believe it, even if one disagrees with us.


  1. Tom Hedkvist, 10-gruppenJanuary 10, 2011 at 9:46 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Arnobius-of-Sicca, it is a pleasure to read a Christian viewpoint that is articulate, consistent and, most of all, sensible. Keep up the excellent work.
    Mark Allen.