26 September 2008

Ancient Martyrs in Syria and Contemporary Threatened Persecution in Australia

Basilica of Sts Cosmas and Damian, Rome

Today is the feast of Sts Cosmas and Damian, said to have been twin brothers from Syria and to have been physicians, who were martyred in 303 during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian, along with their three brothers Anthimus, Leontius, and Euprepius and their widowed mother. I came across this item about them
Saints Cosmas and Damien were twin brothers born in Arabia (modern day Syria) around 270 A.D. They had three younger brothers; their father died, so their mother, Theodota, was left to raise all five of them herself. Cosmas and Damien were educated in science and medicine, and became physicians that were quite skilled and enthusiastic about their work. They offered their services primarily in the seaport Aegea (between Tarsus and Antioch), on the Gulf of Iskenderun in the Roman Province of Cilicia (modern day Turkey, south central coast). The following story of their work provides a meditation for our own lives:

Cosmas and Damien saw in every patient a brother or sister in Christ. For this reason, they showed great charity to all and treated their patients to the best of their ability. Yet no matter how much care a patient required, neither Cosmas nor Damien ever accepted any money for their services. For this reason, they were called anargyroi in Greek, which means "the penniless ones."

Every chance they had, the two saints told their patients about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Because the people all loved these twin doctors, they listened to them willingly. Cosmas and Damien often brought health back to both the bodies and the souls of those who came to them for help.

When Diocletian's persecution of Christians began in their city, the saints were arrested at once. They had never tried to hide their great love for their Christian faith. They were tortured, but nothing could make them give up their belief in Christ. They had lived for him and had brought so many people to his love. So at last, they were put to death in the year 303.

Diocletian's edict in 303 demanded religious uniformity and the elimination of the Christian sacred literature. Christians who refused to cooperate could face death. It was said that Cosmas and Damien, after refusing to worship the Roman idols, had survived several devious means of torture and death, and were finally beheaded. These martyrs are named in the First Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass and in the Litany of the Saints.
The two saints are patrons of physicians, surgeons and pharmacists. At Mass this morning I told the people that while persecution of the Church similar to the time of the saints we honour today continues in places, there’s a different kind of persecution going on, for example, in the State of Victoria, Australia, where legislation passed recently by the lower house, the Legislative Assembly, but yet to be ratified by the upper house, the Legislative Council. If passed, this would try to force doctors, nurses and pharmacists to be involved directly in abortions. There is no attempt whatever to recognise the rights of conscience. We find similar movements in other parts of the Western world.

Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne has issued a very strong and clear pastoral letter and has called for a day of prayer on Sunday, 5 October. Here is the letter, with my emphases (and comments).


19 September 2008

Dear Friends,

Early this year, my brother bishops and I issued a Pastoral Statement on the proposed ‘decriminalisation of abortion’ and made the following key points.

A human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception and all living human individuals are entitled to the equal protection of the law.

Every living human individual, including those imperfect physically or mentally, is equal to every other individual in respect of the right not to be directly or intentionally killed.

The Church does not condemn women who have had abortions and encourages them to find hope, forgiveness and healing in the mercy of God. Together with their children, they are the principal victims of this new culture of death. Often women resort to abortion for complex reasons, abandoned or under pressure, or led on by false information.

The motivation to decriminalise abortion seems to be to remove the “unlawful” stigma currently attached to “medical” abortion in virtue of the fact that it is named as an offence in the Crimes Act. But the Law is a great educator and if the Law approves something then people gradually accept a new understanding of what is right and what is wrong. People begin to think: “Abortion is lawful now, so it’s right.” This would betray the majority view in the community that the incidence of abortion should be reduced. (As a young priest I was studying in New York when the state passed a law allowing abortion on demand up to 24 weeks. I remember hearing a female student in the college where I was studying - in the process of rejecting its Catholic identity at the time - say, 'We now have another way to solve our problems'.)

Recent developments

In late August, when the Abortion Law Reform Bill was introduced into the Legislative Assembly, I again spoke out against the proposal in similar terms.

Sadly, the Bill passed the Legislative Assembly on 11 September 2008 without amendment despite courageous attempts by many to have the Bill defeated or to have its effects minimised. It will soon be introduced into the Legislative Council and, if passed, could be become law as early as 15 October 2008.

I write now with a deep sadness for mothers-to-be and children yet to be born, and with a profound sense of anguish at the draconian clauses in the Bill which attack long held religious beliefs and practice.

Make no mistake about it, the Bill goes beyond codifying current clinical practice, as its proponents claim, and will set an unfortunate precedent which other states may follow.

This Bill is a breach of fundamental human rights with some particularly disturbing features.

Abortion Law Reform Bill

The Bill if enacted:

applies to females of child bearing age;

allows a female to have an abortion up to 24 weeks gestation performed by any doctor, regardless of their expertise;

allows a pharmacist or nurse, without involvement of a doctor to supply or administer a drug to cause an abortion to a female up to 24 weeks gestation;

permits abortions from 24 weeks up to childbirth for a female if two doctors reasonably believe the abortion is appropriate having regard to the woman’s relevant medical and current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances;

repeals the offence of “child destruction”;
compels a pharmacist or nurse employed or engaged in a public or private hospital or day-procedure centre, if directed in writing by a doctor, to administer or to supply a drug to cause an abortion to a female who is more than 24 weeks pregnant; (Wouldn't Hitler and Stalin be proud?)

imposes a legal obligation on doctors, nurses, pharmacists and psychologists who have a conscientious objection to abortion to refer a woman requesting an abortion to another practitioner in the same profession whom the practitioner knows does not have a conscientious objection to abortion; (To use the Hitler context again, a German or Italian sheltering Jews because of their objection to the Nazi genocide policy would be compelled to hand over the Jews to those who agreed with it.)

and imposes a legal obligation on doctors and nurses, notwithstanding their conscientious objection, to perform an abortion on a female in an emergency where it is deemed that the abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman. (How depraved can you get? Jewish musicians being forced to play while their fellow-Jews were being hanged.)

Protection of mothers and unborn children

The Bill is seriously flawed as much by what it omits as by what it contains.

Notable flaws include:

the failure to provide any protection for unborn children right up to 40 weeks gestation;

the failure to ban partial birth abortions;

the failure to safeguard the health of women by permitting abortions to be performed by doctors who have no qualifications or training in obstetrics; ('backstreet' abortionists with 'MD' after their names).

and the failure to include informed consent provisions.
Many of the so called “safeguards” in the Bill fail to protect either the expectant mother or the unborn child. For example, an abortion will be possible from 24 weeks up to childbirth provided the doctor consults one other doctor who agrees it is appropriate.

The Bill does not require a consultation with the woman by the doctor to form a second opinion nor does it specify whether this colleague need have any expertise in the area or any specialist training or qualifications. In this way, it would not be difficult to gain the consent of one other colleague particularly if both worked in an abortion clinic. It would not matter that 5, 10 or more colleagues previously did not concur that the abortion would be appropriate.

Nor does the Bill offer any provision for professional counselling to women with unplanned or difficult pregnancies, provide them with accurate information about the likely effect of an abortion, protect women in vulnerable positions from coercion, or contain any other provision likely to reduce the number of abortions carried out in this state each year. On the contrary, the Bill is most likely to lead to an increase in the number of abortions, including so-called “social” abortions.

Freedom of religious belief in the 21st century

The Bill is an unprecedented attack on the freedom to hold and exercise fundamental religious beliefs. It makes a mockery of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and the Equal Opportunity Act in that it requires health professionals with a conscientious objection to abortion to refer patients seeking an abortion to other health professionals who do not have such objections. It also requires health professionals with a conscientious objection to abortion to perform an abortion in whatever is deemed an emergency.

The Bill is clearly intended to require Catholic hospitals to permit the referral of women for abortions.

As one commentator has put it, it is an insidious irony that this coercion of conscience is being carried out in the name of choice. Parliamentarians are being afforded the opportunity to exercise their consciences to remove the right of health professionals to exercise theirs.

Nurses are in a particularly vulnerable position, since many would be under a duty to assist in an abortion if a doctor so requires, and determines that it is an “emergency”. I do not believe that our community wants to force nurses, many of whom have a conscientious objection, to assist in late term abortions. I do not believe that the community wants to force them and other health professionals to act contrary to the law, leave their professions or leave Victoria.

Catholic hospitals and the large number of Victorians they serve are also in a vulnerable position. Catholic hospitals will not perform abortions and will not provide referrals for the purpose of abortion. (Archbishop Hart is taking a very firm line here, unlike some bishops in the USA on abortion, and some in England on the matter of adoption by same-sex couples.)

If this provision is passed it will be an outrageous attack on our service to the community and contrary to Catholic ethical codes. It will leave Catholic hospitals and doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion in a position where they will be acting contrary to the law if they act in accordance with their deeply held moral convictions. This Bill poses a real threat to the continued existence of Catholic hospitals. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to foresee how Catholic hospitals could continue to operate maternity or emergency departments in this state in their current form. (This may be a form of 'institutional martyrdom'. 'If your right eye etc. . .)

This is a significant issue for the community at large having regard to the fact that Catholic hospitals account for approximately one third of all births and are seen by many as their hospitals of choice. In its report on Abortion Law Reform, the Victorian Law Reform Commission created a false dichotomy in relation to conscientious objections, a dichotomy between “adequate justification” and “mere prejudice”. This was subsequently relied upon in debate in the Legislative Assembly. The position of the Church is postulated as “mere prejudice” and without “adequate justification”.

The Church’s position which it has held ever since the first century is clear. The procurement of and complicity in abortion in every circumstance is a moral evil. (Calling Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.)

It is an affront to logic to suggest that a belief held over the life of the Church’s existence and which has been subject to rigorous examination by theologians over the centuries can be dismissed as a “mere prejudice”. If this argument were to prevail, the beliefs of all religious faiths could be similarly dismissed. The argument itself smacks of prejudice, is a direct attack on religious expression and unworthy of a place in a contemporary mature state which values diversity of thought.

Call to prayer and action

The time has come for all those who support life to rally in prayer and action to defeat the Bill. The challenge is daunting and every effort must be made.

I have declared Sunday 5th October 2008 as a Day of Intercession throughout the Archdiocese dedicated to the defeat of this Bill. I urge as many of you as possible to join me in an hour of prayer at St Patrick’s Cathedral at 12:15 pm on that day immediately following the 11:00 am Mass and stand in solidarity with women and the unborn who are directly at risk from this Bill.

I also urge you, as I have done, to make your concerns known to your representatives in the Legislative Council and when doing so, to act respectfully and argue from a position of reason. The addresses of Members of the Legislative Council are attached. Previous statements can be located on the diocesan web site together with more comprehensive information on the Bill.

Yours sincerely in Christ

+ Denis J. Hart

Let us join Archbishop and the people of Victoria, especially its doctors, nurses and pharmacists in prayer, through the intercession of Sts Cosmas and Damian. What is being proposed is the persecution of persons whose conscience does not allow them to participate in the killing of an unborn child. Not all of them are Catholics, not all are Christians.

1 comment:

johnsmith said...

The author talked in details about the contribution of Syria, under Christianity, in building the European civilization. He said that Christ honored the land of Syria when he visited Banias ( in the Golan) at Jordan's spring and near the now liberated Syrian city of al-Quenitra.



Internet Marketing