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Another Pontifical Academy for Life member criticizes overturning Roe v. Wade

Kevin J. Jones   By Kevin J. Jones for CNA

Roberto Dell’Oro is the director of the Bioethics Institute and a professor in the Department of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. / Screenshot from Loyola Marymount YouTube video

Denver, Colo., Oct 21, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Roberto Dell’Oro, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, has criticized the Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade’s strong protections for legalized abortion.

Dell’Oro is a moral theology professor and holds the O’Malley Chair in Bioethics at Loyola Marymount University, a Jesuit institution. He contends that the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization abortion case violates norms of democratic personal freedom and respect for women’s basic autonomy in a way that verges on the “totalitarian.”

His views suggest a split between pro-life Catholic opinion in the U.S. and members of the pontifical body originally set up with a strong pro-life mission. Last week an economist who is an outspoken advocate for abortion rights, Mariana Mazzucato, was appointed to the pontifical academy.

Dell’Oro, speaking at an Oct. 12 event at the Loyola Marymount University campus in Los Angeles, did voice support for banning abortion as early as the first trimester or, minimally, at the point at which the unborn child can feel pain, about 16 weeks into pregnancy.

Though the Dobbs decision allows those state-level bans and returned abortion law to the states, for Dell’Oro the decision was still flawed.

“In the potential conflict between a woman’s claim to autonomy and a state’s right to determine the future of her pregnancy, the Dobbs decision sides with the latter over the former, rejecting any space of ‘personal liberty’ for women, even in cases of rape or incest,” Dell’Oro said at the O’Malley Chair lecture “Confronting the Dobbs Decision: A Conversation About the Legality of Abortion.”

Dell’Oro is also director of the university’s Bioethics Institute, which presented the event. The institute grants master’s degrees and graduate certificates in bioethics and engages in outreach to medical professionals, researchers, hospital administrators, chaplains, and social workers on ethical problems.

In a subsequent interview with CNA, Dell’Oro emphasized that his remarks at the campus discussion focused on the legality of abortion, not its morality.

Dell’Oro, one of three speakers at the event, argued during the discussion that full moral agency defines a citizen’s status in “a secular, democratic polity,” and so failing to recognize “dimensions that are essential to women’s freedom” risks curtailing “full democratic participation” for more than half of society.

“To impose a choice on women over matters that belong to their most intimate sphere threatens to compromise their integrity, bodily and otherwise, as persons,” he said.

“It also undermines basic requirements of tolerance toward the pluralism of moral perspectives within society. In matters of personal life, a democracy differs from a totalitarian regime because it maximizes, rather than restricts, a space of personal freedom for all citizens, including women,” said Dell’Oro.

Critic: Argument ignores ‘most basic’ right

Dell’Oro’s remarks drew strong criticism from Teresa Collett, a University of St. Thomas law professor who co-authored an amicus brief on behalf of women scholars who asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe in the Dobbs case.

“By focusing on ‘choice’ and ‘pluralism’ the professor ignores that a democratic republic can only exist if it protects the most basic human rights, the most fundamental being the right to life, which at the very minimum must include the right to be protected against deadly violence of others,” Collett told CNA.

“Neither pluralism nor the invocation of ‘choice’ negates this basic political reality,” she said. “Just as pluralism does not justify state indifference to infanticide or child sacrifice, even when appearing in the guise of religious liberty, it does not justify permitting abortion absent the extraordinary circumstance of pregnancy posing a threat to the mother’s physical life.”

In response to inquiries about his remarks, Dell’Oro depicted his position as a legal compromise.

“I hope that my own personal position as an ethicist is not simply reduced to the compromise position that I articulated with respect to the law,” he told CNA.

“Compromise might be in fact all that you can aim at in the political situation in which we are here in California,” he said. California voters will decide whether to pass a strongly pro-abortion rights ballot measure this November.

In his remarks at the campus event, Dell’Oro contended that Dobbs shows apparent blindness to developments that have helped affirm “women’s moral agency.” These changes contributed to “a maturation in our moral sensibility, in finally coming to recognize women as full moral agents.”

“Such moral agency gives women the freedom to decide whether and when to have children. It determines how they live their lives and how they contribute to the society around them,” he said.

Collett, however, was skeptical. She objected that Dell’Oro failed to identify how to determine whether a particular development is an advance or a decline in a society’s ethos.

“This silence is telling given that he premises his entire critique of Dobbs on the claim that restricting abortion (at least in the first three to four months of pregnancy) is an unjust limitation on women’s autonomy and that insofar as Roe v. Wade created a constitutional right to access to such abortions the case reflected an advancement of the ‘ethos of society,’” she told CNA.

“Political prudence may require acceptance of exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and threats of a permanent and substantial impairment of a major bodily function, but protection of the life of every human being, born and unborn, must be the ultimate goal of our society,” said Collett.

Despite his criticisms of legal abortion, Dell’Oro also criticized maximal pro-life legal protections.

“You can go all the way for the protection of the vulnerable from the moment of conception, but that means that you’re wiping out the agency of women,” Dell’Oro told CNA Oct. 19.

Dell’Oro again sought to make a distinction between morality and law. While the Second Vatican Council rejected direct abortion as a “crime” in Gaudium et spes, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes the right to life from conception, Dell’Oro characterized these as “statements concerning the morality of abortion.”

“The Second Vatican Council says something also very important about the problem of the relation between morality and the law,” he said. He invoked the thought of the American Jesuit Father John Courtney Murray. Murray is considered to be an influence on the council’s religious freedom teaching. However, Dell’Oro could not specify where Murray discussed legal abortion.

For Dell’Oro, Murray “understands the space of tolerance that must be granted in matters of personal choices within a pluralistic democratic society.”

“Otherwise, the alternative you have is the alternative of a totalitarian theocratic society. If you want a democratic society to turn into Iran, fine. But then you collapse morality and legality,” he told CNA. “Now, that distinction is certainly ingrained in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and is certainly ingrained in our own Catholic understanding of how morality and legality relate to one another. Now there are unjust laws. But the question is not whether all laws ought to be just. The question is whether some unjust laws can be tolerated for the sake of democratic coexistence and for the sake of moral pluralism. That’s what is at stake here.”

Dell’Oro said the situation of pregnancy, in which another human being is “enfleshed” in another, means that the person bearing the pregnancy needs to be recognized fully as a moral agent. He emphasized the need to empower women considering abortion to “potentially choose in a different direction.”

Academy taking a more ‘pluralistic’ approach

Despite his criticism of Dobbs, in his remarks at the campus event Dell’Oro said the moral response to life “cannot be anything less than life-affirming.”

Everyone who is alive is alive due to their mother “accepting our emergence in her flesh,” he said, adding that he hoped that a woman would respond to her pregnancy as a moral agent “capable of recognizing the dignity of the life that grows in her as well.” Because human dependency on others and responsibility for one another is part of the human condition, she should have the support of society as well, he said.

“The work of sensitizing society around the value of prenatal life remains absolutely intact and absolutely important. This is a compromise which I think the law could begin to set,” Dell’Oro told CNA.

He said he invoked the capacity for fetal pain to focus on its “symbolic meaning,” not as a “theory of moral status.” He recognized that the “freedom to choose” cannot be absolute, and the capacity for fetal pain is a moment “which might wake up a woman’s agency” as she considers whether to have an abortion.

Collett, however, worried that this proposed compromise “ignores the biological fact that every abortion ends the life of a unique separate human being.”

“It is morally deficient,” she said, comparing it to previous compromises that allowed the enslavement of Blacks in the U.S.

“A 15-week abortion ban would save only a tiny fraction, perhaps 1-2%, of babies from death by abortion. While prudence requires us to accept incremental progress where necessary, his position continues to endorse the abortion industry’s refusal to accept the biological reality of the human person,” she said. “To endorse (or even accept it) in the name of pluralism and ambiguity undermines basic principles of justice and equality.”

In June Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, joined the U.S. bishops’ pro-life activities chairman Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore to praise the Dobbs decision as “the fruit of the prayers, sacrifices, and advocacy of countless ordinary Americans from every walk of life.” They said Roe v. Wade “grievously denied” foundational American truths “that all men and women are created equal, with God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The Pontifical Academy of Life said the Dobbs ruling “challenges the whole world.”

“The protection and defense of human life is not an issue that can remain confined to the exercise of individual rights, but instead is a matter of broad social significance,” the academy said in June, calling for the reopening of “a non-ideological debate on the place that the protection of life has in a civil society to ask ourselves what kind of coexistence and society we want to build.”

Speaking to CNA, Dell’Oro described the Pontifical Academy for Life under Pope Francis as rooted in John Paul II’s premises, to an extent, but also going beyond them. Under John Paul II, the academy was “more of a space of an engagement in the pro-life movement in ways that were very much defined a priori by the boundaries of Catholic doctrine.”

Under Pope Francis, he said, the academy is more analogous to other pontifical academies, which accept leading academics and scholars regardless of religious and moral views.

Dell’Oro said that the Pontifical Academy for Life is “the academic space that serves the concerns of the Church in the area of bioethics.” It brings into dialogue the Church’s position, and academy members should be conversant with the positions of secular thinkers and thinkers of other religions.

“Yes, the academy has become a more pluralistic kind of a body. But again, the pluralism of dialogue is not supposed to be one that undermines the position of the Church, but in fact, one that potentially could throw into better relief the singularity of their position,” Dell’Oro said.

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  1. As this academic psychopath teaches at a university in the diocese of Los Angeles, I very much look forward to Archbishop Gomez’s unequivocal condemnation of his appointment to the Pontifical Academy for Life. If such a statement is not forthcoming soon, perhaps CWR could ask the His Excellency for the reason for his silence.

  2. Roberto Dell’Oro reflects the continued transformation of Christ’s revelation into a secular pragmatic ethics. Certainly his idea of God is not faith predicated, rather Jesuit [Loyola U] progressive anthropocentric.
    This is the air breathed by members of Paglia’s Academy for Life. As Ms Collett affirms the primary human right is the right to life. The matter then is not a religious imposition on a pluralistic free society. It is a justice and legal issue correctly decided by the Court. Apostasy is not a religion, although at the Pontifical Academy of Life apostasy has assumed the trappings of religiosity. A trend that is worldwide, wrongly assumed by the Church under the guise of relevance to the modern world. Contrary to what Benedict XVI envisions in his recent, likely to be misunderstood, and consequently controversial, letter.

  3. Naming Roberto Dell’Oro to the Pontifical Academy for Life is like inviting Judas back to be an apostle of Christ.

    Why are children so hated by so many?

  4. Oft repeated, seldom understood, “Truth is not determined by a majority vote.” The wisdom of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, later elected Pope Benedict XVI, should be enshrined in every heart. “Just because everyone else is doing it,” I told my son, “doesn’t make it right. God didn’t give you a brain so others could think for you.”

  5. The article below in relation to another wrong opinion, an example of how such dissident opinions can bring forth good fruitful efforts of correction –
    The image of the 9 week old in the above article – a precious gift to be shared with every child and family as reminder to bless own lives in that stage and every stage , to read up on the powers of the soul of the Lord and The Mother as a glimpse of what they desire to share with ours in an ongoing manner as the grace of the Immaculate Conception – narrated in the Book – Virgin Mary in the Kingdom of the Divine Will .

    Many of the learend and wise might have blind spots ; educating families early on , about life issues and the effects of wrong choices having impact at many other levels that weigh down the whole of society , even generations is a truth that The Church and many good media sites would hopefully get more eager to take upon, the more we hear of persons who have skills in many areas , yet still blind or rather have been blinded in foundational issues .

    St.John Paul 11 who heroically dealt with such at massive levels as communism and Nazi evils .. yet God allowed him, as holy as he has been, to be blinded to the evil of an important Church figure … ? to earn graces for many to forgive themselves when faced with similar moments –

    Glory be to God !

    • You’re rambling all over the place, I think.

      To have a dialogue about anything, you don’t have to be appointed to a leadership position, or any position, in a Catholic committee or institute.

      Moreover, if you want to insist on it and appoint abortionists as Catholic leaders, you don’t have to excise, at the same time, other committees that won’t function in that way.

      Furthermore, the actual public endorsement of abortion is not a dialogue, it is a criminal activity subject to criminal penalty. So when you place as a leading form of dialogue, abortion advocacy, you have indulged yourself and others in crimes.

      Not to mention being misleading to the unwary and causing many to fall.

      Speaking over it at the same time labels of unspecified “arrogance” and specified “adoration” makes the whole thing a travesty.

    • Uh, the guy who can fire him is the one who just hired him. The Pope knows who he is and what he believes, and he appointed him anyway; or rather, he appointed him because of, not despite, what he believes. Facing up to the root and reality of the problem is the first step to solving it.

  6. All can see that the purpose of the 2013 pontificate is to implement “the mind of McCarrick,” and stow away “the mind of Christ.”

    Or as Fr. Robert Imbelli indicated in his essay, to “decapitate” the Body of Christ.

  7. As somebody that has a degree in economics; a graduate degree in a related field (finance) and maintains a decades long interest in the field, I checked the background of Mariana Mazzucato, as I haven’t seen her name in any serious papers or publications.

    “She received her BA from Tufts University and her MA and PhD from the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research.”

    The New School is to economics what off-shore medical schools are to medicine.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Another Pontifical Academy for Life member criticizes overturning Roe v. Wade | Passionists Missionaries Kenya, Vice Province of St. Charles Lwanga, Fathers & Brothers
  2. Još jedan član Papinske akademije za život otvoreno zagovora ‘pravo’ na pobačaj – Župa sv. Ante – Komin

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