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A Practicing Catholic Debates the Questionable Teachings of the Catholic Bishops Regarding Abortion (BOOK REVIEW)

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Duluth, MN (OpEdNws) February 6, 2011: George Dennis O'Brien (aka G. Dennis O'Brien) has written his short 185-page book THE CHURCH AND ABORTION: A CATHOLIC DISSENT (Rowman & Littlefield, 2010) for his fellow practicing Catholics. Many practicing Catholics are evidently afraid to debate the questionable teachings of the Catholic bishops regarding abortion publicly. But not O'Brien. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Chicago (1961) and is the author of the book HEGEL ON REASON AND HISTORY (University of Chicago Press, 1975). But he's now retired after a long and distinguished career as an academic administrator. His retirement may have contributed to his courage to debate the questionable teachings of the Catholic bishops.

Nevertheless, as a reprisal for debating the teachings of the Catholic bishops about abortion, O'Brien's local bishop could deny him communion at Sunday Mass. Local bishops have the authority to make fools of themselves whenever they want to. For example, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted recently declared St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix could no longer be considered to be a Catholic hospital because an abortion was performed in the hospital in an emergency situation to save the mother's life. Everybody agrees that he had the authority to make a fool of himself as he did. Such is the frightening authority of the Catholic bishops. So who knows what O'Brien's local bishop will do to him for publicly debating the questionable teachings of the Catholic bishops regarding abortion?

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Even though this book has been written by a practicing Catholic for his fellow practicing Catholics, non-Catholics who are concerned about the abortion debate in the United States might want to read O'Brien's book. Even if you happen to disagree with him occasionally, as I myself do, you'll probably find the book stimulating and thought provoking to read.

Disclosure: Even though I was a Jesuit seminarian for a number of years earlier in my life, I am not a practicing Catholic at this time. Moreover, I have published an op-ed piece online titled "The Questionable Ethical Teachings of the Catholic Bishops Regarding Abortion in the First Trimester Should Be Debated" at on January 3, 2011. From what O'Brien says in his book, he probably would not accept my reasoning in my article, just as I am not impressed with everything he says in his book.

Nevertheless, throughout his dispassionate book, O'Brien comes across as an attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible American citizen who is addressing his fellow practicing Catholics about public discourse and debate in the United States regarding abortion.

But O'Brien has evidently not asked himself the crucial question that Americans concerned about the antiabortion zeal of the Catholic bishops should ask: What's in it for the Catholic bishops to stir up antiabortion anguish? In a word, money. By stirring up antiabortion anguish, the Catholic bishops can keep conservative antiabortion Catholics stirred up and willing to contribute their money to the bishops. The greed of Catholic bishops and priests has been well known at least since Dante's INFERNO.

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In the twentieth century, the Catholic bishops and priests stirred up anticommunist fervor, because the communist regimes were officially against religion. The communists in the former Soviet Union, for example, made the practice of religion against the law; the Soviet communists wanted to put the Catholic bishops and priests out of business. As a result, the Catholic bishops and priests fomented anticommunist fervor among Catholics. But since the Supreme Court of the United States legalized abortion in 1973, antiabortion fervor has replaced anticommunist fervor as a way for Catholic bishops and priests to keep Catholics contributing money to them.

Moreover, we should never forget that the dubious ethical judgments of Catholic bishops contributed enormously to the priest sex abuse scandal.

Furthermore, we should never forget that Catholic bishops represent institutionalized patriarchy. The Catholic bishops do not want to allow women to be ordained priests. The Catholic bishops do want even want to hear any discussion or debate about this possibility. They do not even want to allow diocesan priests to be married to women. Because legalized abortion in the first trimester obviously favors and empowers women, the Catholic bishops are against it, because they are the guardians of centuries-old patriarchy.

In any event, the Catholic bishops in the United States and elsewhere around the world live a rich fantasy life in which they imagine themselves to be the successors of Jesus's apostles. Their fantasy life includes a noncritical understanding of the four canonical gospels and the portrayal of Jesus and his apostles in them as based on some kind of defensible historicity. (By contrast, a critical understanding of those stories would challenge their historicity.)

But in one of the canonical gospels, the character named Jesus is portrayed as sending out his followers to preach, but he tells them to turn around a leave any village where the people do not want to listen to them and to shake the dust from their feet as they leave to show their contempt for the people that they are leaving behind. But the Catholic bishops in the United States and elsewhere are not following those instructions. Instead, they are following the example of certain ancient Hebrew prophets such as Amos.

Nevertheless, in the view of the Catholic bishops, O'Brien is not a successor of Jesus's apostles. Therefore, the Catholic bishops see their role as successors of Jesus's apostles as teaching people like O'Brien. In the bishops' thought-world, it is not O'Brien's role in life to try to teach the bishops. Unfortunately for O'Brien, he evidently does not understand this.

Therefore, the Catholic bishops are not likely to read O'Brien's book, because he's a nobody in their thought-world and because they want no debate about their position regarding abortion.

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Conservative antiabortion Catholics are also not likely to read O'Brien's book, because they are not interested in why he or anybody else might dissent from the ridiculous teachings of the Catholic bishops.

So the only Catholics who are likely to want to read O'Brien's book are people who are skeptical about the bishops' antiabortion anguish or who already disagree with the bishops regarding abortion.

I mentioned above that the Catholic bishops appear to be acting like passionate ancient Hebrew prophets such as Amos. By contrast, O'Brien writes in a dispassionate way. As a matter of fact, he writes so dispassionately that there is scarcely an appeal to pathos in this book. Nor is there a call to action.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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