Ever since Pope Francis famously said “Who am I to judge?” regarding homosexual persons (not homosexuality itself), liberal commentators have been hopeful that the new pope will turn his back on long-held Catholic dogma. Now Dr. Gary Gutting at the New York Times is proposing that the Pope Francis apply his reforming approach to the issue of abortion:
I want to explore the possibility, however, that the pope might be open to significant revision of the absolute ban on abortion by asking what happens if we take seriously his claim that “reason alone is sufficient” to adjudicate this issue. What actually follows regarding abortion once we accept the “inviolable value of each single human life”? This appeal to rational reflection has been a central feature of the tradition of Catholic moral teaching.
Gutting’s point, however, is not simply that the Church is wrong on abortion, but that the current Catholic pro-life stance is stuck in “dogmatic intransigence.” To ease this inflexibility, the pontiff ought to stand by his praise of reason and revisit the issue rationally—implying that he hadn’t done so before.
Natural reason, as Gutting agrees, has been integral to Catholic ethics. The established pro-life position has been and continues to be systematically defended by contemporary philosophers such as Kaczor, Grisez, Marquis, and Feser. Even Pope Francis arrived at his own stance through reason. It does not make sense to criticize his pro-life stance for being “unyielding.” If a person is led to believe that a moral position is grounded in reason, then it should be held rigidly. After all, what is more unyielding than reason? It is possible for someone to draw a conclusion too quickly or to reason poorly, and Gutting might find that Catholic scholars are guilty of such offenses on the issue of abortion, but then the specific fallacy should be the object of attack, not mere inflexibility. It seems that what Gutting really means by “unyielding” is false.
Criticizing the Church’s current approach as too dogmatic is counterproductive. Whether or not this was Gutting’s goal, it conveys the idea that the Catholic position on abortion is a kind of fideism, and is more or less arbitrary. Instead, a better approach would be to show where the pro-life defenders reasoned wrongly and open a dialogue there. Questioning authority can be constructive, but only if we can first agree that if something is rationally demonstrable, then it is uncompromising.