LONDON — In the wake of Amnesty International’s formal confirmation of a new pro-abortion policy, Catholics are mobilizing to find other human-rights organizations to support instead.

And Jesuit Father Chris Middleton, headmaster of St. Aloysius’ College in Sydney, Australia, is blazing the trail: The Amnesty International (AI) club at his school has been disbanded and replaced with a new Benenson Society, named after the Catholic layman who founded Amnesty International in the 1960s.

“At its meeting last week, Amnesty confirmed that it was abandoning its long-held policy of neutrality on abortion,” Father Middleton said in a statement posted on the Internet. “This means that the college and many other schools, I believe, will no longer support Amnesty groups.”

In mid-August, Amnesty International announced that delegates at its International Council Meeting in Mexico City had affirmed the organization’s new abortion policy.

According to a statement posted Aug. 17 on the organization’s website, “With the prevention of violence against women as its major campaigning focus, Amnesty International’s leaders committed themselves anew to work for universal respect for sexual and reproductive rights.”

According to the Aug. 17 statement, Amnesty International’s pro-abortion policy commits the group “to support the decriminalization of abortion, to ensure women have access to health care when complications arise from abortion and to defend women’s access to abortion, within reasonable gestational limits, when their health or human rights are in danger.”


Vatican Response

The pro-abortion policy, which replaces the group’s previous position of neutrality, was instituted in April by Amnesty International’s executive board.

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, condemned the new policy in an exclusive interview with the Register in early June.

“I believe that, if in fact Amnesty International persists in this course of action, individuals and Catholic organizations must withdraw their support; because, in deciding to promote abortion rights, AI has betrayed its mission,” Cardinal Martino said.

Cardinal Martino was not available for comment in the week after Amnesty International ratified its pro-abortion policy. But the move was denounced by another senior Vatican official, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Speaking on Vatican Radio Aug. 20, Cardinal Bertone rejected Amnesty International’s argument that sexual violence against women justifies access to abortion.

“Violence cannot be answered with further violence; murder with murder; for even if the child is unborn, it is still a human person,” Cardinal Bertone said. “It has a right to dignity as a human being.”

Amnesty International did not reply to questions submitted from the Register via e-mail about its decision to institute the new abortion policy.

Another prominent Church leader, Bishop Michael Evans of East Anglia, England, announced that he was resigning from Amnesty International because of the pro-abortion policy.

Bishop Evans was an Amnesty member for 31 years and is a former chairman of the Religious Bodies Liaison Panel of Amnesty International’s British Section Council. He is also the author of a prayer the organization used in a recent “Protect the Human” campaign.

“The Catholic Church shares Amnesty’s strong commitment to oppose violence against women (for example, rape, sexual assault and incest), but such appalling violence must not be answered by violence against the most vulnerable and defenseless form of human life in a woman’s womb,” Bishop Evans said in an Aug. 18 statement posted on the website of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales.

“Catholics would want to show practical compassion for such women, and ensure for them all the medical and spiritual care and support they need,” the bishop continued. “But there is no human right to access to abortion, and Amnesty should not involve itself even in such extreme cases.”

Bishop Evans also noted that Amnesty International was disregarding the rights of unborn children, which are recognized in the Preamble of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Child. It states that “the child, by reason of his or her physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”

Said Bishop Evans, “This must surely be part of the body of international human rights law to which Amnesty International is committed.”


Bishop Skylstad

In early July, Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement that Amnesty International should not adopt the new abortion policy.

Bishop Skylstad noted that Amnesty International’s abortion policy used the same language that has allowed on-demand abortion in many parts of the United States.

“AI’s new policy appears to apply to every stage of pregnancy and has already led AI-USA to oppose laws against the killing of partially-delivered children,” Bishop Skylstad said. “Similarly, the policy of advancing access to abortion to preserve women’s ‘health,’ a word left undefined by AI, has not confined the practice to narrow circumstances, but in American law has led to abortion on demand.”

In an Aug. 23 statement, Bishop Skylstad condemned Amnesty International’s confirmation of its abortion policy.

“Amnesty International’s action will lead many people of conscience to seek alternative means to end grave human rights abuses, fight injustice, and promote freedom of conscience and expression,” Bishop Skylstad said.

“The essential work of protecting human life and promoting human dignity must carry on,” the bishop said. “But we will seek to do so in authentic ways, working most closely with organizations who do not oppose the fundamental right to life from conception to natural death.”


Alternatives

With Catholic leaders calling for withdrawal of support of Amnesty International, alternative means are being proposed of supporting human-rights issues in which Amnesty International has been involved.

In the United States, the Cardinal Newman Society has urged Catholic universities to disband campus Amnesty International chapters. According to the society, more than 50 colleges and law schools have such chapters.

Australian Jesuit educator Father Middleton’s Benenson Society could serve as a model for American Catholic schools that are seeking to replace their own Amnesty International chapters.

“We will establish a society here at the college that will allow our students to continue to have an involvement in the promotion of human rights through the raising of awareness of violations of these rights and through lobbying of governments for prisoners of conscience, the end of torture and the death penalty, and the rights of all to basic freedoms,” Father Middleton said in his Internet statement. “The society will not be a specifically religious or Catholic body, and will maintain a policy of neutrality on abortion.”

Added Father Middleton, “The society will be called the Benenson Society, after Peter Benenson, the Catholic lawyer who founded Amnesty, and will hopefully embody something of the spirituality, as well as idealism, that led to the formation of Amnesty.”

Jesuit Father Thomas King, a Georgetown University theology professor and a former president of University Faculty for Life, said the creation of groups like the Benenson Society is an appropriate reaction to Amnesty International’s decision to adopt a pro-abortion stance.

“I think that would be a very good response, if somebody could get that organized and get it active,” said Father King, a longtime Amnesty International supporter who served in the 1980s as faculty adviser to Georgetown’s Amnesty International chapter.

Father King doesn’t believe Amnesty International’s claims to have been motivated by the issue of sexual violence against women when it abandoned its neutral position on abortion. Instead, the organization succumbed to lobbying from abortion activists and will regret having done so, he predicted.

“People who support so-called ‘abortion rights’ are probably very pleased and feel they’ve scored another ‘coup,’” Father King said. “But I think it is going to leave Amnesty International with a very questionable reputation from now on.”


Tom McFeely is based in

Victoria, British Columbia.