20 November 2012

Patent leather shoes

There’s a report in the Irish Times today (20 November 2012) about the responses of the Irish Bishops to the death of Savita Halappanavar.

TheBishops say that the church “has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother”.

Well, I may be getting on, but I can remember clearly being told that when it came to a choice between the life of a child (or foetus) and the life of the mother, then the life of the child took precedence, the mother’s life should be sacrificed that her child might live. This was the “guidance” as obstetricians understood it.

The Catholic church’s position on abortion has changed over the centuries; earlier, the time of “ensoulment” was taken to be at quickening, so that abortion before this time was not homicide. The church’s present position is apparently based on the teachings of St Thomas Aquinas, who wrote:

the vegetative soul, which comes first, when the embryo lives the life of a plant, is corrupted, and is succeeded by a more perfect soul, which is both nutritive and sensitive, and then the embryo lives an animal life; and when this is corrupted, it is succeeded by the rational soul introduced from without (ie by God).

I really don’t understand how he could have derived this, but I’m not a theologian.

The church does have “form” as far as woman are concerned, particularly feminine sexuality. Sts Jerome and Augustine entertained ideas which today seem very strange — that celibacy was preferable to sex, because, of course, sex was bad and immoral, but if the flesh was weak, well so be it. Another set of ideas that I can’t fathom.

You might well think that the church has “sex on the brain”; you might think that male theologians are sexually repressed; you might well think that the church is keener on “control” than education.

You may have heard the urban myth that well brought up, convent educated, good catholic girls don’t wear patent leather shoes, for fear that boys would see the reflection of their knickers in them. I’ve never looked, but I find this idea improbable.

And I would have dismissed this as anti-catholic propaganda, had I not heard if from a well brought up, convent educated, catholic woman who was taught this. And it wasn’t a joke.

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