The Roman Catholic Church, whenever they chide government policies that don’t agree with their teachings, usually justify their actions by claiming that they have the right to defend their religious sensibilities and interests. However, during an era when the church is already wrestling with tremendous blows to its image as a “saintly institution,” they need to consider if upbraiding legislation with strong Catholic support is doing them more harm than good.
In Argentina, a predominantly Catholic country, abortion is illegal, and those who seek it and obtain it can face up to 4 years of imprisonment. However, as in other countries, abortion’s illegality doesn’t stop women from seeking it out: reports say half-a-million Argentinian women undergo abortions each year — an estimated 40% of all pregnancies. The prevalence of unlicensed abortionists and health complications to women is alarming to the national government. In response, the Lower House approved elective abortions this June, and the Senate is set to vote on it this August.
In their article “Sexual Politics and Religious Actors in Argentina,” Mario Pecheni, Daniel Jones, and Lucia Ariza, experts in Argentinian sexual politics, state that “the Catholic Church and its religious allies have opposed any measure that recognizes individual autonomy in relation to sexuality and reproduction.” Examples include the Church’s opposition to divorce, reproductive health and LGBT rights in Argentina. The Church’s antagonism against “un-Catholic” legislation in Argentina remains true today as it protests against abortion’s decriminalization.
The Catholic Church should rethink lambasting this piece of legislation. This tarnishes their already corroding public image and only magnifies their ineptitude and dwindling influence when it comes to pushing its followers to adhere to their doctrines. It’s especially humiliating for the church in a country like Argentina, where 92% of people identify as Catholic. Put simply, the Church’s harsh opposition to abortion inadvertently reveals their desperation to compel Catholics to stay faithful to their doctrines — it reveals that the only way the Church can compel people to obey their teachings is to make their beliefs the bases of legislation.
But doesn’t the Catholic Church, as a religious institution, reserve the right to defend its doctrines? Even if we consider the Church as merely guiding the public towards what it believes is right, it begs the question — do most Argentinian Catholics agree with them? The answer is a resounding “no”: 59% of the population support abortion’s decriminalization and 63% think the church should stay out of the debate. Even the Argentinian Pope Francis wants to redirect our attention to valuing women’s contribution to the church instead of attacking them for not adhering to a “particular Catholic style.”
Additionally, through justifying their actions in this manner, the church paints itself as an institution that forces its views upon non-Catholics and Catholics who don’t want to fully follow their dogmas. In Argentina, 8% of the population don’t identify as Catholics — about four-million people — while less than 20% of Catholics consider themselves “fully-devoted.” Continuous meddling could slap another wave of negative press on the church, solidifying its reputation as an institution with a long history of shunning dissenters and unbelievers.
It would be unfair to say that the Church isn’t a force of good in society, considering its many positive contributions to the development not only of Argentina but of the world. But when it’s doing more harm than good both to its interests and to the Argentinian population, the Church should heed the call of Argentinian activists: “Get your rosaries off our ovaries!”