SANTIAGO, Chile (ChurchMilitant.com) - A prominent Chilean atheist is calling the country's top bishop to account for his weak approach on abortion.
Earlier this month, law professor Carlos Peña, rector of Diego Portales University, published a series of damning critiques of Cdl. Ricardo Ezzati's refusal to do more to fight an abortion bill now before the National Congress of Chile.
Ezzati, archbishop of Santiago and head of the Episcopal Conference of Chile, has effectively removed himself from combat over the measure, suggesting the legalization of abortion is a political matter not a moral one.
The controversy was sparked by a call by pro-life congressional deputies for Pope Francis to condemn the legalization of abortion during his anticipated visit to Chile in 2018.
But Ezzati failed to support the deputies' plea, responding instead with a rebuke. Pope Francis will come to Chile "as a pastor" not "as a politician," he said.
Chile's pro-life advocates were disappointed by Cdl. Ezzati's response. "I am surprised by the words of Cdl. Ezzati," one deputy noted "because if the Pope does not condemn the abortion law that the government is trying to impose ... we do not know what other moral authority in the world can."
Ezzati's position also provoked Peña's admonition. In a July 2 article in Chile's leading newspaper, El Mercurio, Peña, a renowned atheist, pointed out the inherent philosophical and theological inconsistencies of Ezzati's position, branding them "the most crude pragmatism, the simplest utilitarianism" and "disillusioning for believers ... and also for non-believers (who take the moral debate seriously)."
Peña argued that if Ezzati truly believes Catholic teaching, then he must believe that abortion is murder. And if he believes that abortion is murder, then he has a duty to declare that publicly. "If abortion were a crime," Peña observed, then the cardinal "should not calculate what attitude to take" on the issue in the run-up to the pontiff's visit.
In a July 6 follow-up, Peña pointed out that the cardinal's position is not moral but prudential, calculated and therefore inconsistent. "Ezzati does not know how to distinguish between calculating reasoning and moral reasoning," he wrote.
Abortion legalization is a centerpiece of the Socialist administration of President Michele Bachelet. The measure before the National Congress would legalize abortion in cases of rape, when the mother's life is threatened and when the child is not viable. It was earlier approved by both congressional houses but is currently stalled, owing to recent Senate modifications.
This is not the first time that Ezzati has attracted controversy. In 2015, Chileans were stunned by an email leak that revealed the cardinal's attempts to silence a survivor of clerical abuse.
The messages between Ezzati and his predecessor, Abp. Francisco Javier Ossa, revealed that the two conspired to prevent a victim of Chile's most notorious pedophile priest from being named to Pope Francis' commission on clerical abuse out of concern it would damage the Church.
The position of the Church in Chile has weakened dramatically in recent years, owing in part to revelations of sexual abuse by clergy. Catholics now make up only 63 percent of the population, while the number of atheists and agnostics has hit 17 percent.
The steep decline in faith has opened the nation's doors to the culture of death. Seventy-two percent of Chileans support the abortion bill. Sixty-one percent are in favor of euthanasia legalization. Fifty-six percent would welcome same-sex "marriage."
A recent values survey shows that Chile now ranks among the "most progressive South American countries in its tolerance of homosexuality and abortion."