WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Catholic journalist who was in an affair that ended in abortion is weighing in on the Wuhan virus and what he calls Pope Francis' missed opportunity to use the crisis to bring about change in the Church.
Austen Ivereigh, papal biographer and writer for Commonweal Magazine, America Magazine and the British Tablet, is speaking out on his recent interview with Pope Francis, somehow managing to have grabbed the lead role among journalists who report on the Francis papacy — a role some find disturbing considering a past affair where the woman aborted their child — something Ivereigh denies he had agreed to.
A second instance of a different woman who, reports say, miscarried before being able to carry through with an abortion for hers and Ivereigh's twins presents a troubling track record for the liberal journalist.
Ivereigh, whose personal troubles have been well documented, has also written two books on Pope Francis entitled The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope, and more recently Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church.
In 2006, Ivereigh had to resign as senior advisor to Cdl. Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, then-head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, after admitting to having an affair that led to abortion.
Ivereigh had won £30,000 in libel damages at the High Court in London after claiming he was "unfairly trashed" by an article in the Daily Mail accusing him of being a hypocrite over abortion, tattering his reputation as a spokesman and writer for the Catholic Church.
Ivereigh had admitted to a relationship with a woman called Siobhan that included fornication and abortion while he was a post-graduate student at Oxford in 1989. He also had another more recent affair with a divorced woman whom he had impregnated with twins.
In 2008, the court ended in a hung jury, but in 2009 the court ruled in his favor.
Ivereigh said in the libel trial that the Daily Mail had accused him of callously maneuvering two women into terminating their pregnancies while publicly condemning the practice, which would mean automatic excommunication according to the spirit of canon 1398 in the Code of Canon Law.
Concerning his relationship with Siobhan, Ivereigh alleged her mother had insisted on marriage or abortion after news of the pregnancy emerged. Siobhan had told the court earlier that Ivereigh had become cold and evasive when she told him of her pregnancy, leaving her feeling "abandoned and in despair." She said he seemed relieved when he was told she was considering abortion.
"I wanted to keep the baby,” she had said. "I hoped Austen and I would get married. But he made it clear that he would not support me and would play no part in the child's upbringing. I was devastated. He maneuvered me into a position where I felt I had no choice but to have a termination," she had lamented.
Ivereigh denied the Daily Mail's claim that he drove her to the abortuary, which would have been cooperating in a procured abortion.
The divorced woman who had been carrying his twins was in court identified as "X." Ivereigh claimed he proposed to X, but when their relationship deteriorated, he suggested postponing the marriage. He claimed X wanted nothing more to do with him, despite him wanting to provide materially for their babies.
X, on the other hand, claimed Ivereigh backed out of their relationship and his offers of support were not sincere. She felt she was left with no other alternative but to abort his children. Before that could occur, she miscarried.
"It falsely alleged that he was a hypocrite for not practicing what he preached in relation to the issue of abortion," Ivereigh's lawyer claimed.
He was found not guilty.
In a conference call/virtual meeting entitled "The Papacy Confronts Coronavirus," Ivereigh aimed to discuss the papacy of Francis and the Wuhan virus crisis. He was joined by moderator Paul Elie, senior fellow at the Berkley Center at Georgetown University, and Kim Daniels, associate director of Georgetown's Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and member of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication.
The discussion was mainly centered on six questions that Ivereigh sent to Pope Francis before Easter, which focused on the Church's response to the Wuhan crisis. Ivereigh said the interview was conducted in Spanish and that the translation was his own.
In some highlights of the virtual meeting that can be found online, Daniels speaks of the pope's love for the poor, explaining how the health crisis has brought into sharper focus the pope's commitment to reshaping ways Catholics engage with the poor. The pope's spiritual and moral leadership from the top, she noted, has been met to a significant degree by the "Church from the bottom up that's really acting to serve people on the ground."
Elie mentioned the difference in approach between popes Benedict and Francis. Benedict saw the battle more as the Church vs. the world, i.e. "us vs. them," as he specifically mentioned his "Dictatorship of Relativism" homily before he was elected pope. Francis, on the other hand, tends to focus more that we are all vulnerable to the challenges of our time, such as the pandemic, environmental degradation and the like.
With regard to the general theme of the pope's message, Ivereigh says "there's a kind of paradox there; we pray for an end to this (pandemic), but on the other hand we also trust it has a purpose. We need to engage in that purpose for it to bear fruit in us."
Elie voiced concern that Pope Francis' "field hospital" model of the Church is being resisted by some of the Church's institutional leaders, whose priority is instead religious liberty. Daniels, however, said the dichotomy between field hospital priorities and religious liberty protections may not be so opposed. While she says it is clearly "dangerous to weaponize religious liberty," she also noted that those legal protections are vital for allowing churches to live out their faith in public life.
Francis is inviting us to reconnect with what matters, with nature and with family, Ivereigh explained, and also to "remember how we've got here and realize that God has been with us all along."
This can change us and change the future, Ivereigh added. He stressed that the potential for profound individual conversion in the face of major trials has been a long-term theme of Francis', which has accelerated during the pandemic.
With regard to the deinstitutionalization of the Church, a theme he said many Catholics falsely attribute to Francis, Ivereigh said the pope asserted this is something to be resisted. The Church is institution, and it is the Holy Spirit that institutionalizes the Church, Francis said.
Elie pointed out that this "powerful" statement challenges the language of "progressive church people on the Left" who use the term "institution" as a pejorative and advocate for dismantling it. Nonetheless, pointing to the Acts of the Apostles, the pope offered clarity that the Holy Spirit "deinstitutionalizes what is no longer of use and institutionalizes the future of the Church."