Sunday 5 October 2014
A Harm-Reduction Model That Does Not Work
‘Harm Reduction’ is a term I first came across when working with opiate-addicted youth. In a nutshell, the idea is that by using clean equipment the potential to contract HIV infection and Hepatitis C from shared needles is eliminated. Further, the purity of the drug can be assured, eliminating the risk of overdose and problems related to using opiates cut (mixed) with other substances (such as scouring and talcum powders or, more commonly, sugar, powdered milk etc) which can cause abscess formation with the risk of sepsis.
In that harm reduction eliminates the risk of HIV, Hepatitis C and overdose it seems that harm reduction is a good tool in care of the addict. However, I remember an article that asked the question, ‘Is this harm reduction or harm continuation?’ Do we really want people to simply be ‘safe addicts’? Surely the option to take is elimination of the addictive behaviours.
All in all, the harm reduction model is a capitulation model: ‘they’re going to do it anyway, so let them do it safely’. This is like a parent telling their teenager, ‘I don’t want you to take drugs but if you do, do it safely’, or ‘you shouldn’t have casual sex but if you do, use a condom so you don’t get ‘caught’ ’. That isn’t the kind of parenting to which I could give approval: ‘do the wrong thing, but don’t get caught out’.
Unfortunately the capitulation model is the route Cardinal Kasper and his fan-club are advocating the Synod take. By saying ‘We can proclaim the Truth of right and wrong; grace and sin, but we must allow those who are in adulterous relationships to sin with our approval so they won’t feel bad and so we can show the caring face of Christ’. Kasper and his cohort are talking absolute nonsense. Essentially they have stopped trying to convert the world and been converted by it. They seem unable to grasp the fact that while harm-reduction may have a place in opiate addiction, there is no way we can 'sin safely', so trying to devise pastoral care solutions for those in irregular situations is to surrender to sin and enable harm continuation of the worst -the eternal- kind.
How any ecclessiastic can approve of harm continuation and sleep well at night is beyond me. I hope that it is beyond the Synod Fathers too, and that Pope Francis realises he must uphold the perennial doctrine of the Church in both teaching and in practice. If he doesn’t; if he tries to uphold the Truth while making pastoral provision for deviation from Divine Law, he becomes a Chief Medical Officer (Surgeon General in the USA) who proclaims smoking to be harmful yet establishes ‘smoking rooms’ in medical offices and removes the warnings from cigarette packs to provide the illusion (not the reality) of safety. Only a Medical Officer who rejects the research could act in such a manner; similarly, only the priest who rejects the Faith would look for pastoral accommodation of that which is mortally sinful.
The Synod Fathers must bear in mind that withholding Communion from those in irregular situations is not about judging those persons as bad; it is about judging what is bad for the person. We know there is natural goodness in us all. When one thinks of major disasters such Hillsborough and the Kings Cross Fire; of 9/11 and 7/7, one sees the natural goodness of those who provided care and compassion to the victims, and we cannot help but be aware that innate goodness. Now, those who were giving of their very best in the above disasters were probably no different to the rest of society, accepting as the norm such things as sex outside of marriage; contraception and same-sex pairings, but they demonstrated great compassion for others –some at the risk of their own lives. Seeing such goodness as well as sinfulness in every man who walks the earth, how can one not leave all judgement of persons to God alone? The Church only has a duty to proclaim which lifestyle choices are at one with our Divine Law, and thus with the reception of Holy Communion. That is not a judging of persons, only God judges a soul. But the Synod cannot pretend that being at odds with Divine Law –the mind of God- is compatible with communion with God.
What do we do if the Synod propels Francis into saying in his Apostolic Exhortation that the Church’s teaching on sex and the indissolubility of marriage is inviolable, but that we must take account of people’s lived situation and be ‘pastoral’ in dealing with those who are in irregular situations? We know that people have a right to marry, they do not have the right to contravene Divine Law, and since we are obliged only to obey in all that is not sin, we are not morally obliged to follow any new pastoral practices adopted by the Church which run contrary to Divine Law. A refusal to comply with ecclesiastical law may put a cleric on the road to suspension, which he may have to be prepared to suffer for his fidelity to Divine Law.
I pray the Synod does not bow to pressure from the world by seeking to provide perilous (pastoral) accommodation of objectively sinful situations; that it does not ask us to facilitate sin. If the Synod Fathers believe they can divorce practice from belief then we will have no integrity as a Church; you simply cannot say ‘this may kill the life of grace in your soul but we’ll make it easy for you to continue’. I for one do not want to hear a physician say “smoking kills, but if you want to continue I’ll facilitate it for you”. Let us hope the Bishops and Pope Francis are not that uncaring; not that stupid; not that ‘faith-challenged’. God bless and guide the Synod and the Pope; St Michael protect the Synod and the Pope from the desire to refrain from hurting people’s feelings and thereby kill the life of grace in their souls.