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Priests and the Pastoral Management of Abortion

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Abortion and Catholicism in Britain
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This chapter focuses on the pastoral management of abortion by priests in their communities, particularly situations where parishioners raised the issue of abortion. We will detail how priests were keen to demonstrate to the interviewer their commitment to Vatican rules and expectations. But this could lead to tensions, especially when the pastoral response as endorsed by the Vatican did not work in practice. The chapter will discuss the various narrative themes detected within the priests’ accounts, starting with their preparedness for abortion discussions in a context where individual abortion stories were rarely brought to their attention. We will then focus on the influence of anti-abortion discourse on how priests interpreted abortion stories, which was especially relevant for clergy directly involved in the anti-abortion movement. Finally, we will consider the role of Vatican discourse on decision-making processes, looking at two aspects: pastorally managing a mortal sin and the role that the confessional played in absolving abortion.

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  1. 1.

    Therapeutic culture refers to the influence of psychological approaches within society, which came to prominence in the early twentieth century, through the theories of individuals like Freud, Jung and Erikson (Thompson, 2005).

  2. 2.

    This is not to suggest that Church teaching on abortion is consistent and unchanging. As discussed in Chap. 1, historically the Church has treated different gestational stages of pregnancy in various ways, regarding the extent of the sin being committed if one aborts. Furthermore, the relative weight given to a particular issue as a sin will be variable. Theological preoccupations change over time (Jordan, 2011). For example, in 1930, contraception was the leading concern (as depicted in Casti Connubii) and again in 1969 with the publication of Humanae Vitae. A focus on abortion was intensified in the latter half of the twentieth century. Other matters deemed sinful may receive little theological attention at all.


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Page, SJ., Lowe, P. (2024). Priests and the Pastoral Management of Abortion. In: Abortion and Catholicism in Britain. Palgrave Studies in Lived Religion and Societal Challenges. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-031-54691-4

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-031-54692-1

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