By any account, the Catholic Church is in the business of faith and morals. Increasingly, while the world embraces relativism in morals, as in all else, the Church is battling fragmentation of resolve and isolation of her own moral strength. As human behaviour becomes more and more subjected to the dictates of political necessity, political correctness, or whatever makes the majority "feel good", objective judgment of what constitutes right or wrong is going by the board.
Western society has adopted a "gut feeling" morality which, while rising at best to the level of the heart, seldom reaches head height. In moral matters, principles are widely ignored for the sake of a purely pragmatic approach. Immediate remedies for social ills - what works - have replaced the quest for the common good. Truly prophetic are the words of John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor (The Splendour of Truth), his masterpiece moral encyclical, that we are currently risking the rise of a new totalitarianism.
The act of judging, once removed from the "see, judge and act" process, becomes mere prejudice. Such an ersatz 'morality' lords it over the head, conveniently forgetful that the heart has no grey cells.
It is this secular humanist attitude which has prompted the Board of St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney to open a "Clean Room" early in the year 2000 for drug addicts. In this proposal all the accessories for drug abuse will be supplied: syringe, spoon, ligature and saline solution. Lifesaving resuscitation facilities will be available on site. Only the illegal drugs will not be supplied.
The state-supported goal of this enterprise is manifestly to ensure sterile conditions for drug abuse so as to avoid problems of infection (e.g., from shared needles) and to offer counselling to those who may so choose.
In an act of monumental spiritual blindness, the package is being sold under the "brand name" of the Sisters of Charity. It is underwritten by the enormous prestige accumulated since the Sisters established St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney last century. Implicit in the projection of the media image is the unspoken assumption that the Sisters of Charity who run St Vincent's can do no wrong. Time and again we have been told that the Sisters' motives are beyond reproach.
But we must not only intend good; we must do good. After all, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. We well know and accept that the Sisters are dedicated to the message of the Gospel. No one questions their vocation and their outreach to outcasts and the downtrodden. Our argument is with what they actually intend to do.
Here we must make a distinction between two things we confuse at our peril. These are what our motives are and what actions our decision, considered as our free act of choice, objectively accomplishes. As we shall see, in the case under consideration they are not identical.
The Sisters' motives are pure. Who could argue against their decision on that score? No one. But, what about their actions? What precisely does their free act of choice objectively reach out to embrace and thereby accomplish?
The answer is as unavoidable as it should be clear. Their decision, considered as their free act of choice, embraces all those necessities that facilitate drug abuse - bar the drugs themselves. In the face of this fact, the apologia by the Board of St Vincent's Hospital on behalf of its decision becomes a defence of the indefensible.
Actions do speak much louder than words. In the name of true compassion, we must question whether the Sisters have adverted to what their chosen actions say. They are, first of all, aiding and abetting drug abusers, souls tragically enmeshed in the "culture of death," to break the law of the land.
To that accusation they will, no doubt, respond that the State Premier has undertaken to put the law aside for them. But - and this point is far more serious - by their deliberate decision they are actively assisting unfortunate drug addicts to break the moral law. Will God almighty join with Mr Carr and put the natural law aside for the Sisters?
The Catholic Church regards drug abuse as an intrinsic evil. In other words, drug abuse can never be justified. She has vehemently insisted that needle exchange programs totally violate her moral teaching. The decision of the Board of St Vincent's has projected the Sisters of Charity far more than one step beyond that. However pure the Sisters' goals or their motives, objectively speaking, their deliberate choice involves them inextricably in the evil-doing of the habitual evil-doer, the drug addict, in a way that can never be justified.
The co-operation of the Board of St Vincent's in the evil of drug abuse is, therefore, as inexcusable as it is scandalous. There can be no doubt that the Sisters have been expertly misled to this decision by the spurious claims of the "harm reduction" lobby. But "harm reduction" is no automatic therapy. It all too frequently safeguards the body for further evil-doing at the expense of man's spirit, his immortal soul. This is a trade-off that all previous generations of Christians until now have seen through. It is an artifice as old as Eden, truly worthy of the Father of Lies.
There is yet time for the Sisters of Charity to reverse their decision, to be steadfast and true to their vocation to help and to heal. May Christ's love urge the Sisters to do as he would do.
We can do no more than recommend the Sisters of Charity to his merciful love and to pray that they will recognise the dire consequences of their free act of choice for the devilish deception that it is and reverse their decision.
Father John Walter is parish priest of St Joseph's Church, Riverwood, in the Sydney Archdiocese.