By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

ROME, July 6, 2009 ( – Swiss Cardinal Georges Cottier, former theologian of the papal household under Pope John Paul II and currently an influential adviser in the Vatican, has praised President Barack Obama's “humble realism” on the issue of abortion.

Writing in the current issue of 30 Giorni (30 Days), one of Italy's foremost Catholic journals, Cardinal Cottier compared the president's approach to abortion to the thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas and cited early Christian tradition about formulating moral laws in a pagan society in a way that would not offend or alienate the majority of people.

Referring to Obama's speech at the University of Notre Dame on May 17, Cardinal Cottier noted that more than 80 American Bishops objected to the President's presence at Notre Dame on the basis of his advocacy of abortion. “On the one hand, those criticisms are justified, because …  non-negotiable values are involved,” he said. Yet he suggested that Obama offered “positive indications” in his Notre Dame address of a desire to find “common ground” on the issue, and that “his words move in the direction of reducing the evil” by seeking to make “the number of abortions as small as possible.”

Cardinal Cottier appealed to early Christian history, and to St. Thomas Aquinas' thoughts on stringent moral law, to justify Obama's rhetoric of a reduction in the number of abortions rather than an outright ban on the killing of unborn children.

“I'm reminded of the first Christian legislators, who didn't quickly abolish the tolerant Roman laws regarding practices which didn't conform to the natural law, or which were actually contrary to it, such as concubinage and slavery,” Cardinal Cottier wrote.

“Change happened along a slow path, often marked by steps backward, as the Christian population increased, and, along with them, the impact of a sense of the dignity of the human person.”

“At the beginning, in order to guarantee the consent of the citizens and to protect social peace, the so-called 'imperfect laws' were kept in force, which avoided persecuting actions and behaviors in contrast with the natural law,” Cardinal Cottier wrote.

“St. Thomas (Aquinas) himself, who certainly had no doubt that the law must be moral, added that the state must not enact laws which are too severe or 'lofty,' because they'll be disrespected by the people, who won't be able to follow them.”

Cardinal Cottier gained notoriety in 2005 when he publicly dissented from Church teaching by endorsing the use of condoms to prevent disease. While emphasizing that he was giving his private opinion, the cardinal said that sex with condoms could be permissible as a means of avoiding killing one's partner with AIDS. “The virus is transmitted during a sexual act; so at the same time as [bringing] life there is also a risk of transmitting death,” he said.

“And that is where the commandment 'thou shalt not kill' is valid.” Cardinal Cottier suggested that condoms could be used in situations when people are “prisoners” of unusual circumstances.

Read the full English text of Cardinal Cottier's article in 30 Giorni.

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