Alma Acevedo

Those ‘personally opposed…but’ politicians

Alma Acevedo
By Alma Acevedo

September 17, 2012 ( - Along with the electoral season comes the inevitable “I am opposed to […], but it is a personal decision.” Just fill in the blank with abortion, euthanasia, surrogacy, or any morally contentious matter. The rhetorical finesse quenches the debate, bypassing the polemical minefield. As a media and public silencer, to save face and buy time, it is a mediocre but successful technique. As a meaningful proposition, however, it fails.

“I am opposed to […], but do not believe it my role to impose my personal views on others” is a kindred statement. The first clause appeals to the party base; the second, to the rest. With one stroke, candidates thus persuade the rank and file that their values are safely aligned, while appeasing the opponents’ concerns.

Besides, we would not want our political leaders to impose anything, would we?

Their affirmative counterparts run on similar linguistic tracks: “I favor [outlawing abortion, curtailing euthanasia, banning surrogacy,…], but will not impose my personal views.” The ostrich maneuver. Label it personal and the interrogation halts to an end. Yet, as with the ostriches’ legend, the rhetorical move escapes reality.

Momentarily imagine a candidate professing the following: “I am opposed to [incest, domestic violence, racism, sexism, human exploitation, ethnic cleansing, rape, bribery], but it is a personal decision.” No chance. The candidate would be (justly) booed all the way to oblivion and shame.

The difference lies in the object. When the issue is thought to be morally controversial (politically sensitive), it is labeled “personal”, as if personal simply meant subjective, private, or to be resolved by sheer individual preference. When its moral nature is socially settled (politically safe), the “but it is personal” defense is not invoked.

Why should contentiousness define what a personal decision is?

What is, then, a personal decision? Non-moral and moral decisions are both “personal” insofar as they are a human individual’s, and not a human collective’s. Decisions of a non-moral nature, having nothing to do with ethics or morality, are individual or “personal” in the lowercase letter sense, so to speak. For instance, whether to go shopping or to the cinema tonight, and whether to choose vanilla or chocolate, are matters of individual choice such as preferences, interests, and tastes.

Personal (individual) decisions may also involve issues of more consequence, such as whether to study economics or finance. They are, generally speaking, decisions relative to particular circumstances. The choices are based on conditions specific to the individual. “Personal” may also signify private reasons the person legitimately chooses to keep secret, such as when someone retires for “personal” reasons.

Moral decisions, on the other hand, are personal. They are not simply matters of individual (relative to oneself) choice, but spring from the very core of human personality: human intellect and free will. They are personal for they entail universal and objective normative principles linked to properly human goods. Individual circumstances may influence the degree of moral responsibility in specific cases. An ethical conclusion, however, is not merely a subjective “personal view” but a personal judgment stemming from right reason and free will.

G. K. Chesterton wrote in What’s wrong with the world, “most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules: it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.” Candidates must boldly stand for something; we must responsibly learn. Just as they do not confound as impositions their positions on economic affairs, their stances on major moral issues should not be thus construed.

These matters are not solely private or relative, but hold wide public repercussions, in terms of human dignity and the common good. That they are contentious does not preclude their discussion, but beckons it. Far from imposition, their responsible and reasonable discussion enhances free civic discourse and action. Conversely, the candidate’s reticence imposes an impoverished public debate, thus undermining the conditions necessary for a democratic society. Rather than tolerance, this silence may signal indifference, hesitation, deceit, or cowardice.

The “but it is personal” linguistic maneuver must be exposed for what it really is: a cheap electoral season pass whose political currency has expired. Because moral decisions are personal, candidates ought to tell us what and why. Because they are personal, we, the citizens, ought to ask and to know.

Alma Acevedo, PhD, teaches courses in applied ethics and conducts research in this field. This article first appeared at and is reprinted under a Creative Commons License.

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Today’s chuckle: Rubio, Fiorina and Carson pardon a Thanksgiving turkey

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By Steve Jalsevac

A little bit of humour now and then is a good thing.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers.

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Building of the European Court of Human Rights.
Lianne Laurence


BREAKING: Europe’s top human rights court slaps down German ban on pro-life leafletting

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

STRASBOURG, France, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that a German regional court violated a pro-life activist’s freedom of expression when it barred him from leafleting in front of an abortion center.

It further ruled the German court’s order that Klaus Gunter Annen not list the names of two abortion doctors on his website likewise violated the 64-year-old pro-life advocate’s right to freedom of expression.

The court’s November 26 decision is “a real moral victory,” says Gregor Puppinck, director of the Strasbourg-based European Center for Law and Justice, which intervened in Annen’s case. “It really upholds the freedom of speech for pro-life activists in Europe.”

Annen, a father of two from Weinam, a mid-sized city in the Rhine-Neckar triangle, has appealed to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights at least two times before, Puppinck told LifeSiteNews.

“This is the first time he made it,” he said, noting that this time around, Annen had support from the ECLJ and Alliance Defense Fund and the German Pro-life Federation (BVL). “I think he got more support, better arguments and so I think this helped.”

The court also ordered the German government to pay Annen costs of 13,696.87 EUR, or 14,530 USD.

Annen started distributing pamphlets outside a German abortion center ten years ago, ECLJ stated in a press release.

His leaflets contained the names and addresses of the two abortionists at the center, declared they were doing “unlawful abortions,” and stated in smaller print that, “the abortions were allowed by the German legislators and were not subject to criminal liability.”

Annen’s leaflets also stated that, “The murder of human beings in Auschwitz was unlawful, but the morally degraded NS State allowed the murder of innocent people and did not make it subject to criminal liability.” They referred to Annen’s website,, which listed a number of abortionists, including the two at the site he was leafleting.

In 2007, a German regional court barred Annen from pamphleteering in the vicinity of the abortion center, and ordered him to drop the name of the two abortion doctors from his website.

But the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that the German courts had "failed to strike a fair balance between [Annen’s] right to freedom of expression and the doctor’s personality rights.”

The Court stated that, “there can be no doubt as to the acute sensitivity of the moral and ethical issues raised by the question of abortion or as to the importance of the public interest at stake.”

That means, stated ECLJ, that “freedom of expression in regard to abortion shall enjoy a full protection.”

ECLJ stated that the court noted Annen’s leaflets “made clear that the abortions performed in the clinic were not subject to criminal liability. Therefore, the statement that ‘unlawful abortions’ were being performed in the clinic was correct from a legal point of view.”

As for the Holocaust reference, the court stated that, “the applicant did not – at least not explicitly – equate abortion with the Holocaust.”  Rather, the reference was “a way of creating awareness of the more general fact that law might diverge from morality.”

The November 26 decision “is a quite good level of protection of freedom of speech for pro-life people,” observed Puppinck.

First, the European Court of Human Rights has permitted leafleting “in the direct proximate vicinity of the clinic, so there is no issue of zoning,” he told LifeSiteNews. “And second, the leaflets were mentioning the names of the doctors, and moreover, were mentioning the issue of the Holocaust, which made them quite strong leaflets.”

“And the court protected that.”

Annen has persevered in his pro-life awareness campaign through the years despite the restraints on his freedom.

“He did continue, and he did adapt,” Puppinck told LifeSiteNews. “He kept his freedom of speech as much as he could, but he continued to be sanctioned by the German authorities, and each time he went to the court of human rights. And this time, he won.”

ECLJ’s statement notes that “any party” has three months to appeal the November 26 decision.

However, as it stands, the European Court of Human Rights’s ruling affects “all the national courts,” noted Puppinck, and these will now “have to protect freedom of speech, recognize the freedom of speech for pro-lifers.”

“In the past, the courts have not always been very supportive of the freedom of speech of pro-life,” he said, so the ruling is “significant.”

As for Annen’s pro-life ministry, Pubbinck added: “He can continue to go and do, and I’m sure that he does, because he always did.”  

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A vibrant church in Africa. Pierre-Yves Babelon /
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‘Soft racism’: German Bishops’ website attributes African Catholics’ strong faith to simplemindedness

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By Pete Baklinski

GERMANY, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) --  The only reason the Catholic Church is growing in Africa is because the people have a “rather low level” of education and accept “simple answers to difficult questions” involving marriage and sexuality, posited an article on the official website of the German Bishops' Conference posted yesterday. The article targeted particularly Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, the Vatican's prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and ardent defender of Catholic tradition.

First Things blogger Leroy Huizenga, who translated a portion of the article, criticized the article's view as “soft racism.”

In his article, titled “The Romantic, Poor Church,” editor Björn Odendahl writes: 

So also in Africa. Of course the Church is growing there. It grows because the people are socially dependent and often have nothing else but their faith. It grows because the educational situation there is on average at a rather low level and the people accept simple answers to difficult questions (of faith) [sic]. Answers like those that Cardinal Sarah of Guinea provides. And even the growing number of priests is a result not only of missionary power but also a result of the fact that the priesthood is one of the few possibilities for social security on the dark continent.

Huizenga said that such an article has no place on a bishops’ conference website. 

“We all know that the German Bishops' Conference is one of the most progressive in the world. But it nevertheless beggars belief that such a statement would appear on the Conference's official website, with its lazy slander of African Christians and priests as poor and uneducated (Odendahl might as well have added ‘easy to command’) and its gratuitous swipe at Cardinal Sarah,” he wrote. 

“Natürlich progressives could never be guilty of such a sin and crime, but these words sure do suggest soft racism, the racism of elite white Western paternalism,” he added. 

African prelates have gained a solid reputation for being strong defenders of Catholic sexual morality because of their unwavering orthodox input into the recently concluded Synod on the Family in Rome. 

At one point during the Synod, Cardinal Robert Sarah urged Catholic leaders to recognize as the greatest modern enemies of the family what he called the twin “demonic” “apocalyptic beasts” of “the idolatry of Western freedom” and “Islamic fundamentalism.”

STORY: Cardinal Danneels warns African bishops to avoid ‘triumphalism’

“What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism are today,” he said during his speech at the Synod last month. 

But African prelates’ adherence to orthodoxy has earned them enemies, especially from the camp of Western prelates bent on forming the Catholic Church in their own image and likeness, not according to Scripture, tradition, and the teaching magisterium of the Church. 

During last year’s Synod, German Cardinal Walter Kasper went as far as stating that the voice of African Catholics in the area of Church teaching on homosexuality should simply be dismissed.

African cardinals “should not tell us too much what we have to do,” he said in an October 2014 interview with ZENIT, adding that African countries are "very different, especially about gays.” 

Earlier this month Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, instead of praising Africa for its vibrant and flourishing Catholicism, said that African prelates will one day have to look to Europe to get what he called “useful tips” on how to deal with “secularization” and “individualism.” 

The statement was criticized by one pro-family advocate as “patronizing of the worst kind” in light of the facts that numerous European churches are practically empty, vocations to the priesthood and religious life are stagnant, and the Catholic faith in Europe, especially in Belgium, is overall in decline.

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