The annual Lenten Lunches have been an important ecumenical event in the life of Shaftesbury for many years, and all the different denominations have contributed. There is a problem however, which is that though this has been seen as an ecumenical event the proceeds have all gone to only one charity: Christian Aid. This fact acquires a more problematic nature given Christian Aid’s development of an abortion policy that many Christians do not consider to be acceptable – in particular, Catholics.
At a national level, concerns have been raised about Christian Aid's policy on abortion and these same concerns have been voiced locally at Churches Together in Shaftesbury. Recently, it had seemed that a compromise might be possible whereby the percentage of the Lenten Lunches contributions estimated to come from Catholics will go towards CAFOD instead of Christian Aid. Sadly, the organisers of the Lenten Lunches have just informed me yesterday (27th February) that they do not consider this acceptable I therefore feel there is no other option than for St Edward’s to withdraw our support for the Lenten Lunches this year. It is important for us to maintain our moral integrity in opposing abortion even if others no longer recognise that they too have this responsibility. It is my hope to speak to the organisers of the Lenten Lunches more formally later and possibly arrange something else for next year.
With respect to Christian Aid's policy on abortion: Stephen Dominy, Christian Aid Volunteer Development Officer – Dorset, wrote to the local Shaftesbury Christian Aid on 20th November 2008. His letter says "that Shaftesbury Catholic Church has withdrawn support for Christian Aid because of [Christian Aid’s] stance on abortion". The letter proceeds to describe (part of) Christian Aid’s policy on abortion, which it claims is “categorical”. The policy cited states, “Christian Aid does not support abortion clinics and does not promote abortion or regard it as a desirable form of birth control, and works hard with partners overseas to remove or alleviate the extreme conditions of poverty that make the need for abortion even to be considered."
However, the above statement is not one that can be considered to be “categorical”. In fact, it does not easily square with a more detailed reading of Christian Aid's November 2001 statement. That statement repeatedly refers to “reproductive health services”, one of the standard means of referring to abortion agencies. For example:
n.2 ... Provision of adequate reproductive health and education services for poor women is crucial so they can limit the number of children they have in a safe and informed way.
n.4(c)... [Christian Aid] is supportive of all people, through appropriate primary health care systems, having access to reproductive health services...
n.7 ...in common with other ecumenical development and aid agencies, Christian Aid has funded organisations that provide support to poor women in crisis, including the provision of counselling services to inform victims of their legal rights, both in terms of advice on legal abortions as well as the risks of illegal abortions.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), in its 2006 Charities Report, thus describes Christian Aid’s abortion policy as, at best, “equivocal”.
I hope the above helps to indicate the serious reservations about Christian Aid, and why I cannot recommend that the Catholic parish here in Shaftesbury support the Lenten Lunches this year, or in future years if the organisers fail to consider a mutually acceptable compromise.
Fr Dylan James, St Edward’s Catholic Church, Shaftesbury, 28th February 2009
As an update to the above, please note the following comments about Christian Aid and its policy on abortion, taken from SPUC: