The Good News in Portugal

When you read “Portugal,” most of you will think immediately of Fátima. Yes, we are the country that Our Lady chose to visit. In many ways, we – the westernmost nation of continental Europe – are the land in which God planted the seed that would destroy the great Communist heresy of the East.

And to be sure, being a Catholic and living so close to Fátima, in a country where Marian devotion is deeply embedded in the cultural fabric, is a privilege. But it’s not always a walk in the park.

In 1997, we fought, and we won. We took to the streets in large numbers as our Parliament debated the legalization of abortion on demand. Then we went home to watch the vote on TV and we gasped as the votes were tied and only one MP, a socialist, had yet to speak out.  He voted no. We rejoiced.

In 1998, following elections, they tried again and they won, but the opposition demanded a referendum. We took to the streets, we campaigned, we prayed. The opinion polls attributed victory to the pro-abortion groups. The polls were wrong. Life won by 1 percent. We rejoiced.

In 2007 there was little more we could do. As my first child grew in my wife’s womb, around two-thirds of the nation informed us that my unborn son had no inherent value.

One of the turning points was in 2005 when an assortment of tiny left-wing parties joined forces to form the Left Bloc, which presented itself as the new and modern face of the Left, more progressive than the socialists, cooler and more urbanite than the Communists. They made an immediate impact, becoming the go-to party for young middle-class kids in their Arafat scarves and Che Guevara t-shirts.

The result was that both socialists and Communists, until then the only real players on the left side of the field, began to rally to every progressive cause that came up, hoping to stem the loss of voters. The Socialist Party, once home to influential moderate left-wing Catholics, such as current U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, was duly purged.

From then on, resisting the progressive policies of the country felt a lot like trying to stop a speeding train by raising your hand and thinking happy thoughts. In 2010, days after Benedict XVI ended a triumphant visit to the country, Portugal became the fifth nation in the world to legalize so-called gay marriage. Then came gay adoption, complete with the old “Jesus had two fathers” billboard. And finally we got sex-change for minors without a doctor’s certificate – and surrogacy, although the Constitutional Court shot down the latter and our current President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, vetoed the former.

And recently there came euthanasia. Four draft laws were up for a vote, surprising in itself, considering only one party had actually included euthanasia in its manifesto. That was the People–Animals–Nature Party (PAN) that, in a twist of irony that seems to have been lost on them, had recently managed to make it illegal to euthanize stray cats and dogs.

“All life has dignity”

PAN has only one MP, but the Left Bloc was there to lend a hand. Parliamentarian José Manuel Pureza – a former university professor of mine, and quite possibly the only self-proclaimed Catholic in a high-ranking position in the party – wrote a petition, addressed to Parliament, requesting the legalization of “assisted dying.” The petition was handed in and sent to a special commission, headed by none other than Pureza.

Yes, you read that right. . . .This man wrote and signed a petition, addressed essentially to himself, then headed the commission to discuss and evaluate it. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, his report was glowing in its praise.

So the Left Bloc presented a draft law, and then the Green Party presented theirs, and, finally, the socialists presented one as well.

I noticed something interesting in this debate, though. You’d think that people would more easily disapprove of abortion – the killing of an innocent – than of euthanasia, which is always presented as the fulfillment of the wish of somebody in great suffering and terminal pain. Tragically, however, the fetus has been dehumanized to such an extent that most people no longer balk at the idea of killing it. It’s not as easy to dehumanize the sick and elderly.

Not only the current president of the Doctor’s Association but all his five living predecessors came out against the legalization of euthanasia, as did many people who simply didn’t fit the stereotype of the stuffy conservative Catholic. Even so, it looked like it would be a pretty safe vote for the progressives in Parliament.

And then the unexpected happened. The Portuguese Communist Party announced that its 16 MPs would be voting against the law. Why? They called it a civilizational step backwards. True. There may have been less noble reasons also, a political need to distance themselves from the ruling socialists, whom they have been giving parliamentary support and a desire to outdo the Left Bloc. Whatever the reason, we weren’t complaining; sixteen votes could be crucial.

So on the day we gathered outside Parliament, we heard speeches, we chanted slogans and waved banners, and then we headed home to watch the laws be rejected, one by one, by a margin of only five votes in one case. Never have the Communists been so popular among Mass-goers!

And so we rejoice. (It was easy for me, as it was on my four-year-old’s birthday, a day he shares with Chesterton, although my wife didn’t let me call him Gilbert.)

We rejoiced even as the embittered progressives vowed that they would be back with this issue next year, even as they wrote articles lambasting our “intolerance” and lack of charity.

They’ll come back, and they may win at some point. We know that. But they didn’t win that day. That day was ours. And so we rejoice, we lift our spirits a little, and we prepare for the next onslaught, knowing that the only true defeat is to give up.

Filipe Avillez

Filipe Avillez

Filipe d'Avillez is a religious affairs reporter with Renascença, a Catholic media group. He has a degree in international relations and a masters in history and theology of religion and currently lives in Lisbon with his wife and six children. Since 2012 he has worked with The Catholic Thing translating articles into Portuguese. He blogs at Actualidade Religiosa.

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