Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty: Something has to change

Below is an excerpt from my article, "Abortion, Contraception, and the Liturgy", which was published in the October 2009 issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review. My point in posting this excerpt is that the same issues will influence the Catholic vote in the next presidential election as the last. I hope I will not be writing the same thing after the 2012 election as I did after the 2008 tragedy.

The bishops have created a new committee to help the Church deal with the blows being dealt against religious freedom, which means, essentially, the ability to speak out against the horror of abortion, the immorality of homosexual "marriage", and the injustice of requiring institutions to provide services against the principles upon which they are founded. This is a good first step. It is a late first step, but we can move forward.

There's not a lot of time between now and the next presidential election. The bishops now face the task of catechizing their flocks on Catholic teaching that has been questioned, disregarded, and disputed for 40-plus years. It's unlikely that this re-education can happen overnight.

Let us pray for our bishops and do everything we can to support their efforts to defend religious freedom.

Here's the excerpt:

By November 3, 2008, at least100 bishops of the United States had issued pre-election statements of one kind or another making it clear to their flocks that: 1) abortion is a grave evil – always and everywhere; 2) it is very difficult to find a “proportionate reason” that puts war or the economy on equal moral footing with abortion; and therefore, 3) voting for a candidate who openly expresses support for abortion is not an option for a faithful Catholic when there is at least one other candidate who does not support abortion. At no time in my memory had the outcry against abortion by leaders of the Church been as great as it was in the weeks preceding the presidential election of 2008.

But by the end of the day on November 4, 2008, it was evident that fully half of the Catholics in this country who voted had ignored the warnings of their bishops and the teaching of their Church, and had either voted against their consciences, or had not formed their consciences properly in the first place. The statistics seem to indicate that among Catholics who regularly attend Sunday Mass, there was a slightly greater propensity to choose the pro-life candidate, while among those professing to be Catholics but not attending Sunday Mass regularly, there was greater support for the most extreme pro-abortion candidate. The fact remains that even among the faithful who attend Mass every Sunday¸ a very large proportion – well over 40% - did not vote in support of the culture of life.

The tragedy of this state of affairs in the Church was addressed by Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph in a homily given on the eve of the election:

Why is this so terribly amiss? Because the foundation and cause of abortion is not poverty but a blind disregard for personal responsibility, a heinous denial and disrespect for human life, and an idolatrous worship of personal convenience…[i]

There can be little doubt that this is true, though of course we did not reach this point over night. Where did it all start (besides with original sin!)? I am not alone in my opinion that one of the root causes of the widespread acceptance of abortion and the corresponding pro-abortion legislation, beginning with Roe v. Wade, is the acceptance of the use of artificial contraception, which in itself was an indication of the path toward self-idolization upon which our society had embarked.

The Abortion/Contraception Connection

Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, essentially predicted this in 1968. He maintained that a society embracing contraception would experience a decline in morality; would show a decline in respect for women and for intimate relationships; would allow governments to take unprecedented and dangerous control over reproduction; and that it would lead men and women to think that they had limitless dominion over their own bodies and functions.[ii]  It is difficult to deny that these predictions have come true: the number of couples entering into marriage has declined; the United Nations continues to attempt to impose contraceptive use in underdeveloped countries under the guise of “reproductive health”[iii]; and never has the cry for a woman’s “choice” been heard more loudly.
[Toward the end of the article, I begin to make the connection between the political horrors of our time and the liturgy. Here's a taste; perhaps I will pursue this in another blog post.]

Certainly with the advent of a federal administration that threatens to undermine the advances that have been made to date on limiting abortion, we must redouble our efforts to prevent this from happening. Some of that effort must be in the political realm as we fight pro-abortion legislation and seek to help all people understand the sanctity of human life through our words and actions. However, I think we must also consider the old maxim that “you can’t legislate morality”. We can seek to implement laws limiting (or even abolishing) abortion, but we cannot uses laws to change the minds and hearts – the moral fortitude – of men and women. That will require prayer, and, I think, a return to “the basics”: catechesis of adults and children concerning the teaching of the Church on morality in general; catechesis of adults and children concerning the liturgy; and perhaps most importantly, changes in the way we celebrate Mass.

[ii] Humanae Vitae, §17
[iii] UN Millenium Goals #5 is to “improve maternal health”, and under this guise is included the “target” of achieving “universal access to reproductive health”. Under this target is the statement that “an unmet need for family planning undermines achievement of several other goals”. This “unmet need” is defined as “the gap between women’s stated desires to delay or avoid having children and their actual use of contraception”.

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