Another Retro (and Prophetic) Pro-life Article

99% of the Congressional Record is crap, but if you sift through it patiently, you can find some true diamonds. I already post one haunting and prophetic pro-life article from 1970 that was buried in the Record. Here’s another one from the same year, which was inserted in the Record, as one might expect, by our old pal Representative Schmitz (R-CA).

America’s – any people’s – moral standards are intimately connected with its political standards. The moral ideas a people holds, its views of right and wrong, will be reflected in its laws, its politics. But the other side of the coin, though not so often noticed, is just as plain: what a people believes politically will help shape its morality.

                No one can be surprised that a pro-abortion politics has gained favor in a country in which a large majority of the population no longer takes seriously Christian teaching on life, sex, the family; in which, indeed, anti-Christian views are actively promoted in nearly all of its communications media, nearly all of its schools. Still, abortion is far from universally approved; few Americans as of now would wish to destroy their own young, and most probably think it wrong, or at least unpleasant, for others to do so. How, then, to explain the precipitous crumbling of civil opposition to the liberty to kill?

“I have always abhorred the idea of abortion,” said John A. Burns, Governor of Hawaii, a Catholic who attends 6:30 Mass every morning before work. “I believe it a gravely sinful act. I have considered abortion carried out any time after conception to be the taking of human life.” What is more, the Governor wished his people to know, the Burnses had been faithful to their convictions in their private lives. Thirty-three years ago Mrs. Burns, a polio victim, was urged by every doctor in sight to abort a child; she steadfastly refused; she lives today, as does her child, himself a father of two children.

So what would Governor Burns do with the “abortion on demand” bill which the Hawaii legislature had placed on his desk? He would not sign it; but neither would he veto it as he had been urged to do “by a number of my fellow Roman Catholics who do not appear to understand precisely the separate roles of state authority and Church authority.” A governor, Burns explained as he permitted the bill to become law, “must never let his private political and religious convictions unduly influence his judgment as governor of all the people.”

John Burns, American, was certainly right about that. It is a central precept of American politics that religious is a private affair, and that to extend its influence to the public realm is a violation of religious liberty. John Kennedy, American, took the same position ten years before on birth control. John Courtney Murray, S.J., American, had even earlier contrived a theoretical justification of the position: by baptizing the American concept of “religious pluralism” Murray and his followers sought to make the Catholic Church into an American church. They do seem to have had a remarkable success. All of America’s household goddesses and gods – liberty, democracy, pluralism, separation of Church and state – remain firmly on their pedestals; and all the altars are now to be freshened with the sacrificial blood of children.

In the premises, what is the present duty of the Catholic bishops of America? That they have a responsibility – the chief responsibility – seems plain enough. After all, it is the famous profession, the astonishing boast, of the Catholic Church through all the centuries that to her uniquely has been confided the Patrimony of the Poor. Others may step forward to aid the poor, acting in her name as it were; but the burden is here before Heaven: if others claim impotence or weariness or distractions by other concerns, she never can. And of course there will never ever be any poor who are poorer than unborn children, who are not yet favored with even the power to cry, to as much as murmur a protest against an attack on the single possession they have: life. The poor we will always have with us, but now there is this poor who is to be denied even the opportunity to share the inheritance of the earth. If mother, father, doctor, nurse, the whole of society’s mores, the whole of its civil authority, if all conspire to destroy this child, who – what – is left to defend him except the Church of the Poor?

The Church acts formally in such matters through her shepherds: her bishops. How have the American bishops responded to the campaign to persuade the American civil authority to withdraw its protection from the unborn? The record shows that they have opposed the campaign. But the record also shows that they have done so less vigorously, less consistently, certainly less conspicuously than they have begged funds from that same civil authority for their failing school system.

To be sure, the record shows occasional bright spots. The lead story of the March 13 Catholic Virginian, the official organ of the Diocese of Richmond, relates that Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Harrington of Worcester made a spirited appearance before a committee of the Massachusetts legislature to protest the liberalization of murder. But the same story relates that the Virginia legislature was about to adopt a policy authorizing murder (it did later in the week), and that meanwhile a Senate hearing was to be held; there was no mention of the attendance of the Bishop of Richmond, John J. Russell. Bishop Russell, of course, is opposed to abortion; he has said so, and the parish bulletins in his diocese advised you “to contact your State Senator.” But this bishop was not raising hell, and his flock, and his fellow citizens knew that his Church was not raising hell. So why should they?

Maybe the torch lighted in Massachusetts would rally the faithful? A difficulty was that the Primate of Massachusetts, Richard Cardinal Cushing, had just been quoted in Life magazine (Feb. 27) to the effect that anti-abortion laws are not only unnecessary but undesirable: “Catholics do not need the support of civil law to be faithful to their convictions, and they do not seek to impose by law their moral views on other members of society.” Of course this good man is a hopeless eccentric; quoting him is as cruel as stealing candy from a child; but the fact is that not a single American prelate stepped forward to repudiate Cushing’s announcement.

As so it has gone. Where the bishops are not silent, they are discreet, polite, very proper participants in the American political order. At their last semi-annual meeting, in November, they issued a statement on abortion, advising the country that killing babies was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Which, since everything else seems to be, it probably is; but the point was not likely to interest the reigning breed of judges, let alone arouse the population. Let us agree that a ringing invocation by the Catholic bishops of the real authorities – the law of God, the natural rights of the innocent, the Christian and all civilized tradition – would cut no ice whatever with America’s anti-life regime (although it would add a nice adornment to the record). But if the bishops cannot appeal effectively to the finer instincts, there should be no problem at all in reaching the regime’s baser instincts. After all, they do have political clout, as does anyone who can speak plausibly  for a quarter of the population – yes, there are Catholics who are tolerant of baby killing, but they are offset by a still considerable number of non-Catholics who are not, who would be quite happy to have some spokesman for their sentiments. What if the American bishops were to rise to the defense of innocent children with something like the urgency, the militance, the determination – the seriousness – with which innocents are being attacked by CBS, the Cowles and Luce publications, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Women’s Lib, the ACLU, Judge Bazelon, Senator Packwood, Dr. DuBridge, Dr. Egeberg, whoever has spoken last for the Nixon court? What if our shepherds were to become fierce?

What if they do not? Well, there is likely to be a judgment. It is a safe estimate of the next few years that the American civil authority will have authorized the slaughter of more innocents, within a shorter period of time, than the German civil authority did under Hitler. This will not be our bishop’s fault. The extermination of several million Jews was not the German bishop’s fault. But some questions will be asked, which will be somewhat more difficult to answer in the American case than in Germany.

The failure of the German bishops to intervene vigorously against the Nazi genocide is explained on several grounds: a) they were not apprised, or at least not reliably, that the atrocities were taking place; b) to the extent they were, they were helpless to oppose them – what could be more futile than denouncing the Gestapo? – and besides c) they had the agonizing pastoral obligation to avoid inviting a comparable persecution of Catholics.

May we agree that none of these explanations will be available to the American bishops? Knowledge of the American abortion mania could not be more widespread, more detailed. Mobilizing voter blocs, vigorous use of the media protests, demonstrations – far from being ineffective in America – are the way of getting things done in our pluralistic democracy. And while persecutions of Catholics may come sooner than anyone thinks, America at the moment is a paper state compared to Hitler’s; at worst, a Church Militant on the abortion issue would run the risk of losing the government’s financial favors.

There is a further ground of comparison. The Jewish innocents were, for the most part, able-bodied men and women, who could at least put up a struggle in their own defense. The American innocents are too poor even to do that.

This is hard talk to the bishops, because we wish to hear hard talk from them at their April meeting in San Francisco; not the usual jeremiads, but a fighting declaration of war against the whole abortion establishment – most definitely including the American civil authorities, legislative, judicial, and executive, who are fast establishing the most sordid of crimes as high national policy.”

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