John Burger came to the Register in 2001 as a staff writer after working as a reporter for Catholic New York, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York. He has a bachelor’s degree in English from Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., and a master’s degree in English from Iowa State University and has taught in China and France.
We don’t have a resident cardinal in Connecticut, where the Register is based. So it was a very special event last night at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., when Cardinal Francis Arinze delivered a lecture “In Defense of Human Life.”
Cardinal Arinze, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship, spoke in Holy Apostles’ recently dedicated, beautiful new campus chapel, still pungent with the sweet odor of freshly cut lumber.
The college’s Pope John Paul II Bioethics Center is revitalizing a lecture series after a hiatus of several years, and they could hardly have gotten a more eminent speaker to restart it.
In addition, John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, was on hand to help introduce the lecture. He reminded the audience of the urgency for Catholic wisdom in these times. There’s little doubt, he said, that we’ve been “thrown into a biotech age.” Just the day before, for example, a baby was born to a woman who conceived with an embryo that had been frozen for 20 years.
Cardinal Arinze spoke for nearly an hour, delivering what amounted to a catechesis on the sacredness of human life and the threats it faces. Three weeks before the Midterm Elections, which will give the pro-life movement a chance to reclaim some ground lost over the past two years to a pro-abortion president and his allies in congress, the cardinal offered a clear defense for laws that protect human life in the womb and vulnerable persons in aging, ill and frail conditions.
The sanctity and dignity of human life is not merely a religious teaching, he said: the Hippocratic Oath, formulated some five centuries before Christ, is evidence that life’s sacredness is something we can know without the help of divine revelation. It is something we can apprehend from human reason.
The Church, in calling abortion an “unspeakable crime” (as it does in the documents of Vatican II), merely recognizes that fact. It is not imposing a sectarian view on humanity. Some people argue that in a pluralistic society like ours, laws should not favor any sectarian belief. But “abortion stands condemned on grounds of natural reason,” Cardinal Arinze said. “The conceived child is a human being.”
Catholics are not imposing religious values on society, he said. It is the secularist who is imposing his views. “He is violating a basic human right, the right to life.”
How does one answer the argument first put forward by former New York State Gov. Mario Cuomo and often used by Catholics in politics: “I am personally opposed to abortion, but I cannot impose my view on everyone else?”
“Ask him, ‘What do you think about this: I am personally not in favor of shooting all of you in parliament,’ the cardinal countered. ‘But I am not going to impose my views and stand in the way of someone who believes in shooting everyone in parliament. It’s their freedom of choice.’”
Catholic politicians should not say, “I am a Catholic, but…,” the cardinal said. “They should say, ‘I am a Catholic, therefore….’”
He warned that people are beginning to no longer see what is wrong with abortion and euthanasia. There is an increasing tendency to regard human beings as objects to be used and discarded. Cruelty to animals is considered wickedness while abortion is considered a right. Solidarity with the weak is not appreciated sufficiently. Majority rule trumps the moral law.
But “civil law must be in conformity with the moral law,” the cardinal said. “Just as no state has the right to legalize polygamy or stealing, no state has the right to allow abortion.”
I asked the cardinal as he left the chapel if he could take a question from a reporter. “Not at this time,” he said. “Ask them for a copy of my talk. It has everything you need.”
Indeed it does. And you can read it at the website of the Pope John Paul II Bioethics Center.