Father Roger J. Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, is national chaplain for Catholic Voices USA.
Last Saturday, Pope Francis welcomed to the Vatican leaders of the Italian pro-life movement the day before Italy’s annual pro-life day, held since 1978 on the first Sunday of February.
The Pope spoke powerfully about how “the defense of life is not carried out in only one way, or with one gesture, but it’s done in a multiplicity of actions, attentions and initiatives; nor does it concern some persons or certain professional realms, but it involves every citizen and the complex web of social relations.”
Catholics in a particular way, he added, are called to “be leaven to spread a style and practices of reception and respect for life in the whole ‘dough’ of society, [which] must always be a jealous and firm custodian of life.”
While stating that “to take care of life exacts doing so during the whole of life, and up to the end … [and giving] attention to the conditions of life: health, education, work opportunities and so on,” Francis nevertheless underlined that “the defense of life has its fulcrum in the reception of the one generated and who is still protected in the maternal womb, enveloped in the mother’s womb as in one loving embrace that unites them.” So we cannot promote and protect life, he said, without first defending the life of the unborn. There’s no seamless garment if there’s no child to be covered by that garment as the child grows from conception to natural death.
Pope Francis continued:
“To extinguish life voluntarily in its budding is … a betrayal of … the pact that binds the generations among themselves, a pact that enables us to look ahead with hope. … If life itself, however, is violated in its beginning, what remains is no longer the grateful and amazed reception of the gift, but rather a cold calculation of how much we have and what we can get rid of. Then life is also reduced to a good of consumption, to be used for ourselves and for others, or discarded. How tragic this vision is, unfortunately, widespread and rooted, and how much suffering it causes the weakest of our brothers and sisters!”
The Holy Father then turned to the political dimension of the pro-life movement. He thanked those present for their “attachment to the Catholic faith and to the Church, which renders you explicit and courageous witnesses of the Lord Jesus.” But he added, “At the same time, I appreciate the secular nature with which you present yourselves and operate, a secular nature founded on the truth of the good of life, which is a human and civil value and, as such, calls to be recognized by all persons of goodwill, of whatever religion or creed they belong.”
Pro-life convictions, though strengthened by faith, aren’t in the least sectarian, he stressed. They flow also from reason about the nature of the child in the womb — at the same age and with the same humanity every one of us once was — and the basic principle of ethics that the intentional slaughter of innocent human beings is always wrong.
But noting that secular view of life also has a dark side, Pope Francis added that the children whose lives are threatened by abortion are not the property of the mother, but “are children of the whole society, and their killing at such an enormous rate, with the endorsement of the states, is a grave problem that undermines the foundations of justice and compromises the right solution to any other human and social question.”
He finished by making a special appeal to those in public office, “so that, regardless of each one’s faith convictions, they will place as the cornerstone of the common good the defense of the life of those that are about to be born and make their entrance in society.” He prayed that they will not “let themselves be conditioned by a logic that looks only to personal success or immediate or partisan interests, but always looks beyond, and looks to all with the heart.”
Clash of Cultures
Pope Francis’s reflections provide a Catholic lens with which to look at the very disturbing events that have just occurred in New York and Virginia, and seem to be on the way to Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
On Jan. 22, the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, as faithful Catholics in the United States were observing a day of prayer and penance in reparation for the nearly 60 million children who have legally been killed in the womb since that judicial travesty, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York was holding a celebration in Albany.
Cuomo, baptized Catholic soon after he left the womb in 1957 and recipient of 16 years of Catholic education at St. Gerard Majella Elementary School and Archbishop Malloy High School in Queens and Fordham University in the Bronx, hosted a jovial ceremony at the statehouse in which he signed the Reproductive Health Act.
His signature made abortion legal up to the moment of birth for any reason, eliminating the conscience rights of health care professionals not to participate in abortions. By signing his name to this document, he also made it possible for abortions to be performed by those who are not doctors, and permitted that babies who survive abortion and are born alive to be left to die without any medical assistance.
Cuomo ebulliently began the signing ceremony observing, “It is a good evening this evening! Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations!” He gave shout-outs to the legislators who supported the Act and a special welcome to Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court. He dubbed the night “bittersweet” — sweet “because we won … after a long, long, long fight” to “ensure a woman’s right to … access an abortion,” and bitter for two reasons: because “we shouldn’t be here” trying to defend abortion against pro-lifers who are trying to take society back 50 years to before Roe; and because, as he said he told his daughter — whom he thankfully chose not to abort — the Reproductive Health Act should have gone into law eight years ago.
A Mockery of Life
But Cuomo wasn’t done celebrating. He signed an executive order requiring that the One World Trade Center’s 408-foot spire, the bridge named after his father Mario (the former Tappan Zee spanning the Hudson), the Kosciuszko Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens, and the Alfred Smith State Office Building in Albany be lit in pink that night.
Cuomo turned a monument rising up from the ashes of the deaths of 2,831 at the World Trade Center — including 11 children who were victims of the terrorists while still in their mother’s wombs — into a festive symbol for a practice that since Roe has taken, on average, the lives of 3,574 innocent children a day in their mother’s wombs.
And New York’s governor said he believes that “we have to go even a step further and do a constitutional amendment so no governor, no legislator, no political swing, can ever jeopardize a woman's right to control her own body in this state.”
This enthusiasm for abortion rights is something quite far from what Pope Francis was saying those in public office should do: placing the defense of life of those about to be born at the cornerstone of the common good. This is essentially putting the destruction of those lives about to enter society as the foundation of one’s political platform.
Cuomo likes to quote Pope Francis when it serves his purposes, especially when he thinks he’s joining Pope Francis in criticizing the Church and her leaders for opposing Cuomo’s own priorities. But in this case we can’t but help quote Pope Francis, who last October very bluntly likened abortion to “hiring a contract killer” to “take out a human life to solve a problem.” In this papal simile, Cuomo is a don in such a mafia culture.
Death in the South
The crude and cruel designs of those who, like Cuomo, think abortion is a sweet good to be celebrated was exposed beyond the euphemisms in Virginia on Jan. 29, when Delegate Kathy Tran proposed Virginia House Bill 2491. This bill seeks to replicate many of the things from Albany but focuses in particular on making it easier for women to obtain third trimester abortions. Tran affirmed in a committee hearing that it would allow abortion up to the very moment of birth as long as a doctor performing the abortion said that it was good for the mother’s physical or mental health.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, interviewed on WTOP’s Ask the Governor radio program about the Bill, was questioned about the provision, stating that babies who survived an abortion would not be guaranteed life-saving care. He responded, “If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
That’s infanticidal logic, which is the direct continuation of abortion logic. By this point, everyone knows that what is growing within a pregnant mother’s womb is just as human as the mother, at the very stage of existence that the mother once was in her own mother’s womb.
Life has already begun and the human being is growing. Birth is an important stage in that life curve, but the difference between a child seconds before birth and seconds after is in fact quite small. There’s no logical ground to say that the first should have no rights and the second full rights.
Pursuit of the Absurd
The logic of abortion is that those who are bigger, stronger, older, more politically connected should have the right to end the life of those who are smaller, more vulnerable, younger and without a voice. When we accept that, then why not infanticide for unwanted children? Why not let the “hired killers” have a bigger and easier target?
To oppose infanticide, however, should logically require opposing abortion. Pretending that abortion is the equivalent of sloughing off a wart, or ending the life of some insignificant nonhuman species, is no longer possible. Abortion is plainly about the willful killing of another human being.
Some, like Cuomo, Tran and Northam, think that such intentional killing of little children is something to be proud of, that the whole world should be lit in pink while the crimson blood of babies stains latex gloves and forceps. No longer is there the political need, they think, to say that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” Now it should be celebrated as a great human rights advance and women should unabashedly brag about their abortions. The more, the merrier.
What should happen to them? Many are calling for Cuomo and the other Catholics who supported the Reproductive Health Act to be excommunicated. Even if the bishops with the responsibility to make that call do so, however, it would not be enough.
What’s really needed is for voters politically to excommunicate them from public office.
The question is: What’s it going to take for voters, especially Catholic voters, to conclude that those who celebrate the destruction of human life in the womb as if it’s the Fourth of July, who desecrate monuments and landmarks to gloat about it, who think that babies who survive abortions should be allowed to die without medical assistance, do not represent their values?
And when will they resolve to do something about it?
Father Roger Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts.