Issues of Life and Getting Back to the Basics
Father Shenan Boquet, the president of Human Life International, discusses engaging and educating an increasingly secular culture.
Father Shenan Boquet is the president of Human Life International (HLI), established in 1981 by Father Paul Marx. It bills itself as the largest pro-life organization in the world, with affiliates and members in more than 80 countries.
A native of Bourg, La., Father Boquet has long been active in promoting pro-life causes and pro-family teaching and advocacy. Last month, the international pro-life leader spoke to the Register in Rome about current concerns over abortion, the redefinition of marriage and euthanasia. He also discussed Pope Francis’ approach to pro-life issues.
The redefinition of marriage is a hot topic all over the world. What is HLI doing to strengthen the institution of one man and one woman in matrimony?
One of the things I’m trying to do in presenting these issues is to make sure we pull away from the demagoguery of all of this — that we pull away from any stereotyping of people, from any language other than a genuine anthropology based on a genuine Christian understanding of the human person.
We had an HLI event recently, and we were discussing the same-sex issue. We had four very reputable people speaking about the issues, and we had a number of people who represented the same-sex community waiting to pounce, if you will. And they couldn’t because all four of them approached it purely from the basic tenet of who is man, who is woman, and there was no language that demoralized anyone.
There was no imagery that picked out a community of same-sex people. It really looked at the issue, and, as a result, there was nothing there. People just walked out because they couldn’t challenge the argument or the presentation. That’s what we’re after.
Let’s have an honest conversation. Let’s look at the issues in an honest way and recognize that, as the Church teaches, we don’t discriminate against anyone; we don’t have a right to do that. We do have a responsibility to talk about the human element which we all belong to.
Regarding euthanasia, a European Catholic pro-life politician said recently that politicians and the media need to be brought together, not to debate the faith, but to pose basic questions such as: Do you want your grandmother killed when she has dementia (and other such practical examples)? Do you think that would be an effective strategy?
When I was a young boy, there was a program called Logan’s Run, and there was a little jewel in everyone’s hand. When it lit up, it was your time to be “euthanized.” They didn’t use that term, but in a way, it [euthanasia] is a fruit of the tree where, when one life is degraded, all life is degraded.
As Pope Benedict talked about, in his encyclical on hope, there is a beauty to suffering, and we [Catholics] understand it in the correct manner. But we’ve lost that sense of human dignity, the human person and the Christian understanding of suffering in the right context. As a result, what do we see? An aging population that is afraid of growing older.
And, also, I challenge people very often when they say: “Well, I don’t want to be a burden on my family.” I condemn that language; that’s very bad. And if we notice: What it’s also promoting is not just death to the elderly, but the handicapped, those with mental struggles and difficulties or those with Down syndrome. We know that, in parts of Europe, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with Down’s.
Apparently, the great majority of unborn children with Down syndrome are aborted in France.
That’s right, and if I were an eligible bachelor, then married and had an unborn child diagnosed with Down, then certain governments would say to me: “You have the child, and we won’t help you financially or medically.” So you’re being pushed to destroy this human life — these are the consequences.
It’s interesting, [that] in certain parts of Latin America, they’re discussing those rare moments, incest, rape and so forth. My point always is, as emotionally driven as those issues are and as violent as they are against the dignity of women and life in those acts of violence, the moment we begin to say that there is an exception, we don’t stop there; and we shouldn’t start there.
It’s often a challenge to get this point across to those without faith, those without belief in an afterlife. For a secularist, it’s rational to say: This is the only life, so minimizing suffering is the only option. How can this be addressed?
This is a utilitarian approach that we hear. It’s interesting: I look back at those last few weeks of John Paul II’s life, the last time he appeared at the window, and he attempted to speak to the world and couldn’t. I would say that’s probably one of the greatest speeches the world had ever received from him, because, in that moment, he related to the world the beauty of life in the midst of human suffering. It diminished the argument about utilitarianism, this idea of a productivity-and-commodity mentality. The whole idea is that this is a human being who is part of society. What is our obligation to him, and what is his obligation to us?
How can we best reach out to those who don’t believe?
I think we can pull back from faith to that human element, from a human perspective. As my father taught me as a boy: How I treat one person is inevitably how I would treat every person; so even though my father was raised and formed in that Christian mindset, for him, it made sense.
It’s not about color or gender; it’s about how you treat every individual and how you respect every individual; how you honor every individual. And we start with simply a “Good morning”; “Good afternoon”; “Can I help you?” “Can I help you carry this?”.
Then there is this sense of: I’m not an individual that lives on an island unto himself. I am part of the human family and a contributor in part of the society. … This goes beyond the Christian ethic and speaks to our common anthropology. People have lost a sense of belonging to the human society. We’ve lost that.
Turning to the issue of abortion, it’s said the world has really had a third world war or, more accurately, a holocaust, in the womb for more than 40 years, due to legalized abortion, and that this massacre has been silent. Surely, that must have an effect on society.
Yes. I personally think that Adolf Hitler won. He lost a definite component, no doubt. But one thing he did win was in eugenics: this mindset that has now perpetuated itself as a consequence of this Aryan society, this "perfect race."
We’ve seen this with Margaret Sanger [proponent of eugenics, who opened the first birth-control facility in the United States], through the anti-life movements, the desire to have a perfect society. It’s a silent war, and it’s winning. When we look at anywhere that communism pushed itself into, it brought with it this mindset.
In spite of this, do you sense there’s a positive change in abortion attitudes? What can bring this change?
It can be multiple reasons: One can be an economic perspective [and] an aging population. Even from a demographic point of view, at least it begins a conversation. It opens the door to say: “How did we get here? Why did we get here? What have been the consequences of a mindset?”
I’ve also noticed when we have a conversation on abortion, even people who are against abortion are in favor of contraception. So we still have an area of need and growth in understanding that abortion is a fruit that falls from a tree that’s deeper, that’s rooted deeper in a mindset: that I’m an individual, that I can choose what I want.
But I’ve noticed that in a strong, younger population, in Great Britain, the U.S. and others, they’re against abortion. When you go to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., the secular media will never show you the images, but there are huge amounts of young people. My concern is: Are we having the full conversation, because my experience is they don’t see the link between contraception and abortion or same-sex “marriage.” They’ll say abortifacients are wrong; they’ll tell you that, but they don’t fully understand the full complexity of contraception.
How can the Church and HLI get that point across better?
It’s back to Our Lord. It’s about one person at a time; it’s the Woman at the Well. It’s going to that well and meeting an individual who’s not where they’re meant to be. It’s the thief on the cross. It’s those one-time encounters.
Mother Teresa was once asked: “Do you think your life will have made a difference?” She replied: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
Isn’t that true? Isn’t that what Pope Francis has been saying: How are we conveying this personal encounter with the risen Lord?
Pope Francis has been criticized by some in the pro-life movement for his comments on abortion, contraception and same-sex “marriage,” saying, “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” What is your reaction to what he said?
If I go back and read some of his statements, the exhortation and first encyclical, what he’s saying is that: Before I can talk about an ethic or moral teaching, I’ve got to talk about a person. Ultimately, he’s saying, “Do you know who he is? Or do I just speak of him? Do I just quote him from a book? Do I humanly know Jesus Christ? Have I come to know him in my mind?”
That’s what I believe Pope Francis is saying. He can’t change the moral teaching. He’s saying what makes us who we are is a person, and that person is the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word made flesh, the beautiful, incarnate Word. Do I know him? And if I know him, then it changes who I am. I believe that’s the conversation he’s after.
Edward Pentin is the Register's Rome correspondent.