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Is the Church Too "Political?"

 

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director of Priests for Life

October 25, 2004

   
 

Like many Catholics, I’ve been troubled for years at the fear that is so prevalent within the Church about addressing matters of politics. I am very familiar with the legal limitations that the Church chooses to accept under IRS and FEC regulations. But the fear I refer to takes matters further than the government ever dares to take them. This fear literally paralyzes perfectly legitimate activity.


What activity, you ask? Take, for example, the internal legal directive that was sent out a few months ago to dioceses around the country, telling them not to quote the President of the United States speaking about the "Culture of Life," because after all, this might be interpreted as support for his re-election.


So let’s get this straight. The Pope and bishops tell the world about the "Culture of Life," in the hope that all people of good will take their words seriously and act upon them.


Then, the leader of the world’s most powerful nation actually embraces the concept and uses the term – and the Church itself cannot quote him from its own pulpits.


I for one am tired of this nonsense. I’m proud of the Pope, I’m proud of the President, and I’m proud to say so out loud.


And this leads to a burning question: What will it take for the Church to find its voice?


When will those who tread so carefully now, weighing and balancing the pros and cons of every move they make and disguising fear in the name of prudence, finally decide that speaking the truth is worth whatever price it may carry? When will we stop whispering and begin shouting from the rooftops? Will it require waiting until some political party arises that starts burning cities and Churches? Or banning the preaching of the Gospel?


Then would the Church find its voice and not worry that its preaching appears political?


Well it’s time to stop waiting. We face a tragedy right now that is just as serious as anything we might imagine. We have a set of policies within our own government that continue to permit the most fundamental violation of the moral order – the deliberate destruction of innocent human life on a massive scale, and to make it worse, it is celebrated as a "freedom." This is no time to weigh and balance whether we should speak out against injustice. This is no time to count the cost of trying to stop it. Many – myself included -- are done counting.


Some within the Church have grown impatient with the emphasis being put on the "single issue" of abortion. Excuse me, but we are not the ones who chose to single out the unborn and declare them outside the protections of the Constitution. We are not the ones who set up an industry that brings in half a billion dollars a year from dismembering children. We are not the ones who decided to make children in the womb the only group of people that other people could kill by "freedom of choice."


The Holy Father describes how serious the situation is in the following words, taken from section 20 of "The Gospel of Life":


"This view of freedom leads to a serious distortion of life in society. If the promotion of the self is understood in terms of absolute autonomy, people inevitably reach the point of rejecting one another… At that point, everything is negotiable, everything is open to bargaining: even the first of the fundamental rights, the right to life… In this way democracy, contradicting its own principles, effectively moves towards a form of totalitarianism. The State is no longer the "common home" where all can live together on the basis of principles of fundamental equality, but is transformed into a tyrant State, which arrogates to itself the right to dispose of the life of the weakest and most defenceless members, from the unborn child to the elderly, in the name of a public interest which is really nothing but the interest of one part. The appearance of the strictest respect for legality is maintained, at least when the laws permitting abortion and euthanasia are the result of a ballot in accordance with what are generally seen as the rules of democracy. Really, what we have here is only the tragic caricature of legality; the democratic ideal, which is only truly such when it acknowledges and safeguards the dignity of every human person, is betrayed in its very foundations: "How is it still possible to speak of the dignity of every human person when the killing of the weakest and most innocent is permitted? In the name of what justice is the most unjust of discriminations practised: some individuals are held to be deserving of defence and others are denied that dignity?" When this happens, the process leading to the breakdown of a genuinely human co-existence and the disintegration of the State itself has already begun."


The disintegration of the State itself! Those are powerful words. Just as powerful are the words of our own United States bishops when they wrote in 1998, "When American political life becomes an experiment on people rather than for and by them, it will no longer be worth conducting. We are arguably moving closer to that day." (Living the Gospel of Life, n.4).


So, in the light of this, does the Church comment on politics? The context framed by the quotes above makes the question itself seem ridiculous. Crying out about the very disintegration of the State is not something we can think twice about doing, or ever doubt our solemn obligation to carry out. Concerns that our prophetic voice in these circumstances may appear to favor a particular candidate or party become petty and absurd in comparison.


Yet the pettiness and absurdity abound. It is not our duty to simply observe or lament this fact. We have to counteract it by speaking out clearly, consistently, without compromise and without fear of false and exaggerated legal concerns. Civilization itself depends on the right to life, and whether the greatest nation on earth will protect that right in the near future depends very much on what voters do on November 2.


And that’s why I will join the millions of Americans who will elect pro-life candidates on that day.

   
 
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