Roe vs. Wade: A New Form of Government

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
Publication Date: November 12, 2003

Homily given on EWTN

Listen to the audio

The Gospel speaks to us of gratitude, and the gift of Priesthood is something we are all grateful for -- not just us who are ordained but the whole people of God, because it's a gift to the Church. It's not a gift to the individual only, it's a gift primarily for the service of others.

EWTN really is a family and therefore I have been looking forward to this chance to be with you, our EWTN family. I thank the Lord for 15 years of Priesthood and we remember Cardinal O'Connor in a particular way. He ordained me to the Priesthood on this day in 1988. He was not only a great Bishop and Cardinal and someone who constantly articulated the teachings of the Church without hesitation, without fear, without compromise but obviously his influence on my life primarily has been that of the fundamental moral issue of our day, the pro-life movement and the abortion problem. His charism indeed is something that all of us who are involved in the pro-life movement continue to draw from and spread as we make progress down this road.

Brothers and Sisters this first reading today is a word for our time. "Hear, O kings, understand you magistrates of the earth, you who lord it over throngs of people." There's no reading that's more appropriate for our day as the reading goes on to say "authority was given you by the Lord."

You know the first thing we say in the Creed is that we believe in one God. It's not just a statement that we believe in God. It's a statement that there is no other and that all authority is therefore subject to the one in whom we believe. That first line of the Creed, brothers and sisters, is more powerful than a revolution because it's a statement to the world that anyone who claims any kind of authority, whether religious or secular must be in submission to the one and only God. There is only one to whom we bend our knee. There is only one to whom we say "Lord." There is only one whom we worship. There is only one whom we openly obey. There is only one for whom we would sacrifice our life. It is one Lord, one God, one power, one authority, one dominion over all the earth.

Now governments are legitimate; governments are necessary. In fact Scripture tells us that those who rule over us, as this reading says, are given their authority by God. So we're not saying abolish all government and just have a theocracy and just follow God. No. God gives us those who are in legitimate authority over us.

But the point is that those who exercise that authority have to realize that their authority is not ultimate. It's the authority of God that's ultimate. Anybody who rules must also obey. Any law that's passed must also correspond to the law of God. And do you know that our Founding Fathers acknowledged this. We live in the United States of America in a fabulous country for many different reasons. Here's one of them. It was founded by people who understood this concept expressed to us in the first reading. Let me read for example the word of a US Supreme Court Justice and signer of the Constitution, James Wilson. He wrote, "all laws must be arranged in two different classes, divine and human. But it should always be remembered that this law, natural or revealed, made for men or for nations flows from the same Divine source -- it is the law of God. Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is divine."

This is one of the signers of our Constitution. This is one of the first Justices of our Supreme Court.

Another signer of the Constitution, a name even more familiar to you, Alexander Hamilton… Here's what he wrote. "The law dictated by God himself is superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe in all countries and at all times. No human laws are of any validity if contrary to this." That's a signer of our Constitution. "No human laws are of any validity if contrary to the law of [God]."

By the way I'm quoting from a book called "Original Intent" by David Barton. This is a fabulous summary of what our Founding Fathers really intended to do when they set this country up, when they wrote our founding documents, when they had the Constitutional Convention, when they established the Congress and the Supreme Court and the Presidency. What did they really intend to do?

And they did not, as is commonly thought, they did not, brothers and sisters, intend to establish a democracy.

Now that's a surprise isn't it? Our Founding Fathers didn't set up a democracy, purely, strictly speaking. Strictly speaking a democracy means that whatever the majority of the people say, goes. That's not how our country is established. Because in a pure, technical democracy, if the majority said that murder was okay, it would be okay and there would be no recourse except that the majority would change its mind. In a pure democracy, majority rules. Our founders did not set up a democracy. They established instead a Republic.

As far as democracy goes, John Adams wrote, "Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." Lots of people today think we live in a democracy. We live instead in a Republic.

Now the majority is important. It's critical because we elect our leaders. We put into office by our privileged duty to vote and more and more believers are re-discovering that duty, aren't they? More and more believers are saying enough is enough, we have to get into those voting booths and change things. So majority is critically important in the sense that we elect our leaders. But we don't elect our leaders just to do whatever we want them to do, as if whatever the majority says goes as far as moral principles are concerned. We put them in places of authority so that they can carry out, first of all the moral law in regard to fundamental human rights and the protection of the common good. In other words, there are certain things that are beyond the reach of the majority. There are certain things that no majority can ever say are okay, like killing the innocent. No one has the authority to say it's okay to kill little babies...can't be done. Doesn't matter even if everyone said it was okay (and they don't). They don't. The American public never voted on the policy that we have nowadays that allows the killing of children by abortion. We never voted on that. Most of the American people are against that. But even if they were for it, our Nation is established in such a way that we acknowledge certain fundamental principles that can never be changed and that anyone in authority has to adhere to.

So that's why our Declaration says that the rights we have we have because we're human. We don't have the right to life because somebody else says that we have it. We don't have the right to life because some court grants it to us. Brothers and sisters, there's a fundamental principle of government here reflected in the first reading. And it's reflected in our Declaration of Independence and in many other writings of the Founding Fathers and that is that we have our rights from God. And that government exists to secure those rights, not to give them, certainly not to take them away, but to secure them.

Now, I'm going to say some things here this morning that I hope convey to you, because I want to say them with every fiber of my being to convey the urgency, I hope that they convey to you the fundamental, radical situation in which we stand right now in American and in the world -- the danger that we're not just faced but we are immersed in. We now have a different kind of government and that different kind of government has been established primarily by the Roe v. Wade decision.

What do I mean? If you go back to Roe v. Wade which, thirty years ago legalized abortion, you do not see in that decision an assertion that the unborn are not human. Let me say that again. The Roe v. Wade decision does not say that the child in the womb is not human or is not a child. It doesn't say that. The court said it's not up to us to say whether this child is human or not, it's beyond our competency. What the court said, it's exact words were "we need not resolve the difficult question of when human life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy and theology cannot arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not competent to speculate as to the answer." Those are the exact words of the court. Boil it down to three words and it's "I don't know." "I don't know whether this is a child or not, whether this is human or not" -- but on the same page of the decision, the court went on to say "the word person as used in the Constitution does not include the unborn."

I want you to understand what they're saying here and what they're not saying. They're saying yes, the child might be human but we have the authority to say you can kill it. Now if the court had said, "We have come to the conclusion that the unborn are not human and therefore we have the authority to say you can abort them," it would have still been a wrong decision but at least it would have preserved the principle that no government can authorize the killing of the innocent. They did not preserve that principle. They broke it. And when they broke it they established a different government than our Founding Fathers established.

Do you understand the seriousness of this? What they said was, "We are now declaring that we the court, we the Government of the United States have the authority to remove some human beings from the protections of the Constitution. We have the authority to say that they don't have the right to life because they're human or because they might be human but because we say so."

Brothers and sisters, I don't think we've appreciated the absolutely radical break that this makes with the way this country was founded. Because you know why, you know why I don't think we appreciate that, because people go along still talking about abortion as just an "issue." Just "one of many issues." Elected officials, candidates, public servants try to say this. They try to make us think that we can somehow balance this problem against all the other problems in the world. They somehow try to make us think that this is just one consideration and "Oh, there are so many other important things."

This is the stuff of which holocausts are made -- when a government says that some people don't have to be protected. Where do you get totalitarian regimes? Where do you get holocausts from? From governments that somehow think that they're the masters over life and death.

And so when you hear a citizen say, "I think Roe V. Wade was a good idea"; when you hear a candidate for public office say that, when you hear a public servant say that, when you hear a Congressman or a Senator or a President or anybody say that they think that abortion should be legal, they're not just telling you what they think about a medical procedure. They're telling you what they think about the authority of government. They're telling you what kind of government they think we have and it's time for you and I to change this. It's time for you and I to recall for ourselves, for our children, for our grandchildren our history. That we are a Republic. That we are a government that is based on certain principles that it realizes are beyond its authority and beyond its reach. That there are certain things we can't change and we try to change them only at our own peril.

O yes, there are many other problems and concerns and issues. But let me tell you something. We will never solve any of them if we allow this most fundamental injustice to continue.

You see, people can disagree about programs and policies while agreeing on basic principles. Let me illustrate to you with one more try here how utterly foundational this is.

We can agree on the principle that we have to help the poor. Solidarity with the poor is not only a matter of basic human rights, it's a Gospel issue, solidarity with the poor. We can disagree about the programs, the policies, the laws, the solutions to the problem and candidates do disagree with one another. Citizens disagree with one another and they say, "Well here's the way we can solve it" and someone else comes along and says, "That program doesn't work, that actually is counterproductive, you should try my way over here." Listen, battle it out. Argue it out. Let's try to figure it out. A lot of it is trial and error anyway. We just see as time goes on what works best. But at least you agree on the principle. You don't hear people saying, "I think the poor are less human than the rest of us, in fact we should just round them up and put them to death." Do you think that anyone would be taken seriously if they said that? Or much less considered for elected office if they said it's okay to round up the poor and put them to death? No, they agree on the principle, we have to help the poor. Of course they're human beings, of course they're people, of course they deserve our help. We just disagree on how to get to that goal. So you can disagree on programs while preserving the principle.

But not when it comes to abortion. When it comes to abortion, the program, the policy, the law is the principle. In other words, either they have the right to live or they don't. Either you can round them up and kill them or you can't. It is up and down, it's yes or no, it's black and white. It's not, "We agree on the principle, let's figure out different ways to get there." No, there is no way to say that abortion is okay without breaking the principle. The very policy allowing it breaks the principle. It's on the same level as if you said, "Oh the poor, not only do I not care about your program or your recommendation for helping the poor, I think that they should be killed." That's the level at which we're talking when we speak about the "policy" on abortion. It attacks the entire moral order. It attacks the entire foundation and sucks out of every other legitimate position for human rights the very purpose for that position.

And that's why the Pope says that cries for human rights about things like education and health care and solidarity with the poor are false and are illusions if the fundamental right to life is not defended and protected.

That's where we stand. Thank God for people who, like you, are not only understanding these things, but are going to take it into action in the voting booth. You know what, the number one priority for the pro-life movement in many sectors for the next year is the election of 2004. It is critically important that believers take back their role. Otherwise we're going to find ourselves governed by un-elected tyrants who think that they have mastery over life and death. That's exactly the mess that we're in now and it's exactly the call that comes to use from this reading, that we stand up and do something because the Lord says, "He Himself made the great as well as the small. He provides for all alike all alike, all alike, the governed and the governor."

Give us grace, Oh Lord, to do what we must do to bring about justice in our land. AMEN

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