Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
We seem to have a major problem in the Church in the area of reading comprehension. The problem is most obvious when the reading material asserts the primacy of abortion among issues that voters have to consider in elections.
Statements of the Pope, various Vatican officials, committees and officials of the USCCB, and the entire body of US bishops, all point to abortion as the fundamental human rights issue of our day. Even Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who during his life was a key spokesperson for the "consistent ethic of life," pointed out repeatedly that the fundamental right is the right to life.
To illustrate how profound the reading comprehension problem is, just take a look at the list of quotes I have added at the end of these remarks. Then determine for yourself whether they are clear or not.
Meanwhile, we have people in various positions within the Church saying that all the issues are equal. Excuse me, but not only does that violate Catholic teaching, it violates common sense. Ask any parent whether, among their daily activities caring for their children, all issues are of equal importance. In fact, you can ask the children themselves. They seem to know the answer better than some Church officials do. I’ve been acquiring a whole file of letters sent out, often from offices of "social ministry" in various dioceses, which state that voters have to consider a wide range of issues. So far, so good. But then these letters say that no issue is more important than another. And that’s where the lack of reading comprehension reveals itself. Either they have never seen the quotes below, or they are deliberately ignoring them. And neither is appropriate for a person who has the responsibility to convey Church teaching.
Two explanations can be offered for why some would distort the teaching. The first is simply loyalty to the Democratic party. The problem has to be faced honestly that the loyalty of some Church ministers to the Democratic Party is deeper than their loyalty to Catholic teaching. There is nothing wrong with belonging to a political party and being loyal to it. But when that party promotes the widespread, daily, legal killing of children, the voice of protest must be heard. Silence is not an option, neither for Democrats, Republicans, or anyone else - most certainly Catholics.
The second explanation for the reading comprehension problem is a legal concern. Unfortunately, the Church has been fed for decades with legal advice which is far more restrictive of the Church’s freedom than the IRS or the FEC has ever been. And this is wrong. Not only are the IRS/FEC restrictions on the Church minimal, but the enforcement policy is even looser. No Church has ever lost its tax exemption by teaching about abortion, or the primacy of the right to life, or the duty of public officials and voters to advance the Culture of Life by voting. No Church has ever lost its tax exemption for doing what it exists to do, namely, convey the teachings of the Church. No Church has ever lost its tax exemption for distributing materials that did not cover a wide-enough range of issues; in fact, no Church has lost its tax exemption for distributing voter guides, period. Despite all this, various Church officials will go into all kinds of contortions to protect their assets from legal problems that they think will arise if the Church says that the right to life is primary among all the issues. Of course, the problem here is that this kind of legal advice, if it were accurate, would prove too much. Statements of the USBishops themselves, like "Living the Gospel of Life" (1998), would constitute illegal activity under such an erroneous framework. The best way to describe the current problem with some of our attorneys is the bumpersticker that says "I Brake for Hallucinations."
The solution to all of this is for all of us, clergy and laity alike, to bear faithful witness to the teachings of the Church, no matter what the political implications may be. Bear witness to the consistent ethic of life, and to that which makes it consistent - the right to life. Proclaim that there are many rights, and proclaim the foundational right. And be sure to keep your reading skills in top shape!
Abortion: The Primary Issue: According to Statements from the Pope and Bishops