In 2001, as the full breadth of the sexual abuse scandal in the U.S. Catholic Church hit the pews, disbelief turned to outrage at our parish, St. Ignatius in San Francisco. Everyone demanded, “How did this happen?”
Fingers pointed at the bishops, and their long lax handling of clerical abusers with counseling, penance, transfer, and avoidance. In fairness, the prelates had no greater expertise in the pathology of sex abusers than their counterparts in the secular world. But this gave little comfort to lay Catholics, who rightfully held the Body of Christ to a standard that precluded the life-destroying sexual manhandling of innocent children.
Despite our then-Archbishop William Levada’s leadership in advocating a new “zero tolerance” policy, our pastoral council opted to support parish members who “as a matter of conscience . . . are unable to donate to the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal.” I quit the parish at that point, stunned at the council’s refusal to promote community; support the archbishop’s valiant efforts to identify abusers, impose canonical sanctions, and aid abuse victims; and maintain diocesan services to the greater San Francisco community.
Now, as President Barack Obama begins to deliver on his promise of a brave new world of abortion rights, I think I may have been wrong. The new administration supports the lifting of all protections for the unborn, with full support from prominent lay Catholics, like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joseph Biden, and the acquiescence of two-thirds of our bishops. Maybe, after all, the St. Ignatius Pastoral Council had it right.
How do pro-lifers respond faithfully and effectively to the Church’s next crisis: the abortion scandal? Like the sexual abuse crisis that festered for decades, effectively unattended by individual bishops and the USCCB, the new scandal has yet to bring our bishops and pastors into a unified voice of opposition. Their unwillingness to provide a strong voice of guidance in the public forum was evident in the wording of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” — a document that, in its application, provided cover for those who would clear the way for Obama.
Time has run out; the abortion scandal has hit the United States Catholic Church full force. While passive episcopal leadership has always been with us, like the sexual abuse scandal, its consequences are now becoming a grim reality.
Federalized redefinition of abortion from a life-terminating interference in a woman’s body to a “medical procedure” available by right.
Abandonment of any legal rights or protections for an unborn child, including all protections against fetal pain during the procedure and against a mother for assault (such as through the use of fetus-harming drugs and excessive alcohol).
Massive increases in both domestic and international funding of abortion providers, along with U.S. international advocacy to dehumanize the unborn throughout the world.
Use of tax dollars to subsidize and pay for abortions on parity with any other medical procedure.
What, then, are lay Catholics to do? While promises of increased abortion funding are fulfilled, we sit side by side in the pew with sacrament-receiving lay leaders who not only make this slaughter a reality, but take huge donations from the abortion industry itself. How can we motivate our Church and clergy to address this scandal with the same level of commitment that brought the abuse scandal to remedy?
The St. Ignatius Pastoral Council set an effective example: The time has come for pro-life Catholics to put our money on the teaching. It is notable that, once St. Ignatius parishioners began their financial strike against the archdiocese, Archbishop Levada responded as the good shepherd he is: hearing and replying to their objections, devoting sermons and articles in the San Francisco Catholic newspaper to the remedial action being taken, and guiding his pastors to deal openly, honestly, and fully with the scandal from the pulpit. The parishioners’ strategy, in short, worked.
Just as with the sex-abuse crisis,many of our spiritual leaders have delayed and avoided joining the fight against abortion out of alleged concerns for church unity. Conflict is uncomfortable for many people — and, particularly, for many clergy. The clerical culture frequently avoids threats to Church teaching on the theory that truth will (eventually) prevail. Confrontation also places at risk the financial support the Church receives from high profile, dissenting Catholics. “You don’t want to alienate these people,” one priest warned me, “they often are very generous to the Church.”
So how do we pro-life Catholics learn from the abuse crisis and remain engaged with pastors and bishops who do not share our urgency on the abortion issue? Here are three options:
1. Divert all parish and diocesan contributions to pro-life ministries until your local pastor and bishop make unequivocally clear the pro-life teaching of the Church. This strategy worked for lay Catholics determined to motivate their clergy to unambiguous action in the sex-abuse crisis. In pro-life advocacy and service, any number of servants to the Church’s pro-life teaching could readily benefit from increased donations, including religious orders like Priests for Life or Sisters of Life and hands-on lay programs like The Nurturing Network.
2. Demand transparency regarding donations from organizations and prominent Catholics advocating and supporting unrestricted abortion. Financial transparency within parishes and dioceses, like transparency at Catholic schools and institutions, provides a critical safeguard against the acceptance of donations derived in direct opposition to the Church’s teachings.
As Lisa Correnti and Deal W. Hudson recently exposed, the abortion lobby gives major contributions to a number of prominent lay Catholic politicians who in turn support government funded, unrestricted abortion. If this same lobby, or its donors, is passing funds to the parish or the diocese, objection and demands to return such funds might prove effective. Both pastors and bishops have broad discretion to reject funding from unacceptable sources, which surely should include money derived from the abortion lobby. Calls for increased financial transparency began with the sexual abuse crisis, and might appropriately continue with respect to the emerging abortion scandal.
3. Restrict all donations to parish or diocesan Respect Life programs. Restricting a donation binds a non-profit to use the funds in the manner specified by the giver; that organization cannot apply the funds to general operations or other non-specified purposes. Churches and dioceses, like most non-profits, strongly prefer to receive unrestricted donations, so restricting a gift for use in pro-life programming might well draw the attention and concern of pastors and bishops.
These are but a few suggestions for pro-life Catholics to consider as we seek ways to commit more effectively to the Church’s pro-life teaching. In some parishes and dioceses, such steps may well nudge conflict-averse clergy into action, as was the case in the sex-abuse crisis. Such steps must be taken respectfully, with sincerity, goodwill, and genuine concern for the long term well-being of our beloved Church. What’s more, we must clearly and respectfully communicate our financial decisions to the pastor or bishop. Hopefully, a shift in giving patterns from pro-life Catholics will encourage more serious and direct intervention in our current abortion scandal in the Church.
Catholics must do their part to express support for our pro-life values. Our clergy need our help, even if through methods they’d prefer not to endure. The time has come for pro-life Catholics to put their money on the Church’s teaching.