The Washington Post recently published an op-ed by Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco defending the many Catholic bishops who have publicly considered barring pro-choice Catholic politicians from the Eucharist. But Archbishop Cordileone went a step further: he declared his support for the recent anti-abortion legislation in Texas, including praising the Lone Star State for “investing $100 million to help mothers by funding pregnancy centers, adoption agencies and maternity homes.” The reaction to the op-ed was perhaps unsurprising, and not a single published letter was positive.
One reader reprimanded the Archbishop for overstepping “in arguing for and supporting changes in the law of the land to enforce its moral positions on those who do not agree.” (Aren’t all laws based on moral positions and enforced upon a population, some of whom will not agree?) Another accused the Church of being “not really pro-life” because it has been “generally silent on other life issues: war, climate change, capital punishment and housing and food insecurity.” (Has this person read any encyclicals by Francis, Benedict XVI, or John Paul II?)
Other readers were quite a bit more antagonistic and abrasive. A Maryland woman accused the Church of seeking to impose the equivalent of “sharia law” on women and noted “the institution’s spectacular failure to protect the children in their flock from the predators in their midst.” (Perhaps she’s unaware that, according to one survey, approximately seven percent of public-school students have been sexually abused by a teacher or coach).
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Another argued that because the Old Testament has God saying some frightening things that this proved the Archbishop a hypocrite. (Because the Church’s condemnation of abortion comes only from the Bible?) And finally, a reader noted that “contraception is also against Catholic teaching, adding to the absurdity of men in robes making health-care decisions for the rest of us.”
The Catholic Church is equivalent to the Taliban; Catholic priests are sexual predators; the Bible is a manual of murder and misogyny; the Church is a bunch of old, ridiculously-clothed men who don’t know anything about women’s healthcare. These are the arguments of the pro-choice movement. They expose, quite shamelessly, the anti-Catholic bigotry that underlies the pro-abortion movement.
Why is that? What is it about anti-Catholicism—which has quite a long history in our country—that pairs so well with pro-abortion politics? I would argue that perhaps it is because both originate from a certain prideful assertion of the autonomous self, untethered from authority.
The Reformation, after all, can be traced back, at least rhetorically, to Martin Luther’s famous assertion—some of which is likely at the apocryphal at the Diet of Worms in 1521:
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
In other words, the truth of the Christian faith is ascertained not via resource to a divinely-originating authority like the Magisterium but in the individual conscience of the Christian.
For Protestants, Luther’s declaration is a rallying cry. But for Catholics, and especially Catholic scholars like Brad S. Gregory in his excellent book The Unintended Reformation, it is ultimately individualistic and egocentric because it places religious authority squarely in the self. Thus, as Protestants encountered Catholics, particularly in the American Colonies and later the United States, the response to the Church was one of violence and anger against a religion viewed as inherently inimical toward personal autonomy, be it religious or political.
Much the same can be said for the pro-choice movement. Its adherents proclaim slogans like “my body, my choice,” and “my life, not yours.” The pro-choice advocate esteems, above all else, the rights of the autonomous self, whose conscience is beholden to no external authority, be it the Church, government, or anything else.
As Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger herself explained: “No woman can call herself free who does not control her own body.” The pro-choice movement prioritizes autonomy and perceives in Catholic authority a direct threat to personal liberty. Yet, as John Paul II observes in Evangelium Vitae: “To claim the right to abortion…and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others.”
Perceptive readers might intuit in this anti-Catholic-abortionist hostility toward external authority a shared origin: the Fall itself. Irish writer James Joyce portrays Satan uttering: non serviam! The Devil, and later Adam and Eve in their complicity in his rebellion, spurn the authority of God in favor of their own will. Milton describes Satan saying in Paradise Lost: “All is not lost; the unconquerable will, And study of revenge, immortal hate, And courage never to submit or yield.”
Thus, what anti-Catholics and pro-abortionists share in common is, most fundamentally, the same hatred of divine authority that has harried humanity since the Garden of Eden. Certainly, anti-Catholicism is irrational and unfair. (It is the Church, more than any other human institution, that has promoted goodness, truth, and beauty, and worked for the good of mankind.)
So, too, the abortion movement is irrational and unfair, as evidenced by the terribly inadequate and ad hominem arguments of pro-choice proponents like those who criticize Archbishop Cordileone. They are all, we can see, cut from the same cloth: the arrogant assertion of the atomized self.
Such pride, as Catholics well know, ultimately leads to one place. It is one we should wish on no one, regardless of how terribly such persons treat us. We must beg our merciful Lord that every man and woman, regardless of their anti-Catholicism or promotion of abortion, be drawn to repentance and salvation. For as the harsh realities of abortion show, our very lives are on the line.
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