Saturday, June 5, 2021

Look to Your Own Beam First


“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Those involved in factional fighting might pretend to be acting for the “good of the Church,” but the reality is they are selectively quoting what the Church teaches to discredit their political opponents. Then, when challenged over the sins of their own side, they argue that “the stakes are too high” to worry about that at this time. The problem is this way of thinking will never find the “right time” to challenge their own faction. There will always be a perceived crisis that prevents us from looking to reform ourselves.

But we are called to change ourselves regardless of what others do. Our Lord tells us:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Yes, teaching others to reject evil is part of the Great Commission (cf. Matthew 28:19-20). But if we will not do what we expect others to do, we will answer for it.

This gets worse as Catholics misidentify Church teaching and political preference. The result is accusing Catholics on the “other side” of wrongdoing, while never asking themselves about their own behavior.

10 I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. 12 I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

Recently, the war between the Original Pro-Life Movement (hereafter OPLM) and the New Pro-Life Movement (hereafter NPLM) has flared up again. It is not a new conflict. It happens in America with every change of a Presidential party in power. One party thinks that abortion is a “human right.” The other recognizes it is not. Catholics, of course, can never licitly support abortion… even though some Catholics do.

The battle of the OPLM and the NPLM basically comes down to how abortion should be weighted when it comes to the moral obligations of voting. Both factions are caricatures of what the Right to Life means. The OPLM generally argues that abortion is the worst evil of our times, and we can never licitly vote for a candidate or party that supports legalized abortion. The NPLM tends to argue that since the other social justice issues are a part of the Seamless Garment of Life, we need to elevate them in the discussion. Unfortunately, the practical result of this factionalism is that the OPLM argues that “the stakes are too high” to hold candidates accountable for issues other than abortion, while the NPLM argues that “the stakes are too high” to worry about abortion. The OPLM Catholic tends to vote Republican regardless of that party’s failings and the NPLM Catholic tends to vote Democrat regardless of that party’s failings.

Both factions are quick to point out the failures of the other side. But, neither does more than pay lip service to their own side’s failures. The result is, hostility and self-righteousness grow apace.

The fact is, the Catholic Church does indeed teach that the Right to Life is the first right. However, her teaching shows that both factions have gone wrong:

In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of the rights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change—let alone eliminate—them because such rights find their source in God himself.

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

The Church has never yielded in the face of all the violations that the right to life of every human being has received, and continues to receive, both from individuals and from those in authority. The human being is entitled to such rights, in every phase of development, from conception until natural death; and in every condition, whether healthy or sick, whole or handicapped, rich or poor. The Second Vatican Council openly proclaimed: “All offences against life itself, such as every kind of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and willful suicide; all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures; all offences against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where men are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons; all these and the like are certainly criminal: they poison human society; and they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator”. (Christifideles Laici 38)

So, on one hand, Catholics cannot limit the right to life to abortion. On the other hand, Catholics cannot reduce the importance of abortion… it is listed next to murder and genocide, after all. Moreover, certain rights are considered secondary to the right to life. So, while rights to housing and healthcare are important, we cannot sacrifice the obligation to oppose abortion to them.

I would say that contra the OPLM, we do have an obligation to speak out against more than abortion. But contra the NPLM, we also have an obligation to oppose abortion as the first assault on the right to life.

Therefore, I think the assaults on the bishops are unjust. The OPLM is wrong in saying that the bishops ignore abortion. They are not. But the NPLM is wrong in claiming that the bishops were obsessed with abortion and neglecting the other issues. Anybody paying attention to the USCCB releases showed they spoke about all the issues Americans were wrong over… but they were always attacked for not speaking about Y, when the focus of the debate was X.

Let us face the facts: when a Presidential administration is in line with Church teaching on X but wrong on Y, the bishops will tend to focus on Y. If the administration is in the wrong on abortion, the bishops will speak out on abortion. If the administration is in the wrong on immigration, the bishops will speak out on immigration. They are not behaving in a partisan manner. I would say that the person accusing them of being partisan is the one who is biased. 

We can see this OPLM v. NPLM factionalism in play with the USCCB expressing concern over Biden and abortion. Both factions will pick out their heroes and villains on how they face the fact of a pro-abortion Catholic President… the first in US history§.

And I think that is the key to the situation. America has had pro-abortion presidents before and Catholic pro-abortion politicians before. But this is the first time we have had a Catholic pro-abortion President in the United States. So, the US bishops are dealing with something entirely new#.

So, it does not help when the OPLM and NPLM are picking out heroes and villains from the bishops. Yes, the bishops are publicly divided over what should be done, and that should not be. Yes, we do need a solution on how to handle it. And yes, all of us (including me) have ideas on what that solution should be. But our response should be prayer for them to reach a wise decision, not accusing the bishops we disagree with of bad will. Because of this, I say that the OPLM and NPLM need to spend more time considering the beam in their own eyes and less on the splinter in the eye of their foes. It might help coming to a non-partisan response that helps the bishops instead of hindering them.

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(†) Relatively speaking. Often, a political party will support an action that the Church teaches but do so with a different motive.

(‡) “Pro-Choice” is a propaganda term where the party tries to separate the claimed personal feelings of the politician from what he does, even though the claimed personal feelings have no impact on what he freely chooses to do. We should not use the term.

(§) Remember, when the first Catholic President was elected, Roe v. Wade was over ten years away, so it was not a factor.

(#) Canon 1405 does limit the judging of a chief executive of a country to the Pope. But that is beyond the scope of this article and will need to be addressed another time. Briefly, it can be used to interpret the meaning of the Ladaria letter as saying that the bishops need to be unified and talking to Biden privately before bringing it before the Pope. It does not mean that those bishops wanting to move beyond the status quo are wrong. Also, keep in mind this canon was not part of the revision of canon law.

 

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