Abortion and the Catholic Surrender to Politics
This past week, Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, released a statement expressing their disdain for the Reproductive Health Act ("RHA"), just signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Father Jenkins's statement is titled "Who is Next?," a rhetorical question for abortion advocates asking: if medical care is not required for babies surviving abortion in New York, what group is next to be denied medical care?
The commentary from Father Jenkins is surprising from several perspectives. The influential Notre Dame platform has in recent decades been used by Jenkins and other university officials to advocate mostly liberal views on social matters — views that have in some cases conflicted with traditional Catholic teachings. In this article, Father presents a surprisingly conservative perspective. Coming from him, it has diluted credibility. After all, it was Father Jenkins who in 2009 invited President Obama, the most pro-abortion president in our country's history, to be his and Father Hesburgh's honored guest and speaker at the university's graduation ceremony. Obama's speech from that platform gave the impression to the world that Catholic Notre Dame may consider abortion a subject for debate or dialogue rather than a doctrinal matter.
But another president of Notre Dame must bear even more responsibility for the current headlong drive by Democratic politicians and state legislatures for up-to-term and "who's next" abortion legislation. Father Theodore Hesburgh became president of Notre Dame in 1955. Six years later, he joined the board of the ultra-liberal Rockefeller Foundation. In doing so, Hesburgh was surreptitiously endorsing his acceptance of abortion. The foundation had always been known for providing worldwide funding for population control, eugenics, abortion, and contraception. Hesburgh served as chairman of the Board of the foundation from 1977 until retiring in 1982.
In 1984, Father Hesburgh invited Governor Mario Cuomo of New York to speak at Notre Dame on the difficulties that elected Catholic politicians have in reconciling the obligations of their faith regarding abortion with their obligations to their constituencies. On September 13, 1984, Cuomo delivered "Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor's Perspective" at Notre Dame's Washington Hall. Some saw the Cuomo speech as an orchestrated Hesburgh-Cuomo rebuttal to comments made by Archbishop John O'Connor, the new archbishop of New York and a staunch defender of unborn life. Earlier in 1984 O'Connor, on a televised news conference, had stated that he did not believe that a Catholic in good conscience could vote for a political candidate who approves of abortion. He further stated that he would not rule out excommunicating Governor Cuomo for his support of abortion rights.
Cuomo's speech at Notre Dame stifled the debate. It was a brilliant move, a well staged home run for the abortion cause. With delivery from the platform of one of the Church's most influential universities and tacit approval by the renowned Father Hesburgh, the speech received extensive media coverage. "Father Ted" likely knew that it would be a watershed event, and it was. In effect, without Church authority, the speech "sanctioned" the Catholic body politic's relaxation of its opposition to abortion.
Archbishop O'Connor and the conservative wing of the Church had lost the public debate with the governor. Liberal Catholic politicians silently leaped for joy. Their consciences had been unburdened.
The speech had immediate effects. It relieved U.S. Catholic politicians of any obligation to mention their faith's view on the immorality of abortion in public discourse, either "on the stump" or after being elected. The speech also freed U.S. Catholic politicians of any obligation to object to legislation that would in any way limit state or federal funding of abortion. Further, it freed Catholic voters of any conscience-based reluctance to vote for politicians of any faith who sought to expand abortion.
The longer-term effects of the speech were significant. It caused the Catholic Church hierarchy to pull back on public criticisms of politicians, even Catholic ones, who sought to expand abortion.
The Church's gradual withdrawal from public engagement over the abortion issue was widespread. Since the mid-'80s, Catholics rarely hear the word "abortion" in a Sunday homily. Clerics at the parish level appear to have been silenced on the subject. With the removal of the Church's "braking influence," politicians of every faith were encouraged to aggressively propose and pass pro-abortion legislation, including legislation to remove interferences that might discourage pregnant women from choosing an abortion, such as parental consent, restrictions on how pro-life advocates may demonstrate at abortion facilities, reduced medical safety standards at clinics, and reduced training standards for those assisting with abortion procedures.
Cuomo's speech also inspired liberal Catholic politicians to exploit the exploding feminist vote. Soon Catholic legislators, previous reluctant supporters of even minimal abortion laws, were now leading the charge in advocating the most aggressive kinds of abortion legislation because it was winning elections. Catholic leaders of the Democratic Party — Nancy Pelosi, Joseph Biden, Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Bob Menendez, et al. — convinced their party members that the feminist pro-abortion vote was large and growing. This was the base they needed to cultivate, the base that was their future and would insure their survival for decades to come. So essential was this vote that all party members would have to pass the "pro-abortion litmus test." If any politician at any level wished to the join the Democratic Party, he would have to commit to himself and to always, under all circumstances, publicly supporting and advocate abortion — no exceptions.
The public response to the passage of the New York RHA from some quarters has been disgust, from others shock and surprise. Surprise? The seed for this horrendous legislation was sown decades ago. We know its lineage. Its grandfather's name is Mario, and its father's name is Andrew. It has uncles named John D., Theodore, Barack, and John I. and has countless cousins in the party of Democrats.
Public reception of the RHA has been less than favorable — so much so that the act itself may help bring an end to our country's deviant reliance on abortion to solve social problems and to celebrations of its enabling laws. Like the laws passed following the Dred Scott decision doubling down on slavery, pro-abortion legislation of the past four decades may someday be found to be the worst ever written in our country's history.