The Paramount Issue

Saving Babies and Time Off in Purgatory

As I write, Washington lies under light snow and, with wind chill, is 90 F. In most of the country, not too bad for January. In Washington – between the incompetence of government and a population that rarely encounters (read: “drives in”) snow – it means near paralysis. During the Cold War, I used to say that the Soviets were wasting money on nukes and sophisticated weaponry; a few well-placed snow machines would have crippled the capital of the West. But as decades of experience have proven, none of that will stop tens of thousands of people from showing up tomorrow for the March for Life, one of the most selfless public causes on the planet.

None of them comes for personal gain. But this year you can get a plenary indulgence for participating in the events. What a great, good thing: save innocent babies and get time off in Purgatory, too.

Pope Francis has recently – and rightly – been warning the world about the dangers of nuclear war. In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two relatively small atomic bombs killed almost 250,000. Today’s numerous and powerful weapons would be much more deadly. But for those of us marching tomorrow, it’s hard to overlook the undeniable fact that we’ve basically had four Hiroshimas and Nagasakis – 1,000,000 dead every year for the past forty-five years. And that’s in America alone, where abortion is still contested, even limited in many states, compared with the past, thanks to heroic public witness and action.

It’s a puzzle why the pope, energetic as he is on many good causes, has been so relatively quiet on this one. He speaks against abortion occasionally and sometimes forcefully, but he set the tone quite early in his pontificate in an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica about contraception, abortion, and homosexuality that left many pro-lifers speechless: “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” Presumably, this reflects some experience of the pope’s. But I know a fair number of pro-lifers – leaders and the ordinary folks who, generously, seeking no personal benefit, turn out every year in the cold and remain active back home throughout the year – on abortion, but also helping the poor, visiting the sick, and much else. The pope’s description doesn’t fit them. And what he calls “disjointed” seems to many consistent and comprehensive Catholic teaching that needs to be emphasized as such.

It’s doubly painful to learn this year, just days before the Pro-Life March, that Lilianne Ploumen a Dutch politician and prominent promoters of homosexuality, contraception, and abortion, not only in Europe but around the globe, was given a medal making her a Commander in the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great. She claimed in an interview that it was in recognition of her work and that “the Vatican, especially under previous popes, had a rather rigid attitude when it came to girls’ and women’s rights.”

Lilianne Ploumen and friend

A Vatican spokeswoman has denied this, saying the medal was merely ordinary “diplomatic practice” at the Vatican for visiting national delegations. But why stop there and leave Catholics – real Catholics who care about the pope’s authority and image in the world, as well as unborn lives – in limbo? Pope Francis likes to do new things. Even if it’s never happened in the past, why not recall the medal, tell Ploumen it was not given for the reasons she claims – and that it’s only creating yet another controversy and (I hear from many people) anger? Why not set the record straight with a clear gesture affirming what the Church teaches and honors?

Our bishops in America have been better at fighting this fight. They could put greater pressure on institutions like Notre Dame that give honors to pro-abortion Catholic politicians like Joe Biden. Truth be told, it wasn’t much reported on, even in the Catholic press, but South Bend Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, wrote when Biden was given the 2016 Laetare Medal, ND’s highest award:

I believe it is wrong for Notre Dame to honor any “pro-choice” public official with the Laetare Medal, even if he/she has other positive accomplishments in public service, since direct abortion is gravely contrary to the natural law and violates a very fundamental principle of Catholic moral and social teaching: the inalienable right to life of every innocent human being from the moment of conception. I also question the propriety of honoring a public official who was a major spokesman for the redefinition of marriage. The Church has continually urged public officials, especially Catholics, of the grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that supports or facilitates abortion or that undermines the authentic meaning of marriage. I disagree with awarding someone for “outstanding service to the Church and society” who has not been faithful to this obligation.

This gives clear expression to the obligations of Catholics and all public officials, and what it means to give medals to people who contradict fundamental moral principles. Can’t Rome do the same?

Tomorrow there will be yet another demonstration that the battle isn’t over, in fact that we are slowly making progress. Similar marches will be taking place in coming weeks all over America.

American culture has produced and exported some pretty awful things via films, television, music. But American pro-lifers have also inspired similar movements in Europe and the world, even Rome, where the Marcia per la Vita is something I try not to miss now.

Unlike the American March, you won’t see many bishops or Vatican officials at the Marcia.  Last year, I saw only Cardinal Burke, Bishop Schneider, and Archbishop Viganò (former nuncio in Washington). But there are plenty of priests and religious, young and old laypeople. It won’t be an easy or quick victory anywhere – lots of people have a stake in preserving the Sexual Revolution, even at the cost of innocent lives. But things change, even in Rome. We all need to stay at it: “Say not the struggle naught availeth. . . .

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
      It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,
      And, but for you, possess the field.”

Robert Royal
Robert Royal is a Catholic author and the president of the Faith & Reason Institute based in Washington, D.C. Royal received his BA and MA from Brown University and his PhD from The Catholic University of America. He has taught at Brown University, Rhode Island College, and The Catholic University of America. From 1980 to 1982 he was editor-in-chief of Prospect magazine in Princeton, New Jersey. From 1986 to 1999 he served as vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, along with president George Weigel from 1989 to 1996.