A child of the 1960s, an aging peacenik, I imagine that I smell suspiciously liberal to some of my more conservative Catholic friends (and most of my Catholic friends are decidedly conservative, hewing closely to Church teachings on social issues). Confronted with their adamant views and with the Church’s unequivocal teaching on abortion, on women in the priesthood, and on other related issues, I have known for a while that the time would come when I would have to come clean with my thoughts on these issues. I started this blog. My foot is in it up to the eyeballs now. As St. Jimi of Hendrix famously said, Time has come today.
I am the father of two beautiful, bright, independent-minded young women. Both are intrigued with my conversion experience. I'm sure that they wonder what I think about these and other issues. For myself, being their proud father makes these issues realer than real. If something is right or wrong for the women most precious to me on earth, and that includes my wife Katie, then how could it be otherwise for the woman farthest from me on earth?
St. Thomas More was a father of daughters, including reputedly the smartest Englishwoman of her generation, Margaret More Roper. I'm sure his relationship with Margaret and his other daughters conditioned his attitudes. I revere his memory and ask myself where he would stand today on abortion, on women in the priesthood. I know where he would stand: with the Church.
I think of St. Francis of Assisi, who had no children, and ask myself where he would stand, and I have a different answer: Francis would stand in the middle of the road kissing a leper. If Francis had any response to abortion, it would be prayer and prayer alone. I don’t think politics factored at all into his spiritual life. Obedience, yes, not politics. Francis renewed the entire Church at a time of crisis, while More was “merely” a martyr in a crisis involving a tyrant with a highly developed sexual appetite.
I will come back to Thomas and Francis, but first a sidebar and then the firing line.
Sidebar: I did not become a Catholic to wrangle ideologically with people to the left and right of me, and I do not write here from an ideological position. I write, as God gives me the strength and wisdom, from the heart. I became a Catholic to get closer to God and to serve my neighbor better in the years that are left to me. Endless political wrangling is a zero-sum game, because if there is one thing you can be sure of, it is that you will always find someone to the right and left of you. I have an uncle who is to the right of Attila the Hun, but there’s always Saruman, there’s always Joba the Hutt.
I have always been against abortion. Katie knows this about me and I trust my daughters do too. Since the time Katie became pregnant with our first child, Martha (photo, right), there has never been a doubt in my mind about the issue. Katie and I did not take prenatal tests to determine whether Martha was healthy. We did not know her sex in advance. We were prepared to embrace her, or him, whether she or he had ten fingers or none. God is great. Martha has not only ten fingers but also a Phi Beta Kappa key from the University of Chicago.
When Marian was five days old, my mother, visiting, walked through the nursery and saw that the baby was not breathing. EMTs and ambulances were summoned, and ten frenetic minutes later we were in the emergency room waiting for word. And the word was good. Despite any oxygen-deprivation that may have occurred, there is nothing wrong with that brain: Marian was designated a Carolina Scholar by UNC Chapel Hill, earning a full ride on her merits, and will graduate next spring with a degree from the Kenan Flagler School of Business. I am privately hopeful that she will support me in my old age.
How could I have ever considered abortion? For financial advantage? For convenience? And if Martha or Marian becomes pregnant? I have already told them what I want them to know about this: If you have any doubt about keeping the child, give the child to me and your mother. We'll raise your child. We'll raise our grandchild. I know they know where I stand on this one.
Choice? Let's talk about choice, and here some Catholic ideology may slip in, though my heart continues to speak first. When you talk about choice, you are talking about choosing not the meaning of motherhood, not the extent of women's rights. You are choosing where you stand on a far bigger issue, in some ways the biggest. Choose: Either we are created by God or we are the result of an accidental collision of chemicals, a genetic biproduct "cultured" inside a woman, as in a test tube. That makes the woman a test tube and all of us, the woman included, dispensable. Scrape out that culture, dump the chemicals, and you have cut our link to God. Cut God out of the picture and it's only a matter of time until the Apocalypse. Believe me, it won't be pretty.
Women in the priesthood? That's an easy one for me. Neither of my daughters wants to be a priest. If they did, they could be ordained in a Protestant denomination. But seriously: What are the Protestants doing now, ordaining women? Playing catch-up after 500 years? Look at the role of, the reverence accorded women in the Catholic Church: Mary, Agatha, Teresa, Catherine, Therese, Elizabeth, Theresa (lots of Theresas) . . . How many hundreds of Catholic women through the ages have been acknowledged as spiritual leaders by their Church? How many Episcopalian women have been acknowledged as spiritual leaders by theirs? Oh, some women who happen to have been Episcopalian are remembered for their contributions to society, but within the church? The line of authority is unequivocally patriarchal. So now you're going to ordain women? Please. That's called caving.
Pope Benedict, "my pope," has a pretty good answer on this whole question of women and the priesthood. He said, "The Twelve with whom the Last Supper was celebrated were in fact men. Yet if we understand correctly the role of service in the Church, then we will also get the emphasis right. And the answer is that Mary is higher than Peter." The point is that the Church is not about worldly power, or shouldn't be, and believe me, my pope realizes this. The Church is not or shouldn't be about politics. It's about service. It's about devotion to and service in the name of our creator. It's about God.
Thomas More was a politician, until he saw that politics would get him nowhere but the chopping block, whereupon he went publicly silent and privately prayerful. Francis was never a politician. In these two saints, I see two possible responses to the abortion issue, and I think I see the analog of two present-day positions: that of the Vatican and of certain American Catholic bishops who vehemently oppose abortion to the point of denying communion to politicians who support it. It was curious to see how quiet the Vatican was while certain bishops were railing against the University of Notre Dame for allowing Obama to speak at commencement last spring. And how kindly my pope welcomed our president a few weeks later.
I go back to Thomas More. In the movie "A Man for All Seasons," my favorite all-time, hands down, there is an early scene between More, played by Paul Scofield, and Cardinal Wolsey, played by Orson Welles. Exasperated that More refuses to meddle in the politics of winning a divorce for Henry VIII, the cardinal sputters, "God, you would like to rule the kingdom with prayers, wouldn't you?" More answers, "Yes, I should."
Like More, I should like to win the abortion issue with prayers, because I think prayers work, while I question the value of the endless wrangling from the right and left that has been going on in the thirty-five years since Roe v. Wade, through administrations Democratic and Republican. Did abortions decrease at all during the eight years of Bush 43? I don't think so.
Let's all pray for an end to abortion. Meanwhile, oh, dear, conservative Catholic friends so close to my heart, I am deeply proud to be a Catholic and as comfortable as an old shoe with the Church's position on these social issues.