Good News – Bad News
Father Crane once received a scathing missive from a fellow Jesuit who was rather upset by Christian Order. "Please," he wailed, "do not send me this scurrilous publication!" In the very next post, there arrived a letter from the sister of that same Jesuit. She extolled CO - "what a great magazine" - renewed her subscription and added a £100 donation!
That pretty much sums up the lot of fighting publications like CO: damned by one; praised by another. There is no middle ground. Nor can there be where Catholic truth is concerned.
Among regular readers, too, there is an astonishing variety of conflicting responses. One indignant subscriber took me severely to task a few years ago for being so offensive and declasse as to refer to a notorious clerical dissident as a "clown" and to the acquiescent Bishops of England and Wales as his "ringmasters" running "the three-ringed circus that passes for the Church in Britain today." Shortly afterwards, in reference to the same commentary, another reader registered his satisfaction by sending a colour photo from the Portsmouth Diocesan Year Book showing dissident Bishop Crispian Hollis celebrating Midnight Mass at Winchester in Christmas 1999 under the Big Top - in Zippo’s Circus Tent!
Beyond this general ebb and flow of opinions about content and style, perhaps the most common complaint received by outspoken orthodox publications everywhere is that of "negativity" i.e. too much ‘bad news’. Yet here again, individual perception is everything. For many, CO articles, whether inspirational or tragic, are always ultimately uplifting because they are seen to provide blessed relief from the oppressive dissembling, lies and cover-ups which suffuse the modern Church. For these, knowledge of the truth, regardless of context, is always positive. They could not survive the present battle without it. But others are more easily depressed and struggle to find positive elements anywhere. The unprecedented Church turmoil of the day has worn them down to such an extent that the necessary and constant treatment of ecclesiastical scandals becomes a burden rather than a motivation to greater fidelity and prayer. This is understandable but self-defeating, especially if there follows a kind of retreat from reality and an inordinate desire for ‘good news’ to the exclusion of the ‘bad news’ despite the latter being very much in the ascendancy, quite impossible to ignore and essential to know and analyse.
In this regard, one reader suggested that it might be good to put aside what he perceived as CO’s "unmitigated gloom and despondency" (we aim to please!), and provide some encouraging news from the pro-life arena. Happy to oblige. But as indicated in this edition, even the pro-life movement, one of the brighter lights on the contemporary Catholic horizon, is a ‘good news - bad news’ minefield, whether considered in relation to its evil adversaries or conflict, division and wrong-headedness within its own ranks or its relationship with the hierarchy.
It would be tempting indeed to concentrate solely on the selfless dedication and bravery of pro-life groups and individuals and the magnificent battle they continue to wage on every continent against overwhelming odds. Last January, on the thirtieth anniversary of the infamous U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade which sounded the death knell for tens of millions of unborn innocents, the American bishops singled out the many positive fruits borne of pro-life labours down the years, including: wide pro-life support among young people (as one observed at the 200,000 strong March for Life in Washington on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, where hordes of youngsters forthrightly told the TV cameras that in order to end abortion "we must first and foremost pray"); fewer abortions being done each year, and fewer doctors willing to be involved in abortion (in fact the current recorded US abortion total is at its lowest since 1974); more Americans identifying themselves as pro-life and less declaring themselves "pro-choice" (one U.S. national opinion poll released on 15 January 2003 and reported in CNSNews indicated that 68% of respondents were in favour of "restoring legal protection for unborn children," compared to 25% against).
We could supplement these most hopeful US trends with numerous positive pro-life developments from around the world (thanks be to God). Only last month I attended a most enlightening lecture in Sydney by Angela Lanfranchi, a Catholic surgeon and renowned expert on the link between abortion and breast cancer. The truth about this tragic connection is set to become one of the most powerful tools in the pro-life struggle. As Dr. Lanfranchi explained, the two major planks on which the pro-abortionists have constructed their multi-billion dollar industry are: ‘its not a baby’ and ‘it’s safe.’ Increasingly sophisticated ultrasound photos of early life in the womb and similar technological advances have removed the first plank, while the now clearly demonstrated abortion-breast cancer link is destined to shatter the ‘safety’ prop (hence the desperate efforts of vested medico-abortion interests to suppress and misrepresent the voluminous evidence - which we must help spread far and wide).
It would, however, be as ridiculous to ignore such positive efforts and developments as it would be to disregard the ongoing bloody massacre of the unborn and its calamitous impact on the lives of individuals and nations. The fact is that pro-life ‘positives’ often give rise in one way or another to various ‘negatives’ that must be confronted lest we fool ourselves into thinking we are out in front and heading down the home straight. Things are not always what they seem. For instance, we should rejoice that the American President who succeeded the diabolic Clinton is willing to declare a National Sanctity of Human Life Day (Sunday, 19th January 2003) and proclaim that the unborn "without the voice and power to defend their own rights… should be welcomed in life and protected by law," and take heart from his denying the UN Population Fund Agency $34 million in funding after the admirable Steve Mosher and his Population Research Institute revealed UNFPA’s participation in China’s coercive abortion and sterilization practices. But we need to be aware, as pointed out by the indefatigable Judie Brown, President of American Life League, that President Bush directed that the $34 million go to fund the U.S. AID’s Child Survival and Health Program Fund which provides money for "forecasting, purchasing, and supplying contraceptive commodities and other materials necessary for reproductive health programs." Said Mrs Brown: "What he [President Bush] has given to pro-lifers with one hand, he has taken away with the other."
In a similar vein, it is heady stuff to read that abortions in Poland fell from 105,333 in 1988 to only 138 in 2000 due to the combined effect of a concerted campaign by pro-life groups and the Church and a restrictive abortion law passed in 1993. At the same time, it is sobering and even crushing to watch the Polish Primate Cardinal Glemp now working hand in glove with Polish neo-Communists by promising to turn Catholic churches into propaganda stations to promote the EU prior to the referendum on Poland joining. "This will give the impression to devout but Euro-sceptical peasants," writes a correspondent from Poland, "that to oppose the pro-abortion EU means opposing the Church. It is sickening to see how low the Church has been brought." Already it is reported that the Polish government’s request for a protocol to safeguard national sovereignty in the area of abortion legislation in its EU accession treaty has been flatly rejected by the EU Commission in Brussels, where one official was quoted as saying: "It’s a case of take it [the terms already offered] or leave it." We can be thankful that the Slovakian bishops, at least, know better than the rest of Europe’s EU-acquiescent episcopates. Last year, after the European parliament passed the pro-abortion Van Lancker report which recommends the legalisation of abortion and easy access to the morning-after pill in all EU member states and candidate countries, they commented: "In the agenda of the European union [we] find increasing space given to ideas and interests that are in open opposition to the culture of life. We, peoples of Eastern Europe, who have suffered Communism… do not want to give up our values to enter the European Union." Perhaps they should do the charitable thing, and remind Cardinal Glemp?
This episcopal disparity in response to life issues is often startling. Consider the following reports:
The Catholic bishops of the Philippines have said that the government should remove all abortifacient drugs and devices from the market to prevent "silent abortions" caused by "silent abortifacients." Speaking at the bishops’ 86th plenary assembly on Monday, Bishop Teodoro Bacani of Novaliches asked the government to prepare a list of drugs which either prevented the implantation of an embryo in the womb or displaced an embryo after implantation had taken place. The bishop also demanded that the government publish an official study prepared during the previous administration which reportedly supported the Church’s claim that drugs commonly thought to be contraceptives and intra-uterine devices were actually abortifacients. [The Philippine Star, 29/1/03]
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children has expressed disquiet at a decision by the Catholic bishops of England and Wales to back the ‘Red Nose Day’ fundraising event of Comic Relief, a charity which has provided grants to abortion promoters overseas. The bishops have stood by a statement they issued two years ago before the last Red Nose Day in which they declared themselves satisfied by assurances from Comic Relief that no money raised would go towards the provision or promotion of abortion. However, Comic Relief’s accounts reveal that a number of grants were made to pro-abortion groups after the 2001 Red Nose Day, including £24,000 to Population Concern, an organisation which promotes abortion in the developing world. [Catholic Herald, 14/2/03]
That brutal contrast in episcopal leadership just about sums up the sad lot of the British laity: the pro-life betrayal being just another manifestation of a wholesale episcopal sell-out to the Modernist heresy in these Isles. A recent item in the National Association of Catholic Families newsletter has further revealed that CAFOD, the official aid agency of the bishops’ conference, "financially supports the Autonomous Women’s Centre, a Yugoslav women’s group, that ‘supports every woman’s right to choose’ as one of its five ‘principals of work’." And who could forget the infamous 1996 episcopal statement on the "Common Good" in which the bishops of England and Wales derided the pro-life effort as "single issue" politics. (When the Shepherds of the flock cannot distinguish between "single issue" and "crucial issue" politics, what hope does a country have? Accordingly, the number of pregnancies which end in abortion in Britain has risen inexorably - from 12 percent in 1970 to 23 per cent in 2000 - contributing to such rapid ageing of the population that the over-65s will outnumber under-16s for the first time by 2014.)
It must be said again, however, that there is a real sense in which the pro-life movement everywhere has been too "single issue" for its own good. By neglecting the woeful state of the Church to concentrate on saving babies, pro-lifers have erroneously placed the physical and temporal before the spiritual, ecclesiastical and divine. In other words, if pro-lifers are so often stymied by Modernist prelates and deprived of vigorous and virile pro-life leaders like the Philippino bishops, it is because they have not held their own bishops to account; they have not understood the need to restore the Church to orthodox health before trying to heal a sick world. And they have not understood this overriding and fundamental requirement for pro-life victory because they no longer detest heresy as they should. A Church awash with Modernism, "the synthesis of all heresies," shocks them far less than a world awash with the blood of the unborn. Yet when Aquinas says "The sin of unbelief [heresy] is greater than any sin which occurs in the perversion of morals," he is speaking of the infinite difference between attacking a mere creature (even an unborn child), and attacking God Himself. Truly Catholic pro-life muscle geared towards bringing strong and constant pressure to bear on individual bishops and Rome could have worked wonders, firstly within and then (and only then) without the Church. Instead, since everyone loves a pro-lifer but few can stomach a Jeremiah, there has been a preference for cosying up to lukewarm and faithless prelates in the hope of securing episcopal patronage and financial support for pro-life initiatives. As the local Churches of the West collapse into contracepting Protestantised heaps, shutting off the moral wellspring of societal reform and taking future supporters and the parishional base of the pro-life movement with them, it is hard to imagine a more short-sighted, futile and self-defeating strategy. In the UK it has bred a classically British pro-life establishment - diffident, subdued, genteel - at disastrous ease with a corrupt ecclesiastical establishment.
To make things worse, in a state of panic at the inexorable rise of teenage pregnancies and abortions and countless associated horrors, pro-lifers, always with the best of intentions, have moved into the Catholic classroom to introduce younger and younger children to the facts of life. Another wrong-headed and dangerous band-aid treatment of a far deeper ecclesiastical problem. This magazine has often articulated its opposition to both classroom sex-ed and so-called pro-life ‘chastity education’ which, however they are rationalised, disregard papal teaching and Vatican guidelines while trampling on the rights of children and parents (cf. Nov. 1997; Feb. 1999; Jan. 2000; April 2000; Dec. 2001). The latest travesty in this regard, in which leading pro-lifers are making common cause with Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, is treated herein by Dr. Helen Davies, who in typically succinct and incisive fashion depicts the dreadful betrayal involved. That Archbishop Nichols positively embodies Britain’s world-weary Modernist episcopate - which has brought the local Church to its knees and long sold out Humane Vitae and the pro-life cause - quite escapes his compliant accomplices. They should hang their heads in shame, especially in view of Jim Caffrey’s following insight into the Archbishop’s tepidity and ambivalence before the ongoing abortion holocaust.
Still, lest I be accused of sowing "gloom and despondency," let us finish on a positively militant and hopeful note which indicates that long-established pro-life groups can learn and change tack. Last month the UK LifeLeague welcomed "the new graphic militancy of Britain’s Mainstream Pro-Life Groups." ‘New kids’ on the British pro-life block, LifeLeague were recently told by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority to stop distributing leaflets of aborted babies because they were likely to cause serious offence(!). A LifeLeague spokeswoman thus congratulated the Pro-Life Alliance and Human Life International "for finally deciding to take to the London streets with LifeLeague style revolting giant photos of chopped up babies." She added her delight that the "‘Respectable’ face of the UK’s Pro-Life establishment are now confronting the public with some of the most gruesome pictures ever seen in this country and it is truly encouraging for us and we warmly welcome this development. The Pro-Life fight in Britain is at last starting to get serious."