A Telling Exchange
Dear Dr Newbury,
Thank you so much for coming to our Family Life Conference. I do hope your return home was safe and not too exhausting. It was good to catch up with you at the Saturday night dinner. I was interested in your comment that you found that you became emotional when talking about the abortion issue because it causes you so much distress.
The only talk of yours which I heard was your address to the priests and seminarians. I did not want to comment at the time, but thought it might be helpful to offer some feedback now.
I think that, because you find the situation so distressing, you tended to blame the clergy too much. You gave the impression that, because priests are not preaching Humane Vitae forcefully enough, the birth rate in the Western world had collapsed and abortion is claiming the lives of countless babies. You even said something like “As the Church goes, so goes the world”.
You mentioned the extraordinary response in churches around the world to the Boxing Day tsunami and then expressed astonishment that there was not a similar concern about the abortion holocaust. I almost got the impression that you thought it was an error for the Church to have responded so generously to the tsunami victims!
I must confess that at the end of your talk I felt fairly depressed and down-heartened. Other priests who were present - who are all very pro-life - felt similarly. We do not blame you for this because we share your emotional distress at what is happening in our society.
Your talk reminded me of the sort of approach we used to hear about 20 years ago on the declining numbers of priestly and religious vocations. Good and sincere speakers tended to lay the blame for this phenomenon on existing priests and religious: the implication was that they were not living their lives with sufficient dedication to attract others. This simply left everyone feeling guilty and down-heartened.
I think I mentioned to you at dinner that I had recently heard a series of talks by Fr Ronald Rolheiser OMI, a syndicated columnist in many Catholic papers. What I found particularly refreshing about Fr Rolheiser’s talks were that he helped to identify and name enormous philosophical and changes which are sweeping through our society. My impression is that these are “no one’s fault”. If we all start blaming one another we end up more and more depressed and distressed.
For example, most families and all priests now have the experience of the vast majority of couples approaching marriage living together, often for some years prior to the marriage. No priests support this practice, but like most parents, we just have to try to make the best of the situation. Some priests try to “reprimand” the couples but this often results in the couples searching for other priests who appear to take a less “judgemental” approach - if the couples do not walk away from the Church completely.
Somehow I believe we have to preach a positive message rather than a negative one. I found Msgr Philip Reilly very helpful on this score when he suggested, with regard to abortion, that we leave the unborn children to the mercy of God and focus our attention instead on “saving” the mothers. If we condemn abortion too stridently, we end up alienating and even hurting further the mothers who often carry a deep sense of guilt and sadness as a result of the abortion. Msgr Reilly encouraged the Church to be seen as pro-women: he argued that if we can “save” the mothers and help them to find peace and forgiveness, then we “save” all their future unborn children.
This letter is already becoming longer than I intended. I did not want to appear critical but I did feel I needed to suggest that we do need to find a way of “encouraging” priests and people to be more actively pro-life. If we condemn the failings and weaknesses too strongly, we end up, I believe, somehow shooting ourselves in the foot!
May God continue to bless and inspire all our efforts to proclaim as positively as possible the great Gospel of Life. And thank you again for your visit.
Yours sincerely in Christ
Dr. Newbury’s Response:
Dear Bishop ....
Please forgive me for not thanking you earlier for your letter of 12 October. On the day after our return to the UK my sister and her husband arrived from South Africa and Glenys and I went with them on a visit to Scotland. My mother was born in Scotland and came, as a little girl, to South Africa in 1908. Following this, my wife’s father, who is 94 years old and who lives with us, developed a severe illness which appears to be pre-terminal. Now, asking your indulgence for my seemingly discourteous delay I respond to your very kind letter.
First permit me to say that I am not in the least surprised to hear you say that my talk left you and other priests feeling somewhat depressed. In fact my aim was to frankly show the dire situation in the world and in the Catholic Church and thereby hoped to encourage a mighty pro-life resurgence and crusade led by the clergy. Certainly a conscientious and frank appraisal of my own fallen nature is depressing and engenders feelings of sorrow and guilt. These result in me seeking ever more urgently, in faith and hope, to remedy my sorry state by recourse to the Divine Physician, availing myself of all the healing remedies that He has provided for me. A similarly frank approach to the consciences of my medical colleagues has been blessed with remarkable results over the years. You will perhaps recall that during my talk I spoke of the pivotal role in the culture of death played by the medical profession, and apart from the killing of unborn children by surgical abortions I pointed to the far greater numbers of very young humans destroyed by the abortifacient actions of most of the commonly used “contraceptives.” It was this approach in my personal discussions with the magnificent Dr. ... that, by God’s good grace, provoked his immediate withdrawal from prescribing “contraceptives” and resulted in his public Catholic witness in the national press; and in some of his colleagues, as well as non-medical people from all around the country, allying themselves with him.
Coming to the matter of my emotions and the emphasis you put on this in your letter. Please do not think that my emotion - emanating from love of God - about abortion and other aspects of the culture of death has distorted my reasoning and understanding. In fact it is this love for Our Lord, His children - born and unborn - and for the only authentic guardian of the Culture of Life, namely His Holy Catholic Church, which animates my life’s work. This love, and His grace, has now for more than 30 years of pro-life work sharpened my perception, heightened my anticipation and analysis of the battle and clarified the objectives and strategies needed to combat and reverse this tide of death.
In order to achieve victory in any war, and in this the greatest and most brutal war of all time, all divisions and battalions of God’s army must fully play their various parts. In my long experience in the front-lines of this battle I have constantly been acutely aware of the pivotal role that the Catholic Church could and should play. Sadly I have been forced to conclude that the clergy and the laity have not promoted the cause of life as they could and should have done. Evidence of this can quite easily be gathered by you making enquiries amongst your priests and faithful in these matters. From my many long years in contest against the agents of the culture of death, what I said about the failure of the clergy to teach and to preach on the Gospel of Life is true and, in my view, constitutes a most grave omission and strategic weakness.
As a medical practitioner I am subjected to regular appraisal by my peers by means of a process known as Medical Audit. In this every aspect of my work and performance is examined and evaluated and should I fail to meet the required standards a strict program of correction is prescribed. If my performance is considered to be seriously deficient then I will be barred from practice until such time as I undertake the reforms needed to enable me to come up to scratch. However unpalatable the outcome of accurate audit may be I must accept it, or the necessary correction of my behaviour and skills is not possible and as a result my patients could well suffer serious harm and my career come to an end. This would be irrespective of whether such objective evaluation made me feel depressed or not. Audit is nowadays a valued and almost universal tool used in society for evaluation of personal development and of efficient delivery of services and products.
Should a teacher or a doctor fail to properly educate and protect those in his care then his failure should be called for what it is, namely a dereliction of duty. Should I fail to take all the necessary steps to prevent harm from befalling my patients such as neglecting to warn them of dangerous behaviour or failing to immunise them against various preventable diseases then I would have failed in my God-given responsibilities; betrayed my vocation, and even be liable to charges of criminal negligence.
Similarly, to mention only a few matters, should a priest fail to inform and teach his parishioners of the dire consequences of sexual impurity, abortion, fornication, premarital co-habitation, the evils of contraception and the abortifacient nature of many “contraceptives” then he would be failing in his duty. Naturally there are many ways in which he can teach his flock and sensitise and encourage them in these matters, thereby properly forming and informing consciences.
As a physician I am faced with potentially life threatening problems each day. In appraising each situation an accurate history, careful physical examination and ancillary investigations are utilised in order to arrive at a proper diagnosis, from which a prognosis may be envisioned and a course of therapy embarked upon. Once an objective conclusion has been reached then the situation is acted upon. Often in my daily work in an Accident and Emergency Department urgent action and correction is called for in order to save life or at least to prevent or ameliorate the damage resulting from the illness. It is not negative to confront the reality of the situation and to inform the patient, his family and guardians of his condition. The patient, if he is able to understand what is going on is told of the reality of his situation and of the risks and of options open in an attempt to effect a cure or to palliate the illness. Similarly it is not negative, nor is it intended to be, to inform the clergy of what in my mind, constitutes a most serious weakness in their ministry.
To reiterate, most of the clergy have failed to educate and sensitise the laity on the fundamental life issues. Naturally there are many notable and noble exceptions such as Fr. Paul Marx OSB who so deeply inspired me to devote my life to the pro-life cause; Bishop Fabian Buskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska; Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Colorado; to name only a few such exceptions and not forgetting your own support for the pro-life cause.
You mention that you gained the impression from hearing Fr. Rolheiser’s talks that no one is responsible for the enormous changes in society. I am astonished to hear this. All events have a causation. All motion has a prime mover. All diseases have causes and in some of these there is a whole web of causative factors. An interlinking or independently acting set of determinants exists which combine to cause the disease. Determinants are liable to intervention in order to change outcomes.
Irrespective of what Fr. Rolheiser may think, surely we cannot believe that the destruction of morality - so evident all around us - is simply accidental and that nobody is responsible, either by acts of commission or of omission, for this sorry state of affairs. For, to do so, would require us to ignore all the evidence of the universe, of revealed and human wisdom and of history, particularly that of the last few hundred years when the revolt, by theologians, politicians, philosophers and many of the intelligentsia against the Catholic Church and the Christian Civilisation that the Church had produced, gathered momentum. A revolt against God instigated in the first instance by Lucifer and propagated and encouraged by his demonic legions and by those human agents who have fallen into his net. Human agents such as members of parliament who vote for abortion and birth control laws, agents such as those who pressurise, lobby and encouraged them to do so, such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation; the Population Control Lobby; the radical feminist lobby; the World Bank; the International Monetary Fund and many other agents; those who develop and propagate various methods of abortifacient birth control drugs and devices and members of the medical profession who perform abortions, simply to mention only a few of these determining agents. Surely “an enemy hath done this.” Naturally, the adoption of Fr. Rolheiser’s approach would generally excuse us from trying to change the present culture of death by targeting and acting against instigating persons, agencies, factors and influences, thereby enabling us, with averted gaze, to pass by, often piously, on the other side of the road.
Concerning your urging a positive approach rather than a negative one - which latter course you seem to attribute to me - in contrast to the approach of Msgr. Reilly. First, please let me assure you that I have the greatest admiration for Msgr. Reilly’s ministry. My wife and I have stood with him outside an abortuary in Houston, Texas and have organised and participated in many similar vigils and initiatives. Certainly Msgr. Reilly’s work saves lives and souls. He has stopped many women from undergoing surgical abortions and has offered rehabilitative help to those who have had them. Naturally Msgr. Reilly is supported by people who have been sensitised to abortion and its attendant horrors - that is why they join him. In reality Msgr. Reilly does show and tell the women he meets the stark facts about abortion and what it does to their babies - he does focus on aborted babies by showing shocking pictures of what happens to them in the abortion process in an attempt to make clear to them the reality of what they are about to do in entering an abortuary - and thereby he hopes to stop them. He does not simply tell women that he is there for them, ignoring the plight of their unborn children and consigning these babies to God, he urges them not to kill these babies. It is certainly not negative to show the stark reality of this murderous activity.
However, more than one approach is needed in this battle, just as in a military campaign all elements of a great and victorious army - such as the invincible United States Third Army led by General George S. Patton during the Second World War - have their specific and different roles to play. All elements working at maximum effort and motivated, co-ordinated and led, are needed to achieve victory. Everyone brings his own unique charisma and skills to the contest.
My approach has been to try to act on all the institutions of society such as Politics; Law; Economics; Kinship; Welfare; Educational; Recreational; Media; Medical as well as Religion. Besides offering alternatives to women who are just about to kill their babies, or attempting to spiritually and psychologically help them after having undergone abortions, I have also endeavoured to cut abortion off at its source and have not devoted my attention to surgical abortions only. I have tried to employ primary prevention rather than action further down the line just immediately prior to a disaster.
During the apartheid era there was a ministry to help the individual victims of apartheid, but certainly the best way of ending this suffering was to abolish the laws which sustained it, much as slavery was outlawed in the USA. To continue along similar lines of thought, it would have been largely futile to ignore the people murdered during the Holocaust, simply consigning their souls to God, and hoping to end this monstrous evil by trying to convert their executioners, without undertaking action aimed directly at the very heart of this darkness.
The reality is that many more young human lives are aborted by means of so-called “Contraceptives” than are lost in surgical abortions and in my talk I emphasized this stark fact. On this matter there is virtual silence from the clergy and worse, open contradiction of Humane Vitae from many Catholic priests, theologians, publications and institutions. This, together with the commonly dispensed advice in the confessional that women must follow their own consciences in this matter without the confessor properly forming and informing their consciences, constitutes an ongoing disaster. Various surveys amongst Catholic women show that they use abortifacient birth control drugs and devices and have recourse to surgical abortions much as Protestants or even pagans do. Some surveys have found greater prevalence of abortion amongst Catholic women in the USA than amongst Protestants. Again there is generally an appalling lack of motivation from within the Church to stop surgical abortions, apart from virtually no action to stop “contraception” which, after all, is the agent and source of the greatest number of abortions. The Church has known from the earliest times that contraception is the gateway to abortion.
I contrasted the sensitisation of the people from Catholic pulpits during the Apartheid years with the silence concerning abortion. I contrasted efforts of the Church to assist the victims of the Tsunami with the prevalent widespread failure to motivate support for pro-life work aimed at ending a far greater and deliberately constructed tragedy, and regret that you have incorrectly gathered the impression that I resent the Tsunami response.
Concerning your mention of the need for us to be “pro-women.” I assure you that this has certainly been a key part of my approach. In fact my wife started “Victims of Choice” and “Rachel Weeping” in South Africa; and on their behalf gave evidence in Parliament in South Africa during the hearings leading to the passage of abortion on request, and assisted other initiatives offering women alternatives to abortion. Also, in the many public debates we have been involved in, we generally, with Gods unfailing help, have successfully shown our love of and concern for born and unborn women. Sadly, many are influenced by the pro-abortion propaganda to believe that Abortion is a Woman’s Right and that to radically oppose abortion in every way and on every front somehow indicates a lack of sympathy for women. Obviously the “women’s rights” lobby cares not a jot for the lives of defenceless preborn women.
I most strongly believe that “As the Church goes, so goes the world.” After all the Church is the salt of the earth - founded and called to preserve all from corruption. We are commissioned to be the light of the world. In the fullness of our sure Catholic Faith and in fidelity to Our Saviour, calling on His almighty help and the protection of Our Most Holy Mother and of St. Joseph the “terror of demons,” we are commissioned and empowered to change the world. The Catholic Church founded by Him is His chosen instrument to do this and to save souls. We cannot doubt this.
I regret that I did not have the privilege of discussing these many matters with you in person, for such an encounter, would, I am sure, have resulted in much deeper dialogue and understanding between us on these vital matters and perhaps, with God’s help, may have given rise to new initiatives and strategies. Furthermore I must emphasize that the subject matter of my talk was specifically prepared for the Clergy and because of the constraints of time and opportunity does not encompass my full thinking and approach on abortion or on other pro-life issues.
I hope that this letter will have served in some way to allow you to understand my approach and reasoning during this talk and I thank you for your blessings and encouragement, and in return, ask God’s continued blessing for yourself and your ministry.
The Bishop replied:
Dear Dr. Newbury,
My apologies for the delay in reply; I have been out of town and did not have e-mail contact.
Thanks for your letter. I appreciate your stand. You remind me very much of my Dad.
May God bless the work.
No further correspondence ensued.