|Church-State Conflicts in the United States
By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, 22 MARCH 2009 (ZENIT)
The election of President Barack Obama in the United States was
preceded by an acrimonious debate over whether Catholics could support
who some regarded as an anti-life candidate, but whom others defended as
being essentially pro-life.
Political campaigns aside, the first weeks of the new administration
are revealing a worrying anti-life pattern. Shortly after taking office,
Obama repealed an executive order that denied federal government funds
to organizations that promote abortion overseas, reported the New York
Times on Jan. 24.
The so-called Mexico City policy came into force in 1984 when
President Ronald Reagan imposed the ban. President Bill Clinton lifted
it a couple of days after taking office in 1993, and then President
George W. Bush restored it after he took office in 2001.
Subsequently the nomination of Governor Kathleen Sebelius as head the
Department of Health and Human Services raised a storm of controversy.
Sebelius, a Catholic, was requested to abstain from presenting herself
from receiving Communion last year by Archbishop Joseph Naumann of
Kansas City due to her support for abortion, reported the KansasCity.com
site on May 9, last year.
In his March 6 column for the weekly Catholic newspaper, the Leaven,
Archbishop Naumann said that, while recognizing the positive
contributions of Sebelius, she "has been an outspoken advocate for
This was followed by the decision to allow federal funding of
research involving embryonic stem cells. Cardinal Justin Rigali,
chairman of the U.S. episcopal conference's Committee on Pro-Life
Activities, called Obama's executive order on embryonic stem cell
research "a sad victory of politics over science and ethics," noted a
press release March 9.
Then, on March 18, the news service LifeNews.com reported that the
Obama administration is set to send a $50 million check to the United
Nations Population Fund. The U.N. body has been accused in the past of
supporting the repressive measures of Chinese family planning officials.
Often perplexity is expressed at the Catholic Church's supposed
stubbornness when it comes to life issues. Critics would not surprised,
however, if they bothered to study a bit of Church history.
This is what Dennis Di Mauro points out in his recent book, "A Love
for Life: Christianity's Consistent Protection of the Unborn," (Wipf and
In the book's introduction Di Mauro, secretary of the National
Pro-Life Religious Council and president of Northern Virginia Lutherans
for Life, asserts that Christianity has been, is now, and will be in the
future, a pro-life religion.
The first chapters of the book examine the Biblical passages that
reveal a pro-life message. Di Mauro then turns to the testimony of the
early Fathers of the Church. From the very start of the Church, in
writings such as the late first-century Didache, abortion was regarded
Apologists, such as the second-century Athenagorus, or the author of
the second or third-century Epistle to Diogenetus, also clearly regarded
the life in the womb as human, Di Mauro explains.
The Epistle states: "They [Christians] marry as do all others; they
beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring."
At the end of the second century Tertullian, in defending
Christianity against accusations of infant sacrifice, replied saying
that for Christians homicide has been forbidden and that it is not
permitted to destroy what has been conceived in the womb. Tertullian
also believed that a child received its soul at the moment of
conception, Di Mauro notes.
By the fourth century, the book explains, the councils of the Church
began to proscribe punishments for those who procured abortions. In
fact, transgressors were only re-admitted to the Church on their
In 305 the Synod of Elvira, in Spain, condemned abortion and
proscribed excommunication for those who procured abortions.
Culture of Life
Coming forward to the contemporary world the importance of these
matters for the Church was well-explained in a book recently published
by William Brennan, a professor at the St. Louis University School of
In "John Paul II: Confronting the Language Empowering the Culture of
Death," (Sapientia Press) he summarized the response of the Pontiff in
confronting the frequent attacks on human life.
John Paul II, observed Brennan, placed a great deal of importance on
culture, as opposed to politics or economics, as the driving force of
history. He also rejected the idea of cultural relativism, and instead
anchored culture in human nature.
Brennan noted that the escalating culture of death is the antithesis
of what John Paul II considered to be a central ingredient of culture,
that is the flourishing of a life of a people.
"According to the mindset intrinsic to the death culture, death
itself becomes a way of life imposed on an expanding number of
individuals and groups considered expendable," Brennan added.
The Catholic Church regards acts against life as so serious because
they are considered intrinsically evil, Brennan explained, citing John
Paul II's encyclical, the Gospel of Life.
Another problem highlighted by John Paul II in analyzing the dangers
of the culture of death is the consequent damage to the formation of our
conscience. Through the use of euphemisms and the obfuscation of the
moral reality of the acts committed our moral sensibilities are dulled
and the conscience becomes blind or indifferent to the evil being
This observation led Brennan to comment on the importance John Paul
II placed on language in a culture. The success of the culture of death
in no small part depends on corrupting language to dehumanize the
Brennan cited John Paul II who in the encyclical the Gospel of Life
said that we need to call things by their proper name and have the
courage to look the truth in the eye, not yielding to the temptation of
Therefore, John Paul II insisted that we need to know the truth about
the human person and to proclaim that truth without tiring.
A large part of the book by Brennan is dedicated to describing the
manipulation of language by the culture of death, and to then looking at
how John Paul II in his writings and speeches provided an alternative
vision, based on a truthful vision of the human person.
Those defending abortion often employ such terms as the "removal of
tissue or cell masses." Or phrases such as "embryonic reduction."
Abortionists, Brennan said citing a variety of documents, even go so
far as to portray pregnancy as an illness or defend abortion as the
removal of a sort of parasite.
The manipulation of language is particularly prevalent when it comes
to the debate over embryonic stem cells, Brennan observed. A combination
of dehumanizing the human lives is involved, plus a rhetoric of
unbounded hope is used to justify the destruction of human embryos.
Another tactic of the culture of death is to hide behind an appeal to
compassion, or to the need to respect the conscience of the person
involved. This requires, however, Brennan noted, detaching conscience
from God and objective morality.
"No medical solution could be truly compassionate which would violate
the natural law and stand in opposition to the revealed truth of the
word of God," said John Paul II in an address to anaesthesiologists on
Oct. 10, 1988, in a passage cited by Brennan.
In a nihilistic climate that places relative values on human life
John Paul II responded with a message that insisted on the value of
every human being, concluded Brennan. That challenge of proclaiming the
truth about the human person remains a pressing task in the face of
current pressures to dehumanize innocent lives.