Recently I was giving a talk on the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East to a wonderful parish in Florida.
There were a number of Cuban-Americans in the crowd, people who certainly know a great deal about being persecuted for the faith. At the end of my talk, a young woman came up to me, with her mother, and said that she appreciated the fact that I had spoken so truthfully about the persecution — unusual, apparently — and asked me if I could help her with another issue.
She was applying to colleges and wanted to know about a particular “Catholic” college she thought I would know about. That was the moment I fell into the trap so many of those called to preach and teach the truth fall into — many of our bishops, for example. The reason for the quotation marks around the word Catholic, as in “Catholic” senators, was because I knew this particular college failed to make the grade for someone wanting the fullness of the faith.
I sat on the proverbial fence, unwilling to tell the uncomfortable truth. That was the moment this young lady gave me a great gift. She strongly challenged me to tell the truth — she actually said, “I want to hear the truth.” So I told her that the college was not what she needed if she wanted a truly Catholic institution. She thanked me.
This incident reminded me of the words of Pope St. John Paul II about ministering to young people. As a young priest and bishop, Father Karol, as he was known in his earlier days, had an astonishing success in drawing intelligent young people to a deeper appreciation of their faith. John Paul wrote later that a priest, especially with young people, should know “how to listen and how to answer.”
He said that young people expect the truth from a priest, and “the truth can be demanding.” If young people — in fact, all people — are damaged by living in untruth, morally or intellectually, they can only be healed, John Paul said, by “giving true answers and proposing true values.”
This week, 14 “Catholic” senators voted against the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. This would have outlawed, in most cases, abortion after the age of 20 weeks — something only seven countries, including North Korea and the United States, allow right now.
The act failed to get the necessary votes to move forward, losing by 51 votes to 46. If the 14 “Catholic” senators had voted according to the solemn teachings of the church they claim to belong to — and, when seeking votes, or pressing the flesh, or proudly showing their Ash Cross, so happily affirm their “Catholic” heritage — then the act could have moved forward. And the holocaust of baby killing that has so damaged the United States since the “right” to murder the unborn was discovered might finally begin to recede into shameful history.
Just a week before this shocking failure to vote for the truth, more than half a million people, mostly young people, were in the nation’s capital for the annual March for Life. Not one of those people marching — from all faiths and “none” — would have any problem with the “demanding truth” that human life is sacred. Nor would they have a problem with the fact that to vote against an act that would protect babies older than 20 weeks from dismemberment is an act both of cowardice and a crime against the Creator.
The New Testament — and Jesus in His preaching — uses a word that has come to have a different meaning in our time from its biblical origin. The word is “scandal” — today we use it if a politician is caught with his trousers down, a not infrequent event these days.
The biblical concept of scandal — “skandalon,” especially when used by Christ — encompasses the idea of a “stumbling block,” causing another to fall or sin because of what you do if you are a public follower of the faith. Christ gave his worst condemnation for one who causes a “little one” to fall because of scandal — He did not mean children — He meant the “little people of the faith,” those simple folk who accept the truth of his teaching.
Fourteen “Catholic” senators voting against the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (the very name should make someone who votes against it shudder) — is a scandal deserving of Christ’s worst condemnation. The young people who marched for life should be scandalized; the faithful Catholics who voted for their “Catholic” senators should be scandalized. Those ordained to preach and teach uncomfortable and demanding truths should be scandalized — and therein lies the true responsibility.
According to the teachings of the Catholic Church, it is up to the bishop of each of these senators to see them privately, inform them of their grave error, and call them to repentance and a public affirmation of the faith. If they obstinately refuse, the medicinal punishment of denying Holy Communion is required.
To those who might find such a concept horrifying, remember the name of Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans. In 1962, this great civil rights champion ordered the desegregation of all Catholic schools in the city. Three local “Catholic” politicians were excommunicated for their opposition to this policy.
The defense of the unborn is the great civil rights issue of this century.
The defense of the unborn is the great civil rights issue of this century. It is the bishops who must do their duty — and they will answer to God if they fail. I heard one bishop once say — in fact, the bishop of one of these “Catholic” senators — that he would never challenge this senator to stop receiving Communion because of the “opposition” the good bishop would receive. How impressive.
Fr. George Rutler of New York, one of the most courageous preachers in the United States, recently wrote an article titled “Where Are the Churchmen with Chests?” If the bishops of these “Catholic” senators fail to act, it might be tempting to question whether they possess another essential part of the male anatomy.
Fr. Benedict Kiely is a Catholic priest and founder of Nasarean.org, which is helping the persecuted Christians of the Middle East.