I have wrestled with how to approach this post as it concerns two groups that I feel are among the most vulnerable in our society today. Focusing on these two groups was a result of an article I recently read in my diocesan newspaper The Evangelist and a tragic story of abuse that has unfolded in our area over the past few weeks.
The two groups I speak of are the unborn and our children. I realize that the beliefs I may hold about the sanctity of human life as it is found in the unborn may not agree with others in our society who are good and well-meaning people. They may have a different view concerning the morality of abortion than I do. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to say something about the issue with the hope that those who do not agree may at least hear what I have to say.
In January of 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States rendered a landmark decision concerning the issue of abortion in the now (in)famous decision known as Roe v. Wade. That decision spoke to what the Court saw as a right of a woman regarding how she dealt with her pregnancy. It is a decision that sparked great controversy and still does so today. I know that many of those who may disagree with my belief that abortion is the taking of a human life (since I believe that life begins at conception) also feel that we need to find ways to reduce the number of abortions in our society.
Since the decision in 1973 over 50 million unborn children have been aborted in the United States. I recall a friend of mine who told me once about a woman she knew who was expecting a child. She and her husband wanted a boy and she told my friend that if prenatal tests showed the sex to be female that she would have an abortion. I wonder how many of the 50+ million unborn who have been aborted were just "inconveniences." I also wonder how many of them might have become the doctors, lawyers, teachers, mechanics, computer programmers, athletes and artists had they been allowed to live.
I know the heart-wrenching decisions some women have to make when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. We need to support these women to help them make a decision that will uphold both their dignity and that of their unborn child. The child does not ask to be conceived but since it has been does it have no rights?
In the Book of Deuteronomy (30:19) Moses says to the people: I call heaven and earth today to witness against you. I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live. I would pray that those facing a decision concerning abortion might choose life. For those who have had an abortion and are now troubled by that decision, they should know that there are programs available to assist them.
Again as I see what has occured in our country since that decision in 1973 I am also reminded that in our Declaration of Independence the fundamental rights cited by our forefathers spoke first of the "right to life..."
The second vulnerable group I mention today is our children. This past week in a court in Massachusetts, a priest who used to serve in my home diocese was convicted of raping two children when they were altar boys some years ago. In addition to the two counts for which he was found guilty there were a number of other instances of his abuse of children over his years in ministry. While he was removed from active ministry when the allegations were reported to the diocese two years ago, the specter of child sexual abuse raised its ugly head again. Our Catholic Church (and other churches as well) has seen the suffering of thousands of individuals molested by a priest or deacon of the Church. There is no question that the Church often did not respond appropriately to this terrible scourge and it has caused a large number of people to reject the Church and what it stands for.
Having said that, we need to be reminded that over 97% of our priests remain faithful to their vows and do not bring harm to our children. But the fact that a few violate those vows leaves a stain and a scar on the body of the Church. We need to make every effort to assist those victims of abuse and provide them with the necessary tools to deal with the violations perpetrated against them. Pray for our priests that they will continue to serve our people faithfully and with commitment to their vows. Pray for the victims of this abuse and yes, pray for the perpetrators that they will somehow find a way to realize the great pain they have caused and repent for it.
These are two groups of the vulnerable in our society today. But there are others: the homeless, the poor, the immigrant, the disabled, the elderly and you could add others to this list. Our obligation as Christians is to reach out to all of these groups and make their lives more wholesome in whatever way we can, for as Jesus has told us: Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matt. 25:40)