Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Vulnerable In Our Society

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)


  1. Thank you for this very serious and thought provoking post, on 2 very difficult topics. Both relate to my life.

    For many reasons, I defined myself as pro-choice. One reason was that I came of age in the 70's. So in full view of the sexual revolution of that time, the outcry for the rights of women and more, I thought that at the tender age of 15 (which I was in Jan73)that that Roe V. Wade was a victory.

    I must say that my very Irish Catholic mother would speak of what happened in back alleys and so forth. I often wonder now if she ever had an abortion. She had some real horror stories about things gone wrong. This influenced me as well.

    Add to this that I was sexually abused from infancy to almost age 13 by a family member. I do not mind talking about this so I hope that you do not mind me bringing it up; it very much colors who I am. In any case, the whole notion that my body was my own really and truly spoke to me...that may be the most important element of why I wanted "choice."

    Now I never had to have an abortion, so I never had to make a choice. At age 53 it is not going to be a choice now.

    Today I see through very different eyes and eyes that were opened more recently than you might imagine. I think that abortion is wrong and have had numerous online skirmishes over this. The most recent included a record breaking (for me) 120 comment FB thread.

    *deep sigh*

    However, I will say without reservation that the battle fought out among warring factions over legislation, on both sides, usually goes nowhere and makes me sad and angry all at once.

    Having lots of friends who have had abortions, I can tell you that I do not know of a single person who had one out of some kind of breezy convenience, either for economic circumstances or for gender as you describe. In fact I have come to loath the all-too-common expression of so many abortions.

    Abortions in general are hard choices for women to make. That does not ameliorate them but it changes the conversation. In the end however, abortion is killing, it is death, it is wrong. I do wish that as a culture and society that we as Catholics on the whole could see that through a broader lens of all death and killing... and what leads to it. I see in general a thread of economic injustice as a great, great contributor to evil.

    We do have, as you say, have an obligation to reach out to the vulnerable. And this does happen, but perhaps not as often as it should.

    On the topic of priests and sexual abuse, I think you have expressed your point well. The majority of priests are not abusers. Here again we have so many who comment about things that they do not have a clue about. Many believe, incorrectly, that celibacy leads to homosexuality which then leads to abuse. When I read idiotic and ill-informed pieces about how changing celibacy will relieve this or that celibacy causes this, my head explodes. My abuser, as many, as most are was a heterosexual man with many partners of all ages.

    And for the record, homosexuals are not more likely to abuse; sexual attraction to children is not necessarily gender based either.

    The Church did fail many and continues to do so in other ways by perhaps not having a better and different conversation about human sexuality.

    Please, God have mercy on all those who have been harmed, please God grant them healing. It is terrible, I speak from experience here, to have your sexuality and your trust wrecked by the evil of childhood sexual abuse. Whether parent or priest, it is the most awful thing. Have mercy too on those who did wrong, as Jesus gathers us all to Himself to be healed and reconciled.

    Well, so much for not saying it all, I guess I have said a lot. I am grateful for the healing that I have had and for the change of heart through conversion.

    We must never stop reaching out to, loving, protecting and standing with all who are vulnerable and at risk.

    Thank you for this post. I hope and pray that I have not scandalized you by my many words. Peace always.

  2. By the way, I did not mean to imply that you were being casual in your use of the term convenience... I was addressing a way of looking at abortion by many who may not realize the implications of oversimplification.

    I actively engage many people in conversation about abortion, particularly those who self-define as very highly pro-life. With all due respect to them, I often find the convenience line offered quickly and without much analysis... or compassion. Then it goes to how sex is sin and that is that.

    Jesus invites us into all the misery of the Cross with the promise of resurrection. That same hope must guide us through these most challenging issues with an eye towards what is right. Sadly we are all often derailed by words, so I hope I do not derail with my own!

  3. The argument of whether abortion is right or wrong is an on-going one, with an answer that will continue to change with the times...I definitely agree that it should never be used in a flippant way, because someone is unhappy with the sex of their baby. That changes childbirth, which should be considered a miracle and a privilege, into something materialistic. Children should never be treated as accessories; one sex being viewed as more valuable over the other...and if you see them as such, then you shouldn't have one.

    Abortion (in most cases) continues to be a very difficult choice for a woman, and one reason I think some women make the choice to have one is because they don't have the support they need--not only from family, but the support of the father. I haven't come across any woman who uses abortion as a convenience (thank God) but I have seen too many men who don't step up to the plate, and see it as "The women's problem." Not just the decision to have a child or abort it, but the raising of that child if that is the path chosen. It is a hard job to raise a child, and shouldn't be taken lightly by anyone, men or women. I am glad the support you talked about is out there for anyone faced with these choices, so people know there is help out there if they need it.

  4. Interesting discussion. I would say that it is less than 97% of priest that are being faithful to their vows. What we don't hear about is how many priests have had affairs with women? I once read a book by a nun who said men have a very difficult time being celibate. Women do a better job in staying celibate. I think it is time to allow priest to get marry and time to ordain women. There are some biblical scholars who believe that there were women who were priest during the time of St. Paul.

    In regard to the abortion issue I think these anti abortion groups have done more harm than good. Many of these people (I am not just talking about Catholics) support the war, are for the death penalty, and against funding social programs. Very seldom do I ever hear them talk about social justice. Many of these people are what I call the angry ones and do not do much good in convincing women not to have an abortion but just spread more hate in society. It is only by showing compassion towards others that we can help make a better world. Read Karen Armstrong 's latest book on compassion.