When Blessed Pope Pius IX proclaimed solemnly the doctrine of our Lady's Immaculate Conception, he was doing much more than ratifying that which had always been taught and believed. The Triune God knew from all eternity that the solemn proclamation of this doctrine would be needed at the beginning of the Third Millennium more than it was needed at the end of the Second Millennium. He knew that the proclamation of our Lady's sinlessness from the first moment of her conception in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne, was meant to remind us in our own culture of death that a human being is a person from the first moment of fertilization.
A person, moreover, made in the image and likeness of the Triune God Himself in that each human being has a rational and immortal soul from the very beginning of his existence as a helpless embryo. No amount of sophistry and no rationalistic exercises in political expediency can ever deny the distinct, unrepeatable personhood of a fertilized embryo, whether that fertilization takes place in a mother's womb (as it should) or whether it takes place in a Petrie dish in our brave new world of the artificial conception of children (whether as a means of undoing the sterilizing effects of contraception and abortion or as a means of creating human cells to be harvested for immoral experimentation and/or for use in the bodies of other persons).
Our Lord's Incarnation in His Blessed Mother's virginal and immaculate womb is yet another testimony to the distinctive personhood of all children from the first moment of their fertilization. Our Lord deigned to be conceived as a helpless embryo in His Blessed Mother's virginal and immaculate womb by the power of the Holy Ghost. It was His Holy Will that He be united to the entirety of the human experience, save for sin. Thus, He is in solidarity with every child at the first moment of his fertilization. Our Lord really meant it when He said, "Whatsoever you do to the least of My brethren, that you do unto Me."
To do anything to a human person is to attack the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made Man, Jesus Christ, mystically. No, our Lord cannot suffer again. He suffered once during His Passion and Death. However, He does suffer mystically in the persons of the members of His Mystical Body. He is absolutely united with every human being from the first moment of fertilization. This is a truth which is beyond question. And truth of its nature is not subject to the vagaries of public opinion and the exigencies of electoral politics and public policy decision-making.
Catholics have been baptized to bear a visible, tangible witness to the totality of our Lord's holy truths, no matter what it might cost them in the midst of this passing world. Sadly, many who call themselves pro-life Catholics are permitting themselves to be led by the political dictates of phony pro-life politicians, almost all of whom support the slicing and dicing of little babies in some cases (and are thus simply less pro-abortion than other politicians, not unconditionally, unqualifiedly pro-life).
These well-intentioned but badly misled people believe that it is not politic to use such stark language as personhood to refer to a newly fertilized embryo. Thus, the needless debate about the licitness of the Federal government's funding of experimentation on and transplantation of the cells of living human beings, each of whom has a unique personality as a result of his having a rational, immortal soul, centers around assisting a President who believes that abortion is a "matter of opinion" and his political appointees find some kind of "compromise" which would satisfy establishment pro-life leaders and draconian scientists and medical researchers intent on playing God. We have forgotten that God is a majority of one, that we can never compromise the sanctity and inviolability of even one innocent human life.
The fact that the funding of stem-cell research is even open to debate is a very telling commentary on the state of things within "conservative pro-life" circles. Candidate George W. Bush said last year that he was opposed to such funding. However, President-elect George W. Bush appointed a man who supported such funding quite enthusiastically, Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, to be Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. President George W. Bush is soliciting advice from individuals as to what to do, backing off from his stand of last year, trying to find some ground for compromise.
Bush is being aided in this process by "pro-life" senators such as Utah's Orrin Hatch. If you will recall, Hatch was the author of a proposed constitutional amendment which would have given state legislatures the right to prohibit, restrict or permit abortion as they see fit, something beyond the authority of any human institution; human institutions only have the authority to determine what penalties will be imposed upon those who do those things which are in contravention of the binding, immutable precepts of the Divine positive law and the natural law. Human institutions do not have the authority to make exceptions to those binding, immutable precepts. Hatch, however, does not realize that, believing, as most careerist politicians do, that there has to be some "reasonable" way to satisfy all sides.
Worse than the "compromise" offered by the Mormon Orrin G. Hatch is that which has been "hatched," pun intended, by Catholic conservatives, intent on aiding their political savior, George W. Bush, navigate the needlessly choppy waters of the funding of stem-cell research. Three such conservatives - Deal Hudson, Father Michael Sirico, Robert George - have said that "they are open to a plan that would allow the government to fund certain medical experiments that use stem cells from human embryos.
A printed report, which ran in The Los Angeles Times on Sunday, July 8, 2001, indicated that Princeton University professor Robert George has said that the proposed compromise "might be regarded as acceptable and consistent with church teachings if it ensures that the government never pays for the destruction of another embryo." Crisis editor Deal Hudson said that he was "open to" the compromise, stating that it would be "a victory for those who want to use embryonic stem cells" and "for the pro-life side, because it ensures, for the time being, that there is no more government support for the destruction of embryos for their stem cells."
All of this is total sophistry. Note first of all that each of the "Catholic" experts refers to fertilized human beings in the impersonal mode as embryos, not human beings (most of whom have been conceived artificially in "fertility clinics" for artificial implantation in mothers' wombs). Note second of all that each of these alleged "experts" fails entirely to assert the simple truth that no one has any authority to violate the binding precepts of the Divine positive law and the natural law.
Thus, the issue before us should not be the issue of Federal funding for the extraction of stem cells from human beings. No, the issue before us should be the absolute prohibition of all in vitro fertilization and the absolute prohibition of the destruction of fertilized human beings effected by means of the extraction of their stem cells. Period. This is not a "difficult" issue whatsoever.
This issue is as clear as abortion and euthanasia. The destruction of living human beings for the extraction of their stem cells is the exact same thing as abortion and euthanasia: it is the killing of innocent human life.
Alas, George, Sirico, and Hudson are using almost the exact same sort of sophistry in this matter as was used by Geraldine Ferraro when she ran for Vice President of the United States with former Vice President Walter Mondale in 1984. Ferraro said at the time that there was a "range of opinion within the Church about abortion," making it appear as though a person's rejection of received teaching constitutes a legitimate position which must be placed on a plane of equality with what God Himself has revealed through His true Church. Well, Robert George was quoted in The Los Angeles Times as saying, "Then they [the Bush administration] could say there's a range of opinion and that this issue is not like abortion or euthanasia."
This is an abject lie, a totally pathetic attempt to indemnify a man, Bush, who believes that abortion is simply a matter of "opinion" about which people of "good will" may disagree quite legitimately. Isn't this the American way, after all? Isn't everything a matter of opinion? Isn't everything open to consensus and compromise and common ground?
Father Sirico and Robert George and Deal Hudson are making the same tragic mistake as was made by many Catholics, including some bishops and priests, in the 20th Century. As it was the Democratic Party which became the means of political socialization for Catholics in the 19th Century, the lion's share of Catholics became slavishly attached to the Democratic Party, viewing it as the true secular church, the means of secular salvation.
It mattered little, then, in the 20th Century when Catholics did the bidding of the anti-Catholic Woodrow Wilson (who supported the Masonic revolutionaries in Mexico, going so far as to state that the slaughter of Catholics in Mexico might produce the promotion of the same "sort of liberal ideas" which flowed from the bloodletting in the French Revolution) and Franklin Roosevelt, whose New Deal policies were a direct violation of the natural law principle of subsidiarity, defended so ably by Pope Pius XI in Quadregesimo Anno in 1931.
The bishops of this country actually silenced Father Charles Coughlin when the Detroit-based priest used his radio program to criticize Roosevelt's policies. And, of course, we have the recent history of inaction against pro-abortion Catholic Democrats.
Indeed, the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin devised his "consistent ethic of life" in 1983 as a means of providing cover for pro-abortion Catholic Democrats in the 1984 elections. Even though it was wrong of them to support abortion, Bernardin argued, abortion was but one issue in a continuum of the seamless garment. A person who supported "justice" for the poor should not be dismissed out of hand just because he takes a mistaken "view" on abortion.
Well, this is exactly what some conservative Catholic leaders are doing now. They have presented Bush as a friend of life, which he is not. They shilled for him during the election when he fudged on RU-486 and repeatedly termed abortion a "matter of opinion." They overlooked Bush's embrace for the slaughter of the unborn in cases of rape, incest, and alleged threats to the life of a mother. They ignored Bush's record of appointing pro-aborts to the Texas State Supreme Court when he was Governor of Texas. They ignore the fact that the Federal government is supporting directly chemical abortions by its funding of so-called "family planning programs" both here and abroad. They have said not a word as pro-aborts (Colin Powell, Andrew Card, Christine Todd Whitman, Mary Matalin, Alberto Gonzales) have been given prominent positions in the new administration. No, these conservative Catholic leaders must enable their secular hero much in the same manner as James Cardinal Gibbons, the longtime Archbishop of Baltimore, did with Woodrow Wilson and as a veritable army of bishops did with Franklin Roosevelt. This is a cynical effort. Even the American bishops, not exactly noted for consistency on the life issue, have thus far held the line against the destruction of fertilized human beings by the extraction of their stem cells.
Well, God is not satisfied when His truths, which are the only foundation for personal sanctity and hence all social order, are compromised. Baptized Catholics have an obligation to defend Christ's Holy Truths without any compromise whatsoever. However, a country which accepts uncritically the ethos of majoritarianism believes that everything is negotiable, including the words we use to describe the distinctive personhood which every person has from the first moment of his fertilization. The consequences are fatal for a society when Catholics alleged to be orthodox start doing intellectual gymnastics to subordinate the unchanging truths of our Lord and Savior to the exigencies of a civil leader. This leads to one of two things happening: (1) the wrong decision being made; or (2) the right decision being made for the wrong reasons. Let me explain.
Although it appears as though some sort of illicit compromise is in the works, Presidential counselor Karl Rove evidently has advised President Bush to ban the use of Federal funds for the experimentation and the transplantation of the cells of living human persons. He is doing so, however, for fear that a compromise of any sort will anger President Bush's conservative, pro-life base, not because such experimentation and transplantation is evil, yes, evil, of its very nature. As a political strategist, Rove is advising the President on the basis of the exigencies of raw electoral politics just as much as those who want Bush to compromise on the issue (Hatch, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Arizona Senator John McCain) believe there is some electoral advantaged to be gained by reaching some sort of accommodation.
How sad it is, therefore, that the President "has to hear from us" in order for him to make the right decision. A President who knew the nature of fundamental justice founded in the splendor of Truth Incarnate does not have to be lobbied on issues of life death. Our problem, you see, is that the President is not a man of the mind. He is a creature of the majoritarian society from whence he sprang, a world in which those who lobby the hardest get what they want.
And this, naturally, is one of the flaws of a world which has overthrown the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ as it is exercised through His true Church. Secularism winds up trumping Catholicism, especially among pro-life Catholics, who place their trust in bogus secular saviors rather than in the ability of our Lord's grace to effect the conversion of souls over the course of time.
We should be resolved, therefore, to speak in plain, unmistakable terms about the life issues. We should refer to the issue being debated at present as nothing other than this: a decision to fund the willful, planned execution of human persons under cover of law. Words count. Words matter. Abortion is the killing of innocent human life. It is the destruction of Jesus Christ mystically in the person of unborn children. The extraction of embryonic stem-cells from living human persons is no less a destruction of Jesus Christ mystically. And it will not be until we start thinking and speaking in such direct terms that we have a chance of making a true inroad in this culture of death. For it will not be until we recognize that God is a majority of One-and that He has discharged His Mind in Holy Mother Church-that we will have a chance to call abject evils by their proper names.
Our Lady, Mother of Life, pray for us.
May God have mercy on us all for failing to work for the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ and the Queenship of His Most Blessed Mother.
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
Editor's Note: His series "The Germ of GIRM" will resume on August 6th.
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives