By the grace of God, the recent decision by Cardinal SeÁn Patrick O’Malley could be a turning point in Catholic history, a collective epiphany on the road to Boston College. He has made it entirely clear that he will not be attending the university’s annual commencement, at which Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny will be speaking. Boston College’s decision to invite the Taoiseach was provocative and was supposed to be so. Frankly, it’s a childish and petty thing to have done but entirely in character with the modern approach of liberal or even post-Catholic institutions of higher education. Give a metaphorical finger to those horrible old grassroots Catholics who still believe in the faith, and to the Magisterium and episcopacy who insist on making it difficult for teachers from Boston College or Notre Dame or Georgetown to be invited onto talk shows and to fashionable dinner parties.
Ireland is in the midst of a culture war. It is the country that in spite of—perhaps even because of—occupation, oppression, starvation, and dispersion, remained true to the Church. It was the epicenter for English-speaking Catholics and Catholicism, and Irish Catholics fuelled English and Scottish Catholicism and became the beating heart of the Church in the United States.
Today the kulturkampf concerns a triumphant secular and modernist government declaring virtual war on Church prestige and standing, and challenging Catholic teaching on life, sexuality, and morality. Kenny wants to change Ireland’s abortion laws. He claims it is a minor reform, but he knows that is not the case; the legislation is not only in itself a major departure, but will open a door to a room full of frightful eugenics. If you don’t believe me, read the editorials and columns from his supporters in the Irish media.
None of us were sure what Cardinal O’Malley would do. He is an orthodox man, of course, and a fine and good Catholic priest and bishop, but he had assisted at the funeral mass of Sen. Ted Kennedy, an individual with a worrying personal record, and an execrable public one. Kennedy had opposed the Church on most of its moral teaching around life issues, often leading campaigns to introduce and extend abortion, same-sex marriage, and other related subjects. O’Malley led a prayer at the Mass, explaining, “as archbishop of Boston, I considered it appropriate to represent the Church at this liturgy out of respect for the Senator, his family, those who attended the Mass and all those who were praying for the Senator and his family at this difficult time.”
This time, however, the reaction was fundamentally different.
“Because the Gospel of Life is the centerpiece of the Church’s social doctrine and because we consider abortion a crime against humanity, the Catholic Bishops of the United States have asked that Catholic institutions not honor government officials or politicians who promote abortion with their laws and policies,” the cardinal wrote. “Recently I learned that the Prime Minister of Ireland, the Hon. Mr. Enda Kenny, was slated to receive an honorary degree at Boston College’s graduation this year. I am sure that the invitation was made in good faith, long before it came to the attention of the leadership of Boston College that Mr. Kenny is aggressively promoting abortion legislation. The Irish Bishops have responded to that development by affirming the Church’s teaching that ‘the deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of life is always morally wrong’ and expressed serious concern that the proposed legislation ‘represents a dramatic and morally unacceptable change to Irish law.’ Since the university has not withdrawn the invitation and because the Taoiseach has not seen fit to decline, I shall not attend the graduation.”
Bless you, sir, bless you. And there are myriad Irish Catholics who will thank you too, as they continue to try to hold the line of the protection of the unborn, the handicapped, and the elderly. Which leads us to consider how the Church will react to and regard public figures and politicians who not only ignore Catholic teaching but aggressively lead others to do the same. Will priests, bishops, archbishops, Cardinals, and Popes rebuke and correct politicians private and publicly, and will they make it clear that they will not be given communion, the Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus Christ, while they are in a state of profound sin and have put themselves outside of the Catholic family?
Pope Francis directed the bishops of Argentina to govern the Church according to a document that makes clear that Holy Communion should be disallowed to anybody who facilitates abortion, and we can only pray that he continues to rule thus and make this teaching absolutely clear to the rest of the Church. It’s vital to emphasize that this is not about punishment or reprimand; not about scolding, but about saving. It is bad enough for an individual to support or enable abortion, but for a politician to influence millions of people and make possible legions of abortions is far, far worse. The depth of the sin is great, and for a person in such a state of sin to blithely pretend that they are in a fit position to receive Communion is grotesquely harmful to their soul. A pope, a bishop, a priest, is acting as a loving shepherd rather than a stern parent when he explains to a politician the dangers of such behavior, and tries with counsel, prayer, and love to turn that legislator around—for the politician’s sake, as well the sake of so many pre-born children.
The time has surely come for our Church leaders to proclaim Catholic teaching, even at the risk of political condemnation and social isolation. If, for example, a plumber or taxi driver explained to a priest just before Communion that he supported abortion and had worked hard to expand the country’s abortion laws, one would hope and assume that the priest would refuse him the host, and ask for a private interview later. Yet a Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi, who have made their support for abortion and their hard work to expand abortion laws (not to mention same-sex marriage and other immoral, anti-Catholic measures) are seldom if ever treated like this, and are even publicly referred to with affection and humor by some of the Church’s most senior prelates. If it’s preferential treatment for the rich and famous, shame on them; if it’s discrimination favoring the powerful, shame on them; if it’s cowardice in the face of a strong foe, shame on them.
I appreciate how challenging all this can be, and how abusive and acid the media will become. But if the Gosnell trial showed us anything it was how brutal, bloody, and of Beelzebub abortion really is. At its most simple, the chattering classes and the establishment will never accept a cardinal or a bishop until and unless that cardinal or bishop abandons all that is sharp and clear within Catholic teaching, so better to come to terms with that painful reality sooner rather than later.
Some Irish eyes will not be smiling at Cardinal O’Malley’s announcement, but there will be dancing a plenty in the Irish section of heaven.