The Cruelest Censorship Of All
Recently, a Minnesota Catholic parish invited renowned expert Dr. Steven Miles to speak about torture. Because Miles supports abortion rights, a pro-life organization complained to the archdiocese about his speech being held on church grounds. Based on the 2004 U.S. bishops’ guidance that “the Catholic community should not provide a speaking platform for those who act in defiance of our basic moral principles,” the archdiocese cancelled the invitation. In his essay Catholic Censorship, Catholic priest Richard McBrien criticizes that decision as one of inappropriate censorship. He’s wrong, and worse yet, he fails to see the real censorship against which we must take action.
Censorship involves the suppression of a message. Had the archdiocese forbid all anti-torture messages or had edited Miles’ message as part of a pre-approval requirement, it would have been censorship. Miles’ situation was different. The problem was not Miles’ anti-torture message; the problem was Miles himself. The archdiocese barred Miles from speaking on archdiocesan grounds because he supports abortion rights. But the archdiocese publicly stated that its action “is in no way a repudiation of Dr. Miles’ commendable work in the area of torture and torture victims.” That fact is crucial, but McBrien omits it. The parish was free to present the substance of Miles’ topic and message though a speaker who did not support abortion rights.
The bishops’ wise 2004 guidance protects Church moral teaching from being misunderstood or diluted. What if that parish had instead invited a known racist to speak on Catholic education, his field of expertise? Probably even McBrien would cancel him. Why? Because the Church opposes racism, so the speaker’s appearance would make the Church’s stand against racism look half-hearted. And opponents of other Church teachings could use the speech to attack the Church’s credibility. Look how they have used the sexual abuse scandal to attack the Church’s moral teachings on sexuality.
McBrien accuses the Church of applying a double standard by censoring those who oppose Church teachings on sexuality but not on other issues. As to the “other” issues — like war, immigration, or global warming — the Church correctly recognizes that prudent judgments must be made about which reasonable people often disagree. The Church does not even always oppose capital punishment. But abortion and stem cell research involve the purposeful killing of innocent human life. It is always morally wrong, and the Church always opposes it. As for homosexuality, the Church does not oppose it, only the legalizing of immoral conduct though marriage. Distinctions among issues must be drawn, but McBrien fails to draw them.
And he fails to acknowledge the inconsistency of Miles’ position. Centuries ago humans were condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered: hanged until nearly dead, disemboweled, then cut into pieces and scattered. Today, an abortionist grabs a pre-born baby, cuts her into chunks, sucks her out of the womb, and dumps her in the garbage. Or he might inject the pre-born baby with saline, which dehydrates her and scalds her skin. For late-term pre-born babies, he pulls her mostly free of the womb, punctures her neck near the base of her skull, and vacuums out her brains. If it all sounds like torture, that’s because it is. As for their mothers, they are left to live tortured lives, often physically damaged or clinically depressed, sometimes so full of guilt and shame that they turn to suicide for release. Miles may regret abortion, but apparently not enough to oppose it. By supporting abortion rights, he effectively supports the torture of a whole class of human beings—the pre-born. How much credibility can he have on the subject of torture?
McBrien concludes his essay with the criticism, “For some Catholics, it seems, pro-life still refers only to abortion.” McBrien doesn’t knock Dr. Martin Luther King, Blessed Mother Teresa, Elie Wiesel, or the many others who have passionately focused their life’s work on fighting a single problem or evil. Contrary to McBrien’s belief, pro-lifers do realize that pro-life covers more than abortion. But they also realize that the right to life is the fundamental right from which all others flow. Torture is immoral because it violates the human dignity endowed by God at conception. Because the right to life is so fundamental, pro-lifers have vigilantly guarded the Church’s message from all compromise.
And in doing so, they are helping to combat many other problems. We must always remember that God works through people, and in protecting His pre-born we give them a chance to do God’s work. Sad to say, we may have aborted many whom God has sent to provide us with desperately needed answers to our problems. But this is no reason to despair, for in life there is hope. Each and every unborn re-confirms God’s own message: I love you and will remain with you. The next Dr. King, Blessed Mother Teresa, or Elie Wiesel, the next generations of champions of true freedom, justice, and compassion will still come ⎯ provided we zealously defend their right to life.
In the end, McBrien misses the chance to combat the real censorship at work in our culture. It is legal abortion, the state-allowed censorship of God’s message ⎯ the cruelest censorship of all. Come November, we must vote for those who will end it.
Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois, where they raise their six kids.
© Paul V. Esposito 2008. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted.