Msgr. Schaedelís letter for bulletin of January 21, 2001:
This Monday, the 22ndh, is the Pro-Life March in Washington, D.C. This is to commemorate the horrendous decision of our U.S. Supreme Court, which legalized abortion. About 500 young people from the Archdiocese and thousands of others will march in our nationís capital for this important cause. I am scheduled to offer Mass for them at the cathedral Saturday night (the 20th) before they leave. Among them are some of our young people from here at Holy Rosary. Keep them in your prayers.
I would like to make some comments here about pro-life issues and the recent presidential election. I am going to borrow liberally from an article in The National Catholic Register (an excellent newspaper, by the way) last month.
With several Supreme Court justices nearing retirement, this election was an important one. Al Gore is an enthusiastic supporter of abortion who promised that he would uphold the Roe vs. Wade legacy of the Supreme Court. Our new president, George W. Bush, said that he believes life begins at conception. He received high marks from the National Right to Life Committee. He promised to sign a ban of partial-birth abortion that would be effective nationwide and is generally expected to appoint pro-life justices.
In other words, the next president of the United States could decide whether the culture of death intensifies or wanes in the next four years; hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance.
Yet, I continue to read statistics of how many Catholics did not support the pro-life candidate. And I hear criticism of the clergy and our U.S. bishops claiming that we dropped the ball. We did not make consequences clear enough. Itís our fault? But in reality, what could the bishops have done?
Could they have denied candidates access to Catholic institutions, embarrassing them publicly over the abortion issue? Thatís exactly what Bishop Timlin in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Bishop McHugh in Rockville Centre, New York did. Both heavily Catholic Pennsylvania and heavily Catholic Long Island went for Gore.
Should the bishops have said unambiguously that Catholicís canít support a "pro-choice" candidate? Thatís what Bernard Cardinal Law did in Boston as well as the rest of the Massachusetts bishops. Massachusetts went for Gore.
Should they have better stated that there is a hierarchy between issues, that fighting poverty was practically meaningless if there is no right to life? Chicagoís Francis Cardinal George did. Catholic Chicago chose Gore.
Should the bishops nationally have said something like, "We are unconditionally pro-life, since respect for the right to life is necessary for a human being to be able to exercise any other human right?" Thatís exactly what they did. But if more Catholics voted for abortion that voted against it, who is to blame?
The National Catholic Register has two interesting sidelights from parishes in New England. In one, daily Mass-goers left the church and were greeted by a friendly man who asked them whom they planned to vote for. "Gore," answered most. "But did you know his abortion position?" asked the layman. No, they didnítóbut they were about to. And when they did, they said their votes would change.
In another parish, a laywoman asked the priest if she could survey the parish to see whom they were going to vote for and why. When she found the parish was leaning heavily to Gore and hadnít considered the abortion issue, she was able to pass out information showing where the candidates stood on the issue.
In both cases, Catholics who were lifelong Democrats had failed to follow the issues, and were planning to vote for Gore. In both cases, a layperson gave them the facts and changed peoplesí minds.
Clergy arenít supposed to be involved in politics. But laity have a duty to address political questions. Clergy are put in an uncomfortable position with those they have to pastor if they seem to be taking partisan sides. Laypeople donít have that worry. This is what Vatican II meant when it spoke of the role of the laity in the leadership of the Church. Yet too many people interpret the age of the laity as fighting the clergy for their position in the sanctuary during Mass. I donít think so!
So, if Catholics voted for the culture of death, whoís to blame? Not the priests and not the bishops. Too many lay people have failed to engage the culture. Far too many.
Faithfully yours in Godís Providence,
Rev. Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel