The Church must resist the modern state, the big, lumbering, bureaucratic Behemoth, precisely at those critical points where it believes it has become the final arbiter of right and wrong.
In practical terms, growth in state power beyond its competence has meant we let politicians – as a class, more cunning than wise – decide fundamental human questions that they don’t begin to understand. Unless there’s serious pushback from another, substantial institution, with deeper moral and intellectual bases, and a whole other spirit, we know where that will end.
That’s why the Church’s pro-life witness in America is so important. And why it’s attacked at every opportunity. The Church said a flat “No” at a major moral switching point. And has convinced a slim majority of Americans that courts, legislatures, and several presidents were not only mistaken. They’re anti-life.
In our current turmoil, it’s good to remember such victories. We’re winning in the court of public opinion, if not yet in the courts. We’re gaining with state-level legislation. And we’ve even encouraged people elsewhere to fight.
I’m in Rome this week, and participated Sunday in Italy’s March for Life. Turnout was impressive: 10,000 according to police, in a country with less than one-fifth America’s population – so, the equivalent of about 55,000 in our terms. Not as massive as the Washington March, but give it time. It’s only been going six years – partly in imitation of us.
It has obstacles to overcome. The American March goes from White House to Supreme Court and Congress. That sends a message. The Italians currently begin in Piazza della bocca della verità. (Near an old Roman figure of a man with an open mouth. The legend – which would be highly useful if true – says if you put your hand in his mouth and lie, he bites it off.) The route wends through the city to St. Peter’s.
One organizer, Virginia Coda Nunziante, told me they want to finish at some public place like the president’s palace or Italian parliament. The police don’t allow that, for any group, because of fears of terrorism. But organizers are looking for ways to make the event less a matter of Catholics talking to themselves and more a public statement.
I wish I could say the pope shared the enthusiasm. Via della Conciliazione – the broad boulevard from the Tiber to St. Peter’s – was packed with marchers when he came out to pray the Angelus at noon Sunday. He joked about several small groups from foreign countries and noted that it was Mother’s Day in several countries, but only read a one-line message, acknowledging “the participants in the March for Life.”
The world notices such things. On Friday, Pope Francis received the Charlemagne Prize, given for promoting a unified Europe. He did not disappoint, chastising Europeans for not working more at being truly united. The whole discourse is worth reading as a fairly comprehensive expression of how the pope believes the world should be.
Among our many current paradoxes, the pope is urging Europe – which is to say the European Union, one of the world’s most vigorous promoters of abortion and the sexual revolution – to become more integrated and effective, at the same time that he is seeking to make the Church more decentralized.
Francis, of course, doesn’t support the EU’s sexual ethic. And he took Europe to task Friday: “What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom? What has happened to you, Europe, the home of poets, philosophers, artists, musicians, and men and women of letters? What has happened to you, Europe, the mother of peoples and nations, the mother of great men and women who upheld, and even sacrificed their lives for, the dignity of their brothers and sisters?”
Indeed. As is his custom, he offered three points for “updating” the idea of Europe and creating a “new” humanism: “the capacity to integrate, the capacity for dialogue, and the capacity to generate.”
In terms of integration, he presented a complex goal: “Solidarity should never be confused with charitable assistance, but understood as a means of creating opportunities for all the inhabitants of our cities – and of so many other cities – to live with dignity. Time is teaching us that it is not enough simply to settle individuals geographically: the challenge is that of a profound cultural integration.”
This clearly refers both to problems like high youth unemployment in Europe and the need for entrepreneurship to create jobs, but perhaps even more to one of his special concerns, Muslim refugees: “Let us arm our people with the culture of dialogue and encounter.” A pious wish that Europe is very unlikely to pursue, given recent clashes with refugees and what appears the near impossibility of integrating Middle Eastern Muslims.
In terms of “the capacity to generate,” he argued that Europe should be able to innovate and provide economically for all, and become again a society that cares for children, promotes marriage and raising a family as a joy, and practices a universal inclusiveness.
Mostly, to the good, though the last point is probably utopian, and the rest is a hard sell in the EU at present. But it’s striking how specific and clear Francis can be when he wants. For instance, that the German social-market economy should replace the “liquid,” probably meaning capitalist, economy. It’s worked in Germany. Almost anything does there, but hardly elsewhere.
And he pointedly reminded the Europeans: being a refugee is not a crime.
But killing innocent human life is a crime, and should be recognized as such in law. Vastly more people die in abortion, day after day, than in refugee camps or crossing the Mediterranean.
Each human life is precious, and is never merely part of a numbers game, of course. And praise to Francis for some candid talk. But you wish someone would tell him, candidly: if you don’t speak about millions dying by deliberate choice, you’re in a weaker position when it comes to victims of circumstance.