Defending Life in Rome

Note: I’m in Rome today and heading this afternoon to the World Meeting on Families in Budapest. But I’ve been following our fundraising and am happy to say that we’re close to halfway towards our goal. We do many things in the course of the year and paying attention to key Catholic events around the world is only one of them. But without your help, none of this is possible. We don’t ask often – and that may give some of you the impression that the need is not urgent. But the need not only of The Catholic Thing, but also of the Church, is great. And if we don’t do something about it, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. Please, go to the Donation page right now and do as much as you can in support of our work. – RR

To perpetrate a great evil it takes a great lie portraying the evil as a great good. That was the con man’s trick of Communism. Even though Communist theory imagined a laughable utopia (for anyone who thought it through), and the reality was demonstrably more murderous than anything in modern history, lots of people – sophisticated intellectuals and ordinary working folk who sought a more just society – continued to defend it well past the point when the evil was impossible to deny. Some still do.

Something similar has been going on for the past half-century and more with abortion and the sexual revolution. In the heyday of Communism, you would hear from people suffering under Marxist regimes how leaders made it seem like down was up, right was left (or wrong), repression was liberation. Any criticism was either naïve or the work of dark capitalist forces.

For decades, pro-lifers have thought that they were merely trying to defend life in the womb. For their pains, they have been accused of wanting to control women’s bodies, defend patriarchy, destroy the environment, perpetuate Western imperialism – and now (in crazier but ever more influential circles) to disrespect alternative forms of family and human life via hetero-normativity and transphobia. (I know, I don’t get the connection either – can’t you be gay or trans and pro-life?)

Let’s recall some hard facts. Communist ideology killed roughly 100 million globally in the 20th century and has not yet entirely finished its run. The pro-abortion ideology has killed 60 million in America alone, 6 million in Italy, and by reasonable estimates close to 1.5 billion worldwide since 1980. It’s no wonder abortion advocates, like the old Communists, try to cloak the carnage in terms of a warped moral crusade and to divert attention to side issues from the central reality – the innocent child in the womb.

I’m in Rome and participated Saturday in the 2017 Marcia per la Vita, which has been modeled by some of our longtime Italian friends on the Washington March for Life. Like the American event, it’s an inspiring display of disinterested concern by thousands of people who are seeking no personal benefit other than to live in a society that respects all human life – i.e., that does not congratulate itself just because it talks about welcoming the marginalized and the weak. For their pains, like the Washington March, they are on the receiving end of nonsensical reactions, when they are not simply ignored.

Unlike the American event, the Marcia gets little support from the Church. Last year, it finished in St. Peter’s Square right before the Holy Father’s Sunday Angelus. He did, briefly, recognize the tens of thousands of marchers – along with several other groups of pilgrims. Pro-lifers were, understandably, perturbed. This year Pope Francis wrote a strong letter of support to the organizers, primarily our friends Virginia Coda Nunziante and Roberto de Mattei. The March started in Piazza della Republica, one of Rome’s large traffic circles, but finished, after only a brief stretch, in Piazza Venezia.

Cardinal Raymond Burke at Rome’s Marcia per la Vita

There are rumors that the Vatican didn’t want it to finish in St. Peter’s – only rumor, but not entirely implausible. Pope Francis is indisputably pro-life, but there’s no disputing that he prefers to take strong public stands on relatively more popular matters such as the environment, refugees, and the global economy (which “kills,” in his view), while staying very low key on hot-button issues like abortion.

Also, the bishops in Italy have chosen to keep a distance from public protests and to work, as a body, through Catholic politicians. The results are not exactly sparkling. Italy has been moving along the same route as other developed democracies, even allowing gay marriage and adoptions despite public demonstrations all over Italy by hundreds of thousands of people (not all Catholic), much larger even than the Rome March for Life. Sad to say, like Catholics among our Democrats, the Italian Catholic politicians are often the heart of the problem.

I did not see everyone who marched Saturday, of course, but the Catholic hierarchy was conspicuous in its absence. There were plenty of priests and seminarians, to be sure. But the only bishop I saw was Athanasius Schneider, the outspoken prelate from Kazakhstan. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to the United States, participated. As did our beleaguered American Cardinal Raymond Burke.

Burke walked the Roman streets with everyone else and, whenever I saw him, was lionized by individuals all along the route. This is the same Cardinal Burke who was just publicly excoriated by Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga (a Honduran who is essentially the head of the pope’s council of cardinal advisers) as a man who sought power and lost it – and whose views are unworthy of further attention.

Cardinal Maradiaga speaks often in defense of the poor and marginalized – with a slight, but distinct Marxist accent. But if you follow his travels, he’s much more a part of the international elite who have been dubbed the “Davoisie,” after the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where wealthy and powerful people meet together to save the world.

No power seeking there, of course – and no walking with ordinary people to defend the unborn either.

Let us try to think, like Catholics. There’s nothing wrong with anyone seeking, or properly exercising, power for the right reasons, in the Church or the world. If serious Christians refuse to do the hard work of shaping modern society – as has mostly been the case lately – it’s no surprise when non-Christians or anti-Christians or pseudo-Christians take the reins and move things in disastrous directions. Maradiaga’s real complaint about Burke is that he’s a traditional Catholic; if power itself were the problem, Maradiaga ought to immediately resign his advisory role to Pope Francis.

It’s worth keeping your eye on the ball. This weekend was a much more consequential matter than such petty squabbles, and was both inspiring and worrying.

Inspiring, in that even the tired Old World, people – quite a few of them – are energized and willing to pit themselves publicly against the culture of death. Several Italian papers reported in light of the March that 70 percent of Italian OB/GYNS refuse to do abortions – American counterparts take note.

Worrying, though, because abortion and family breakup are not just “conservative” or part of power struggles within the Vatican. If Europe continues on its way to demographic suicide, all the other moral questions – even the legitimate parts of the pope’s concerns about the environment, refugees, the poor – will die along with it.

Robert Royal

Robert Royal

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century, published by Ignatius Press. The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, is now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

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