A False Rebuke from Dubuque

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As most of our readers know, the archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, has recently barred the aggressively pro-abortion Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, from receiving Communion in the archdiocese.  She has long been a scandal to the faithful, in the precise theological meaning of the term: a stumbling stone.

The two common effects of her continued public declarations of being a Catholic in good standing have been these.  She provides cover for other Catholics to support the same evil.  She suggests that the Church does not actually take her moral teachings seriously.  The second effect may be more dangerous than the first.  If the Church does not really believe that it is evil to cut an unborn child to ribbons in the womb, or to bathe it and burn it in salt, then perhaps she does not really believe in a lot of other things, too.  Perhaps she is a hobby for people with a taste for spirituality.  Perhaps it is all a sham.

Meanwhile, the bishop of Dubuque, Michael Jackels, has taken the opportunity of the mass murder at the school in Uvalde, Texas, to contradict Bishop Cordileone, suggesting that “protecting the earth, our common home, or making food, water, health care, and education accessible. . .these are life issues too.”  “You’ve got to wonder,” he asks, insinuating that people who oppose him must be motivated by bad faith, “about reasons for refusing reasonable limits on gun ownership, which are inspired by the common good and offering protection from harm.”

Let’s leave aside the Bill of Rights.  I could be persuaded that we should raise both the voting age and the legal age for gun ownership.  I could be persuaded that we should require citizens to show cause for purchasing a rifle – for example, a hunter’s license.  But owning a rifle, even the common semi-automatic, is not like procuring an abortion.

Abortion is an evil, pure and simple.  It is like pulling the trigger and putting a bullet through a child’s head.  To permit abortion is not like permitting a good thing, or a morally neutral thing, that will sometimes result in a horrible and deadly use.  For there are many good and morally unproblematic uses for the rifle.  My friends in rural Canada hunt grouse and deer to put food on the table.  Bishop Jackels surely does not object to that.

So, if we must begin to disarm the people in order to render our streets and our schools safe, that alone is testimony to how rotten a people we have become.  We are too rotten to be trusted with a liberty that people used to take for granted.  Let the bishop and those who agree with him make that argument.  Let them also meet the objections of people who fear the tyranny of a central government with paramilitary arms everywhere, while the people are disarmed.  That too pertains to the common good.


The rest of the bishop’s list is sheer distraction:

• We have a welfare state, food stamps, free public schools, Medicaid for the poor – though it, like much else in our health care system, ranges from pretty good to atrocious.

• We have taken care of the environment; the United States is far cleaner now than when I was a boy, when the only fish in our town’s river were belly-up.

• Except for food, which is an absolute need every day, the matters Bishop Jackels broaches all require far-sightedness and a frank assessment of trade-offs and unintended consequences.

You can, for example, get an operation in Canada without fear that your bank account will be drained dry – but, if I am to trust the common testimony of my neighbors, you’ll need a lot of luck to get that operation in the first place, unless your health degrades to the point where it becomes urgent.  Diagnostic tests are far cheaper, but the machines are a lot harder to find, and waiting lists are long.  You cannot get an MRI at the hospital nearest us.

We want to make it easy for an unmarried woman to take care of her child.  We also want to encourage the formation of solid families, founded upon marriage.  I am hardly the first person to notice that these two things to be desired are partly at odds.  Frances Perkins, Franklin Roosevelt’s tireless and creative secretary of labor, noticed it long ago.  It required a deft hand to try to secure as much of one good as possible, without admitting or encouraging or increasing the bad that would offset it.

In these matters, ideology is your enemy.  So then, during the Great Depression, precisely because she was a liberal and not an egalitarian ideologue, Perkins gave her support to various state laws that barred married women from the workplace.  She was also the main designer of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the federal organization that gave work and taught remunerable skills to young single men – so that they might soon be employable, and thus ready to marry and to establish a healthy household.

My point is this.  Abortion is a grave evil, per se.  It is not like wine that gladdens the heart, the object of Prohibition.  You must go well out of your way to get an abortion.  Indeed, you must go well out of your way to think you need one.  If it is wrong to permit citizens without a criminal record to purchase a rifle, on the grounds that the permission leaves us vulnerable to inevitable and terrible misuse, then a fortiori we are utterly without excuse when it comes to actions that do kill innocent people, directly and deliberately, by the hundreds of thousands every year.

And as for matters of welfare, let us begin to have frank conversations about the common good and how it may be pursued – outside of that reality-resistant thing called ideology, from wherever it comes.

*Image: A Tight Fix–Bear Hunting by Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, 1856 [Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas]

You may also enjoy:

Prof. Esolen’s Ideology Makes you Stupid

+James V. Schall, S.J.’s On Ideology

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. Among his books are Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World, and most recently The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is Distinguished Professor at Thales College. Be sure to visit his new website, Word and Song.