It’s as plain as pie that, were the Catholic Church doing its job, we would not have abortion. Nor would the family be as it is, under attack. At least, attacks there may indeed be, and a terrible toll of casualties that increases as you move away from the Church, but very few among those inside the Church.
“The Church” means, (as it normally does), the Pope, bishops, priest, and laity, acting in concert. Since 50 per cent of our population claims to be “Catholic,” if all of it asserted itself, the effect of such a majority concerns would instantly overwhelm all opposition. In fact, if only half that number were to speak out, it would carry the day.
“The job,” of course, means nothing more than suiting the action to the word. This Pope has seldom missed an opportunity of mentioning publicly the “unspeakable crime of abortion,” and the Church’s opposition to abortion has been clear, constant and continuous from the first. At least, until the last twenty years. If you have any doubts about this, simply read the article on abortion in any old Catholic encyclopedia, and there you will find the matter set forth with complete and uncompromising clarity.
What has so confused and demoralized rank and file Catholics that they are indistinguishable from the rest of the population as regards their attitudes towards, or their involvement in, abortion? That fact, surely, is the greatest single public scandal (in all senses) given by the Church today. In part, it can be assigned to a near-total lack of leadership. In part if can be explained by the actions of bishops and chancery bureaucrats, who are quick to reassign embarrassing priests who outspokenly oppose abortion, or contraception. But only in part.
Anne Roche Muggeridge’s new book The Desolate City, is a documentary of how we arrived at this demoralized and leaderless condition. As such, it will be of interest to anyone curious about the current state of affairs, or about what they might expect from the Church in the next few years. It will be equally indispensable to the pro-abortion crowd, I suppose, as it does not hesitate to name those responsible for the mess.
Do not be put off by the writer’s style: it is strong, straight-from-the-shoulder. But the style and matter are one. There is no point in tiptoeing about when the aim is to present the truth unambiguously. (Only two or three sentences in the book can fairly be described as just polemic.)
On the other hand, while Mrs. Muggeridge leaves the reader in no doubt as to her credentials or her own position, she is careful to separate factual account from personal opinion. Strong stuff, but entirely refreshing. And most helpful in clearing away the underbrush, fog, uncertainty, and double-talk, and setting matters squarely before the reader. It leaves the reader with a complex of emotions: sympathy, sadness, hope, determination to do something (and a clear view of what to do). That’s no mean accomplishment.
Not surprisingly, the story begins with the Second Vatican Council. Prior, the Church was in good shape; but a few years later, attendance had nose-dived, priests and nuns were leaving at a furious rate, and the seminaries were closing for lack of students.
The Interim has frequently pointed to a concerted and persistent attack on all social, cultural and moral norms, as one of the chief activities of those who advocate abortion and other evils. Get rid of the “normal” family, the “standard” of morality or behaviour (“can’t impose my morals…”) and the path is clear for any aberration. Two-lesbian (or two homo) “families”, pre-teen promiscuity, enforced day-care (you must drop the kiddies off and get a job) – you name it.
Mrs. Muggeridge documents how this thinking wormed its way into the minds of many of the bishops at the council, and was systematically spread thereafter, through the concerted efforts of a radical minority. Sound familiar?
The attack on norms, by the new relativism, is an out and out attack on Catholic tradition. Tradition holds a particular place in Catholic faith and thought: it means effectively, that all Catholics, who ever were, and ever shall be, are our contemporaries. They are the whole Church, and are a constant resource. But, they are not given to changing things to suit the whim – or zeitgeist – of the moment, so the tradition is the first and chief target of all heretics. Destroy it, make it relative (or old hat) and you have your hands free.
What makes this book of particular interest is Mrs. Muggeridge’s revelation that the radical (“modernist”) faction actually decided to make Humanae Vitae their test case. (Humanae Vitae is Paul VI’s encyclical against birth control.) She documents who mounted the attack, and how it was done, during as well as after the council. We all know the result: contraception, which laid the foundation for widespread divorce, widespread promiscuity, and much else.
To illustrate: the following appeared in a newspaper last week.
“Ultimately, moral questions must be resolved by the conscience of each one,” [Milwaukee Bishop] Weakland wrote. “But the role of the supporting church should be to help form conscience.”
To do this, however,
“The Church must avoid the rigid view that it is supreme, and has the right to pass judgment over the state,” he said.
Thus, the Church (tradition) has no authority, no handle on truth or right and wrong. All is relative. It looks like private individualism gone mad: every man is an island. The Church is reduced to a sort of benign or avuncular guidance counselor. So with the Currans, Hunthausens, Weaklands, De Roo’s, et al.
There is, however, much to encourage hope. Mrs. Muggeridge writes, in her chapter “The Future of The Counter-Revolution.,”
Lay people have until very recently, for instance, been the whole strength of the anti-abortion movement, faithful to the Mystery of the Incarnation and the divine-human continuity, unflagging in the face of hostility and even open opposition from the Catholic theological and social-justice offices. Except for self-serving politicians, Brian Mulroney, John Turner…in Canada, Geraldine Ferraro, Mario Cuomo, and Edward Kennedy in the United States, the lay Catholic, no matter how liberal in every other way, tends to remain adamant on this issue. What is more, the anti-abortion crusade had laid a solid base of genuine ecumenical co-operation among orthodox Christians and kept one bridge open on which bishops and others can escape back to the Catholic cosmology. In 1984, Daniel Maguire, an ex-priest and leading theologian of the revolution, was able to obtain fewer than one hundred signatures for his full-page ad in the Times, “A Diversity of Opinion Concerning Abortion Exists Among Committed Catholics,” designed to minimize the damage being done to Ferraro’s candidacy by Archbishop O’Connor’s uncompromising stand. Ed Broadbent, himself involved in an election campaign, quoted Maguire gratefully on television in support of his own position. But even Elizabeth McAlister, radical activist, ex-nun, wife of ex-priest Philip Berrigan, writing from prison attacked the pro-choice-on-abortion signatories, and Notre Dame’s James Burtchaell, c.s.c., whose bitter attack on Humanae Vitae I quoted earlier, has emerged in Rachel Weeping and in his National Catholic Reporter debate with Maguire as one of the most eloquent voices in defence of the sacredness of human life. It is very hard to kill the incarnational aspect of Catholicism. (pp. 166-167)
The Desolate City by Anne Roche Muggeridge (McClelland and Stewart, 1986), 219 pages; $19.95. Indispensible. A bargain.