In choral rhythm they chanted as they proceeded down Constitution Ave. to the Supreme Court, "Hey, hey, Ho, Ho, Roe v. Wade has gotta go." For the casual spectator or, as in my case, a first time participant, the March for Life cannot but profoundly arouse an admiration for these people - of all colors, shapes, and sizes - who have been stalwarts in their unwavering sense of commitment to their cause of reversing a law that has been the source of true evil. They have come to this same spot, and proceeded down these same streets, some a dozen times, to pray outside the U.S. Supreme Court building. Welcome to the March for Life, 2015.
If you were to read a summary of the March for Life in newspapers - usually relegated to the inside pages, and with a serious undercounting of the numbers involved - rarely will you sense the adrenalin that the March generates amongst those who are there as participants. This is particularly interesting for it does not need an expert observer to notice that a large - very large - segment of the Marchers are young, which says something about the tectonic shift in societal group-think that is taking place virtually unnoticed.
Further overlooked is the annual growth in numbers: according to Marchers I spoke to, some of whom have been returning here for the past dozen years, the size of the rally "continues to grow." One delegation which has made an appearance over the last several years is that of my parish: St. Athanasius, in Vienna, Virginia.
A group of about 20 participated, including a visiting priest, members of the Holy Name Society, as well as parents, and the principal and students of the parish school, St. Anthony Academy. Before setting out, the prelate offered a Mass for Reparations for the millions of babies who have been aborted. The group brought with them a statute of the Virgin to be carried on their march while they prayed the Rosary. It should be pointed out that there were thousands of schoolchildren present at the March, so those from St. Anthony Academy blended in with the others.
As with many societal evils, the abortion license now practiced in the U.S. has had repercussions that were never imagined when, on January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Roe v. Wade, and also in Doe v. Bolton, that having an abortion was a now a "right" guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. The tortured logic of Justice Harry Blackman's opinion is not at issue here, but what is revolves around the actual numbers of children who have been aborted in the past 42 years, a number that may shock even the most callous and hardened person.
Dr. Randall K. O'Bannon, Director of the National Right to Life Committee's Education division, claims that the document, "Abortion Statistics: United States Data and Trends," tabulated annually by the Centers for Disease Control and the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, invariably understates the true number. Dr. O'Bannon claims that the real number is at least 57,762,169 abortions that have destroyed the lives of unborn children. That number approximates the numbers of people killed in both World Wars; yet, to recall the words of the Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin: "One death is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic."
Once a pernicious doctrine is imposed, by law or by force, the unpredictable consequences of the act will have repercussions that were never expected. Call it the doctrine of the "slippery slope," or "Murphy's Law," but the decision of the Supreme Court in January, 1973, has brought about changes never imagined or foreseen.
For example, what of the doctor who performs an abortion? Not that long ago, he was subject to criminal penalties, as well as shunned by his colleagues as a corrupter of the lofty ideals of the medical profession. Most states had laws criminalizing the practice of abortion, and for those medical doctors who performed one, aside from the legal penalties, there was also a professional stigma attached. Today, the abortionist is considered a compassionate practitioner of medicine, but that reputation is contrary to the history of medicine.
More than two and one half millennia ago, the Hippocratic Oath, which, in part, stated: I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly, I will not give a woman an abortive remedy (emphasis mine),became the guiding principle of medical doctors with its implicit caveat: Primus non nocet. (First, do no harm.) Today, when the requirement of traditional practice comes into conflict with a more modern mindset, invariably it is tradition that is changed. In this case, the Hippocratic Oath was either de-emphasized or re-written. According a 2012 Georgetown University Journal of Health Services article, as of 2001, "... 100% of medical school graduates in the United States swear to some variation of the Hippocratic Oath. Most of these Oaths are vague in language and contain the principles of non-maleficence, beneficence, patient autonomy, and social justice. Only 14% of these oaths prohibit euthanasia, 11% refer to a deity, 8% forbid abortion, and 50% of them do not reference accountability at all."
One could also detect in the author of the article a hostility to the traditional values enunciated in the original Oath: "Firstly, the paternalist nature of the Oath, with its portrayal of an exclusive fraternity of gentlemen-doctors as stewards of all medical knowledge and morality, is sexist and elitist in the modern democratic context. The ancient religious foundation of the Oath has become irrelevant, and current divergence of opinion on specific issues such as abortion and euthanasia make the original Oath intolerable." But that mindset has not only affected the practice of medicine, but the practitioners of politics, too. During my time at the March, I saw several signs that made crystal clear the bearers' attitude: "Excommunicate all pro-abortion Catholic politicians.”
"De mortuiis nihil nisi bonam" - of the dead say nothing but good.
On January 1 of this year, former Governor Mario Cuomo of New York died. He was afforded the rites and ceremonies due an observant Catholic, which he was, at a Funeral Mass said at St. Ignatius Loyola Church of the Archdiocese of New York. He was eulogized from the pulpit and also in print even by the most rabidly anti-Catholic newspapers, including the N.Y. Times, whose obituary stated: "They waited in the bitter cold, in some cases for more than two hours, drawn to pay their respects to a gifted politician they admired. Many came from the highest ranks of New York's political world."
But what made Mario Cuomo in the eyes of the NY Times, "a gifted politician?" Perhaps the answer is that his "gift" provided too many Catholic politicians, including the current Vice-President of the U.S., and the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, weasel words to deny any act that confirmed the dogmatic teaching of the Church, including its condemnation of abortion. In his talk at Notre Dame University in 1984, Cuomo said this: "...must politics and religion in America divide our loyalties? Does the "separation between church and state" imply separation between religion and politics? Between morality and government? Are these different propositions? Even more specifically, what is the relationship of my Catholicism to my politics? Where does the one end and other begin? Or are the two divided at all? And if they're not, should they be?"
If Cuomo's speech, held in Notre Dame's largest auditorium, was remembered for making him a luminary in Democratic Party politics, that talk, to quote one observer, also "...became Holy Writ for pro-choice Catholic politicians, due in no small measure to the showcase Notre Dame had provided." Unknown to many was that the late Rep. Henry Hyde, another observant Catholic, was given the task of responding to Cuomo, but that speech was given in the student lounge in the basement of the law school. In short order, it was forgotten.
But what, ultimately, must also be understood is the impact that Cuomo's speech had on the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the U.S. As was evident in the March, there are those who believe that the Church's leadership is failing the Faithful on this issue.
In July 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger, then-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, citing Canon 915, declared that if a Catholic politician's formal cooperation in "the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia" becomes evident by "consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" (emphasis mine), the politician should be informed by his pastor that he should not present himself for Holy Communion. Further, the pastor should also warn the wayward politico that, if he does present himself in those circumstances, he will be refused communion. Several years later, this ruling by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was cited in an article by Cardinal Raymond Burke, then President of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court, which listed precedents in the writings of the Church Fathers and theologians.
As if on cue, Donald Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, (See: "Cardinal Ambition, From Wolsey to Weurl," The Remnant, Nov. 20, 2014) and the great majority of U.S. Bishops, declared their opposition to such an interpretation claiming that Canon 915, "was never intended to be used this way, that is, to bring politicians to heel." To this day, refusal to follow the CDF's guidelines is standard operating procedure in the Novus Ordo Church. It is beyond cavil that despite the repeated opposition to abortion by Church officials, the Roe decision appreciably altered the way they treated Catholic politicians who supported it. But this is the Vatican II Church.
Despite the legal, political, and hierarchical obstacles that currently exist, it was evident that among the young and not-so-young at the March for Life in 2015 an infectious optimism heightened their sense that they were on the side of the angels. Their belief is not totally new: in 1910, former President Theodore Roosevelt spoke the words which could very well have been those of the Marchers: "We fight in honorable fashion for the good of mankind; fearless of the future, unheeding of our individual fates, with unflinching hearts and undimmed eyes; we stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord"