August 14, 2015 (Stream) — Your Excellency:
Like millions of Americans who watched the Planned Parenthood videos, I saw there the ultimate evil: Well-educated, prosperous adults calmly sorting through the butchered children of the poor to cherry pick them for profit. But because of my personal history, I saw something special there. In the midst of those scattered limbs and extracted organs, I saw my daughter.
Jessica was aborted against my wishes. And against her mother’s. Though we were both in high school, we were committed to caring for our baby. I had dropped out of school and joined the U.S. Infantry so that I could support my child. But while I was off at basic training, my girlfriend’s father uncovered our plan, and coerced her into a third trimester abortion. Our child died just a few short weeks before she would have been born an American citizen with the protection of all our laws.
She was killed at the Masonic hospital in your city of Chicago, during the tenure of one of your predecessors Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Her father was a friend of the Cardinal’s, and a prominent Chicago Catholic. For years after that, I harbored a potent grudge against Catholics and the Church, whose prelates, politicos and parents I associated with abortion.
It might sound irrational to you, but I blamed Cardinal Bernardin. Not him alone, of course. Jessica’s death had many fathers. However, as Chicago’s spiritual father, wearing for that city the mantle of the apostles, Cardinal Bernardin bore unique responsibility for witnessing in public to the sanctity of life. As you do now.
Christ came to give us life more abundantly, but in Cardinal Bernardin’s time (as in ours) major Catholic politicians were serving the cause of death, claiming that they were “personally opposed” to abortion, but wished to leave its victims completely unprotected by the law. Cardinal Bernardin protected such politicians, giving them political cover with his so-called “seamless garment,” which stitched together non-negotiable demands of basic human rights — such as an end to legal abortion — with highly debatable policies for promoting the best interests of poor people and immigrants. Bernardin treated unlike, incommensurate issues as if they were all of equal weight. This allowed pro-choice politicians to cherry pick the body of Catholic social teaching — fishing out the parts from which they could profit politically — and pretend that they were faithful Catholics, or at least no more unfaithful than pro-lifers who differed with Bernardin on immigration or Medicare. Nobody’s perfect!
You have unwittingly resurrected Bernardin’s moral equivalence with your recent op-ed in response to the Planned Parenthood videos. As a victim of legal abortion who lost a daughter to it, I cannot imagine how you could have written this:
While commerce in the remains of defenseless children is particularly repulsive, we should be no less appalled by the indifference toward the thousands of people who die daily for lack of decent medical care; who are denied rights by a broken immigration system and by racism; who suffer in hunger, joblessness and want; who pay the price of violence in gun-saturated neighborhoods; or who are executed by the state in the name of justice.
Do you really not see what is uniquely evil about murdering children and selling their parts for profit? As Jesus told us, the poor we will have always with us, and we must advance their interests. But how can you compare the malice of organ-profiteering abortionists with the “indifference” that you (uncharitably?) attribute to fellow citizens who disagree with you about the optimal public policies helping the poor, reducing unemployment and violence and reforming immigration?
I know that social justice is not a “single issue” proposition. I have personally led homeless missions, dug wells for thirsty Africans, and ministered to prisoners. I support reform of capital punishment and a much stricter application of Just War standards in future American conflicts. I have spoken forthrightly on the evil of civilian bombing and on America’s abuse of drones. I have published a recent book on the “Whole Life” principles that underlie our defense of human dignity in every situation. My life’s work, in fact, has been to defend the vulnerable from violence, and every step was driven by my memory of Jessica, and my anger at the men who failed to protect her.
Historically, however, the seamless garment served, not to elevate issues in addition to abortion but as a bulletproof vest for pro-abortion zealots like Geraldine Ferraro and Mario Cuomo, whose places at the communion line have been filled in our time by Nancy Pelosi and Joseph Biden. Cardinal Bernardin’s clever piece of rhetoric still helps such politicians to believe that they are free to reject fundamental moral principles such as sparing the lives of the innocent, so long as they work with the bishops on expanding health care or funding food stamps.
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These same politicians can smear as “dissenters” the vast majority of pro-life politicians, who are conservatives and therefore differ with some bishops on how to best help America’s poor. Pro-choicers manage this smear by hijacking Catholic “social teaching.” But that kind of teaching, which specifies budget levels for poverty programs or particular immigration quotas, does not exist! As Popes Leo XIII and St. John Paul II taught, the Church does not impose a particular political agenda on believers. That goes beyond the Church’s mission. We can argue about the impact of a higher minimum wage or border patrol. But any Christian church must demand that the innocent be protected. There is no gray area on abortion, as there wasn’t on slavery: Human beings have rights. Will we protect them, or not?
Some church leaders have spoken clearly about the radical difference between laws that protect the innocent, and particular public policies which might be best for the common good. In his time, Cardinal John O’Connor of New York taught, as your colleague Archbishop Charles Chaput recently has written, that protecting innocent life is a fundamental and non-negotiable condition for social justice. It is not in any way comparable to public policy questions where Christians have clear moral goals we must pursue, but must use our prudence to determine by open debate what mix of policies are the most just, and the most welcoming to Christ’s poor.
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This article appears on the Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, whom we remember for sacrificing his body in defense of an innocent Polish prisoner in Auschwitz. It was reading about this saint, and meeting devoted Catholics in the pro-life movement — most of them conservatives who saw the Seamless Garment for the fraud that it is — that helped me to overcome my natural bitterness toward the Catholic church, and finally to enter it as a convert.
The rest of my children escaped the Culture of Death. I named one of them Maximilian.
Jason Jones is the Producer of Crescendo and Co-Executive Producer of BELLA, recipient of The People’s Choice Award at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. Crescendo, winner of 15 International awards and has raised over 5 million dollars for Pregnancy Centers across the United States and Canada. Jason’s “Movie To Movement” aims at transforming the culture with a message of beauty, truth, and love.
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