In March of 1981 Pope John Paul II told his audience during the March 15 Angelus message, “Our prayer during Lent, aims at awakening [consciences],” and making men aware of God’s voice. “‘Harden not your heart,’ says the psalmist. In fact, the necrosis of consciences, their indifference to good and evil, their deviation are a great threat to humans. Indirectly, they are also a threat to society because, ultimately, the human conscience depends on the level of morality of society.”
This quotation has immense relevance in today’s cultural chaos. We are seeing a shift in the discussion about matters relating to respect for the human person—a slow but steady change that has not been beneficial to the most vulnerable among us.
For example, the marketing of euthanasia, which is no longer identified by that name, is fast becoming a menu of options, including assisted suicide, palliative care, and a plethora of other names most accurately defined as “third path.”
But as priest-physician Father Myles Sheehan recently explained to a group of Boston’s Catholic priests, “There is a bottom line that we have the fifth commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ and the killing of innocent life is considered intrinsically evil, that is, it is always wrong.”
Sheehan was speaking about a proposed assisted suicide law in Massachusetts. Yet he is also touted as an expert on the use of palliative care and has been instrumental in helping family members make decisions—such as the removal of a ventilator from a patient who is dying—that are not necessarily in keeping with Catholic teaching.
As we have noted before, the ventilator is not going to “keep” anyone alive, but it is going to make the work of the lungs less painful until death occurs. It has also been shown that the ventilator can even help people live better lives.
The point is that the level of morality mentioned by Pope John Paul II is reduced when apologists for the Catholic position on the subject of end-of-life care deviate from solid principles in order to excuse actions that, in the final analysis, compromise Catholic teaching.
The same can be said about abortion. In a recent guest column written for the Washington Post, USCCB’s Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, wrote about five things that could be done to “reduce” abortion in America. He listed fighting poverty, ending public funding of abortion, passing laws to regulate abortion mills, supporting marriage, and promoting “sexual risk avoidance” for the young as things he recommends in order to reduce abortion even as it remains legal in America.
These are goals that he suggests would have broad public support and that would, at the same time, recognize and respect the “autonomy and dignity of women.” But what these proposals fail to take into account is the overriding message that such recommendations are not sending.
Imposing rules on abortion facilities recognizes the legitimacy of the places where babies are being killed. Making sure that taxpayers do not subsidize the act of abortion means that as long as somebody else in the private sector is paying for the act of killing, no problem! Fighting poverty, supporting traditional marriage, and helping young people appreciate the virtue of purity require serious cultural changes and that means education, not lobbying.
In other words, while I am not criticizing Doerflinger—who is recognized as an expert on political efforts to address abortion on Capitol Hill—I am suggesting that we are barking up the wrong tree. The agenda that he has set forth is not getting at the root cause of the problem this nation has in appreciating the value of each and every human being and his intrinsic human rights.
We cannot correct this problem with legislation or with court decisions. What we need is education based on the very point Pope John Paul II made for us when he reminded us that “necrosis of consciences, their indifference to good and evil, their deviation are a great threat to humans. Indirectly, they are also a threat to society because, ultimately, the human conscience depends on the level of morality of society.”
So let us help our fellow human beings revisit truth and recognize this sadistic indifference. Reducing evil is not the right path; exposing evil and eliminating it is the only way to go.