Pro-Life in the Diaconate
The providential connection between the movement and the missionary role of Catholic deacons
Among those calling for the restoration of the order of deacons as a permanent part of the clergy of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite were the survivors of a group called the Deacons Circle. This group of male prisoners included Catholic priests. They forged their brotherhood in prayer while suffering in Dachau, one of the evil death camps of the Nazi regime. The survivors continued to meet after the war came to an end. By the year 1959, an international version of the Deacons Circle had been formed.
When the Second Vatican Council convened, some bishops familiar with the history of the diaconate in the early Church as well as the desire of this group of heroic men to see the order of deacon restored for the whole Church, called for its restoration at the council. The rest is history.
I will soon celebrate 24 years ordained “not unto the priesthood but unto the ministry,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (cf. No. 1569). I spent my legal career engaged in pro-life and religious freedom work. As a moral theologian, I consider the evil of legal abortion on demand to be an urgent priority. Finally, I believe there is a providential connection between the pro-life movement and the missionary role of Catholic deacons to serve authentic social justice.
The bishop who ordained me told me that in my ministry as a lay leader I was already engaged in diaconal functions. The word “deacon” means servant. But he believed what the council fathers had in mind was for bishops to look for men like me, engaged in such service, and discern whether they were being called to holy orders as a deacon. He asked me to pray about whether the grace of orders was a part of my ongoing calling to the Lord Jesus Christ and service to his Church.
He specifically referred to my work defending those who, because they defended children in the first home of the whole human race, their mother’s wombs, were suffering legal opposition from opponents of the right to life. I will always be grateful for the imposition of his hands on the day I was ordained. I have always seen the pro-life movement as a ripe field for Catholic deacons.
In addition, the pro-life movement provides a ripe terrain for authentic ecumenical work. It may be the most effective ecumenical effort in our day. Christians across confessional divides heard the cry of those whom Mother Teresa called “the poorest of the poor” and many have discovered one another again as brothers and sisters, joined in our baptismal bond.
Pro-Life Not Single Issue
With a presidential election in the United States soon upon us the allegations of “single-issue politics” are once again being leveled against anyone who condemns procured abortion as immoral and evil. This is happening not only in the public square but within the Church. We find people in the Church again attempting to fold the natural-law crime of procured abortion into a misguided interpretation of Catholic social teaching, which pushes a false moral equivalence between all social justice issues.
While it is true that Catholic Christians must affirm that because all human persons are created in the image of God, they have an inherent dignity — at every age and stage of their lives. This truth must inform our respect for every human life, whether in the first home of the mother’s womb, a wheelchair, a jail cell, a hospital room, a hospice, a senior center, a soup kitchen or on a refugee boat.
However, life begins in the womb, and that is where that continuing right first attaches. Procured abortion is never a moral choice but a crime against the natural law, whether the civil law of the state currently prosecutes it or not. Political candidates who deny this right to life are complicit in this crime and must not be supported.
Pro-Life Is a Worldview
The pro-life position is a worldview, a lens through which we should view every political, cultural, social, economic, security and international issue. This worldview must also inform every aspect of our participation in society, including how we vote.
The so-called right to a legal abortion was manufactured out of whole cloth by a U.S. Supreme Court that exceeded its authority, rejected the Constitution, denied past legal precedent and the entire tradition of natural law, embraced junk science and used a false historical narrative specifically to find such a nonexistent “right” in the “penumbra” of the Constitution.
In engaging in this evil, the majority members of the court unleashed the shedding of innocent blood rising to the level of 60 million children killed. None of this was about authentic freedom of choice. Rather, it was a counterfeit, Promethean notion of power over the vulnerable. Most thinking people acknowledge that some choices are always and everywhere wrong. Killing the innocent is the prime example. The younger the victim, the more egregious.
Insisting that the civil law of the nation recognize the natural law’s right to life is about affirming once again in American jurisprudence and legislation that human rights are not determined or given by the state. As the American founders expressed it, they are endowed by the Creator — and are inalienable.
The right to life currently informs our criminal justice system. For example, in our criminal law, we prosecute someone who intentionally takes the life of a woman with a child in a vehicular homicide for two criminal offenses. The irony is obvious to any honest man or woman.
Not Simply ‘Religious’
Recognizing the right to life in civil law is not pushing “religious” beliefs on a pluralistic nation. The right to life is revealed by the natural law written on the human heart. When civil law fails to recognize natural law’s right to life and promulgates laws that condone the taking of innocent life, such laws are unjust and therefore not law at all. This conviction used to be recognized as a foundation stone of Western law.
Medical science confirms what our conscience long ago told us. We routinely operate on these children in the womb. We provide 3D and 4D ultrasound photos of babies as they grow in that first home of the whole human race. These children are members of our human family. We all know it. Those who deny it are lying to themselves and deceiving others.
Legalized abortion is the denial of the right to life of an entire class of people, which is now backed up by the police power of the state. It is an egregious, ongoing, human rights violation, which demands our continual efforts to eradicate it. The language surrounding legal abortion reveals an Orwellian newspeak. Phrases such as abortion rights are dangerous.
Abortions do not have rights; only human persons have rights. Human rights are goods of human persons. When there is no human person to exercise them, all the rhetoric extolling them is sloganeering. When there is no recognition of a preeminent right to life, what follows is an erosion of the infrastructure of all human rights.
Solidarity with Children
Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his seminal encyclical on life, Evangelium Vitae, “To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin’ (Jn 8:34)” (No. 20).
Brother deacons, we must stand in solidarity with children who have no voice. To accept legalized abortion in civil law and purport to privately oppose it is a perversion that promotes a counterfeit notion of freedom. Created in the image of God, men and women are by both grace and nature social beings. We are responsible for one another. We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. We will never find freedom outside of a relationship, and we have a relationship with every child in the womb that we must not ignore.
In Evangelii Gaudium (“Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis wrote: “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care, with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative” (No. 213).
The child in the womb is our first neighbor, and it is always and everywhere wrong to take the life of an innocent neighbor. Our failure to recognize the right to life in the law undermines our claim to be a compassionate and caring society. All the talk about compassion for the poor rings hollow when we fail to hear the cry of the ones whom St. Teresa of Calcutta rightly called the “poorest of the poor.”
There can be no genuine solidarity upon which to build a secure future in a culture that kills its own children and calls it a right. No political candidate who advocates for legalized abortion, or for euthanasia, passive or active, should receive the support of Catholic Christians, period.
2020 March Theme
The theme for the 47th annual March for Life for 2020 on Jan. 24 is “Life Empowers: Pro-Life Is Pro-Woman,” and will highlight the pro-life views of the suffragists and the way the pro-life movement is the true heir of the earliest feminists.
The phrase “moral coherence” was used in 2002 when the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life. That teaching document was directed, in its words, to “the Bishops of the Catholic Church and, in a particular way, to Catholic politicians and all lay members of the faithful called to participate in the political life of democratic societies.” It should be read by every Catholic and by other Christians who want to know what the Catholic Church teaches. I wish it were mandatory reading for Catholics who run for public office.
The instruction informs the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church sections pertaining to the political participation of Catholics (cf. Nos. 565-574). Anyone who thinks the Catholic Church is not clear on the duty of Catholics to vote in a manner that is morally coherent has not read Catholic teaching or rejects it:
“The social doctrine of the Church is not an intrusion into the government of individual countries. It is a question of the lay Catholic’s duty to be morally coherent, found within one’s conscience, which is one and indivisible. ‘There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life,’ with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture. The branch, engrafted to the vine, which is Christ, bears its fruit in every sphere of existence and activity’” (Doctrinal Note, No. 6).
As Catholic deacons, we should expose, oppose and help to replace the current culture of death and use with a true culture of life and civilization of love. The biblical adage should echo especially in our ears, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Lk 12:48). Catholic deacons, called as servants of social justice, have the social teaching of the Catholic Church to assist us. We must read it and live it, in every aspect of our lives, including our citizenship. Deacons are ordained servants of such a robust and faithful Catholic vision and mission.
DEACON KEITH FOURNIER is the general legal counsel and director of deacon formation for the Catholic Diocese of Tyler, Texas, where he also serves as the dean of Catholic identity at the Bishop Gorman Catholic School.
Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops addresses the protection of human life and engaging in politics in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. Regarding human life from their 1998 statement, “Living the Gospel of Life,” the bishops said:
“‘Abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human life and dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental good and the condition for all others’ (No. 5). Abortion, the deliberate killing of a human being before birth, is never morally acceptable and must always be opposed. Cloning and destruction of human embryos for research or even for potential cures are always wrong. The purposeful taking of human life by assisted suicide and euthanasia is not an act of mercy, but an unjustifiable assault on human life. Genocide, torture, and the direct and intentional targeting of noncombatants in war or terrorist attacks are always wrong.
“Laws that legitimize any of these practices are profoundly unjust and immoral. Our Conference supports laws and policies to protect human life to the maximum degree possible, including constitutional protection for the unborn and legislative efforts to end abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. We also promote a culture of life by supporting laws and programs that encourage childbirth and adoption over abortion and by addressing poverty, providing health care, and offering other assistance to pregnant women, children, and families.” (Nos. 64-65).