Local Ordinary gives pro-life talk at Saint Mary’s College

Addressing the divides within both the Church and the nation, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades recently visited Saint Mary’s College to offer pastoral guidance and encouragement in an address entitled “To be Authentically Catholic is to be Pro-Life.”

The lecture was hosted by the Belles for Life, a Saint Mary’s student organization which strives “to protect life from conception to natural death” and “promote human dignity as an essential component to our social responsibility.” Senior Bonita Murphy, current Belles for Life Treasurer, invited Rhoades as part of their 2019 speaker series. In addition to serving as the Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Rhoades is also the Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine and, among other leadership roles, a member of the Board of Directors for Catholic Relief Services.

Bishop Rhoades began by acknowledging a supposed split in the Church, often along political lines, between “so-called ‘pro-life’ and ‘social justice’ Catholics.” He emphasized:

“This is a false dichotomy, not authentic Catholicism. It is a very regrettable phenomenon that some Catholics have bought into a segregated view which distorts the Church’s defense of human life and dignity.  The saints never did this. I can’t think of a saint of the Church who was not passionately committed to the love of the poor and needy and also to the love and protection of the unborn. We can’t be “either-or” Catholics.  One of the great strengths of Catholicism is that we are ‘both-and.’”  

Quoting Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, he reminded the audience:

“Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, willful self-destruction, mutilation, subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, as well as disgraceful working conditions… all these things and others like them are infamies indeed.  They poison human society, moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator.” 

Anticipating rebuttals from both sides, he recognized:

“There are some on the left who would object because they simply dissent from Church teaching about the right to life of the unborn.  They do not accept the infallible teaching of the Church that the direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong, is intrinsically evil. This is unacceptable for a Catholic because it is heresy.” 

“There are also those on the left who say they accept the Church’s teaching on abortion and euthanasia on a personal level, but they identify as pro-choice because they do not believe we should impose our beliefs on others. This is the position articulated by then-governor Mario Cuomo in his famous speech at Notre Dame in 1984. Such a position has been rejected by the Bishops of the United States and by each of our Popes. We can admire Catholic public officials who work tirelessly for universal health care, the rights of migrants and refugees, and other works on behalf of social justice, but actions on behalf of human rights lack something fundamental when the most basic right and the condition for all other human rights, namely, the right to life, is not defended.”

Regarding objections from those on the right, he stated:

“Problems arise when some reject, minimize, or ignore church teaching on other human rights and on justice. The Church’s teachings on war and peace, racism, immigration, health care, poverty, the death penalty, and the environment are actually also issues about human life and dignity.  Some of these issues admit of different types of solutions and courses of action that allow for some freedom of debate and prudential judgment. However, they are not optional concerns. We revere the life of the children in the womb and the life of children suffering starvation just as we revere the lives of the over 70 million displaced persons in the world today, refugees seeking a home and other necessities of life. And we promote the rights required for human decency: food and shelter, education and employment, health care and housing, freedom of religion and family life.”

Similarly, he continued: 

“Those on the far right who criticize the Church for its social justice teachings or ignore our responsibility to address these issues of human dignity within the framework of the principles of Catholic social doctrine are not really serving the Gospel of Life. In fact, they can hurt the pro-life cause and mission. Some are more loyal to Donald Trump than to the Church, like pro-choice Catholics who are more loyal to the Democratic party than to the Church.” 

Pointing to Dorothy Day as “an enigma to those on the right and on the left,” for both her anti-war stance and her condemnation of abortion and contraception, Rhoades indicated she is “a saint for our time who exemplifies what’s best in Catholic life, that ability we have to be ‘both-and’ and not ‘either or.’”

The bishop concluded his remarks by granting that there are numerous faithful Catholics who don’t fit into either political party model or their respective platforms today, which is why so many struggle to determine for whom to vote. Recalling Christ’s prayer for unity at the Last Supper, he reminded that as His followers, we “do not belong to the world, but are sent into the world to be authentic witnesses of truth and defenders of all God’s children.”

Following the presentation, Bishop Rhoades responded to questions about abortion, contraception, pornography, and supporting Catholic culture on college campuses. He emphasized the importance of dialogue, support, personal accompaniment, and prayer for those who advocate or take part in abortions. He also reiterated the danger in academic settings that promotes “an exultation of freedom separated from moral truth – a ‘freedom’ that is warped, un-Christian, and ultimately leads to slavery.” He further encouraged cultivating healthy, holy friendships that provide accountability and promote virtue. 

Senior Rachel Thomas, who manages the Belles for Life social media, expressed appreciation for Bishop Rhoades’s speech and indicated her desire to facilitate dialogue with fellow students who are unaware of the realities of abortion and have not yet encountered the inclusiveness of the pro-life movement.

In addition to their yearly speaker series, Belles for Life provides pregnancy counseling referrals and peer outreach, as well as baby showers and babysitting services for Saint Mary’s students. In recent years, in coordination with Notre Dame Right to Life, they have also brought several hundred young women to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. 

Chris Lushis is a 2010 graduate and a postulant with the Congregation of Holy Cross. He can be reached at clushis@nd.edu