The authority of Christ’s teaching and the pro-life fight

by John Smeaton

The following talk was given at Voice of the Family’s conference “Health of the sick and salvation of souls – Church and society in this dark hour of history”, held in Rome on 23 October 2021.

This month, Pope Francis launched a worldwide consultation, listening, the Vatican says, “to all of the baptized” on the theme of synodality. According to the National Catholic Reporter, the entire 2021-23 process “will focus on the theme of synodality, the kind of ‘walking together’ that Francis has characterized as a central theme for how the Catholic Church should move forward in the third millennium”.

Describing the local diocesan consultations, the National Catholic Reporter refers to “parish listening sessions, online surveys, zoom meetings and other avenues to get feedback from laity”; and it quotes St Joseph Sr Katie Eiffe, the director of synodal planning for the Diocese of Syracuse, New York, as saying “This is Francis’ dream for the church, this church that engages the entire people of God, that is a listening church and a learning church. It’s a wonderful image of church”.

The theological questions raised by the Pope’s dream are not my subject albeit they are, I am sure, of supreme importance. My subject relates to the relevance of this synod at a time when more human beings are being murdered than at any other time in history. Indeed more human beings have been killed by abortion in the past thirty years, around two billion, than the estimated total number of everyone killed in all of the wars in recorded human history.

Pope John Paul II said of abortion “that we are dealing with murder” and of euthanasia, the Pope said “depending on the circumstances, this practice involves the malice proper to suicide or murder”[1] and that “suicide is always as morally objectionable as murder”.[2]

Worldwide, each year, approximately one baby is aborted for every three babies who are born alive.[3] Supposing there were laws in place worldwide which allowed the authorities to kill people of colour. And supposing, as result, one in four people of colour were lawfully killed by the authorities each year. And supposing, for the sake of argument the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of the UK, and the overwhelming majority of political leaders fully supported such laws; would it be appropriate, in those circumstances, for the Catholic Church to be launching a two-year worldwide consultation of the faithful on “walking together” for a synodal church? 

In part two of the official synod handbook it reads: “We are signs of a Church that listens and journeys: By listening, the Church follows the example of God himself, who listens to the cry of his people”.

The first reported occasion of God listening to the cry of his people was, according to the Book of Genesis, after Cain killed his brother Abel. “What hast thou done?” God said to Cain: “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to me from the earth.”[4]

In our present age, for the first time in history, there is a worldwide programme of state-sanctioned murder in virtually every country of the world – targeting in particular vulnerable groups in the population – through abortion, through IVF procedures, and through euthanasia.

We are in the midst of the worst, most murderous tyranny in world history, firmly in place in virtually every country in the world. Today is not the time for God’s people to appeal for greater synodality in the Church. Now is the time for the baptized to appeal to their sacred pastors to hear the cries of around 2 billion children killed over the past fifty years with the approval of national legislatures and political leaders worldwide. With reverence, we must appeal to our sacred pastors to hear the cries of the innocent by, for example, refusing permission to blatantly pro-abortion politicians and those openly living in mortal sin to receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion in breach of God’s laws – just as I am sure politicians who favoured the killing of people of colour would be rightly refused permission to receive Holy Communion.  

We are living in a world in which both the physical and spiritual welfare of souls is under attack through the systematic violations of the 4th, 5th, 6th and 9th commandments. Such violations are being advanced by secular authorities through, for the first time in history, a worldwide programme of organized corruption of children through relationships and sex education which includes showing children pornographic images, promoting the LGBT ideological agenda, giving children access to contraception and abortion and other so-called “services”, and the suppression of the rights of parents as the primary educators of their children.

The Church’s mission has always included concern for both the physical and spiritual welfare of souls in imitation of God the Father, who, Our Lord tells us, does not allow a single sparrow to fall to the ground without Him.[5] Our Lord reminds us not to fear and says: “Better are you than many sparrows”.[6]

However, in our present age, tragically, and probably overwhelmingly, lack of formation of the laity in church teaching on the part of Catholic pastors, with notable wonderful exceptions thank God, is having disastrous consequences for the welfare of souls both inside and outside the church. It is resulting, for example, in the concept of “intrinsic evil” not being understood by the people of God– neither by Catholics who habitually flout the moral laws of the Church nor by Catholics who are intent on adhering to the Church’s teaching. The former will make a false distinction between opposing abortion personally as a Catholic and publicly supporting its legalisation on spurious grounds. The latter is unable to distinguish human acts which can never be supported or justified, and human acts which, on the basis of personal prudential judgments, might lawfully benefit from the evil acts of others – such as in the case of abortion-tainted vaccines for Covid-19 or medications which are abortion-tainted.

Three weeks ago, on 5th October, the London Times reported that Pope Francis and leaders representing the world’s foremost religions met at the Vatican and signed a statement addressed to politicians from around the world who will be attending the Cop26 climate conference in Scotland highlighting the “grave threat” of climate change. 

No experienced Vatican observer, I am sure, and certainly no experienced anti-abortion campaigner was expecting such a powerful awareness-building ecclesiastical gesture in the run-up to the San Marino abortion referendum last month in which over 77% [77.28%] of the voters said Yes to abortion up to birth – in a country in which 97% of the population profess the Catholic faith. And yet abortion is “an unspeakable crime”[7] which, according to the late Cardinal Caffara speaking at a Voice of the Family conference in Rome in 2017, the year of his death, is “the uttermost negation of the truth of man …”

80 years ago, the Church had a bishop whose courage in opposing the threat of a terrifying new world order posed by Nazi Germany needs to be emulated by church leaders today. 

Cardinal von Galen won the approval of the world with his denunciations of the euthanasia programme in Nazi Germany like the sermon he preached as a bishop in St Lambert’s Church on 3rd August 1941 in which he said:

“Woe to humanity, woe to our German people, if the holy commandment of God, ‘Thou shalt not kill’, which the Lord gave on Sinai amid thunder and lightning, which God the Creator wrote into the conscience of man from the beginning, is not only broken, but if this breach is tolerated and taken up as a regular practice without punishment.”

In his book “The Lion of Munster”[8], Daniel Utrecht of the Toronto Oratory writes: 

“Not only was his sermon secretly copied and spread throughout Germany and to soldiers on the front, the courage of Bishop Clemens August von Galen, of which the people of his diocese were well aware, soon became known throughout the country and, indeed throughout the world. Eventually, the sermons came into the hands of the British, who printed them in leaflets in the tens of thousands and dropped them from airplanes all over Germany and read them in radio broadcasts transmitted to Germany. When the Americans came into the war, they too looked on von Galen as a hero …”

A different kind of supreme courage is needed by bishops today in upholding the 5th commandment. They are not likely to be treated as heroes for doing so. They are more likely to be denounced by the British and American authorities and mass media as the enemy of so-called fundamental rights and human freedom by speaking out against abortion and euthanasia killings and the suppression of the rights of parents as the primary educators of their children in the matter of sex education. This is a different kind of tyranny from the Nazi and Communist tyrannies which aroused such fear and loathing throughout the world. This is a world order of which the State has conferred the mastery to ordinary citizens so that it’s fragmented and diffused around the world – firstly with the contraceptive pill and now with the abortion pill; and last month in an abortion referendum in San Marino. 

The scale of the attack on human life and on the moral codes by which people have lived since the dawn of Christianity make this a war on humanity of apocalyptic proportions, which cannot be won without the Church, and, in particular, without Catholic bishops using their God-given authority to teach and to lead souls, to honour God’s commandments on the massive range of bioethical and ethical issues which threaten the physical and eternal spiritual welfare of every human being alive today.

Pro-life groups have done, one might say, a heroic job for more than half a century, saving lives through our witness, through from time to time our successes in courts and in state legislatures, by our loving care for mothers-to-be, and by our steadfast perseverance in the face of constant setbacks and the rising toll of killings. However, relatively speaking, pro-life groups are tiny compared to the wealth and political strength of the culture of death which is supported by virtually every government on earth which, in their turn, have lavished billions of dollars on supporting intergovernmental bodies and NGOs which, in particular, promote abortion and corrupting relationships and sex education. 

To my good fellow Catholics and pro-life colleagues who argue that it’s better that we keep the Church out of the pro-life battle, I respectfully put a variation of St Peter’s question to Our Blessed Lord: To whom shall we go? The Church has the words of eternal life. Bishops have a unique apostolic moral power, to preach the Gospel of Life. According to St Matthew, Christ’s last words to the apostles on earth before ascending into heaven were: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations … Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”[9] These words were addressed to the apostles and they are meant, above all, for the successors of the apostles. Bishops have a charism bestowed on them by Jesus Christ just before His Ascension. That’s why Pope John Paul II emphasised in Evangelium Vitae: “Bishops … are the first ones called to be untiring preachers of the Gospel of life”[10]– because when they speak the Gospel truth in love, their words reverberate with authority, both in the hearts of the faithful and in the hearts of people who do not know Christ – just as Christ’s words did. As St Mark says of the Jews in Capharnaum: “And they were astonished at his doctrine. For he was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes”.[11]

Catholic bishops, therefore, must use that God-given power which they received as successors of the apostles to explain to souls in their charge the infallible teaching of the church on the sanctity of human life and how that teaching finds overwhelming support in medico-scientific and other academic research.

Such episcopal teaching must cover, for example, the scientific evidence that human life begins at conception; the false arguments employed by many scientists and politicians to justify destructive research on human embryos; why in vitro fertilisation (IVF) is never ethically justified and the injustice each year to, perhaps, 5 million human embryos created who are frozen, discarded, or used in destructive human embryonic research in order to enable half a million children conceived to be born alive,[12] and the moral obligations incapable of fulfilment to the born-alive survivors of IVF procedures. Catholic bishops must call on health professionals to oppose abortion, euthanasia and other such evils by conscientious objection in accordance with Catholic teaching.[13] The bishops must show Christ’s love by warning families about the pressures brought to bear by national health services around the world through ante-natal screening programmes which seek to detect and destroy unborn children with a disability.

Bishops must lead the faithful in explaining to them their obligation, with suggestions as to how to fulfil this obligation, of expressing opposition to the use of aborted babies in the creation of vaccines, medications and other products albeit it is entirely licit for the faithful to use such products which they played no part in creating on the basis of the moral teaching of St Thomas Aquinas, St Alphonsus Liguori and others as Cardinal Eijk explained to us in his talk at this conference earlier this morning..

Bishops must explain the prophetic truth of Catholic teaching on the inseparability of the procreative and unitive ends of marriage;[14] they must draw on the empirical evidence which shows that one of the greatest catalysts of the spread of abortion has been the abandonment of the natural law relating to human sexuality and sexual ethics. The bishops could draw, for example, from the work of Mary Eberstadt, research fellow at the Hoover Institution. In her book, Adam and Eve after the Pill – Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution,[15] she describes the central teaching of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (25 July 1968) on the regulation of birth, as “perhaps the most unfashionable, unwanted, and ubiquitously deplored moral teaching on earth”. She then goes on to show that the teaching enshrined in Humanae Vitae is in fact the “most thoroughly vindicated” moral teaching on earth “by the accumulation of secular, empirical, post-revolutionary fact”.

I appeal to my colleagues, pro-life leaders and lay pro-life and pro-family Catholic leaders throughout the world whose prudential judgement leads them to have serious concerns about certain political reactions to Covid-19 regarding lockdown measures and/or mandatory vaccination programmes including for children especially those which seek to suppress parental consent. I appeal to you, in this time of unprecedented moral darkness, we who have fought for decades to defend the innocent have a special responsibility to maintain a correct ethical vision, a sense of proportion and well-ordered priorities. 

The pro-life movement must not lose its focus in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic on the persecution of millions of children physically or spiritually destroyed every month, a persecution which is affecting every family on earth. 

Abortion and school-based relationships and sex education are the greatest crimes, the greatest persecutions, in human history: in terms of the number of human beings killed, abortion is the greatest crime; on the other hand, in terms of the gravity of the evil done, relationships and sex education is the greatest crime, since it destroys the innocence of children – it grooms children to be further targeted and exploited by the reproductive health industry and it sows the seeds of the culture death in the next generation. After all, Our Blessed Lord said: “And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell”.[16] There is no other crime against humanity which so justly earns these words of Our Blessed Lord: “But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea”.[17]

Furthermore, the secular authorities in different parts of the world appear to be exploiting the world’s preoccupation with the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences to rush through extreme abortion legislation[18] and to advance their perverted gender ideology.[19]

We in the pro-life movement must keep focused on our mission and we must show humility. We cannot win the pro-life battle on our own.  Many of the moral principles by which people have lived throughout virtually the whole of human history are being systematically outlawed by the legislatures of powerful nations and unjust laws are being all but imposed on less powerful nations and States worldwide: What’s more those same moral laws are being rejected in ordinary families worldwide, and the code of morality by which the overwhelming majority of people have lived throughout the history of Christendom is being transformed, including within our own Catholic communities and families, especially on matters relating to the sanctity of human life and sexual ethics. Think, for example, of the widespread acceptance amongst our Catholic families of cohabitation, of the acceptance or refusal to criticise homosexual relationships, of the acceptance of birth control including abortifacient birth control, of the acceptance of legalised abortion in certain circumstances, of the acceptance of explicit sex education in schools, and of in vitro fertilisation and euthanasia. Pro-life organisations and the wider community must be fortified by unequivocal, unyielding voices of Catholic Church officials and bishops throughout the world. 

And like Cardinal von Galen, today’s bishops have the duty, albeit in very different circumstances to that courageous bishop, to have the supreme courage necessary to speak out against worldwide systematic killings, human suffering and the corruption of morals which immeasurably exceed, in terms of the number of people affected, the killings, human suffering and moral corruption of Nazi Germany. This world order is truly universal and affects, in one way or another, every person alive today. May the words of Cardinal von Galen, on the occasion of his return to Munster after being created a cardinal in Rome, ring in the ears of the Church of today!

“The dear God placed me in a position in which I had a duty to call black ‘black’ and white ‘white’, as it says in the rite of consecrating a bishop. He gave me a position that made me the leader and responsible guide of hundreds and thousands, who, like me, found it hard, who suffered it only with virtue and with the greatest pain, when God’s truth and justice, the value of the human being and the rights of the human being, were set aside, rejected, and thrown on the ground … I knew that many suffered more, much more than I personally had to suffer, from the attacks on truth and justice that we experienced. They could not speak. They could only suffer. It may be that in God’s sight, in which suffering has more value than actions and words; it may be that despite their suffering, even many of those who are standing here have truly merited much more in the holy eyes of God, because they have suffered more than I have. But it was my right and my duty to speak, and I spoke for you …”[20]

I conclude: this is not the time for a synod devoted to listening to the cries of the children of God for greater synodality in the Church. Instead, it’s a time for Church leaders to call on God’s people to emulate the example of the Hebrew midwives. In the book of Exodus we read:

“And the king of Egypt spoke to the midwives of the Hebrews: of whom one was called Sephora, the other Phua, Commanding them: When you shall do the office of midwives to the Hebrew women, and the time of delivery is come: if it be a man child, kill it: if a woman, keep it alive. But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded, but saved the men children.” (Ex. 1:15-17)

In this, the most murderous age the world has ever experienced, the pro-life movement must not be distracted by their distress concerning Covid-19 and its far-reaching consequences.  Instead they must cry out for Catholic pastors to teach the faithful and all men and women of good will, like the Hebrew midwives, to fear God and to resist, with the courage of martyrs, the bodily and spiritual destruction of the innocent taking place in virtually every country on earth. These are the greatest social and moral evils of our day and, in terms of numbers and moral gravity, the greatest social and moral evils in the history of the world.

[1] Evangelium Vitae, 65

[2] Evangelium Vitae, 66

[3] https://www.theworldcounts.com/populations/world/births

[4] Genesis 4:9-10. 

[5] Mt., 10:30

[6] Mt. 10:31

[7] Evangelium Vitae, 58

[8] Published by Tan books, 3rd November 2016, ISBN 1618907646

[9] Mt. 28:20

[10] Evangelium Vitae, 82

[11] Mark 1:22

[12] In 2018, half a million babies were reported to be born annually as a result of IVF and ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) procedures. The number of eggs retrieved to maximise live birthrate is around 15 of which around 11 are successfully fertilised. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180703084127.htmhttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21558332/;https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/faq-intracytoplasmic-sperm-injection;

[13] Evangelium Vitae, 73

[14] Humanae Vitae, 12

[15] Mary Eberstadt, Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, (Ignatius Press, 2012).

[16] Mt. 10:28

[17] Mt. 18:6

[18] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/temporary-approval-of-home-use-for-both-stages-of-early-medical-abortion–2;https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/healthy-living/sexual-health/considering-abortion

[19] https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/new-zealand-moves-closer-passing-self-identification-law-2021-08-11/ ; https://www.gov.scot/publications/gender-recognition-reform-scotland-bill-analysis-responses-public-consultation-exercise/

[20] The Lion of Munster, see footnote 8