VOTF Co-founder: Building a Catholic resistance movement
9 May 2016
John Smeaton, SPUC’s chief executive, and co-founder of Voice of the Family called for a Catholic resistance movement to respond to “the crisis of truth and the crisis of leadership within Catholic Church structures” that seriously threatens the well-being of children and the family. He ended his talk by reading out a letter that he intends to send to Pope Francis, calling on him “to recognise the grave errors in the recently published Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, in particular those sections which will lead to the desecration of the Holy Eucharist and to the harming of our children, and to withdraw the Apostolic Exhortation with immediate effect.”
Building a Catholic resistance movement
Rome Life Forum – 7 May 2016
Why do we need to build a Catholic resistance movement? Let’s begin by putting this proposal into context.
We are arguably experiencing the greatest catastrophe in the recorded history of humanity. At a conservative estimate, since 1966, around 2 billion babies, made in the image and likeness of God, have been killed by abortion worldwide according to leading researchers from both the pro-abortion and pro-life lobbies. Moreover, the number of human embryos destroyed in the past 50 years by abortifacient birth control drugs and devices worldwide is simply incalculable; and in the UK alone, 2 million embryonic babies have been killed as a result of in vitro fertilisation procedures since 1990, according to the British Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority; add to that the scores of other countries where IVF is practised and the number of human beings killed is once again incalculable.
Estimates for the total number killed in wars throughout all of recorded human history range from 150 million to 1 billion. Even if the number were twice that higher figure, the last 50 years has witnessed the killing of more human beings through the “sexual and reproductive health” systems in our so-called civilised countries worldwide than in all the wars in recorded human history. In addition, during the past half century explicit sex education has destroyed the innocence of children, a sex education which provides children and adolescents with access to contraception and abortion. By removing parents as the primary educators of their children in the intimate area of human sexuality, powerful governments and the international birth control lobby funded by those powerful governments with our taxes, are establishing acceptance of contraception and abortion in the darkened hearts and consciences of future generations of adults.
Over the past forty to fifty years in Britain and throughout the world, the pro-life movement has had some important achievements, it has saved many lives and it has protected the welfare of countless mothers and fathers. However, the most notable achievement of the pro-life movement is that we exist. Yes, pro-life organizations have enjoyed successes and saved lives. But, brutally realistically, we’re tiny – compared with the overwhelming reach of the culture of death. Our international pro-life and pro-family movement cannot defeat the culture of death on our own – as the recent experiences of Ireland, Brazil, and so many other countries all too eloquently and tragically testify, as, one after another, they succumb to pressure from the most powerful countries in the world to legalize abortion.
Pro-life organizations, our families and the wider community need urgently to be reinforced by the prophetic and unequivocal voices of Catholic Church officials and bishops throughout the world preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ – for two reasons: because without Christ we cannot do anything; and because the full Gospel message about the truth and meaning of human sexuality and the sanctity of human life, teaching which is also part of the natural law written on all human hearts, is the most important weapon known to man against the culture of death. The intimate connection between the truth and meaning of human sexuality and the sanctity of human life is nowhere more fully spelled out than in Catholic teaching – and all people of good will are capable of understanding that intimate connection. Therefore, the two top strategic objectives of our Catholic Resistance Movement must be, firstly, the proclamation of the natural law on the sanctity of human life and on the truth and meaning of human sexuality and, secondly, to encourage and assist bishops and priests who are prepared to act on their Christ-given mandate to lead mankind in that proclamation.
The reason why bishops are especially needed in the proclamation of this Gospel, is that they, above all, were selected for that role by Christ. As Pope John Paul II put it in Evangelium Vitae, number 82:
“Faced with so many opposing points of view, and a widespread rejection of sound doctrine concerning human life, we can feel that Paul’s entreaty to Timothy is also addressed to us: ‘Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching’ (2 Tim 4:2). This exhortation should resound with special force in the hearts of those members of the Church who directly share, in different ways, in her mission as ‘teacher’ of the truth. May it resound above all for us who are Bishops: we are the first ones called to be untiring preachers of the Gospel of Life. We are also entrusted with the task of ensuring that the doctrine which is once again being set forth in this Encyclical is faithfully handed on in its integrity. We must use appropriate means to defend the faithful from all teaching which is contrary to it.”
To my good pro-life colleagues who argue that we should keep churches and, in particular, the Catholic Church, out of the pro-life battle, I respectfully put the question: “Have you truly understood our problem?”
Firstly, the destruction of human lives experienced during the past half century is completely unprecedented in recorded human history.
Secondly, many of the moral laws by which people have lived throughout virtually the whole of recorded human history are being systematically outlawed by the legislatures of powerful nations and all but imposed on less powerful nations and States worldwide: think of the moral law that parents are the primary educators of their children; or of moral laws governing sexual behaviour; or of the increasingly successful efforts, in relation to the sanctity of human life, to outlaw medical professionals’ conscientious objection to abortion and euthanasia.
Thirdly, those same moral laws are being rejected, 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.
In the midst of this moral wasteland, completely unprecedented in human history, there remain individual families and members of the pro-life and pro-family movements, who are still trying to be faithful. We are scattered. We are often isolated. We are hanging on by our fingernails. We are wounded. We exist. But what do we do we do?
Simply explaining, even with graphic images, the horror of abortion, may certainly change some hearts and mind but will it change the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens and fellow Catholics who accept or who are engaged in the practice of birth control or other such practices such as IVF? Unborn children, our families and the wider community must be protected by the ultimate weapon known to mankind, the natural law, confirmed by Jesus Christ and by the Catholic Church He founded, the law which governs the way we must live in order to fulfil the purpose for which we have been created, and in order to have happiness in this life and, above all, eternal happiness in the next.
Our Catholic resistance movement and our pro-life movement need urgently to study the empirical evidence which shows that one of the greatest catalysts of the culture of death has been the abandonment of the natural law relating to human sexuality and sexual ethics.
In her book,Adam and Eve after the Pill – Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, Mary Eberstadt, research fellow at the Hoover Institution, describes the teaching of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae on the regulation of birth, published on July 25, 1968, as “perhaps the most unfashionable, unwanted, and ubiquitously deplored moral teaching on earth”. She then goes on to show that the teaching of Humanae Vitae is in fact the “most thoroughly vindicated” moral teaching on earth “by the accumulation of secular, empirical, post-revolutionary fact”. In this connection, Mary Eberstadt cites Nobel-Prize winning economist George Akerlof. In a 1996 article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Akerlof explains “why the sexual revolution, contrary to common prediction …[has] led to an increase in illegitimacy and abortion”. Mary Eberstadt in Adam and Eve and the Pill also says: “The years since Humanae Vitae have … vindicated the encyclical’s fear that government would use the new contraceptive technology coercively”.
In Humanae Vitae Pope Paul VI prophesied that coercive birth control by governments would result from couples’ decisions in the privacy of their married lives to separate the procreative and unitive dimensions of the marriage act. When we consider the fulfilment of this papal prophecy, our minds naturally turn to China or to India or to other countries whose cruel policies are well known throughout the world. However, we should also think of our own countries: nations in which our pro-life movement has taken root – in the West, in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Who can seriously doubt the effectiveness of anti-life sex education programmes which seek to eliminate the role of parents as the primary educators and protectors of their children? These programmes are intended to be a form of coercion on our families, funded and backed by our governments, and they are resulting in schoolchildren being given access to contraception and abortion including without the knowledge of their parents. The extent to which, in spite of our best efforts, the pro-life movement has failed to stop the successful promotion of contraception and abortion through these programmes, can be seen in the fact that all too often the Catholic bishops’ conferences in our own countries, including in England and Wales, have a history of co-operating with such programmes. Our failure is also reflected in the fact that even the Pope himself promotes sex education in a sub-section of chapter 7 of his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. He does so without a single reference in that section of the Apostolic Exhortation to parents, albeit parental rights are mentioned earlier in another context. And His Holiness does so without giving clear warning of the contraception and abortion agenda of the sex education progammes which prevail worldwide in our children’s schools, including in our Catholic schools. That’s why we need urgently to build a Catholic resistance movement.
After two billion abortions and rising, the greatest slaughter in recorded human history, it is necessary that our pro-life groups urgently review the extent to which the separation of the procreative and unitive dimensions of the sexual act has been a catalyst for the culture of death which is advancing in every nation on earth:
This separation of the procreative and unitive dimensions of the sexual act is advancing the culture of death through contraceptive drugs and devices which, other than barrier methods, according to the manufacturers, include very early abortion in their modes of action;
This separation of the procreative and unitive dimensions of the sexual act is advancing the culture of death through in-vitro fertilisation, which involves the instrumentalisation of the human embryo and the destruction or loss of up to 23 human embryos for every one baby born alive;
This separation of the procreative and unitive dimensions of the sexual act is advancing the culture of death through same-sex marriage which, amongst many other things, makes it virtually impossible for pro-life movements to oppose in-vitro fertilisation without being seen as the enemy of those with homosexual inclinations who demand the right to a child through IVF procedures; and
This separation of the procreative and unitive dimensions of the sexual act is advancing the culture of death through sex education, so relentlessly promoted by powerful western nations, and by tax-funded non-governmental organisations, and, tragically and increasingly, by the surrender of the leadership of the Catholic Church – a surrender which is so completely devastating for our families.
To sum up my reflections thus far: Unborn children, our families and the wider community must be protected by the ultimate weapon known to mankind, the natural law, confirmed by Jesus Christ and by the Catholic Church He founded, the law which governs the way we must live in order to fulfil the purpose for which we have been created, and in order to have happiness in this life and eternal happiness in the next. And unborn children, our families and the wider community must be, above all, protected through the bold proclamation of the Gospel of Life in its fullness by those first chosen for this task by Christ: Catholic bishops.
The Catholic resistance movement to which I am referring relates to the natural law, a law which ante-dates Catholicism and which is confirmed by Catholic teaching and which binds human beings of all faiths and none.
Our Catholic resistance movement and our pro-life groups need also urgently to review the consequences of the abandonment of the natural law in relation to legislative campaigns and law-making. Indeed, I appeal to my fellow pro-life leaders radically to review strategic approaches to legislative campaigns and law-making. Given the scale of the catastrophe we are experiencing, in terms of the number of lives destroyed the greatest catastrophe in the recorded history of humanity, we urgently do need to consider whether the more or less universal policy pursued by pro-life groups of campaigning for laws which expressly permit the killing of certain unborn children needs to be completely abandoned: for example laws which expressly permit unborn children to be killed in the case of rape, or disability, or before the human heart begins to beat.
In Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II reminded the faithful that a law which permits the killing of certain unborn children is not a law at all. It’s an unjust law which, in the words of St Thomas Aquinas “ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence”. Pope John Paul II, in this connection, cites the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and its 1974 Declaration on Procured Abortion which states : “In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to “take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it”.
My fellow pro-life leaders, the meaning of this statement quoted in Evangelium Vitae, number 73, is 100% clear, and yet pro-life leaders, myself included, have backed legislation which expressly permits abortion in certain circumstances on the basis that such legislation is an improvement on an existing law and will save lives. Our Catholic resistance movement must stop backing unjust laws or “acts of violence” as St Thomas Aquinas calls them. How many more billion babies must be killed before we realise that such strategies don’t work? They send the message to friends and opponents alike that abortion can be the right thing to do. Is it not likely that one of the reasons why the evil of abortion is so overwhelmingly accepted in particular circumstances by our fellow citizens, including our fellow Catholics, is that pro-life groups have almost universally been prepared to accept legalised abortion ourselves in certain circumstances?
Many of us have justified our campaigns in support of unjust laws – or acts of violence as St Thomas Aquinas calls them – by quoting the very next paragraph of Evangelium Vitae, number 73, where Pope John Paul II famously wrote: “A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on … In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.”
For over two decades perhaps the majority of pro-life leaders have interpreted this paragraph as meaning that politicians may vote for, and campaigners may campaign for, laws which expressly permit abortions. But this is contrary to reason. In the paragraph immediately preceding this one, Pope John Paul II wrote: “In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to “take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it”. According to Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, “the principle (or law) of non-contradiction is the firmest.” Aristotle says that “without the principle of non-contradiction we could not know anything that we do know”. On the basis of the principle of non-contradiction, therefore, it’s not possible for this statement to mean both that one can vote for an unjust law and, at the same time, that one cannot vote for an unjust law – on the basis of one’s motives in doing so or for any other reason.
In other words, pro-life leaders and philosophers need to stop tying themselves up in knots trying to work out what Pope John Paul II meant when he wrote about limiting the harm of existing legislation; instead, we should simply recognise and follow the unchanging and unchangeable truth taught by the Catholic Church that an unjust law ceases to be a law at all and becomes instead an act of violence for which it’s never permissible to campaign or to vote.
Imagine it was lawful in your country to kill the children of Catholic parents, or to kill the children of Muslim parents. Imagine a member of your parliament put forward legislation to stop the killing of white Catholic children but which expressly permitted the killing of black Catholic children. It would clearly be wrong to vote for such a law and to campaign for such a law, however many lives, allegedly, such a law would save.
Another fundamental error made by many pro-life leaders is committed by those who argue that it is not abortion to remove deliberately a ‘pre-viable’ baby from his or her mother, such as by inducing labour pre-viability. Now, what is intended here definitely constitutes an assault on the baby: an assault which kills that child. The assault is intended, even if death as such is not. This is not an operation targeted just on the mother – it is very deliberately targeted on the baby and the baby’s own tissues. It is not like an ectopic pregnancy operation where the operation is (or should be) targeted on the damaged tube of the mother which is removed, affecting the baby as a side-effect.
Now, that is not just my opinion. It is the opinion of the Catholic Church – and a truth of the natural moral law binding on all.
In 1988, the Pontifical Council for the Intepretation of Legislative Texts was asked the following question:
“Whether abortion, as per canon 1398, is to be understood only with reference to the expulsion of an immature fetus, or also with reference to the killing of the said fetus, by whatever means it may be accomplished, and at whatever time, from the moment of conception.”
And the Pontifical Council’s reply, officially approved by Pope John Paul II, made clear in 1988 that a person is equally guilty of the crime of abortion if they either remove an unborn child from his or her mother before viability or kill an unborn child by other means. Deliberate removal of babies before they can survive outside the womb is morally wrong. That is the teaching of the Catholic Church and has been stated explicitly for well over a hundred years. This is tied to the teaching of the Church on the preservation of the life of a dying person by natural means. Such means cannot be removed.
Our Catholic resistance movement must be opposed to all abortions – never ever, as I have said, promoting or condoning any form of abortion, even if we think it may save a mother’s life. As soon as we concede the principle that we must never carry out abortions, whatever the circumstances, we are lost spiritually, morally and politically. We wouldn’t kill a mother to save her baby. We wouldn’t lethally assault a mother to save her baby. Nor should we assault a baby to save the mother.
Fellow pro-life leaders, these recommendations of mine for our Catholic resistance movement are not a counsel of despair as far as pro-life law-making is concerned. There are many ways of seeking to limit the harm of existing legislation which does not involve voting for an “act of violence” as St Thomas Aquinas puts it. I recommend Dr Colin Harte’s book Changing Unjust Laws Justly for further reflections in this fundamentally important area.
Above all, we must remember that our Parliaments, our Legislative Assemblies, our Houses of Congresses will not change laws which permit the destruction of unborn children until the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens have been changed – and only an unequivocal witness to the sanctity of innocent human life can succeed in convincing our fellow citizens of the inherent evil of abortion. If, instead, our witness to the world is that direct abortion can be justified in certain circumstances, we are spreading the message that it is no longer an inherent evil and we will convince no-one, least of all legislators, to stop the killing.
I said towards the start of my talk that “Pro-life organizations and the wider community urgently need to be fortified by the prophetic and unequivocal voices of Catholic Church officials and bishops throughout the world …” Catholic church leaders and the pro-life/pro-family movement can and should be working together to give witness to Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life and on the truth and meaning of human sexuality. Instead all too often church leaders appear to be working with the opponents of our families and the enemies of the culture of life. That’s one of the major reasons why Catholics in the pro-life movement, Catholics everywhere – and everyone who has an interest in the common good, Catholics and non-Catholics alike – must study what’s happening at the highest levels in the Catholic Church and take action. We must have the maturity to speak out when things are badly wrong at the highest levels of the Church and offer our own perspective in all humility to those in positions of authority.
In fact, as lay Catholics and, for those of us who are parents, as mothers and fathers, we have both the authority and the obligation to speak out on serious matters in defence of the common good. When we do so, we always seek to raise our concerns with the greatest reverence for the episcopal and for the papal office and solely out of a sincere desire to assist the hierarchy in its proclamation of Catholic teaching on life, marriage and the family and to further the authentic good of the family and its most vulnerable members.
In raising our concerns, of necessity sometimes publicly, we are fulfilling our duty as clearly laid out in the Code of Canon Law, which states:
“According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they [the Christian faithful] have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.” (Canon 212 §3)
For my own part, with this section of the Canon Law in mind, I have decided to write to His Holiness, Pope Francis, the following letter:
With reverence and with attention to common advantage and the dignity of persons, and as a husband and father, I consider that the section of Amoris Laetitia entitled “The Need for Sex Education” seriously fails parents at a time when parental rights regarding sex education are under serious and sustained attack in many nations of the world, and at the international institutions. This section spans more than five pages without making even one reference to parents, albeit parental rights are mentioned earlier in another context. On the other hand there is reference to “educational institutions”. Yet sex education is “a basic right and duty of parents” which “must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centres chosen and controlled by them” as your predecessor, Pope John Paul II, taught the faithful in Familiaris Consortio, Number, 37.
Your Holiness, Catholic Bishops’ Conferences around the world, including in Britain, are collaborating with our anti-life opponents in the birth control and sex education lobbies, in helping to impose corrupting sex education programmes on primary and secondary schoolchildren. Such programmes, including in Catholic schools, involve providing our children with access to abortion and contraception. Thus, Holy Father, the Bishops’ Christ-given authority, which we the faithful hold in such reverence, is being instrumentalised to scandalise and cause terrible harm to our children .Amoris Laetitia will serve to make this terrible situation even worse.
Holy Father, I believe, as all Catholics believe, that the Pope is Peter, the rock Christ chose on which to build His Church. The Pope serves the unchangeable truth of Christ’s teaching. However, Your Holiness, the Pope is not the master but the servant of the truth.
Your Holiness, once again with reverence and with attention to common advantage and the dignity of persons, as well as with my authority as a husband and father, I note that there are references to public adultery in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia which fail to point out the intrinsic evil of adultery. I consider that such references will result in scandalising little ones in the way contained in Jesus Christ’s warning in verse 92, chapter 9, of the Gospel of St Mark.
Even worse, Holy Father, Amoris Laetitia, the Apostolic Exhortation, at the very least, raises the possibility that adulterous sexual acts may be justifiable. This shows a lack of mercy because it denies Catholics the truth about right and wrong. It denies Catholics the knowledge they need to exercise true freedom, freedom from sin. It also shows a lack of mercy because it sends children the false message that marriage is not indissoluble. Arguably, Your Holiness, the most effective way of destroying children is to destroy marriage as an indissoluble lifetime union of a man and a woman.
Holy Father, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that certain actions are “intrinsically evil” such things as adultery.
I believe, Your Holiness, as all Catholics believe, because Jesus Christ Himself taught, that marriage is indissoluble and, Jesus taught, if someone divorces or puts away their spouse and marries another, he or she commits adultery – which is considered a mortal sin, the kind of serious sin by which one cuts oneself off from God’s love. (Matthew, 19)
I believe, as all Catholics believe, because Jesus Christ Himself taught, that in going to Holy Communion we receive the body of Jesus Christ, God Himself: we receive life and the promise of eternal life. (John, 6:54)
Finally, Holy Father, I believe, as all Catholics believe the teaching of St Paul that if a person eats and drinks the body and blood of Jesus Christ unworthily, we don’t receive life or grace, we eat and drink judgement to ourselves “not discerning the body of the Lord”. (Corinthians: 1,11.29)
Holy Father, I know lots of ordinary Catholics both in my family life and through my work. I know women and men who’ve been deserted by their spouse for another person and either left alone with children or left alone without their children. If that deserted spouse were then to see their wife or husband with a new partner, receiving the Body of Christ in Communion, that sends the message to everyone, including the children, that marriage is not indissoluble after all. This is destructive of the truth about marriage. It’s also damaging psychologically and spiritually, not least for the children.
Holy Father, with reverence and with attention to common advantage and the dignity of persons, I appeal to you to recognise the grave errors in the recently published Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, in particular those sections which will lead to the desecration of the Holy Eucharist and to the harming of our children, and to withdraw the Apostolic Exhortation with immediate effect.
Yours sincerely in Christ.
My dear friends, we must call for the immediate withdrawal of Amoris Laetitia. The grievous errors in Amoris Laetitia, which threaten the souls of our children, have brought the crisis of truth and the crisis of leadership within Catholic Church structures to a dramatic climax. I have been told by a number of good bishops that God is calling on lay Catholics to tell the truth to our episcopal and parish pastors and to carry out our duties under Canon 212. We must launch and lead a worldwide prayer campaign involving bishops, priests, religious orders, seminarians, families and pro-family and pro-life groups worldwide, begging God that Amoris Laetitia be repudiated either by Pope Francis or by one of his successors. We must be prepared to spread the truth, with prudence and charity, through seminars, publications, and conferences for both clergy and laity. We must identify good bishops with whom we can collaborate closely, bishops who are prepared to suffer in upholding Christ’s teaching and to pass it on to our children, as we are suffering in upholding Christ’s teaching and passing it on to our children. We must be prepared to live ourselves in accordance with Catholic teaching and the natural law. We must reform our campaigning and educational strategies so that instead of serving short-term political goals which deny the truth about God in Whom we live and move and have our being, they reflect the full truth about God and about Man, His creation, Whom He loved so much He sent His son to redeem us.
My dear pro-life friends. It’s time for lay Catholics to step forward and to build a Catholic Resistance Movement.
Summa Theologica I-II, q. 93, a. 3, ad. 2.
 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion (18 November 1974), No. 22: AAS 66 (1974), 744.
 Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, Aristotle on Non-Contradiction: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-noncontradiction/