On the Sunday before Election Day, a relatively small group of demonstrators gathered outside my church in Moorestown,New Jersey. They were demonstrating against abortion, and to this end, they had assembled a number of ghastly photographs of this practice’s principal victims: the aborted.
Given that the Roman Catholic Church opposes abortion in every instance, one wouldn’t think that the demonstrators—Christians all of them—would have been met with the anger that some of the parishioners, as well as my pastor, visited upon them.
One mass attendee screamed at them, another informed them that she was “pro-choice,” and, at the following Sunday Mass, my pastor—a good and godly man and an exceptional priest—disavowed the pro-life demonstrators from the pulpit: “The ends,” my pastor declared, “do not justify the means.”
As a general principle, this last is sound enough. But, I continue to wonder, to what exactly does my pastor object so fiercely?
Presumably, the means in this case are the horrific images of aborted babies that the protesters exhibited. Assuming that I am correct, does my pastor have a problem with the fact that these demonstrators flashed these images in between Masses? In other words, is it that he thinks that this was neither the place nor the time for them?
Perhaps he objects to the fact that the demonstrators exposed the children in attendance at church to these hideous photos while engendering discomfort in their parents. But the latter, being Christians, know and hate evil as much as anyone. And inasmuch as they are self-avowedly “pro-life,” they regard abortion as a particularly detestable evil.
Furthermore, more so than at any other time, it is while in church that Christians should call to mind their divine vocation to, as their baptismal vow goes, renounce Satan and his works. In fact, each and every week in my church the congregation prays for “social” or “economic justice,” and it is regularly admonished to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, tend to the sick, etc.
And, yes, we are continually told to pray for the unborn.
Jesus said that it is those who are sick, not those who are healthy, who are in need of a physician. The church is not like a health spa or Disney World. It is and should be about as pleasant as a hospital: a place racked with pain, its patients nevertheless take comfort in knowing that their condition is not terminable.
As for unsuspecting children, it makes sense that parents should want to shield them from pictures of the sort on display at this anti-abortion demonstration. Still, I have questions.
Elementary school textbooks include pictures of blacks from the antebellum and Jim Crow eras who have been beaten and lynched. These same textbooks also include photographs of both those emaciated Jews who scarcely survived Hitler’s concentration camps as well as the corpses of those who didn’t. The ostensible objective of such images is to supply children with historical instruction.
Do the ends justify the means in this case?
School children from a very early age are taught about the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., John and Robert Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, etc. When taught about the civil rights era, they are also treated to pictures of black protesters who were at the mercy of police officers armed with fire hoses and German Shepherds.
Is all of this unacceptable?
Suppose it wasn’t pictures of unborn “fetuses” that the demonstrators flashed out in front of my church but pictures of three year-olds who were being routinely slaughtered on the very next block (or in the very next town, or state, etc.). Or suppose it was pictures of Jews or blacks or Hispanic immigrants who, as a matter of policy, were suffering violent deaths at the current abortion rate that the demonstrators came to display.
Would my pastor and fellow parishioners raise the same objections then as they now do when the pictures are of the unborn?
If not, why not? The Church holds that abortion is immoral precisely because it consists in the deliberate destruction of an innocent human being, a human life with the same moral standing as that of any other. Thus, its reaction to the killing of an unborn human being should be no different than its response to the killing of any other innocent human life.
But this doesn’t seem to be the case.
For the sake of the Church’s identity and that of the pro-life movement, it is imperative that questions of the forgoing type be addressed.