Lex Cordis Caritas
The Law of the Heart is Love
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
A priest on pilgrimage in the Holy Land described how he watched two shepherds talking together while their sheep milled around them in the valley beneath him. The sound of their voices carried up to him on the hillside. After a while, the shepherds parted and went off in opposite directions, all the while keeping up a “kind of conversation” with the sheep. To the priest’s astonishment, the sheep separated from one another and sorted themselves out into two flocks, each one going after its own shepherd. It was a perfect illustration, the priest said, of sheep recognizing the voice of their shepherd and following him. We can only marvel at the instinct by which the sheep recognized the voice of their own shepherd and did not follow the other one. We see the same instinct at work among penguins, who in a crowd of thousands manage to find their own offspring.
In the Gospel of Saint John, Jesus observes that “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27). He is making a claim that we can verify. Every human being, young and old, good and bad, has a conscience. Conscience is, as St John Henry Newman taught, “the voice of God.” For Newman, conscience is a proof of God’s existence. “Every human being has a certain commanding dictate,” he said, “an authoritative voice, bidding him do certain things and avoid others.” If we want to know whether we should do a certain thing we only have to ask ourselves and our conscience will give us the answer. Often enough our conscience prods us before we ask it, warning us not to go down this way or that. More positively, it will lead us where we should go.
Furthermore, what our conscience tells us is confirmed in scripture. The scriptures are the revealed word of God. “The word of the Lord,” the reader proclaims at the end of each reading. There can never be a conflict between what God tells us in our conscience and what God tells us in the scriptures. It is the same voice speaking in two different ways.
But there is what we might call a “false conscience” or an “erroneous conscience,” persuading us that our conscience is nonsense; that the scriptures are untrue; that our faith is unfounded; that we can do whatever we feel like doing. A man once told a priest that he thought God was telling him to leave his wife and marry another woman who was a more devout Catholic. The priest reminded him of the Sixth Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.” What the man thought God was telling him could not have been from God, but was only his own fantasizing.
In this regard, as the national debate rages across our country in light of the malicious leak of the draft of a Supreme Court decision that will apparently overturn the disastrous 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, abortion activists and pro-abortion politicians are trying to convince themselves that abortion is not wrong. For example, President Biden recently contradicted Catholic teaching by asserting that no “mainstream” religion claims to know when human life begins. He stated, “Roe says what all basic mainstream religions have historically concluded, that the existence of a human life and being is a question. Is it at the moment of conception? Is it six months? Is it six weeks? Is it quickening, like Aquinas argued?”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has made similar arguments, claiming that, “over the centuries, the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition” [of when human life begins], arguing that St. Augustine said that ensoulment does not occur until 46 days after conception. Biden and Pelosi fail to mention, however, that both St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine were opposed to abortion.
Reacting to the news that Roe v. Wade may be overturned, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin issued a statement referring to abortion as “a critical constitutional right” and calling for legislation to “enshrine into law” the right to choose to have an abortion. While Biden, Pelosi, and Durbin are Democrats, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both Republicans, have introduced their own bill seeking to codify current abortion protections into federal law.
These pro-abortion politicians, all of whom are baptized Catholics, but who do not speak authoritatively for the Church, are deluding themselves and their consciences, since the Catholic Church has always condemned abortion as gravely sinful since the earliest times of Christianity. They are listening to the wrong voices. A well-formed conscience, on the other hand, recognizes that human life begins at conception. Modern technology shows us plainly through ultrasound imagery that a fetus is indeed a human baby.
In response to those who say the Church’s teaching on abortion has changed or is of recent origin, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities has issued a fact sheet, noting that “knowledge of human embryology was very limited until recent times. Many Christian thinkers accepted the biological theories of their time, based on the writings of Aristotle (4th century BC) and other philosophers. Aristotle assumed a process was needed over time to turn the matter from a woman's womb into a being that could receive a specifically human form or soul. The active formative power for this process was thought to come entirely from the man – the existence of the human ovum (egg), like so much of basic biology, was unknown. However, such mistaken biological theories never changed the Church's common conviction that abortion is gravely wrong at every stage.”
Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (no. 2271).
Many voices speak to us today, very often through the media. But even the most intelligent people can be wrong: not all the opinions we hear are right, so we test them by faith. Saints recognize the inner voice of God with clarity because they habitually listen to it. They are not easily deceived or misled. They trust the teachings of the Church, meditate on the scriptures, and pray, listening to the voice of Jesus, who leads us to the truth and to eternal life.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Over 90 bishops from around the world recently signed a “Fraternal Open Letter to the Bishops of Germany,” including Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, Cardinal Raymond Burke of the United States, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa, and Cardinal George Pell of Australia. I am among the signatories along with archbishops and bishops from every continent except Antarctica (which of course has no bishops).
The letter expresses “our growing concern about the nature of the entire German ‘Synodal Path’ process and the content of its various documents” as well as “the confusion that the Synodal Path has already caused and continues to cause, and the potential for schism in the life of the Church that will inevitably result.” Similar letters have been sent by the President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference and the Bishops’ Conference of the Nordic countries, which includes Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland.
So, what is the German Synodal Path and what are the concerns?
The German Synodal Path is the response of the Catholic Church in Germany to Pope Francis’ call to provide input for the Synod of Bishops that will take place at the Vatican in October of 2023. Pope Francis has encouraged bishops around the world to engage a process of “synodality,” characterized by dialogue, accompaniment, and collaboration among the diocesan leadership, ordained clergy, religious, and lay faithful. We have done this here in our Diocese of Springfield in Illinois at our listening sessions in various locations across our diocese on March 27, in conjunction with input from our Diocesan Pastoral Council and Presbyteral Council. All of this builds on the Fourth Diocesan Synod that we held in 2017.
Following the release of a study on the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clerics in Germany, the country’s Bishops expressed a desire in 2019 “to follow a binding Synodal Path” to address these and other topics. In the Fall of 2021, the German Bishops released several draft texts, which were discussed and voted on during the Second Synodal Assembly. In February of 2022, the Bishops met for the Third Synodal Assembly, where they released additional documents.
While listening to the flock, the shepherds must still lead and not let the sheep go astray. This is where the concerns arise, given that the German Synodal Path has gone off course, asserting in their documents that the Catholic Church “insists on doctrinal positions that many faithful, including deacons, priests and bishops, far beyond Germany, no longer find comprehensible.” They even go so far as to call certain Church teachings merciless, unloving, discriminatory, and intolerant. In particular, the German Synodal Path has called for the blessing of homosexual relationships, ordaining women as deacons, making celibacy optional for priests, giving the laity decision-making power in relation to the appointment of bishops, and restructuring the Church from its hierarchical form to something more democratic.
This is precisely what Pope Francis warned the German bishops about when he wrote a 28-page letter to them in 2019, urging them to be careful not to fall into the traps set along the way, which he calls “temptations” based on “the belief that the best response to the many problems and shortcomings that exist, is to reorganize things, change them and 'put them back together' to bring order and make ecclesial life easier by adapting it to the current logic or that of a particular group.”
In response to the concerns raised by bishops from around the world that Germany’s Synodal Path could lead to schism, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, President of the German Bishops’ Conference, defended their process as a response to abuses in the Church. However, as Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has pointed out in an article he wrote for First Things, “A tepid accommodation to the latest dogmas of secular orthodoxy, on the other hand, cannot be the basis for renewal.”
It is significant that Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, has said in an interview that “there are legitimate concerns behind” this Fraternal Open Letter “that have to be taken seriously.” He added that, “In Germany, I have the impression that synodality consists in dealing with the structures, something that Pope Francis already urged very energetically in his “Letter to the People of God” in Germany, that it is first and foremost not about structures but spirituality.”
My hope is that the Fraternal Open Letter to the Bishops of Germany will prompt them to see the widespread concern from their brother bishops, reassess what they are doing, and get back on course with the true teachings of the Church.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
Our Easter celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord provides an opportunity for us as Catholics to look forward with hope and anticipation to the resurrection of our own bodies when Christ comes again on the last day.
Unfortunately, many Christians today do not understand or at least do not accept the Catholic Church’s teaching about the resurrection from the dead. Our profession of faith, the Nicene Creed, which we recite on Sundays and Holy Days, concludes with the statement, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Do we really understand what that means? Many people, including many Catholics, believe in eternal life, but wrongfully think this means that when we die, we will live forever as spirits, without any type of body. This is what the ancient Greeks believed, but it is not what Christians believe. Hence the growing popularity of cremation on the part of people who think that death means we simply discard our bodies since they will not be needed any more.
In this regard, a bill on human composting (HB 4552), introduced in the Illinois General Assembly by Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), passed the Energy and Environment Committee 23-0 on Feb. 15, but fortunately has not moved beyond the committee. The bill has 28 co-sponsors, which indicates a certain level of support, and environmental groups are supporting it. Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have approved similar legislation. HB 4552 authorizes a body to undergo human composting after death. The process known as “natural organic reduction” is an accelerated conversion of human remains to soil. The body is placed in a vessel that accelerates biological decomposition. The body is laid into the vessel onto a bed of wood, chips, alfalfa and straw. Over 30 days, everything inside the vessel breaks down to natural composition. Each body that completes the process creates one cubic yard of soil. The remains can then be used as compost, essentially serving as fertilizer for plants!
But the Church teaches that, “We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives forever, so after death the righteous will live forever with the risen Christ and He will raise them up on the last day” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 989. Thus, “Although cremation is now permitted by the Church, it does not enjoy the same value as burial of the body. The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites, since the presence of the human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in those rites” (The Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix on Cremation, n. 413). Most especially, this refers to our belief that God will raise our bodies when Christ comes again on the last day.
Canon law says that “Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death …, those who chose the cremation of their bodies for reasons contrary to Christian faith must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals” (c. 1184 §1). Now, I have never heard of anyone explicitly saying that they chose cremation because they do not believe in the resurrection of the body, but it does seem to be at least an implicit rejection of this dogma of our faith to turn one’s remains into compost to serve as fertilizer to grow plants! While God certainly has the power to raise cremated ashes into the form of a glorified body, burial of the full body better expresses our belief that we look forward to the resurrection of the body.
This belief is clearly expressed in the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, which says, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you” (Rom 8:8-11). St. Paul also wrote, “How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain … . But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:12-20).
Raising the dead to life is a sure sign of the presence and action of God. In the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, the Lord says: “You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people” (Ezekiel 37:12-14). Faith in Jesus Christ empowers us to live in true freedom: freedom from fear, freedom from the power of death, freedom to live by the Spirit which God has placed in us — the Spirit of the risen Christ. Happy Easter!
May God give us this grace. Amen.
This past March 25th, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Pope Francis carried out a solemn Act of Consecration of humanity, and Russia and Ukraine in particular, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, entrusting the nations at war to the Blessed Virgin Mary in a special way. In response to the Holy Father’s request that bishops join him in this act with the clergy, religious, and lay Christian faithful, I led people in praying the Act of Consecration in our Cathedral in Springfield that same morning.
In his March 21st letter to Catholic bishops around the world, Pope Francis wrote, “Nearly a month has passed since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine that is daily inflicting immense suffering upon its sorely tried people and threatening world peace. At this dark hour, the Church is urgently called to intercede before the Prince of Peace and to demonstrate her closeness to those directly affected by the conflict. I am grateful to the many people who have responded with great generosity to my appeals for prayer, fasting, and charity … .This Act of Consecration is meant to be a gesture of the universal Church, which in this dramatic moment lifts up to God, through his Mother and ours, the cry of pain of all those who suffer and implore an end to the violence, and to entrust the future of our human family to the Queen of Peace.”
What does it mean to consecrate? Consecration makes something or someone sacred or holy by dedicating that object or person to God. An act of consecration is made ultimately to God with the understanding that our consecration is a serious commitment on our part to respond faithfully to God’s grace at work in our lives.
When a church or altar is consecrated, it is dedicated for divine worship and therefore is not to be used for a profane or secular purpose. When a priest is ordained, his hands are anointed with sacred chrism, thereby consecrating them for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the administration of the sacraments. When consecrating a country to Our Lady, we are consecrating the nation and its people to Jesus through Mary, imploring her maternal protection. As Pope St. John Paul II explained, “Consecrating ourselves to Mary means accepting her help to offer ourselves and the whole of mankind to him who is holy, infinitely holy; it means accepting her help — by having recourse to her motherly heart, which beneath the cross was opened to love for every human being, for the whole world — in order to offer the world, the individual human being, mankind as a whole, and all the nations to him who is infinitely holy” (May 13, 1982).
During the third apparition at Fatima, on July 13, 1917, Our Lady said to the three little shepherds that God wishes to establish the devotion to her Immaculate Heart in the world in order to save souls from hell and bring about world peace, and also asked for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. Thus, we pray together with Pope Francis, “Mother of God and our Mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the Church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine. Accept this act that we carry out with confidence and love. Grant that war may end and peace spread throughout the world.”
May God give us this grace. Amen.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
It is heart-wrenching to read the news reports and see the images of the damage being inflicted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, such as the Russian bombing of a maternity hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariopol and the indiscriminate attacks on other non-military targets that have resulted in many civilian casualties. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zalensky has not only denounced Russia for these attacks, but has also expressed his frustration with the lack of support from the West, asking, “How much longer will the world be an accomplice to terror? You have power but seem to be losing humanity.”
Of course, everyone is concerned that the war in Ukraine not escalate into a catastrophic nuclear confrontation between Russia and the United States and other nuclear powers. At the same time, our basic sense of justice cries out for some way to help the victims of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked aggression and apparent violation of international law by invading a sovereign country and committing war crimes by targeting civilians.
Some political commentators seem to be saying that Ukraine has to be forfeited to the Russians because we do not want to provoke Putin into a reckless response that would start World War III and a possible nuclear holocaust. Such views seem reminiscent of the appeasement approach towards Adolph Hitler’s expansion of Nazi power prior to World War II.
Neville Chamberlain, who served as British Prime Minister from May 1937 to May 1940, was one of the chief proponents of appeasement towards Hitler. The Munich Conference of 1938, organized by Chamberlain and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, was an international meeting to settle the dispute between Germany and Czechoslovakia over the Sudetenland. The Conference was attended by Hitler from Germany, Chamberlain from Britain, Daladier from France and Mussolini from Italy. Czechoslovakia was not invited, despite the Sudetenland being part of its territory. At the Munich Conference, it was decided the Sudetenland was to be transferred from Czechoslovakia to Germany. After the Munich Agreement, Chamberlain and Hitler signed a document promising that Britain and Germany would promote peace in Europe. Chamberlain returned to London and announced that he had secured “peace in our time.”
Winston Churchill, who succeeded Neville Chamberlain as British prime minister in 1940, was a fierce opponent of appeasement. He said, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” Churchill was convinced that Hitler would not stop, and of course, we know now that he was right. Hitler did not stop until he was defeated. Many people fear the same with Putin.
What does our Christian faith have to say about defending people who are being attacked? In his sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well” (Matthew 5:38-39). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says that Jesus offers this teaching as “a strategy for winning, not for passive resignation or indifference to evil. The goal is to shame the opponent into a change of heart. This presupposes the requisite dispositions in the opponent, which are not always present.”
Indeed, Catholic theology developed the “just war theory” to deal with unjust opponents. St. Augustine (d. 430) was the original proponent of the just war theory, which St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) later adapted and explained in his Summa Theologiae. The traditional elements of the just war theory are described in paragraph 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; and the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.”
The Catholic Bishops of the United States in 1983 addressed these modern means of destruction in their pastoral letter on war and peace entitled, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response. Specifically with regard to the use of nuclear weapons, the bishops said: “Under no circumstances may nuclear weapons or other instruments of mass slaughter be used for the purpose of destroying population centers or other predominantly civilian targets. Retaliatory action which would indiscriminately and disproportionately take many wholly innocent lives, lives of people who are in no way responsible for reckless actions of their government, must also be condemned. . . . We do not perceive any situation in which the deliberate initiation of nuclear war, on however restricted a scale, can be morally justified. Non-nuclear attacks by another state must be resisted by other than nuclear means. . . . One of the criteria of the just-war teaching is that there must be a reasonable hope of success in bringing about justice and peace. We must ask whether such a reasonable hope can exist once nuclear weapons have been exchanged. The burden of proof remains on those who assert that meaningful limitation is possible. In our view the first imperative is to prevent any use of nuclear weapons and we hope that leaders will resist the notion that nuclear conflict can be limited, contained or won in any traditional sense.”
As we pray for a just and peaceful resolution of the war in Ukraine, let us pray that these important principles for just war in a nuclear age be kept in mind and strictly adhered to by those responsible for making these critical life and death decisions.
As part of our diocese’s response to Pope Francis’ call to provide input for the Synod of Bishops that will take place at the Vatican in October of 2023, I invite all the faithful of our diocese to a diocesan-wide listening session on Sunday, March 27 at 2 p.m. Groups will gather locally in the deaneries and connect together with me and across the deaneries by video. Seven locations have been designated as follows:
The theme for the “Synod on Synodality” is: A Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission. Pope Francis has encouraged bishops around the world to engage a process of “synodality,” characterized by dialogue, accompaniment, and collaboration among the diocesan leadership, ordained clergy, religious, and lay faithful. In our diocese, we have fully embraced this approach, having completed our Fourth Diocesan Synod of 2017, which involved a comprehensive process of dialogue and discussion, and produced great insights and goals for our diocese to become a community of missionary disciples.
While our official synod process has been completed, we continue to sustain dialogue, listening, and collaboration through avenues such as our Diocesan Pastoral Council, Diocesan Presbyteral Council, parish pastoral visits, and Canonical visitations. After a pause due to COVID-related restrictions, I recently revived parish pastoral visits and intend to visit all 129 parishes over the next few years.
These important and ongoing means of sustained dialogue and collaboration will be supplemented by the input from the local gatherings of the faithful in the deaneries throughout our diocese on March 27. In this session, which will begin in each location at 2 p.m., we will discuss three topics:
I look forward to the ongoing dialog across our diocese and the insights we will share in this upcoming listening session.
In listening to the needs of the faithful, I am also mindful of the cries for help coming now from the Ukrainian people, who have suffered so much and continue to suffer from the brutal and unjust aggression of Russia’s invasion into their country. While I have no special expertise in military strategy or international diplomacy, it is apparent to everyone in the free world that the Russian attack on the sovereign country of Ukraine is an unprovoked and unjustified act of aggression, which has already cost the lives and livelihoods of many innocent people. As people of faith, our strongest weapon, and the most important thing we can do is to pray, asking our Blessed Mother, the Queen of Peace, and her son Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to bring a peaceful end to this dire conflict.
The Gospel message is all about conversion, about change. Changing behavior starts with changing the way we think and the way we talk. There is a poster that urges its readers to “Watch your thoughts, they become your words … your actions … your habits … your character … your destiny.” That expresses well the influence that our thoughts can have on our actions. Obviously, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been engaging in some very toxic and wrongful thinking and has been saying outright lies about the Ukrainian people, leading to very violent actions with lethal consequences. We must pray for his conversion and change of heart, for as Jesus said, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil” (Luke 6:45).
In the alternate Opening Prayer for the Mass in Time of War or Civil Disturbance, which I gave permission for priests to use last Sunday, Feb. 27, we prayed to “God, author and lover of peace,” asking Him to “defend us against every attack of those who cry to you, so that we, who trust in your protection, may not fear the weapons of any foe.” Indeed, the Ukrainian people have been fearless in defending their nation against a much more powerful foe, and we pray for God to protect them and assist them in their time of need.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
“Follow the science” is one of those conversation-stopping statements often used condescendingly by some politicians and others who seek to stifle debate or disagreement with their policies by asserting that their position is scientifically infallible, so anyone who disagrees is simply ignorant. Of course, many issues are not so simple or clear-cut. Claims regarding the science behind the shutdowns of our economy, online learning for public schools, mask mandates, and safe-distancing during the COVID pandemic are examples of instances where the mantra “follow the science” was often invoked.
In fact, many scientists often disagree among themselves, which is the way science operates. Scientists propose a hypothesis, test it, and then compare results, which are not always unequivocal. There may be a variety of reasons why a study may be flawed due to methodology or bias. Peer review of test results and scientific studies helps to sort out which conclusions are more or less reliable.
When it comes to facial coverings and masks, for example, there are experts who argue for the advisability of wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID, but there are also studies that conclude that wearing masks is not very effective in preventing people from becoming infected by COVID. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization initially recommended against cloth masks for the general public and later recommended the opposite. The Cleveland Clinic said last month that “cloth masks, which are often made of materials like cotton, don’t do much to protect you from inhaling particles that carry the virus — and with a virus as infectious as omicron, that becomes a problem.” It is no wonder that many people are confused by these shifting recommendations on the utility of masks.
With regard to social shutdowns, The Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise in January 2022 published “A Literature Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Lockdowns on COVID-19 Mortality.” This meta-analysis of COVID lockdowns identified 1,048 studies published by July 1, 2020, and focused on the following question: “What does the evidence tell us about the effects of lockdowns on mortality?”
Their conclusion provides a firm answer to this question:
“The evidence fails to confirm that lockdowns have a significant effect in reducing COVID-19 mortality. The effect is little to none. The use of lockdowns is a unique feature of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns have not been used to such a large extent during any of the pandemics of the past century. However, lockdowns during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic have had devastating effects. They have contributed to reducing economic activity, raising unemployment, reducing schooling, causing political unrest, contributing to domestic violence, and undermining liberal democracy. These costs to society must be compared to the benefits of lockdowns, which our meta-analysis has shown are marginal at best. Such a standard benefit-cost calculation leads to a strong conclusion: lockdowns should be rejected out of hand as a pandemic policy instrument.”
The data in this meta-analysis certainly support my conclusions in my article, “Social Shutdowns as an Extraordinary Means of Saving Human Life,” published in the September issue of Ethics & Medics and the Autumn 2020 issue of the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly.
In my article, I said, “If we had a moral obligation to use every possible means, even extraordinary means, to preserve life, then we should not even get into our cars, since there is a risk that we could be killed, given the fact that over thirty-five thousand people have died nationwide in auto accidents every year since 1951. We do not stop driving, however, and there is no moral imperative to stop driving, because we recognize that it would be an extraordinary burden on everyday life if people could not get to where they need to be for work, school, family, and other obligations to which they must attend. Instead, we take safety precautions to minimize the risk, such as using seat belts, installing air bags, and following the rules of the road.
“Similarly in the face of a pandemic, do we have a moral obligation to shut down our society, require people to stay at home, put employees out of work, send businesses into bankruptcy, impair the food supply chain, and prevent worshippers from going to church? I would say no. That would be imposing unduly burdensome and extraordinary means. While some people may voluntarily adopt such means, only ordinary means that are not unduly burdensome are morally required to preserve life, both on the part of individuals as well as society as a whole.”
So, when we hear someone say, “Follow the science,” we must distinguish between science and omniscience. Both words come from the Latin root scire, which means “to know.” Science seeks to know the truth, but cannot claim to know all truth. Omniscience, on the other hand, means to know all truth, since the prefix omni means universal or everything. Only God is omniscient, that is, only God knows all truth and everything in this universe. Since scientists are only human, what they know will always be limited, so a good scientist is modest enough to acknowledge his or her limits in asserting definitive conclusions about the absolute truth of a matter.
A good scientist also seeks divine guidance, praying for help to know the truth, especially turning to His Son, Jesus Christ, who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).
When I was in my third year of theology at the major seminary, I spent a semester doing an internship as a hospital chaplain in a program called Clinic Pastoral Education at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas. Parkland Hospital was a fascinating place since it was a large hospital with over 900 beds and had a diverse population of patients. In one room there would be an indigent person because Parkland served as the public hospital for Dallas County. In the next room would be a wealthy person because Parkland was a teaching hospital affiliated with the Southwestern Medical School of the University of Texas and had the best doctors in town. Parkland was also the hospital where President John F. Kennedy died after he was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald.
During my internship at Parkland Memorial, I became good friends with a physician who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology, with a subspecialty in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. When visiting him and his family at their home, he would ask me about various real-life cases that presented complicated questions of medical ethics, which we would discuss in great detail. This is when I first became interested in the field of bioethics and led to me writing my Master of Divinity thesis on “Moral Considerations of Problem Pregnancies.”
One of the cases that my physician friend presented to me concerned the situation of the anencephalic fetus. Anencephaly is a severe birth defect in which all or a major part of the skull and brain are missing and occurs in about one out of every 1,000 pregnancies, but most cases end up as miscarriages. Approximately one out of every 10,000 babies in the U.S. is born with anencephaly. The moral question was whether a fetus without a brain could be considered truly human and, if not, whether the pregnancy could be terminated upon a definitive diagnosis, since arguably it would then not constitute the abortion of a human life.
Since at the time the Church did not have an authoritative teaching on this point, some theologians speculated that the dignity of human existence consists in the potential for relationship. According to this line of thinking, since the anencephalic fetus is regarded as lacking relational potential due to the absence of a functioning brain, and thereby an essential component of what it means to be human, the general proscription against abortion would not apply, for the act of abortion is considered morally evil as the willful taking of human life.
This argument was refuted, however, by the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in its 1996 statement on Moral Principles Concerning Infants with Anencephaly, which declared, “Doubts about the human dignity of the anencephalic infant, however, have no solid ground, and the benefit of any doubt must be in the child’s favor. As a general rule, conditions of the human body, regardless of severity, in no way compromise human dignity or human rights.”
A somewhat related but distinct question arises at the other end of the life spectrum, when a person has suffered a severe brain injury. Until the 20th century, death was normally determined by cessation of heartbeat and breathing. For the first time in history, a person with total and irreversible loss of brain function who is unable to move, breathe, and react — thereby appearing to be dead — could be maintained with cardiac circulation mechanically, thus exhibiting characteristics associated with living. Also, with Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), we have seen how people whose hearts have stopped beating can be resuscitated, thus making the mere fact of cardiac arrest obsolete as the defining factor for determining death.
In 1968, the Harvard Ad Hoc Committee for the first time proposed a set of neurological criteria for determining death, but from the beginning concerns were raised that these criteria could be manipulated for utilitarian purposes, such as procuring organs for transplantation.
In his recent book, Determining Death by Neurological Criteria: Current Practice and Ethics, published in 2020 by the National Catholic Bioethics Center, Matthew Hanley describes how the neurological criteria for determining “brain death” have been tightened up. Specifically, a clinical examination looks for a lack of response to stimuli, and a battery of tests seeks to elicit reflexes mediated by the brain stem. Finally, an apnea test assesses the patient’s capacity to breathe. As Hanley says, “This is obviously very important, since patients who are capable of breathing on their own are not dead.” Although he describes some cases of premature declaration of brain death, he asserts that “the determination of death by neurological criteria is widely viewed as a reliable diagnosis, and there have been no confirmed reports of a patient recovering when the neurological examination was followed properly.”
Pope St. John Paul II reached this conclusion in 2000 in his Address to the Transplantation Society, in which he stated, “Here it can be said that the criterion adopted in more recent times for ascertaining the fact of death, namely the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity, if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology. Therefore, a health-worker can use these criteria in each individual case as the basis for arriving at that degree of assurance in ethical judgment which moral teaching describes as ‘moral certainty.’”
While we pray for all to be spared the grief of an anencephalic infant or a devastating injury of the brain, we should be aware of the guidance that the Church gives us in these tragic situations.
It was 49 years ago that the United States Supreme Court announced their infamous pro-abortion decision in the case of Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, 1973. The recent oral arguments in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson give hope to pro-life advocates that Roe v. Wade will be overturned entirely or at least in part before that wrongly-decided case reaches the half-century mark.
First, we should ask: What was wrong with the decision in Roe v. Wade? There are many things wrong with this poorly-reasoned decision, not the least of which was that it took a highly-debated issue out of the political process of legislative deliberation and fabricated a fictional constitutional right to abortion out of the supposed “penumbras” that emanate from the United States Constitution.
Most significantly, the Court in Roe v. Wade pretended to ignore the basic question at hand when it declared, “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins.” That is precisely what the Court did, however, when it invalidated state laws declaring that human life begins at conception. That is comparable to the horrible decision rendered in 1857 when the United States Supreme Court by a 7-2 majority held in the case of Dred Scott that black people could never be citizens of the United States. While that terrible decision was overturned just 11 years later, it took a civil war and the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 to repudiate that unjust ruling.
In a commentary published in The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, a diagnostic radiologist, wrote about “The Obsolete Science Behind Roe v. Wade.” Dr. Christie submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in Dobbs v. Jackson, in which she was joined by two other female physicians, a neonatologist and an obstetrician, pointing out that ultrasound technology “was in its infancy in the 1970s, when there was much more uncertainty about life before birth. The first ultrasound machines, introduced in 1958, were enormous, and the images were rudimentary. It was only in the later 1970s that fetal ultrasound became widely available, with increasingly detailed images of recognizably human babies. Black-and-white ultrasound images are now found on refrigerators of expectant parents across America. New three-dimensional images have put a human face on the person once dehumanized as a mere clump of cells.”
These ultrasound images make it perfectly apparent now that babies are fully alive and human at 15 weeks of gestation — the age at which Mississippi proposes to protect them from elective termination. Dr. Christie explains further, “A healthy baby at 15 weeks is an active baby. Unless the child is asleep, kicking and arm-waving are commonly seen during ultrasound evaluations. The fetal spine is a marvel of intricacy, and it is most often gently curved as the fetus rests against the mother’s uterine wall. Often, I watch as babies plant their feet against the uterine wall and stretch vigorously. Sometimes a delicate hand — with all five fingers — approaches the face and appears to scratch an itch. Fingernails aren’t visible, but they are present. We can see how the bones of the leg meet the tiny ankles and the many-boned feet.
“At 15 weeks, the brain’s frontal lobes, ventricles, and thalamus fill the oval-shaped skull. The baby’s profile is endearing in its petite perfection: gently sloping nose, distinct upper and lower lips, eyes that open and close. With the advent of 3D ultrasound, we can now see the fetal face in all its detail.”
Dr. Christie concludes, “These are the patients I encounter daily in my work as a radiologist. Clearly human, clearly alive, no longer mysteriously hidden from the eyes and knowledge of man, they ask us to consider them not disposable nonhumans but valuable members of our human family.”
We must also ask, however: what will happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned? Legally, overturning Roe v. Wade will not bring about an immediate end to abortion, but will simply return the matter to the states and to the legislative process. That means that our pro-life efforts in Illinois would just be at the beginning of a new chapter. That is because the Illinois General Assembly passed the Act Concerning Abortion of 2017, signed by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, which provided for taxpayer funding of abortion and removed the provision in Illinois law that would have automatically outlawed abortion if the Supreme Court were to modify or overturn Roe v. Wade. The Illinois General Assembly then passed the Reproductive Health Act of 2019, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, which declared abortion to be a fundamental right, while also declaring that an unborn baby does not have independent rights under the laws of this state. As a result, abortions in Illinois increased 7 percent in the year after the law was enacted expanding taxpayer funding of abortion and Illinois has become a haven for those seeking an abortion from neighboring states with stricter abortion laws. This pro-abortion environment in Illinois was further worsened by Gov. Pritzker’s signing of the repeal of Parental Notice of Abortion Act just one week before this past Christmas. So, we pro-life advocates have a daunting task ahead of us to reverse this culture of death in our state.
We must not let these distressing facts discourage our determination to protect human life from conception to natural death, but should rather underscore the urgency of the situation and spur us on to intensify our pro-life efforts to change minds and hearts, with the help of God’s grace.
May God give us this grace. Amen.
I want to say thank you to our priests, deacons, religious, seminarians, principals, teachers, staff, catechists, volunteers, parents, and all our Catholic faithful for their hard work, dedication, and advancing the Kingdom of God in our diocese in 2021. I also wish to acknowledge all the sacrifices you made, prayers you said, Masses you attended, sacraments you received, and people you helped and loved unconditionally. If you could quantify graces, what the people of faith did across our diocese in 2021 would be a really big number! I am grateful for this witness of discipleship. We are one Church and have one mission: to live a life of heroic virtue so as to become saints. I look forward to this year and wait with anticipation on what God has in store for us. I wish you blessings and prayers in this new year!
May God give us this grace. Amen.