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February 1, 2013

Four decades after Roe v. Wade - Adoption often not accepted as abortion alternative - A church in the modern world: ongoing debate

In this edition:
1. Catechesis as evangelization.
2. Four decades after Roe v. Wade.
3. Encouraging adoption as abortion alternative.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Mystery of suffering.
b) Mystery of evil.
5. Ongoing debate: a church in the modern world.
6. A council needs decades to take root.
7. Faith leaders confront gun violence.

1. Catechesis as Evangelization

Catechesis and the new evangelization are closely linked in Pope Benedict XVI's mind, a point underscored Jan. 25 when he transferred the Vatican's administrative responsibilities for catechesis from the Congregation for Clergy to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization.

Accompanying this change was another that shifted responsibility for seminaries from the Congregation for Catholic Education to the clergy congregation. Both changes were announced by the pope during the October 2012 world Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization, though he enacted them only this January.

What are the implications for parishes, schools and other institutions of an approach to catechesis that relates it to the goals of the new evangelization?

The pope pointed out some connections he sees between catechesis and evangelization in his November 2011 apostolic exhortation on the church in Africa ("Africae Munus"). "Catechists are invaluable pastoral agents in the mission of evangelization," he said at that time.

The role of catechists "was very important during the first evangelization," he added. He asked catechists to remember "that for many communities [they] are the first embodiment of the zealous disciple and a model of Christian life."

The pope encouraged catechists to "be welcoming to all without discrimination: rich and poor, native and foreign, Catholic and non-Catholic," and not to "show partiality." He asked catechists to proclaim through their example that:

-- "Family life merits great esteem."

-- "A Christian upbringing prepares young people to live in society as persons who are honest and trustworthy in their dealings with others."

In a decree released Jan. 25, Pope Benedict said that "the particular historical moment" in which we are living is marked "among other things by a dramatic crisis of faith." This means that believers must be supported by doctrine able to respond to the great expectations they have in the face of issues that arise about their world and their church.

The pope recalled in his decree that when he established the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization in 2012 he charged it with promoting use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

2. Four Decades After Roe v. Wade

This January marked the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. Four decades may seem a very long time, as many noted. One who spoke about this was Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas, who gave the homily in Washington Jan. 25 for the closing Mass of the 2013 National Prayer Vigil for Life. He said:

"After these 40 years of hard work, we may feel like the 'chosen people' of the Old Testament who wandered through the desert for 40 years. The Lord made a covenant with them that they would inherit the Promised Land, but with all the setbacks, the discouragement, the suffering and pain, and the passage of time, they began to lose hope. Without faith, we too can begin to lose hope."

But Bishop Farrell urged those participating in the vigil not to lose hope. "We must continue the struggle in positive, life-affirming ways. We must pray, and we must continue to make our voices heard so that our elected leaders know that there are many who stand for life," he said.

He called attention to "a nationwide decline" today "in both the number and rate of abortions" and said that "more and more people understand the truth that the child in the womb is a human being." But it is sad, he added, that more than "1 million innocent children lose their lives each year through abortion."

The 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade arrived during the church's current Year of Faith, which concludes next November. The Year of Faith "is a time to recommit ourselves to living our faith and living the Gospel of Life. It is also a time to examine how we teach or preach the Word of God," Bishop Farrell said.

During the Year of Faith "we need to renew our commitment to building a culture of life in our communities," he urged. He explained that "a culture of life is not only a deterrent to abortion, but it is the answer to many of the evils that afflict our society today."

Bishop Farrell said that a culture of life would:

-- "Promote respect for all human life, in every situation, circumstance and stage of life."

-- "Never permit the violence that permeates our lives."

-- "Never permit the lack of reverence and respect for the dignity of every human person."

It now is "time for us to focus more on the need to change the 'minds and hearts' of people as Jesus did, one person at a time," Bishop Farrell told his Washington pro-life congregation. He said:

"We can change the world as Jesus did, by placing more emphasis on the teaching of the Word of God, just as we are called to do in the new evangelization. . . . Let us not yield to discouragement, and let us never lose hope."

3. Is Adoption Accepted as Abortion Alternative?

Many women facing an unplanned pregnancy do not have a favorable view of placing their as-yet unborn child for adoption. In a homily Jan. 24 during the Prayer Vigil for Life in Washington, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston told vigil participants that "one of the greatest challenges before us is to change women's perception of adoption as being a bad choice."

The cardinal is chairman of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities. He cited a study indicating that many women would choose abortion over carrying their child to term and placing the child for adoption. One reason for this is a fear that their child will end up in a situation of abuse or neglect.

He indicated that in choosing abortion over the possibility of adoption for the child, "a woman worries about her child being mistreated. . . . She would perceive herself as a bad mother, one who gave her own child away to strangers."

Cardinal O'Malley said that "as much as we might like to see the slogan 'Adoption, not Abortion' embraced by women facing an unwanted pregnancy, studies suggest that in pitting adoption against abortion, adoption will be the hands-down loser."

This suggests, he said, that greater emphasis needs to be placed on listening to and communicating with women. The cardinal explained, "Obviously, we must never abandon our commitment to the unborn child, a precious human being made in the image and likeness of God."

But it is necessary to focus more than has been done "on the woman in crisis. We must listen with empathy to be able to communicate the Gospel of Life," he said.

He commented that "too many Americans see abortion as a necessary evil." The cardinal said that "with almost 100 abortions for every adoption, we have so much more work to do."

If "public attitudes of support for 'abortion as a necessary evil'" are to change, it will be necessary to educate "Americans about abortion's impact on women" and to change "attitudes toward adoption," he stressed.

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Mystery of Suffering: "I used to give, as it were, a party, a meeting for disabled people and their families in my home, and there were a large number. I saw after we had had the Mass and some food, they were dancing, and I saw this father who'd had a terribly difficult life, and he had this disabled daughter, and he was dancing with her. I never saw in my life such love and such suffering in a man's face. It reminded me of the Lord, who suffered so much and loved so much. There is this man [for whom] somehow the love increased the suffering and the suffering increased the love for his daughter." (Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, retired archbishop of Westminster, England, speaking this January in a video series for the Year of Faith about moments when he encountered God through others)

Mystery of Evil: "The massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was a dark reminder of evil in our world. The Christmas liturgy speaks about the darkness of our world. . . . The Prologue [of John's Gospel] says, 'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it' (Jn 1:5). There are no easy words to sooth the pain of tragedy. But the coming of Christ does offer us hope. . . . The darkness is still there . . ., [but] when Christ comes a second time he will set up a kingdom that is all light. But for now, the light of Christ shines amidst the lingering shadows." (From a message by Benedictine Abbot Austin Murphy of St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Ill., that appears in the winter edition of "The Clerestory," published by the abbey)

5. Ongoing Debate: The Church, the Modern World

Vatican Council II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World ("Gaudium et Spes") remains a focus of debate "about the church and modernity." This council document "stirs emotions and does not leave theologians indifferent -- even the ones who have not read it," according to Massimo Faggioli, a professor of the history of modern Christianity at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.

Faggioli said in an October speech that over the past 50 years the pastoral constitution "has served as a marker of the new globalized identity of Catholicism." He spoke in October at Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington during a conference for the 50th anniversary of the start of Vatican II.

For him as a teacher, he said, "there is no doubt" that this council document "speaks volumes to the younger generation of Catholics."

He reviewed the history of the differing interpretations of the pastoral constitution and the debate over it down through the years. (The text of the speech appears in the Jan. 31 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

It is a basic teaching of the pastoral constitution "that the church lives in history and that we cannot live out of the simplistic assumption that the institutional church is an island of grace surrounded by evil," Faggioli said.

For him, this council document "is a critical tool for a moral judgment on worldly matters, but also for our way to be a church." He suggested that the continuing debate over the document shows how difficult it is for some "to accept this coming to terms with the human and visible side of the church."

"Gaudium et Spes" is "the unavoidable checkpoint for any debate on social issues facing Catholics today," Faggioli proposed. In "modern Catholicism," he commented, the document represents the church's "most important moment of 'awareness'" of the "change and dynamism in history and in the world." This, he said, "is a point of no return."

"The future and the significance of 'Gaudium et Spes' is connected to the future of dialogue between the church and modern world, and in general to the future of Catholic ecclesiology -- I would say to the future of the 'practical ecclesiology' of Catholicism," Faggioli told his Georgetown audience.

6. A Council Takes Root Over Decades

"I'm just beginning to understand the depth and breadth" of Vatican Council II, Jesuit Father Ladislas Orsy said in a Jan. 24 speech in Rome at the Atonement order's Centro Pro Unione. The canon lawyer, 91, is a visiting professor at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington.

Father Orsy said debate has followed upon each of the church's ecumenical councils and that it always takes more than 50 years for a council's teachings and actions to take root in the Christian community.

He asked, according to a Jan. 25 Catholic News Service report, "Are you surprised that there is a bit of disarray today in the Roman Catholic Church when this happened in the case of Nicea, dealing with the very foundation of our faith?"

Today, said Father Orsy, mainline Christians, who may be divided over various issues, profess the basic tenets of faith through the Nicene Creed of that fourth-century council. "Just looking at what happened after Nicea," he said, "it is not farfetched" to think that the work begun at the Second Vatican Council continues and that perhaps "100 years from now" people will recognize how deeply it impacted the church.

Father Orsy said he hoped to live a "few more years" in order to try to understand more about where the Holy Spirit is leading the church through the teachings of Vatican II.

7. Faith Leaders Confront Gun Violence

When it comes to confronting the challenge of gun violence in U.S. society, there is no more time to waste, an interreligious group of faith leaders said in a Jan. 15 letter to the members of the U.S. Congress. "Gun violence is taking an unacceptable toll on our society, in mass killings and in the constant day-to-day of senseless death," the letter said.

The letter was developed under the auspices of Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, a diverse coalition of faith-based communities and organizations. Signers of the letter included at least 11 Catholic leaders, among them Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu and Sikh faith leaders signed the letter, urging political leaders in Washington to confront "America's gun violence epidemic."

The letter pointed to a national outpouring of grief over the recent gun attack at a school in Newtown, Conn., that resulted in the deaths of 20 little children, along with teachers and administrators. With that and other gun tragedies in mind, the religious leaders' letter insisted that everything possible should be done "to keep guns out of the hands of people who may harm themselves or others."

The letter said:

-- "We should not allow firepower to kill large numbers of people in seconds anywhere in our civil society."

-- "We should ensure that law enforcement has the tools it needs to stop the virtually unrestrained trafficking of guns."

-- Anyone who purchases a gun "should pass a criminal background check," and "preventing dangerous people from getting firearms has to be a top priority."

Moreover, said the letter, "high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines should not be available to civilians."

First, it said, "there is no legitimate self-defense or sporting purpose for these military-style, high-capacity weapons and magazines." Second, these are "the weapons of choice for those who want to shoot and kill a large amount of people quickly."