Slavery Comparisons on the Rise in Pro-Life Rhetoric

By Allen, John L., Jr. | National Catholic Reporter, December 26, 2008 | Go to article overview

Slavery Comparisons on the Rise in Pro-Life Rhetoric


Allen, John L., Jr., National Catholic Reporter


In a stroke of pro-life rhetoric that may have particular resonance in the United States, senior church officials are increasingly comparing the defense of unborn life today, including opposition to abortion and the destruction of human embryos, to the struggle against slavery and racism in earlier historical periods.

That argument comes at a moment when the United States is celebrating the election of the first African American to the presidency, and thus the country's progress in race relations since the era of slavery.

Yet in making that comparison, officials may also have to come to terms with the church's own checkered past, since prior to the late 19th century, official Catholic teaching did not generally regard slavery as an "intrinsic evil."

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, linked the struggle against slavery to the church's opposition to abortion during his presidential address at the Nov. 10-13 fall meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore.

"Symbolically, it is a moment that touches more than our history when a country that once enshrined race slavery in its very constitutional order should come to elect an African American to the presidency," George said.

"In this, I believe, we must all rejoice."

George then explicitly made the parallel between racism and abortion.

"The common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice," he said. "If the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision that African Americans were other people's property and somehow less than persons were still settled constitutional law, Mr: Obama would not be president of the United States. Today, as was the case 150 years ago, common ground cannot be found by destroying the common good."

Also during the Baltimore meeting, Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, Pa., called for a more muscular posture from the conference on denying Communion to pro-choice politicians. He explicitly compared doing so to "canonical measures" taken by bishops in earlier periods against Catholic politicians who espoused racism.

Martino may have had in mind, at least in part, the actions of the late Archbishop Joseph Rummel in New Orleans, who publicly excommunicated three local Catholic politicians and activists who opposed the desegregation of Catholic schools in the archdiocese in 1962.

The parallel between opposition to slavery and the protection of unborn life was also raised on Dec. 12 by Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, in the presentation of a new Vatican document on biotechnology opposing human cloning, the freezing of embryos, animal/human genetic hybrids and a number of other procedures seen as affronts to human dignity. …

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