In a post a few weeks back, In which I (sigh) have to give Bob Lord a Pro-Choice 101 lecture, Donna Gratehouse “schooled” me on my unwillingness, expressed here, to reject Pope Francis entirely because he has not changed official Catholic Church positions on abortion and contraception. She even ended the post saying “Class dismissed.” How cute. And condescending.
The thrust of the piece was that I just didn’t understand the paramount significance of issues related to reproductive choice, all because I thought the Pope’s positions on those issues, which I do find abhorrent, did not preclude us from giving him his due for the exemplary work he’s done regarding climate change and inequality.
I had intended not to respond. I thought Donna’s anger spoke for itself, and several commenters told her as much.
But then I stumbled on this, from a Chris Hedges post eulogizing Father Daniel Berrigan, who recently passed:
Dan’s worldly possessions, including his small collection of threadbare clothes, could barely fill two suitcases. He was as opposed to abortion as he was to the death penalty, a stance that did not always endear him to many left-wing activists.
Should we paint Berrigan with the same brush that Donna uses to paint the Pope?
Berrigan, for those who’ve not heard of him, dedicated his life to nonviolent resistance against violence. He’s most known for being one of the Catonsville Nine, as Hedges describes:
If you bear the cross, you often go to jail or, in Dan’s case, federal prison for 18 months, after he, his brother and seven other religious activists in 1968 burned 378 draft files of young men—most of them African-American—about to be sent to Vietnam. The activists had manufactured homemade napalm to set the documents on fire in garbage cans in the parking lot outside the building from which they took the files.
Berrigan taught that making peace was as costly as making war:
I think of the good, decent, peace-loving people I have known by the thousands, and I wonder. How many of them are so afflicted with the wasting disease of normalcy that, even as they declare for the peace, their hands reach out with an instinctive spasm … in the direction of their comforts, their home, their security, their income, their future, their plans—that five-year plan of studies, that ten-year plan of professional status, that twenty-year plan of family growth and unity, that fifty-year plan of decent life and honorable natural demise. “Of course, let us have the peace,” we cry, “but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither prison nor ill repute nor disruption of ties.” And because we must encompass this and protect that, and because at all costs—at all costs—our hopes must march on schedule, and because it is unheard of that in the name of peace a sword should fall, disjoining that fine and cunning web that our lives have woven, because it is unheard of that good men should suffer injustice or families be sundered or good repute be lost—because of this we cry peace and cry peace, and there is no peace. There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war—at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.
And he truly walked his talk:
Dan, who took part in the Freedom Rides and civil rights marches in the South, was in and out of jail all his life. With seven other activists, he illegally entered a General Electric nuclear missile plant in King of Prussia, Pa., in 1980. They poured blood and hammered the fragile cones of Mark-12A warheads. He had been, by the time he died a few days short of his 95th birthday, arrested hundreds of times. This, he said, was the cost of discipleship.
So, I have to wonder, if we had to choose between more Daniel Berrigans, who would limit access to abortion but who would dedicate their lives to world peace and enlightening us on the ills of materialism, or more Hillary Clintons, who would work to ensure access to abortion, but who has yet to see a war she hasn’t liked, which would we prefer? I would take Berrigan, despite my philosophical difference with him regarding a woman’s right to choose.
Back to the Pope.
Donna felt it necessary to lecture me how it’s not just about abortion, but the stance of the Catholic Church on access to contraception as well. But if I find the Church position on access to abortion abhorrent, as I very clearly had in my earlier post, doesn’t it go without saying that I find the Church position on contraception even more so?
But I digress. The ultimate question is whether we should reject the Pope in toto because of his presumably abhorrent positions on reproductive choice, or whether we should put our distaste for those positions aside and allow ourselves to embrace his work against economic injustice and to save the planet from climate change.
I wonder what the Pope prioritizes. What keeps him awake at night, the issues he discussed in his encyclical on climate change, or centuries-old Church doctrine regarding contraception and LGBT rights? Here’s a clue: He invited the Jewish guy who is pro-choice and pro-gay to speak at his conference. He’s shown no such willingness to work with the Republicans who are supposedly where he is on abortion and LGBT rights, but diametrically opposed to him on climate change and inequality.
So, call me crazy, but I have this hunch that if the Pope had to choose between saving the planet from climate change or returning us to 19th century mores on contraception and LGBT rights, he’d choose door number one in a microsecond.
But let’s assume I’m incorrect about this. Let’s assume that the Pope would dedicate his efforts in the direction they would bear the most fruit.
So, what happens if left-leaning Americans and other Westerners do as Donna urges, reject the Pope entirely because of his positions on reproductive choice and LGBT rights? It seems at that point he’d know that the progress he could make in the areas of climate change and economic justice would be terribly limited, as he’d have nobody out there willing to work with him. Conservatives would reject him because they disagreed. The rest of us would have chosen to reject him because of our conclusion that his stances on other issues make him total human garbage unworthy of any collaboration.
Where would the Pope at that point turn? Well, if he indeed did intend to turn back the clock on women, even as a second choice to saving the planet from burning, he’d know that right-wingers in America and elsewhere would welcome his help with open arms.
The bottom line: I stand my ground. I won’t reject the Pope just because I disagree, strongly, with some of his views.