Following is the prepared text from Bishop Olmsted’s remarks at the Aid to Women Center Gala on September 14, 2019.
Part I: Looking Back on History
To understand the history of the pro-life movement, we need to reach back much further than 1973. We must go all the way to a particularly influential 19th Century British philosopher who did us no favors on the way to Roe v Wade: John Stuart Mill. This is because “Ideas have consequences,” and wrong ideas, especially about first principles, above all about deep realities like freedom and love, have catastrophic consequences when they take hold within a person or society.
Our current disregard for human dignity, the Sexual Revolution and its flower child – abortion, would have remained unthinkable without philosophers like John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), whose theories promoted twisted notions of human anthropology. Although not often remembered popularly, Mill has had a profound effect on how we think as Americans. John Kavanaugh, SJ, called Mill “the prophet of the American ethos.” Kavanaugh wrote,
“Two of his pronouncements now inhabit all discussion and argument. They are the Great Happiness Principle (pain is the pre-eminent moral evil) and Personal Sovereignty (my personal choice is the ultimate ethical trump card). Every debate in America on every ethical issue comes down to Mill’s holy cards.” (AMERICA magazine, Dec. 11, 1999)
It is not hard to see how prevalent these so-called “principles” have become in popular discourse—even though they are blatantly false and demonstrably empty. If pain is “the pre-eminent moral evil” then what is the Cross of Christ? If Christ on the Cross did not redeem the world, then we are the most unfortunate of people. If suffering has no value, how can love be true? Of what worth is self-sacrifice? Why bother to make a gift of self?
And, if my choice determines what is right or wrong, how do I begin to see the dignity and rights of others?
The philosophy that allows the abortion mill is, in part, the result of John Stuart Mill. Errors regarding freedom, such as Mill’s, weaken our understanding of life profoundly. We need a renewal of our minds, as St. Paul said, and a renewal of our hope. Allow me to turn to a little history.
The Church’s initial response to Roe v Wade was feeble at best. In the confusion after Vatican II and especially after the vociferous dissent to Humanae Vitae in 1968, the Church failed miserably to teach the Church’s sexual ethic in a consistent and compelling way. Without bold proclamation of the truth about the nature of marriage and the dignity of human life, it was hard to build the pro-life movement.
As a result of the overwhelming public dissent to the Church’s teaching on the nature of matrimony and the evil of contraception, many parish priests fell silent about sexual ethics and other tough truths of faith and morals. While most priests did not speak contrary to the Church’s teaching, they just lost confidence that the Church’s teaching was Good News. Whoever loses confidence in one part of her teaching soon loses confidence in all.
The American bishops, as a body, voiced their dismay about Roe v Wade, but their opposition was weakened by timidity in defending and teaching the evil of contraception, and the intrinsic link between openness to life and social welfare (see Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, no. 44).
A second major factor, cultural in nature, undercut confidence in the Church’s teaching; namely, the Sexual Revolution. Like all worldly revolutions, the Sexual Revolution was present like a hidden and slow-burning coal, awaiting human and technological fuel to combust. With the determination of the angry and resentful contraception movement in the US led by Margaret Sanger and others and, most significantly, with the invention of the Pill, the revolution was underway. Both clergy and laity could not help but be affected by popular culture’s wholesale rejection of traditional Christian sexual morality and the loss of a comprehensive Christian anthropology. An ever-increasing secularist ideology enabled sexual license by conveying the message that the only real sexual ethic remaining was consent.
In the wake of this “perfect storm” it is not an exaggeration to say that our failure to hand on the Good News of Christ about marriage and family with confidence, and an accompanying uneasiness to denounce contraception and other sexual sins, weakened our response to legalized abortion and slowed the beginnings of the Pro-Life Movement.
I would like to focus on this connection a bit longer. A priest told me how hard he found it to teach on Humanae Vitae; when asked, “What does your bishop say about it?”, he said with exasperation: “I have no idea where my Bishop stands on Humanae Vitae.” At that, I saw how necessary a bishop’s witness to the truth is. Years later, when named a bishop by John Paul II, I promised myself that, within the first month of my new mission, I would clearly state my grateful support of this prophetic document.
The propaganda of the Sexual Revolution has been so successful for the time being that the connection between contraception and abortion is not widely understood. This is tragic because understanding this is crucial if we are to make any headway. Without it we do not think clearly. However, the interior logic connecting the act of contraception and the decision to abort an unwanted child was not merely seen by the Catholic Church, having the mind of Christ. It was also evident in the U.S. Supreme Court, 20 years after Roe, in its 1993 Planned Parenthood v Casey decision to double-down on violating the right to life of the unborn child. I quote from the majority opinion:
“The Roe rule’s limitation on state power could not be repudiated without serious inequity to people who, for two decades of economic and social developments, have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail” (emphasis added).
Nik Nikas of the Bioethics Defense Fund argues that, in the court’s point of view, abortion now is “super-contraception.”
Law is a teacher of the people under the law. And so, we were confused, and many of us still are. And so, the law must change. Roe v. Wade must be overturned. It is a blight on our land; it is a teacher of evil.
But, as I’m sure you know, overturning Roe will not be enough. Abortion is the product of bad ideas and misused sexuality hurting family life, requiring a renewal of both mind and heart.
We are called again, brothers and sisters, to a renewal of our minds in Jesus Christ, as St. Paul wrote to the Romans: “Do conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:2).
Part II: Love and Truth are stronger than Fear and Lies
In the early ’70s, few of us were immune to the confusion. I must confess that I, too, struggled with the Church’s teaching on sexuality during my first years as a priest, having been taught in seminary courses on moral theology by dissenting theologian Fr. Josef Fuchs. Thanks be to God, my bishop in the Diocese of Lincoln, +Glennon Patrick Flavin, was a stalwart defender of the faith, including Humanae Vitae. Furthermore, in 1979, I was invited to assist Pope John Paul II in the Vatican’s Secretary of State, starting my work at the very time that he began his 6-year stint of Wednesday Audience presentations on the Theology of the Body. The teaching of Pope John Paul II was compelling, not only because of his profound convictions and powers of persuasion, but in a special way due to his extensive knowledge of philosophy. This great saint was formed in the crucible of three social situations—first, and crucially, the rich and tough soil of Poland’s devout Catholic culture and his own faithful family. This foundational experience was followed by the Nazi occupation, with all its horrible brutality and racist lies about the human person. Then after World War II, another rogue regime invaded and a new set of lies was imposed upon the people of Poland. But John Paul II had been formed in the truth of the human person through Christ and His Church. In addition, his experience of real love prepared him to see the counterfeits of both Nazis and Communists for what they were.
Love is stronger than lies and more powerful than fear. God is love, and when we love we are on the side of God. And so, when John Paul II was elected Pope in 1978, he was finishing his theological magnum opus, what we now know as the Theology of the Body. By God’s providence, the clarity of mind and heart that Karol Wojtyla had in the face of Nazi and Communist propaganda and their predictable cultures of death readied him for the next set of lies about the person, those carried in the Sexual Revolution.
During the years of 1976-1989, the beginning of the U.S. Pro-Life Movement, I was out of the country in Rome, as a priest doing graduate studies and then serving at the Holy See. So I was not here for the struggles of the early Pro-Life Movement in our country, and many of them are unfamiliar to me. Many, but not all.
Thanks be to God, a strong defense of Humanae Vitae through the Theology of the Body, Familiaris Consortio, and many other teachings of John Paul II provided the Church’s robust response to the many errors that proponents of the sexual revolution and the Pill were promulgating.
Pope John Paul II laid the groundwork for a bold proclamation of the Gospel of Life and an invigorated Pro-Life Movement. This he did in dramatic fashion, 40 years ago, when, on October 7, 1979, during the celebration of Mass on the Capitol Mall of Washington, D.C., only six years after the infamous Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade, Pope John Paul II told America what the Church would do in response to legalized abortion in our country. Listen again to his words:
“…we will stand up every time that human life is threatened. When the sacredness of life before birth is attacked, we will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life.
When a child is described as a burden or is looked upon only as a means to satisfy an emotional need, we will stand up and insist that every child is a unique and unrepeatable gift of God, with the right to a loving and united family. When the institution of marriage is abandoned to human selfishness or reduced to a temporary, conditional arrangement that can easily be terminated, we will stand up…”
After January 22, 1973, we Americans had been walking in the dark shadow cast by Roe v Wade. But, five years later, when John Paul II came to America, we felt summoned by Christ to stand against the lies of the Sexual Revolution and the counterfeit philosophical principles of people like John Stuart Mill. We realized we had to embrace with confidence the teaching of the Church as well as the timely statement of Vatican II that called abortion an “unspeakable crime” (Gaudium et Spes, 51). It was our duty, it was our honor, to bear witness to the Gospel of Life, and to work for a restoration of the right to life of the most vulnerable among us.
It is a Biblical truism that God begins His movements with the small and insignificant. Although not large in number, there were some faithful, brave souls who, from the beginning, stood strong against the horrors legalized by Roe v. Wade. The first Walk for Life in Washington, D.C. took place only one year after the infamous Supreme court decision, on January 22, 1974, under the leadership of Nellie Gray. That first year, an estimated 20,000 supporters marched through our Nation’s capital.
The March for Life has grown in numbers, particularly among the young, ever since, becoming the largest annual demonstration our nation has ever seen. Additional Marches have been added in San Francisco and Los Angeles and many other cities around the nation, including the rebirth of our own, which we expect to grow tremendously this year. On January 18, 2020, we will welcome another woman of courage who experienced a grace-inspired conversion and the renewal of her mind that led her to enter the Catholic Church, Abby Johnson.
The early years of the Pro-Life Movement in the U.S. focused, for good reason, on the injustice of killing innocents. We must never let the scandal of this murder-in-our-midst lose its effect on us. Some of you were arrested—thank you, by the way—for peacefully demonstrating in the ’70s and ’80s outside of abortion centers. Groups like Operation Rescue stepped into the breach, organized effectively, and brought needed attention to the movement. Whether there was some justification by a few imprudent pro-lifers or whether the media manufactured the narrative completely, the movement was painted as unloving and unconcerned for women.
It became clear that the Pro-Life Movement had to keep clearly in mind not only the baby but also the infant’s mother. This is always at the forefront of our efforts now, and it is in keeping with the Gospel. We must practice truth and love simultaneously, lest we become a clanging gong. Some of you present tonight may recall the day, several years ago, when we were praying the Rosary in Spanish at the abortuary on 7th Avenue; a woman on her way in for an abortion was invited instead to come and “meet the Bishop.” She immediately said Yes! And when she met me, her eyes were filled with tears, tears not of regret, but gratitude. This happened because a pro-lifer led with love.
I cannot close my remarks tonight without mentioning technology; while being used for evil purposes that gave us the anovulant Pill, it can also bring about a deeper experience of the good. Thus, we now have the 3-and 4-D ultrasound images that we can share with women in crisis to lift the fog of lies. I have heard that more than 80% of women who see these images of their child choose life. Praise the Lord!
Praise God, too, for other major components of the Pro-Life Movement that have developed over the past 45 years. Here are some of the most notable:
- Hundreds of excellent crisis pregnancy centers, like Aid to Women’s Center, provide a life-affirming alternative to those contemplating abortion;
- Investigative reporting by determined leaders like Lila Rose and David Daleiden have made public the lies;
- 40 Days for Life, which has made us more aware than ever of the vital need for prayer to succeed in doing God’s will;
- Post Abortion healing programs like Rachel’s Vineyard and Mantle of Hope have restored dignity to many;
- Outreach to those working in the abortion industry, who have felt trapped in the tangle of lies, are being assisted to quit and begin a new life, as done by And Then There Were None, founded by Abby Johnson;
- The outstanding, consistent and creative work of the Knights of Columbus who have helped provide more than 1,000 ultrasound machines to pregnancy centers;
- The many tireless sidewalk advocates who are present every time an abortion center is open, praying and encouraging a choice for life.
For all these great efforts, we owe a great debt of gratitude.
Let me to conclude by offering three recommendations for us whom the Lord has called into the Pro-Life Movement.
1. Be whom God made you to be, child of God: priest, deacon, consecrated person, husband, wife, mother, father, writer, counselor, leader, intercessor, elected official, etc. Be whom God made you to be and you will find the grace and courage to do your part to build a culture of life that will be in place when Roe v Wade collapses. Like St. John Paul II, like Lila Rose, like the leadership and staff of Aid to Women Center, you have a part to play. Be whom God made you to be. With the help of God’s word, and by drawing close to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we always find the desire and grace to make our unique contribution to the Pro-Life Movement. I am so grateful that prayer before the Blessed Sacrament happens in the Aid to Women Center chapel on Baseline Road. Let us always treasure the time to be with Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church. With our Savior, there is the grace to be faithful servants.
2. Trust the truth. Never doubt its power to set you free from lies, to set you free for love. Love and truth, walking hand in hand, are far more powerful than lies, even well-orchestrated lies. When the Servant of God Dorothy Day was in her 20s, she was an avid Communist, living a Bohemian lifestyle and aborting her first child. But, when she became a mother a second time, she was given the grace to know the dignity and beauty of the infant in her womb and the love to care for her. Although not Catholic, she somehow knew that the best gift she could give her baby was Baptism and that led her to discover Catholic Social teaching, Christian Anthropology, and the blessing of Confession and the Eucharist. At the time of her death, a priest described Dorothy Day in this way: She lived as though the truth were true. That’s what is needed today: Trust the truth; live as though the truth were true.
3. Replace “Mill’s Holy Cards” with Holy Cards of Divine Mercy. Instead of Mill’s “Great Happiness Principle (pain is the pre-eminent moral evil),” put all your trust in the Principle of Redemptive Suffering. On the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, today, and every day, say with praise and conviction, “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you; because by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.”
Instead of the “Personal Sovereignty Principle (my personal choice is the ultimate ethical trump card),” play the card of obedience; surrender your plans for those of God. Imitate the Virgin Mary, who became the Mother of our Redeemer by saying, “Behold the Handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” Say with Jesus, “Not my will, Father, but your will be done.”