Must Newman’s Catholicism in fact be divisive? ‘Challenging’ seems a better word. Whatever we call it, however, we cannot evade Newman’s conviction that the Gospel puts ‘holiness before peace’, and makes the Church independent of every worldly configuration of power. Pope Benedict has recalled this imperative in Newman, his refusal of every secularising alternative so as to (in Newman’s own words) ‘detect and to approve the principle on which … peace is grounded in Scripture; to submit to the dictation of truth, as such, as a primary authority in matters of political and private conduct; to understand … zeal to be prior in the succession of Christian graces to benevolence’.Damian Thompson has drawn attention to The Tablet's editorial this week in which it calls upon the American Bishops to rescue Obama's proposed health care reforms which have been savaged by a wave of popular opposition. The Tablet criticises the US Bishops for focussing on abortion - "a specifically Catholic issue" rather than "the more general principle of the common good". (See: British Catholic magazine tells US bishops to back Obama and stop fussing about abortion)
When Catholics are on radio or TV arguing the pro-life cause, one of the most fundamental points to make loud and clear is that abortion (or euthanasia) is not a Catholic issue but a matter of natural morality that can be understood by everyone and affects everyone. Part of the basic training of any young student starting out as a pro-life speaker is to learn how to resist the assertion that abortion is a specifically Catholic issue. For the Tablet to present it as such is singularly inept.
Had the Tablet spent less time sniping at Pope John Paul II throughout his reign, they might have paid more attention to some of what he wrote concerning the link between the right to life and the common good:
Laws which authorize and promote abortion and euthanasia are therefore radically opposed not only to the good of the individual but also to the common good; as such they are completely lacking in authentic juridical validity. Disregard for the right to life, precisely because it leads to the killing of the person whom society exists to serve, is what most directly conflicts with the possibility of achieving the common good. (Evangelium Vitae n.72)But in case Pope John Paul II is thought to be too "conservative", consider what the jolly old window-opening Blessed Pope John XXIII said on the matter:
Human life is sacred—all men must recognize that fact. From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God. Those who violate His laws not only offend the divine majesty and degrade themselves and humanity, they also sap the vitality of the political community of which they are members. (Mater et Magistra n.194)Pope Benedict makes a similar point in his latest encyclical:
Openness to life is at the centre of true development. When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man's true good. If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away. The acceptance of life strengthens moral fibre and makes people capable of mutual help. By cultivating openness to life, wealthy peoples can better understand the needs of poor ones, they can avoid employing huge economic and intellectual resources to satisfy the selfish desires of their own citizens, and instead, they can promote virtuous action within the perspective of production that is morally sound and marked by solidarity, respecting the fundamental right to life of every people and every individual. (Caritas in Veritate n.28)In addition to its failure to understand that the right to life is fundamental to the common good, the Tablet seems to want the US Bishops to move away from an area in which they have an unambiguous duty to offer a prophetic voice in defence of the sanctity of life. In place of this, the Tablet would have them become embroiled in an increasingly messy controversy about health care by supporting one side in a party-political debate.
Ceterum autem censeo Tabulam esse delendam.