The Roman Catholic Church is making the "abortion" issue its main concern in the upcoming 2004 election, just as it did when Ronald Reagan first captured the White House back in 1980. It calls abortion "the greatest social issue of all time," and it's doing everything it can to back anti-abortion candidates, without regard to critically important social and geopolitical matters, such as the evil of perpetual wars (The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic by Chalmers Johnson).
Speaking of social issues, today, our planet looks like this: "3 billion of the world's people (one-half) live in 'poverty' (living on less than $2 per day). 1.3 billion people live in 'absolute' or 'extreme poverty' (living on less than $1 per day). 800 million people lack access to basic healthcare. 17 million people, including 11 million children, die every year from easily preventable diseases and malnutrition. 800 million people are hungry or malnourished. Nearly 160 million children are malnourished worldwide. 11 million people die every year from hunger and malnutrition..." (www.worldrevolution.org). One might ask, how will stopping abortion help cure these ills?
However, the Church has a one-track moral issue mindset. It seems prepared to give its imprimatur to the reelection of a demented warmonger, President George W. Bush, Jr., since he is anti-abortion. Meanwhile, the Church has paid little attention to compelling evils, such as the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, Militarism and the Arms Race, Crime and Drugs, the Environment, Economic and Social Justice, or Globalism.
Questions: Is the Church's silence on these issues a quid pro quo with the Bush-Cheney Gang for its pushing the Vatican's anti-abortion agenda the last four years? And, if so, can we expect four more years of clerical complicity if Bush wins in November?
History is a reliable teacher. Reagan won the presidency in both 1980 and 1984, with large majorities, because of the Catholic vote, many of whom came over from the Democratic side. The U.S. Catholic Bishops saw Reagan as a standard bearer for their one-issue anti-abortion campaign. So, what did Reagan get in return? Well, one could argue that he bought the silence of the Bishops with respect to his brutal Right Wing agenda, both at home and abroad. Here are two examples. As the death squads were running amuck in Central and South America with Reagan's connivance, the Bishops issued the predictable press releases opposing his murderous polices, but never publicly broke with his administration. Then, there was the case of the Ten Irish Hunger Strikers who died in the spring of 1981, in the British-controlled police state in the north of Ireland, over their moral and legal status as POWs. Rather than asking Reagan to intervene, the Bishops did little or nothing to stop the deaths, even though Reagan was supposedly "their man" in the White House, and then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was one of Reagan's closest allies (Ten Men Dead, by David Beresford).
There is another disturbing element to the politics of abortion: the robot-like moralizing over the abortion issue tends to desensitize people to the existential horrors now confronting the living.
For instance: Suppose you’re an Iraqi and you live today in war-battered Falluja. It has been attacked by Coalition Forces for weeks now. You are a father, with a wife and a small family to support. You live in the middle of Falluja and you haven’t been able to get to your job on the outskirts of town, or to get food for your family to eat. Over 700 of your friends have already been killed. You witness your Mosque, too, being bombed. You also see an older, unarmed man shot in the back by the Americans. ("Eyewitness Report of Falluja," Jo Wilding, 04/13/04) In what way are the anti-abortion ideologues helping that Iraqi father?
In South America, grinding poverty is endemic. A few years back, I visited Caracas, Venezuela, a city of five million, with miserable shanty towns sprawling all over the hills surrounding it. It was a shocking site to behold. It is estimated that 85 percent of Venezuela lives in desperate poverty (BBC Online News, 02-14-04, "Country Profile: Venezuela"). Does the cleric-driven, anti-abortion agenda do anything to resolve the misery of these people?
In America's Rust Belt, like say Youngstown, PA, where the mighty Steel Industry once thrived, there are countless accounts of families living in quiet desperation, worried about making it economically. Since the Bush-Cheney Gang took office three years ago, "The country has lost more than 2.5 million factory jobs, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than 145,000 of those were in Pennsylvania" (Boston Globe, "Economy Is Rust Belt Battleground," 02/21/04, Tatsha Robertson). Do these forgotten workers, who are struggling to keep their proverbial heads above water, give a good hoot for the "abortion is bad" doctrine? How are the anti-abortionist theologians addressing these major social and economic problems?
Do African-Americans, who live in the ghettoes of our inner cities, like Baltimore for instance, and who fear, daily, the dangers of a drive-by shooting, think "stopping abortion" is a serious problem in their lives? Not from the stories that I have read about drugs, racism and underemployment. There have already been 80 murders in Baltimore this year, earning it the nickname the "Dodge City of the East." Meanwhile, pollution in Baltimore's harbor, and also in the Chesapeake Bay, threatens the health and lives of people, as well as the existence of the fish and crabs. Do the anti-abortionist Bishops ever consider these kinds of concerns when drafting up their lists of worldly evils?
This brings me to the late Phil Berrigan. He was for me a prototype Catholic for all seasons. He spent 11 of his 79 years behind bars in the cause of justice. He fought against the spread of nuclear weapons and depleted uranium, war and rabid militarism. He died of cancer, in Baltimore, on Dec. 6, 2002. Berrigan, an ex-priest, was also a veteran of WWII. He feared the planet would one day commit "omnicide" by way of nuclear weapons. Unlike some of the reactionary Bishops, many of whom can be seen at their annual conference dressed in fancy silk suits and being chauffeured around town in luxurious limousines, he dared to confront, via non-violent resistance, the Establishment's War & Death Machine, and its staggering costs to the beleaguered taxpayers ("The Federal Pie Chart").
Berrigan wrote this letter to Bishop William Baum of Washington, DC, in September, 1971, saying, in part, "The Church in America...in fact, in the West as a whole has accepted as 'religion' a kind of cultural syncretism, culminating in near perfect allegiance to the State. Not a few of our more prominent Bishops have even waited upon the Presidency like court jesters... we sorrow over Christian myopia, hardness of heart, and even cowardice" (thesocialedge.com, Dec., 2002, Ted Schmidt, "Bus Ride to Baltimore").
Finally, stopping abortion is a non-issue for the vast majority of the suffering peoples of the world. If abortion were ended tomorrow, the seminal wrongs, like economic and political oppression, imperialism, poverty, perpetual war and militarism, neo-colonialism and the nuclear arms race would still persist. Isn't time for the Roman Catholic Church to acknowledge that fact? Isn't it time for it to use its immense resources to fight on the side of struggling humanity, rather than to continue acting as a silent partner of the Bush-Cheney Gang? And, isn't it time for the Church to end, what Phil Berrigan, the great Dissenter Emeritus, called, its "near perfect allegiance to the State?"
William Hughes is author of Saying “No” to the War Party (IUniverse, Inc.). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. © William Hughes 2004.
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