A Pro-Life Triptych

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

According to the dictionary, a triptych is “a set of three associated artistic, literary or musical works intended to be appreciated together.” And that’s my intention here — to highlight three panels of a pro-life triptych, three distinct but related current issues: racism, immigration and abortion. The common theme? Respect for human life.

As it has during much of our history, racism continues to be a sad reality in our nation. At its base, it’s a human problem that has marred many nations and societies throughout history. And the Church hasn’t been immune to its virulence either.

Bishop George Murry, S.J., is the outstanding Bishop of Youngstown, Ohio, my successor there. And now he’s been tapped to lead the American Bishops’ pastoral response to recent incidents of racism in our country. In an important speech, he pointed to the Catholic history of racism.

While Bishop Murry acknowledges that our nation has made progress on race relations, he says that “recent events in our country have questioned exactly how far we have come.” And he rightly mentions the many Church leaders who have risked their lives to support the cause of racial justice. Nonetheless he asks, “Why does it appear that the Church in America has been incapable of taking decisive action and enunciating clear-cut principles regarding racism?” Perhaps because Catholics have “shown a lack of moral consciousness on the issue of race,” the Bishop suggests.

There’s no denying that in our society there are intractable structural obstacles that are both the cause and effect of racism.

A recent article in the Providence Journal illustrates the large gap between people of color and white people here in Rhode Island, including in categories of homeownership, housing, health insurance and income. These statistics “paint a bleak picture of life in Rhode Island for people of color.”

But, remember, those statistics have faces. I experienced that again last month during a Florida vacation. While staying at a very comfortable resort, I noted that all the people who provided service for us — those who changed the beds, cleaned the bathrooms, and took out the garbage — were all people of color, each and every one of them, and all women. “I wonder when they last had a nice vacation,” I asked myself.

Racism shows up not only in economic structures, however, but all too often in our own hearts – our attitudes, opinions, words and deeds. Each of us, individually, needs an honest examination of conscience on this issue.

Racism is a human life issue.

And what about the second panel of our triptych, immigration? It’s a topic I’ve written about on several occasions in the past.

The “issue du jour” about immigration in our country is focused on DACA, the Dreamers, the young people who were brought here as children and youth and are now facing the possibility of being deported. In many cases these kids have grown up here; the United States is the only home they’ve known. While President Trump, to his credit, has indicated some flexibility on the issue, the hyper-partisan political wrangling will continue, with lives hanging in the balance. The possibility of being deported, forcibly separated from homes and families and friends must be terrifying.

The U.S. Bishops Conference has urged the passage of the DREAM Act, or similar legislation “as a prompt, humane, and durable solution to this problem of greatest urgency.”

Immigration is a complex and emotional issue. If President Trump wants to build his stupid wall, so be it. The Church has consistently supported the right and the duty of nations to have secure borders and to control immigration. After all, there are walls around the Vatican, and many of us have fences and walls around our homes. But our nation needs comprehensive and humane immigration policy, and we need it now. In the meantime, don’t deport the Dreamers!

Immigration is a human life issue.

And the third panel of our triptych is the foundation of the others: abortion. The right to be born is the absolute premise of all other rights, for if a child is terminated in the womb, those other rights and privileges are irrelevant.

Pope Francis has become an outspoken critic of abortion and defender of unborn children. “Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus,” the Pope said. And again, “it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day.” And again, “It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.”

It is a sin and a shame that our nation continues to promote abortions, in some cases even paying for them with public funds. Unbelievably, we continue to allow even late term abortions, i.e., after 20 weeks of gestation, just one of seven countries in the world that permits this barbaric practice. (This puts us in the same class as North Korea, by the way.)

Recently, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a prohibition of late term abortions, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” and sadly our two Rhode Island Senators, in a procedural vote, enabled this violent practice to continue. It’s especially disturbing that Senator Jack Reed, a professed Catholic, voted against the legislation. Senator Reed is a good and reasonable man; he has offered distinguished service to our nation. That he supports unlimited access to abortion, including late term abortion when the baby is viable, is simply incomprehensible and unjustifiable.

Abortion is, without a doubt, the pre-eminent human life issue of our time.

Each person is a priceless work of art, an original creation of the Divine Artist. Let’s work together to defend human life and dignity, whenever, however it is threatened.