The Catholic Church has, for two millenia, in keeping with the Incarnation, defended the dignity of all human beings. One example of this is the Papal Bull issued by Pope Paul III in 1537, Sublimus Dei, regarding the “enslavement and evangelization of Indians“.
The enemy of the human race, who opposes all good deeds in order to bring men to destruction, beholding and envying this, invented a means never before heard of, by which he might hinder the preaching of God’s word of Salvation to the people: he inspired his satellites who, to please him, have not hesitated to publish abroad that the Indians of the West and the South, and other people of whom We have recent knowledge should be treated as dumb brutes created for our service, pretending that they are incapable of receiving the Catholic Faith.
We, who, though unworthy, exercise on earth the power of our Lord and seek with all our might to bring those sheep of His flock who are outside into the fold committed to our charge, consider, however, that the Indians are truly men and that they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic Faith but, according to our information, they desire exceedingly to receive it. Desiring to provide ample remedy for these evils, We define and declare by these Our letters, or by any translation thereof signed by any notary public and sealed with the seal of any ecclesiastical dignitary, to which the same credit shall be given as to the originals, that, notwithstanding whatever may have been or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.
This is an inconvenient truth for those who would have us believe that Christopher Columbus’ Catholicism had something to do with the mistreatment of Native Americans after the arrival of Europeans to North America. Indeed, though men may fail, the teachings of the Church never have, never do, and never will.
Just as the Church defended Native Americans 474 years ago this month (May 29, 1537), so today the Catholic Church continues to defend — through Her very clear teaching — the most vulnerable of all, the unborn child. Just as in the time of Sublimus Dei there were Catholics who protested the Church’s guidance, so today there are Catholics who deny the humanity and dignity of the innocent unborn child.
Most, if not all, Americans today understand the evil of slavery precisely because of the good work of Christendom, but most particularly the Catholic Church which stands as a visible beacon to the world. Satan devises his manner, but the Light continues to shine. So it is that I have hope that some day, Americans will look back upon this time as the brutal age of abortion, and Catholic politicians who did not stand against it will have the most shameful place of all in the annals of history.
The Holy Father in his amazingly insightful and thorough work Truth and Tolerance outlines a way—though focusing primarily on religious matters—that Catholics may engage a pluralistic world in a spirit of peace and tolerance while adhering completely to the divine truths of the Catholic faith, to which Catholics are called to live in accordance with and call others to through evangelization.
The whole point of the work is to establish the principles by which Catholics should encounter and engage people of different faiths, worldviews, lifestyles, etc., in the modern situation with its emphasis on conscience, individual freedom, and self-determination that inevitably creates a diverse society. The obvious danger is relativism and therefore a lack of any real conviction and principle. The “balance” is a correct temperament and a prudential spirit to find the proper avenue to best evangelize the world.
If you saw someone who was going to jump off a cliff… would you stop them? Assume that you would prevent them from physical death. I think you would probably try to stop them.
Now assume you are an Archbishop, and you know of Catholics who are advocating very publicly for grave sin, and that this itself is a grave sin. Unrepented grave sin, as you know as an Archbishop, brings spiritual death. You know in your heart that spiritual death is eternal, and is God’s most hated thing. You also know that this spiritual death is very real, and very dangerous: infinitely more dangerous than mere physical death. Would you not, as an Archbishop, care enough about your fellow Brother or Sister in Christ to do everything in your power to prevent further spiritual death?
And you would also know, as an Archbishop, that someone who is manifestly and publicly in a state of grave sin ought to refrain from receiving Communion, for their own sake, since receiving Communion unworthily is yet another grave sin that further wounds their soul.
And it would probably strike you, as an Archbishop, that this particular sin is a sin with a pedagogical dimension (public advocacy of sin teaches sin). Would your counsel to this person not also have a public dimension, to correct those who may have been misinformed by this person’s very public advocacy (perhaps even encouragement) of sin?
Would you not see three very important things which demand your prophetic teaching voice? Is not the most pastoral thing to do preventing such a person from further grave sin? Can your message not be delivered in a spirit of charity and sincere concern and love?
Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco addressed on January 13, 2010 a free will defense of abortion by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House:
In a recent interview with Eleanor Clift in Newsweek magazine (Dec. 21, 2009), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked about her disagreements with the United States Catholic bishops concerning Church teaching. Speaker Pelosi replied, in part: “I practically mourn this difference of opinion because I feel what I was raised to believe is consistent with what I profess, and that we are all endowed with a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And that women should have the opportunity to exercise their free will.”
Embodied in that statement are some fundamental misconceptions about Catholic teaching on human freedom. These misconceptions are widespread both within the Catholic community and beyond. For this reason I believe it is important for me as Archbishop of San Francisco to make clear what the Catholic Church teaches about free will, conscience, and moral choice.
Catholic teaching on free will recognizes that God has given men and women the capacity to choose good or evil in their lives. The bishops at the Second Vatican Council declared that the human person, endowed with freedom, is “an outstanding manifestation of the divine image.” (Gaudium et Spes, No. 17) As the parable of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, makes so beautifully clear, God did not want humanity to be mere automatons, but to have the dignity of freedom, even recognizing that with that freedom comes the cost of many evil choices.