When I was a kid I watched way too much TV. How little of those hours I can recall now! However there is one television show that I watched that has always stayed with me. On October 25, 1971, when I was a freshman in high school, a Gunsmoke episode aired entitled Trafton. The guest star of the episode was character actor Victor French, who would make twenty-three appearances on Gunsmoke, usually portraying a villain. The Trafton episode was no exception. He portrayed a gunman known simply as Trafton. A murderer, Trafton had learned the gunman’s trade while riding with Confederate raider “Bloody Bill” Anderson during the War. The episode opens with Trafton and his gang shooting up a town in New Mexico. They attempt to rob the bank, only to find that the vault contains no money. Frustrated, on his way out of town Trafton sees a Catholic Church. He enters the Church and goes up to the altar, and takes a gold cross, a gold communion chalice and a gold paten. The priest appears and tries to stop him, Trafton unhesitatingly gunning down the priest. Seeing a gold cross about the neck of the dying priest, Trafton stoops down to remove the cross. As he does so the priest with his last strength, to the utter astonishment of Trafton, says, “I forgive you.” and with his bloody right hand traces a cross on the forehead of Trafton just before he dies. Trafton uneasily touches his forehead, and then leaves the Church and rides off. Continue Reading
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.