Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

January 28, 2007


Last Monday marked the thirty-fourth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision of the US Supreme Court, which opened the floodgates on what eventually proved to be unrestricted abortion. Popes, bishops, and pro-life advocates have spoken out forcefully and authoritatively against abortion, emphasizing the inviolability of human life. But it is apparent that these authoritative statements of condemnation, however logical and well-founded, have not been adequate to stem the tide of political and popular acceptance of the pro-choice stance on abortion, There is need to recognize and rebut the principal argument for legal abortion: the notion that women have unrestricted liberty, including their control of their reproductive functions.

Regrettably, feminist ideology is perceived by many, both pro-choicers and pro-lifers, as necessarily including a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. This need not be so. The organization, “Feminists for Life”, embraces the wide range of women’s new freedoms and new roles, but emphatically rejects the pro-choice option as part of the feminist package. When “Feminists for Life” were denied participation in various feminist gatherings, many prominent pro-choice intellectuals opposed their exclusion. Pro-life feminists, they declared, were just as legitimately feminists as pro-choice members. “Feminists for Life” thus gives enormous support and credibility to the pro-life position. They are feminists, indeed, as they support the ongoing freedom and new opportunities for women. But they draw the line at the notion of freedom for abortion choice.

Our Church does not share the kind of platform enjoyed by Feminists for Life”. It speaks out of a context widely regarded by many Catholics and non-Catholics, as opposed to the modern advances of women. Its denial of the abortion freedom is regarded as just one more of many anti-women attitudes and policies of our Church. A mother was asked, “How many sacraments are there?” “Seven for boys,” she answered, “and six for girls”. Not only is a woman’s ordination to priesthood out of the question. John Paul II forbad even any discussion of the topic. At a time of great shortage of priests, our Church imports priests from other countries, who frequently lack the language ability or cultural sensitivity for ministry here. Laymen, some retired, some still occupied with their profession or business, are ordained as deacons. They baptize, perform marriages, preach from the pulpit, have an ordained role in liturgies. Our religious sisters with a rich history in the life of our nation, with scholarly degrees, substantial experience in teaching and spiritual counseling, and with appropriate language and cultural skills cannot baptize, witness marriages, preach in the pulpit, or have a role in liturgies.

Altar girls have been permitted only in recent years but are still banned in many dioceses. Women unlike men cannot be formally installed as lectors. Pope John Paul II, in his many writing, including the encyclical “On the Dignity of Women”, praises women but invariably insists “on the complementarity of their roles”. It was JP II who sat in stony silence on his 1979 visit here while Sister Theresa Kane respectfully addressed him on the role of women.
Women have broken the glass ceiling in business and the professions, They are CEOs, judges, senators, governors of states, physicians, surgeons, and professionals in all fields. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi spoke of breaking the marble ceiling on her election as the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives. Aside from St. Paul’s “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Jesus Christ.” Aside from matters of justice; aside from failing to utilize in a time of need fully one half of our constituency, there would be the not inconsiderable benefit for our Church having a more credible context out of which to present our pro-life message. We are perceived as holding an outmoded patriarchal ideology of which being anti-abortion is a part. Our pro-life position need not carry this burden. By applauding the salutary advances of women in our society, we provide ourselves with a context out of which we speak in more persuasive tones.

By breaking the stained glass ceiling in our Church, our pro-life voices come out of a far more acceptable context.


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