Pope Benedict XVI has many challenges ahead of him. Among these challenges is guiding the leadership of the Church through his selection of cardinals and bishops who will take to heart the exhortation quoted so often by Pope John Paul II to "Be not afraid."
On January 15, 2005, I traveled to Raleigh, NC to participate in the annual March for Life. It was a busy day, and seeing the hundreds of pro-lifers who turned out was quite inspiring. There was one fly in the ointment, however. The same day was the second inauguration of the first Catholic governor of North Carolina. Despite his Catholic faith, Governor Mike Easley is listed as "pro-choice" by NARAL Pro-Choice America.
During his homily at the Mass preceding the March for Life, Bishop Joseph Gossman emphasized the "seamless garment" of life issues. While I agree with many of the issues he mentioned, I was amused at the fact that a Catholic bishop would feel the need to include health care advocacy in his homily at a pro-life Mass. Most of the strongest advocates I have met (and most willing to dedicate their lives to the cause) for increased assistance for the impoverished and needy have been active in the pro-life movement as well. While pro-lifers are not often portrayed this way in media outlets, one would expect a Catholic bishop to know and see this facet of the pro-life movement.
One of the other comments Bishop Gossman made during the homily was that the abortion debate was not one that should be had at the Communion rail. While this question was a matter of some debate for Catholic churches in America during the last election, it struck me as odd that he would re-open the issue months after the election.
Later, it all made sense.
It turns out that, in the Diocese of Raleigh, it is not proper to have that discussion at a purely political event either. The invocation at the inauguration was given by Monsignor John F. "Tim" O’Connor of the Diocese of Raleigh. While the Bishop felt it was important to re-enforce the need for broader access to health care to a gathering of pro-life Catholics who were not elected officials, Monsignor O’Connor did not mention the need to care for the unborn to a gathering of the highest ranking elected officials in the state. I have transcribed the prayer he gave below. As one can clearly see, there is not even a veiled reference to abortion. The tape of this event is available by writing to UNC-TV.
That a Catholic priest would lend his credibility to a celebration for an elected official who supports abortion rights is a shame. That he would do so a mile away from the concurrent gathering of pro-life Catholics and other people of faith is a slap in the face.
I suspect that this is known by the powers that be in the Diocese of Raleigh, as I have been unable to find a single reference to Monsignor O’Connor’s role at the inauguration (he was one of only seven speakers on the dias (this number does not include those being sworn in)) in the press from the Diocese of Raleigh. One would think that a priest in a prominent role, sharing a dias with the elected leadership of a state (as well as Andy Griffith) would be cause for some positive press releases. Instead, there is a communications blackout.
Monsignor O’Connor is now giving interviews about his connections to Pope John Paul II.
What he fails to mention, and perhaps does not see, is that the leadership of Pope John Paul II spoke to, and presented an example for, leaders worldwide because it was based in a principled defense of Truth. Pope Benedict XVI is a stalwart defender of that Truth. The Catholic Church needs and deserves shepherds in this mold, not political climbers who simply cater to politicians who do not act to protect the most vulnerable in our society and defend the teachings of the Church in the public square.
What follows is the text of the prayer given by Monsignor Tim O’Connor at the inauguration of Governor Mike Easley. Those words that did not come through clearly are in brackets. Punctuation is mine.
Blessed are you, God of all creation. As we come together to celebrate a new beginning, we do so as a different people than when we were gathered here four years ago. Such events as 9-11, the war in Iraq, and the recent catastrophe in the Asian countries have changed us and how we see our world. As we pray for government leaders throughout this world, our president, and especially our governor, Mike Easley, and his staff, we do so with a new, or at least a renewed, sense of values. In a world which often lacks faith, we ask You to be a light for all leaders that Your spirit may be the source of their wisdom. In a world which often lacks hope, we ask that You be a beacon of hope that guides the direction of their legislation for the benefit of the people they serve, especially the poor and the [marginalized?]. In a world which often lacks care and concern, may the response of the world community to Asia’s disaster be Your loving reminder to them to do all they can with love. We ask that all leaders walk in a [manner?] worthy of the calling for which they have been called by those who elected them, and by those who did not elect them. May they lead with humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. We pray today as the people of North Carolina for our governor, Mike Easley, and those who will serve with him. Give them, O God, a heart large enough to match the breadth of our own souls, and give us the strength to follow their vision and wisdom; the desire to seek more than development for ourselves, though development that we hope for; more than security for our state, though security that we need; more than satisfaction for our wants, though [for] the many things we desire; the courage to work with other leaders to bring safety to the whole world; the ability to provide for the advancement for our state without taking resources from others to achieve it; the insight to be able to tell strength from power, growth from [greed?], leadership from dominance, and greatness from pretension; to trust to learn from those who speak in other tongues and the care for other parts of the world. May all of us, leaders and those who are called to support them, be a people open to good in all its forms that we may trust in Your providential care everyday. And we make these things today for our governor and for those who will serve him, now and forever, Amen.
Monsignor O’Connor would no doubt point out that as pastor of the parish to which Governor Easley belongs, he had a special call to minister to the governor. That is true. But he must also remember that, as pastor, he is responsible for shepherding the souls in his parish, and one cannot follow a shepherd who does not lead. He might also argue that it would have been impossible to promote the culture of life in that situation in a manner that would draw people in rather than send them away. Mother Theresa’s experience at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994 would belie that point.
I have seen the pro-life message accepted in unlikely places. I have seen reluctant advocates of the culture of life surprised when they speak out and receive a positive response. But the message cannot be accepted if it is never preached. Unfortunately, a golden opportunity to preach love of life was squandered in Raleigh this year.