Tuesday, April 20, 2010

No 'seamless garment' for late Father Paul Marx

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The following is an impressive letter recently sent to Abbot John Klassen of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn. — do you realize that if I were to be the head of a monastery, I would be the Abbot Abbott? ... but I digress — by Andrew Scholberg, veteran pro-life activist and convert who has appeared on EWTN. Mr. Scholberg, who gave me permission to print his letter in this column, worked for the late Father Paul Marx, founder of Human Life International, an organization now headed by Father Tom Euteneuer.

March 31, 2010
Rt. Rev. John Klassen, O.S.B.
Office of the Abbot
St. John's Abbey
Collegeville, MN 56321

Dear Abbot Klassen,

Thank you for your hospitality at the St. John's guesthouse. My wife and I stayed there after the visitation for my former boss, Fr. Paul Marx, O.S.B.

In the late 1970s I was Fr. Marx's right-hand man at the Human Life Center at St. John's. I didn't follow Fr. Marx out East. But in the late 1990s I did some writing for Human Life International as a fundraising consultant. And in 2004 I did a one-day on-site fundraising consultation at Human Life International for Fr. Tom Euteneuer. It was good to see Fr. Tom and Brian Clowes at the visitation and funeral and also some other colleagues from years ago.

I enjoyed meeting Brother Neil and some of the other monks. These are good men. I miss Fr. Michael Blecker and other monks I knew who've passed on to the next life.

On the day of Fr. Marx's funeral I enjoyed a brisk morning walk out to the chapel on the other side of the lake. When I worked at St. John's, I regularly went on that walk during my lunch hour, eating my sandwich as I walked. I hadn't walked to the chapel for several years. I believe the stained glass windows are new. What a wonderful, idyllic place!

It's always good to be back at St. John's — to see how some things have changed and others haven't.

I thank you and the other monks for taking good care of Fr. Marx during his declining years. My wife and I found the visitation and funeral Mass deeply meaningful. I just want to react to something you said at the funeral Mass.

You mentioned Cardinal Bernardin's Fordham University speech about the Seamless Garment. You implied or suggested this is what Fr. Marx stood for and fought for. Actually, Fr. Marx totally opposed Cardinal Bernardin's Seamless Garment rationale. He considered it a disaster for the anti-abortion movement for at least two reasons:

  1. The Seamless Garment gives Catholics an excuse to vote for pro-abortion politicians on the specious theory that these politicians are, on balance, more pro-life than their anti-abortion opponents because they have good positions on some other issues that impact life. For example, I recall one Seamless Garment evaluation of politicians that rated Senator Ted Kennedy as much more "pro-life" than Senator Jesse Helms! (Kennedy consistently voted for abortion and for public funding of abortion, and Helms was probably the Senate's most stalwart opponent of abortion.)

  2. The Seamless Garment dilutes the anti-abortion movement by melding it with marginally related issues, some of which are debatable. For example, one debatable issue is whether a particular war meets the Church's criteria for a just war. Another is whether capital punishment is justified in a particular case. Melding abortion with a basketful of debatable issues takes the focus away from the monstrous injustice of abortion.

It's o.k. with me if you oppose capital punishment. I have mixed feelings about it myself, though I tend to support it. The Church, of course, has always taught that the government has a "well-founded right and duty," in the words of JPII's Catechism of the Catholic Church, "to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty" (CCC 2266).

I'm well aware that the Catechism also says, "If [note the word if] bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means [should, not must]" (CCC 2267). Obviously John Paul II didn't like capital punishment. But he knew full well that he lacked the authority to change what the Church has always taught on this subject. That's because the Church teaches the fullness of truth about faith and morals, and the truth doesn't change. (See my P.P.S. for an amusing anecdote about this.)

The documents of Vatican II call abortion an "unspeakable crime."

A Catholic who executes a criminal at a government-sanctioned execution commits no sin — not even a venial sin. A capital punishment statute was on the books in Vatican City until 1969. But a Catholic who participates in abortion commits a mortal sin and incurs automatic excommunication. Vatican City has never authorized abortion.

At any rate, reasonable Catholics may disagree with each other about debatable issues such as capital punishment and whether or not a particular war meets the Church's criteria for a just war. But all Catholics should agree that abortion is an unspeakable crime. At least the condemned criminal has received a jury trial, due process of law, and the benefits of a lengthy appeals process. Not so with the baby who is killed on the mother's whim by a paid assassin in a white coat.

About three dozen convicted criminals are executed every year in America. By contrast, over a million innocent babies are executed every year in America. Fr. Marx focused his attention on the abortion disaster and the closely related anti-life evils of contraception, voluntary sterilization, and euthanasia. That makes perfect sense.

It's disgraceful that the states with the highest percentage of Catholics are the states that consistently elect two pro-abortion senators (New York, Massachusetts, and so on)! Catholics have an obligation to do something to oppose abortion — at minimum by voting against pro-abortion political candidates. Sadly, many Catholics don't even measure up to that minimum standard because they consider abortion no big deal.

In a private audience at the Vatican, Benedict XVI patiently tried to educate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about her obligation as a Catholic to defend innocent life. But what the Pope told her apparently went in one ear and out the other.

It's good to be a Catholic. I was Protestant for most of my life, but on September 8, 1996, I was received into the Catholic Church. Fr. Marx influenced my conversion. I became Catholic because of Apostolic Succession and because I wanted to get rid of my sins in the sacrament of Confession.

I look forward to my next visit to St. John's, whenever that will be.

All good wishes,

Andrew Scholberg

P.S. Congratulations on the St. John's Bible. It's a masterpiece!

P.P.S. Regarding my point that the truth exists and doesn't change, let me tell you about my encounter with a confused young man at St. John's. When I was working at St. John's, a student came to see me in my office. He was boiling with rage over something I had written against abortion. I invited him to sit down. With steam coming out of his ears, he said, "In your opinion, abortion kills a baby, but others feel it isn't a baby. Who are you to say that abortion is wrong?" I kept my cool, pulled out a blank sheet of paper, and drew a circle. Pointing to the circle, I said, "What would you say if I were to tell you that I feel this is a square?" He replied, "Then for you it would be a square." Upon his reply, I politely told him that further dialogue was impossible, and he left. I was genuinely shocked to encounter such an extreme form of relativism and subjectivism and such a blatant denial of plain truth. I still shake my head when I think about that.

Back in the late 1970s, that confused young man was probably the exception rather than the rule. But things have gotten worse since then — much worse. Today, that young man's relativist confusion is the rule rather than the exception!

The Knights of Columbus commissioned a poll of young Catholics between the ages of 18 and 29. The poll found that 82 percent agree that morals are relative and that there's no definite right or wrong for everybody. In other words, eight out of 10 students entering St. John's reject the Ten Commandments and instead embrace moral relativism! No wonder so many Catholics are having abortions. Moral relativism is in the very air we breathe. It's part of the zeitgeist. I hope and pray that the faculty and community of St. John's can do something to influence the students to reject this specious, seductive, and deadly error and to embrace the fullness of truth about faith and morals. This is a big task and a tough challenge. Matt Abbott in Renew America
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