“It’s the best reality show on the air.” That’s what one commentator called it. If we saw it ourselves, we got the impression that we were watching a championship fight. Yet it was a simple procedure in our United States Senate. And this procedure will be repeated again now.
The procedure was the confirmation of a person nominated to be Chief Justice of our Supreme Court. And the nominee was not even the one doing the verbal slugging. At first he simply answered questions. Then he was simply watching the debate, and waiting for the final decision.
But he will do a lot more than watch now that he is confirmed. He will have real power, and both sides know this. They know he will be a main protagonist in a struggle that is much bigger than him.
His name is John Roberts. The U.S. Senate has just approved him as the 19th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of this country.
Almost immediately after Judge Roberts was confirmed, the President nominated another person to fill a second opening on the Supreme Court: Ms. Harriet Miers. Let’s look at what was in play in the confirmation of Judge Roberts to see what may happen also with Ms. Meirs.
Hope and fear
It is not yet clear exactly where he stands on many issues, but some senators fearhim, while others have great hopes for him.
Generally, the senators who favor abortion and homosexual marriage, fear Judge Roberts. They believe he will overturn decisions that have led to the death of millions of unborn children. The pro-life senators generally support judge Roberts, hoping he will protect human life and promote solid values.
But this was not just a question of personal preferences and intuitions of particular senators. The media, the Church, and many others also confirm that the stakes are high. They know that the basic moral direction of our country is in play here. They are right. Supreme Court judgments affect all Americans, for better or for worse.
About 150 years ago, there was a dramatic case brought before our Supreme Court. It was about slavery. A black slave from the southern United States (where slavery was legal at the time) had escaped to the North, and was therefore free. Nevertheless, his former owner found him, and demanded he be brought back into slavery. The case was brought before the Supreme Court. The slave’s name was Dred Scott. Mr. Scott lost that decision. He was made a slave again, by decision of the Supreme Court.
Changing dread to freedom
Most Christians in the North were horrified at the decision, even though the Court claimed it was done legally. These Christians, members of other faiths, and even those who did not believe in God insisted more tenaciously over the next years that the words of our Declaration of Independence “…that all men are created equal…” guaranteed the right of Mr. Scott and all slaves to be free. They helped to elect members of the government who agreed with these moral principles . A man named Abraham Lincoln, who favored freedom for all, was elected president. There was a terrible civil war. But the result was the Emancipation Proclamation , giving freedom to the slaves.
Protecting basic freedoms requires moral courage . Our court system also needs people who possess moral courage.
In 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States made another stunning decision. Its consequences were even more dreadful: the Court ruled that a mother has a right to kill her unborn child. This decision ( Roe vs. Wade ) has deeply divided our country ever since, and has been followed by a series of decisions that have made many Americans and the Catholic Church extremely worried about the moral direction of our country.
Life, death, and bottle deposits?
In the debate about present moral issues such as abortion, homosexual marriage and prayer in public, both sides claim to be protecting the basic rights of others. Some call for a middle ground or a series of concessions . Yet what is in play is so radical that a middle ground is not possible.
We can use the example of abortion. We find that one side (the pro-abortion side) says that a woman always has the right to an abortion. The other side (the pro-life side) says that a baby always has a right to life.
Other issues, like whether a state may require cash deposits on bottles or how high to raise gas taxes, may be negotiable, and can be discussed in our legal system, but the life of a baby does not have a “middle-ground.” Once someone decides he or she can kill, we are all in danger. A society without basic moral values is in danger of killing itself.
We have seen a lot of slogans flying around in these hearings. But slogans can sometimes destroy serious thought. One slogan that was often heard is “a woman’s right to choose.”
The Church sees this phrase, “a woman’s right to choose,” as a slogan for selfishness. This is a way to say that unborn babies can be killed. No woman would really want to choose this. What would be needed is ways to help women accept their babies and be respected.
When protecting moral values, a society has to look to something other than selfishness. It has to look deeper. Selfishness made abortion possible.
For those who go deeper than slogans, it is clear that the conflict between the culture of life and the culture of death is in play in our Supreme Court. As confusing as the debate may sometimes become, it must be clear to us that, in basic moral issues, there is a right and wrong.
Catholics need not apply
Mr. Roberts is a Catholic. Ms. Miers is a Protestant Christian. The Catholic Church has clearly and always stood in favor of life–not just now, but throughout history.
Many of the dramatic issues that the Supreme Court faces (abortion, euthanasia, protection of marriage) were things Christians faced 2,000 years ago. Little by little, and in spite of persecutions, Christians were able to change bad practices in society and help others see the value of solid moral principles. They eventually convinced their leaders to create laws that protected solid moral principles. As a result, society became more humane.
Today there are loud voices in the Senate and in our culture that claim a Catholic or Protestant Christian who defends moral principles has no right to be a judge, because he or she will “impose their beliefs” on others. But the Catholic argument is simple. It is not a matter of making someone believe in the specific things of our religion. For example, we are not trying to make non-Catholics believe that Jesus in really present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is simply a matter of fundamental values, which all people of good will can appreciate.
We do not know if Judge Roberts will defend these moral principles by the means allowed to him as Chief Justice. Nor do we know what Ms. Miers will do if she too is confirmed. But we can hope and pray that they will do this. If they do, we can also make their work easier by increasing public awareness of the fundamental values that make our society stand firm.
Not there yet
Mr. Roberts has just been approved, in spite of this very dramatic debate.
If Judge Roberts does favor life in his decisions, there are still two more rounds to win, and round two has already begun.
The second nominee, Ms. Meirs, could be even more crucial in swinging the Court in favor of life. So far there is even less known about her stand on these issues. If Judge Roberts and Ms. Miers do hold that a child’s right to life is protected in our founding documents, a third pro-life judge would still be needed to overturn the 1973 abortion decision.
Jesus once said that “the children of darkness are more astute than the children of light.” He meant that the laziness and apathy of Christians can be the reason evil grows in the world. We must work peacefully but tenaciously to create a culture of life in our government and in our society. Many people are doing this. Will you join in?
“Then the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord then said: “What have you done! Listen: your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil!” Genesis 4:9-10
“…and from man in regard to his fellow man I will demand an accounting for human life.” Genesis 9:5
“There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her…” Luke 8: 2-5
“…without an objective moral grounding not even democracy is capable of ensuring a stable peace, especially since peace which is not built upon the values of the dignity of every individual… frequently proves to be illusory…”
(Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, no. 70)
“ … we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the “culture of death” and the “culture of life”. ..we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally prolife.
(Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, no. 27)
Other Church Teaching:
“Those who would view the moral duty of Christians as something that disqualifies them from political life … would be guilty of a form of intolerant secularism.”
(Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Gift of Life, no. 7)
Saints and Heroes
A Lawyer Martyr
ANACLETO GONZALEZ FLORES:
Anacleto was a lawyer and a father. He was born in Mexico in 1888. He was the son of poor farmers who had a strong faith, and he worked his way through law school As an educated Catholic, he saw the need to help evangelize his fellow Catholics better and have them teach the faith to others. For this reason he founded the Popular Union, a movement of laborers, women, and farmers. As head of Popular Union, he activated these lay Catholics to be teachers of the faith. In the secular scene he helped to organize very large public gatherings which promoted faith and family values and protested against government abuses. From 1918 and during the 1920’s the Mexican government organized a fierce persecution of the Catholic faith. Anacleto repeatedly insisted that his organization and all fellow Catholics not use violence. Still, he was a marked man. On April 1, 1927 he was visiting two of his cousins. Government police erupted into the home and demanded to know where the archbishop of Guadalajara was hiding. (Anacleto and his cousins were good friends with the archbishop.) The three refused to collaborate. They were arrested and tortured, but they would not disclose the archbishop’s whereabouts. At the end, they were lined up at a wall and shot. Anacleto’s last words were, “I die. But God does not die! Long live Christ the King!” This November he will be officially declared “Blessed” by the Church in an Mass in Guadalajara, Mexico.
A Protectress of Faith and Rights
QUEEN ISABEL “THE CATHOLIC” OF SPAIN:
Born in 1451, Isabel was proclaimed queen of Castile in 1474. Along with her husband, King Ferdinand, she fought ardently to keep her courts and her country faithful to the faith. Like any political fi gure, some of her decisions were and are controversial, but she strove ardently to inform herself and do the right thing. She is called the “Evangelizer of the New World” because she strongly promoted and inspired many missionaries to bring Christianity to the newly discovered Americas. During this time of the discovery of the Americas she was also confronted with the desire of the adventurers (“conquistadores”) to make the Indians their servants and slaves. She strictly forbade the enslavement of the Indians. When Columbus himself gave an Indian as a personal servant to each of his men, Isabel intervened: “Who authorized my admiral to dispose of my subjects in this manner?” and she sent them all back home to America. She also promoted the legal document that recognized the rights of the Indians. Even though her indications were often ignored by the adventurers, she continued to do all in her power to defend the native Americans from exploitation.
PROTAGONIST: Someone who is an active, important player in an event or competition
HOPE: looking forward to something good. Anticipation of something desirable.
MORAL DIRECTION: Way in which a society is headed in relation to right and wrong.
BELIEVE: Hold fast. Trust in something or someone.
TENACIOUSLY: Holding fast in spite of great diffi culties.
MORAL PRINCIPLES: basic right and wrong. Usually the Ten Commandments is the best example of moral principles.
EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION: Legal decree made by President Abraham Lincoln which gave freedom to all slaves in the United States.
MORAL COURAGE: Bravery in living and defending good values.
RADICAL: Basic; at the very starting point; dramatic; no room for confusion
CONCESSION: Giving in
SELFISHNESS: Keeping things for yourself.
ASTUTE: Clever, smart
LAZINESS: Sickness that all teenagers have (according to their parents). Symptoms tend to become particularly acute when they have to clean up their room or do homework.
APATHY: Lack of interest; boredom
- Why is the nomination of new justices now so hotly contested in the U.S. Senate and in our country? What “hot topics” does the Supreme Court have to deal with today? Why are some of these so divisive for the country? Are some of these issues worth fighting for? Which ones? Why?
- Are the reasons that the Catholic Church opposes abortion merely religious reasons? What are some of those reasons? Can people who are not Catholic also understand them?
- One example of the difference between a specifically Catholic teaching and a teaching about basic right and wrong was mentioned. Do you remember what it was? Can you give other examples of some specific teachings that the Catholic Church does not demand that others follow?
- What is the difference between proposing and imposing? Do Catholics and the Catholic Church impose its values on society?