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Holding Christ hostage

Alex Coccia | Tuesday, January 24, 2012

This article is not endorsing Ron Paul, nor condemning Rick Santorum, nor is this article taking a stance on the legality of abortion. What must be under critical dialogue, especially at Notre Dame, is precisely how to enter a discussion on the topic of abortion respectfully and in the context of the love that religious people believe Jesus exemplified.

Black comedian and social commentator Richard Pryor told a story in a 1983 interview regarding a picture that he had in his mind: “Once I was in a Church and Jesus was on the cross and he said, ‘Psst, come here. Get me down. I’ve been up here two-thousand years trying to get to the graveyard.’ So I took him off the cross and we were leaving the church together and alarms went off and great searchlights went off all over the cathedral. And monks came out and jumped on us and they started beating us up. And they took him and they put him back on the cross. And they threw me out. And I said, ‘I’m gonna tell!’ And as they were throwing me out the door, the monk said, ‘Who’s gonna believe you?'”

The first interpretation I could think of for Pryor’s segment was the act of holding Christ hostage, in the sense of asking, “Who/what controls the modern day Church in America?” Is it a Church hierarchy, or the condition given by Jesus to love, unconditionally? When one of the most prominent images of American Catholicism is a yard full of crosses, it is hard not to think that the politicization of one issue has blinded the need for constructive efforts to alleviate suffering in other arenas of public life.

It was extremely reassuring, although horrifyingly ineffective towards voters in South Carolina, that over forty Catholic leaders and prominent theologians across the country issued a public statement to candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, stating: “As Catholic leaders who recognize that the moral scandals of racism and poverty remain a blemish on the American soul, we challenge our fellow Catholics Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to stop perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes on the campaign trail. … Labeling our nation’s first African-American president with a title that evokes the past myth of ‘welfare queens’ and inflaming other racist caricatures is irresponsible, immoral and unworthy of political leaders.” The most important line, however, reads, “Some presidential candidates now courting ‘values voters’ seem to have forgotten that defending human life and dignity does not stop with protecting the unborn.”

Within the Republican debates, the issue of a Consistent Ethic of Life has been lost, exemplified when Rick Santorum lambasted Ron Paul for having a “National Right to Life voting record of 50 percent.” Both Santorum and Paul identify as “pro-life;” that is, anti-abortion. However, because Paul votes according to his political conscience (which believes abortion should be made illegal on a state, not a federal level), since the issue is not prescribed in the Constitution, Ron Paul cannot claim to be “pro-life,” according to Santorum.

The message of the prominent Catholic leaders is an extremely important balance to the statement issued by Santorum on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade: “The right to life is the first right. Without its protection, no other rights matter.” This idea, that until abortion is made illegal — the prerogative of National Right to Life and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (probably the two largest lobbying organizations on the issue) — no other rights matter, is precisely the danger of the bipolarity of the abortion debate and tying it completely to matters of religiosity, and even worse, tying matters of religiosity to a particular political party. Santorum thinks the issue should be made illegal at the federal level because of his religious beliefs. Paul thinks the issue should be addressed at the state level because of his constitutional beliefs.

Constructive dialogue regarding abortion can only come within a conceptual framework of Cardinal Bernadin’s Consistent Ethic of Life. But constructive dialogue also comes from abiding by Jesus’ call to love. University president Fr. John Jenkins put it eloquently while introducing the President of the United States in 2009: “As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote in their pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes: ‘Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.’ If we want to extend courtesy, respect and love — and enter into dialogue — then surely we can start by acknowledging what is honorable in others.”

The moment that acknowledging what is honorable in others becomes a task too onerous because of a person’s stance on abortion is the moment that Christ is taken hostage. His body no longer represents the conquering of death to ensure the right for all to live with God. Instead, the love that he proclaimed for all people is silenced.


Alex Coccia is a sophomore. He appreciates the conversations he has in the Student Welfare and Development Lounge. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.