The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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July 28, 2000 Issue
Bishop Banks' Corner

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

What will they say in 200 years?

Freedom of choice means the freedom to make the right choice


By Bishop Robert Banks

It's good to be back in northeast Wisconsin!

I started my vacation with a couple of days in Boston last week. There was plenty of excitement there, some of it great, some of it not so great. The Tall Ships were in town, so the TV was full of that and some seven million people came to see the Tall Ships and the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy.

Since I had seen Tall Ships when they came to town to celebrate the nation's Bicentennial in 1976, and I'd had the opportunity 10 years ago to celebrate Mass for the Kennedy family on the flight deck of the JFK on July 4th, I passed up the opportunity to join the seven million folks lined up at the harbor.

But something else was going on in Boston at the same time that very much caught my attention. The Governor of Massachusetts some months ago appointed to the highest court of the Commonwealth a woman who had served some years ago on the board of Planned Parenthood and, I am told, also acted as counsel for Planned Parenthood in several court cases. Now the Executive Council had to approve the appointment. So the major Boston newspaper carried about six articles or columns that indirectly or directly, subtly or aggressively supported the appointment and the pro choice cause.

The furor over the appointment and its approval reminded me of how happy I am to be in northeast Wisconsin where there is so much appreciation for the pro-life cause. But it also reminded me of how committed and influential are the forces that support the pro choice position.

Pro-life versus pro-choice.

That is the struggle that divides much of our nation today. Once again, the United States Supreme Court has come down with a decision that, by a narrow margin, favors the pro-choice side. The only encouraging sign is that one of the judges, who voted with the majority, indicated the possibility of voting in favor of a law that would more narrowly ban partial-birth abortion.

The main issue at stake in this struggle between pro-life supporters and those who favor the pro-choice position is abortion. But the names given the two positions reveal another, perhaps an even more basic, split in our modern culture.

The first position is given the name "Pro-life" to state boldly that it is in favor of a basic good that everyone does or should value -- life. The second position, "Pro-choice," is given that name to attract the support of all those for whom the ability to choose is most important, even if the choice is for something harmful.

In our present day culture, the expression "pro-choice" is probably the more attractive, putting aside the issue of abortion. Modern Americans are basically in favor of freedom, and freedom for them means the ability to choose what you want, good or bad, without any interference.

There is, however, another understanding of freedom. In this understanding, real freedom exists when one freely chooses the right thing. So, for the Christian, that person is truly free who chooses freely to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

It reminds me of the scene of the two Dutch Christian women standing before the Nazi officer during World War II. In a vain attempt to force them to answer his questions in regard to where Jews might be hiding, he said, "Don't you know that I have the power of life and death over you?" Their simple response was, "You have no power over us at all." That is freedom.

It is not freedom when persons, because of the laws of the country they live in, are able to choose to jail the innocent, oppress the poor, persecute those who are different.

As I write this, my mind goes back to a discussion I had with another professor in the faculty lounge of the seminary where I taught in Boston. This was some 35 years ago and we were talking about the debates going on among the bishops at the Vatican Council. In many of those debates, fingers were pointed at mistakes made by popes, bishops and theologians during the previous couple of centuries.

My friend and I were wondering what people would say 200 years from now about the decisions, policies and teaching that we felt were so right in the early 1960's. My guess was that the pundits of the year 2263 would be lamenting the mistakes we made in our understanding of freedom and liberty.

That was before so many Americans bought into the pro-choice position. Now it seems to me even more likely that Americans of the future will lament the way we today are using freedom of choice to construct a culture and society that is open to abortion and even to doctors assisting persons to commit suicide.

Speaking of physician-assisted suicide, you should know that proponents of that cause are pushing for its acceptance in a referendum that will be held in Maine this November. The referendum will have a national impact, so money is pouring into the state from outside supporters of assisted suicide. If you want to help the other side, I am sure that Bp. Joseph Gerry can use whatever financial assistance you can offer. His address is P.O. Box 11559, Portland, ME, 04104. You don't need the address to offer the prayers which he, and our country, can use in the support of life.



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