In our travels, my husband and I happened to witness an unforgettable response to a parish priest who dared to bring up the subject of abortion in his homily.
We were at a friend’s parish, and it was October, just before a national election. The point of the priest’s homily was that his parishioners had a responsibility to vote pro-life.
He was very careful not to mention any candidate’s name or any political party. He talked only about pro-life issues, particularly abortion.
Here was a priest who understood his responsibility to educate his parishioners about the teachings of the Church and to guide them on the right path.
Religious or Political?
I have had people tell me that abortion is a political matter and should be kept out of church. More commonly, the pro-abortion advocates say that opposition to abortion is a religious thing and thus such a biased view should be kept out of politics.
This schizophrenic divide is annoyingly ironic. It’s not religious because its political, but its not political because its religious. Huh?
The people who want it kept out of church are probably those who are “pro-choice” and don’t want the Church criticizing their opinion. After all, they can think for themselves and don’t need some stodgy old priest telling them what to do.
Also likely is that many people find abortion just too uncomfortable a topic for church. They go to church to feel good, so they don’t want to hear anything heavy. They are happy to ignore the tough issues and leave all that to the politicians.
Then again, there are those who don’t want any topics related to sex or “women’s issues” to be discussed in church. It’s just not appropriate in a holy place, they say.
Constitutional Protection or Prohibition?
Those who claim religious opinions about abortion should be kept out of politics defend their position with the over-used and little-understood citation about the separation of church and state.
The Constitution says in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In other words, no state religion and no keeping people from practicing whatever religion they want.
That’s it. Nothing else. So those who get hysterical if anything religious touches anything related to government are way off base.
There are tax laws that prohibit churches, and other nonprofits, from engaging in political activities. As a result, pastors and bishops shy away from anything that smacks of politics for fear of losing their tax exemptions.
Responsibility of Pastors and Bishops
That, however, is a just an excuse. They are allowed, of course, to talk about matters of morality, even if they come up in politics. After all, just because something is legal doesn’t make it right. Capital punishment and abortion are legal, but they are not morally acceptable, and the priest should say so to his parishioners.
Nonetheless, as I mentioned in a recent blog on “Catholics and Abortion,” only 44% of Catholics reported hearing a homily on abortion the month before a general election. Otherwise, outside of election time, very few homilies are given on the topic. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/musingsfromthepew/2021/10/p361/
In another blog, I discussed the fear of speaking out, of showing affiliation with a certain cause. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/musingsfromthepew/2021/10/blogs-musingsfromthepew-p331/
My suspicion has been that priests are afraid of offending their congregations and being sent packing by popular demand. I’ve seen that happen when some parishioners complained to the bishop over a homily that was perfectly in line with church teaching (which is not left wing or right wing), but they saw as partisan.
A couple of priests have told me that actually the bigger problem is priests being afraid of disciplinary action from bishops who are even more afraid of causing controversy.
A Happy Ending
The pastor at my friend’s church appeared nervous throughout his homily. When he finished and turned back to the altar, his face said, “Well, I just lost this job!”
Not so. Much to his surprise, everyone in church stood up and applauded!
If think there were tears in the priest’s eyes and in the eyes of many others. I know I was in tears because I was so proud of him and so touched by the reaction of the parishioners.
You never know how people will react. While a homily on abortion could bring lots of trouble, it could also be just what people want from their priests — truth, guidance, and courage.