Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Our "Peculiar Institution"

I found this brief reflection, written by a priest in the Washington, D.C. area, to be very insightful, and wanted to pass it on to all of you:

In 1462, Pope Pius II condemned the slave trade being carried on in what came to be called the "Old World." Pope Leo X denounced slavery again in 1537, and Paul III specifically forbade the enslavement of the Indians in the "New World." In later centuries, other Popes issued condemnations: Urban VIII in 1639, and Benedict XIV in 1741. In 1839, Pope Gregory XVI proclaimed the following:

"By virtue of our Apostolic office, we warn and admonish in the Lord all Christians of whatever conditions they may be, and enjoin upon them that for the future, no one shall venture unjustly to oppress the Indians, Negroes or other men whoever they may be, to strip them of their property, or reduce them into servitude, or give aid or support to those who commit such excesses or carry on that infamous traffic by which the blacks, as if they were not men, but mere impure animals reduced like them into servitude, contrary to the laws of justice and humanity, are bought, sold and devoted to endure the hardest labor. Wherefore, by virtue of our Apostolic authority, we condemn all these things as absolutely unworthy of the Christian name."

The Holy See's admonitions were ignored in the United States, where white Catholics were pretty much in line with other white Americans regarding the "peculiar institution" of slavery. Some were pro-slavery without apology; some were "pro choice" - personally opposed to slavery, but unwilling to impose their morality on others; some were opposed to slavery in theory even as they owned slaves, being unwilling to impose their morality on themselves. No doubt many Americans saw the Church as out of touch, in need of updating its moral teachings.

So there was no national conversion on slavery; it took a war to redeem the nation's sin in blood, to use Lincoln's imagery, and a constitutional amendment to end it. Yet now we look back and ask, "What were they thinking? How could they have done it?" The injustice of slavery, which was so entrenched, so convenient, and so profitable for so many, seems obvious to us, as we inaugurate a person of color as our new President.

But we also remember the court decision that has made abortion an entrenched, convenient, and profitable institution for so many today, and which has cost our country 48,000,000 lives in the space of a generation. Our (surviving) descendants will ask, "What were they thinking? How could they have done it?"

Some of us have always been pro-life; some of us have become pro-life after having had other views; some of us have become pro-life after having had, or paid for, or performed, abortions; and God bless us all. But our "peculiar institution" still thrives, and this time war is not an option. Only conversion and repentance can redeem a nation in which the value of a baby's life is still an open question. What will it take to soften our hearts?

Rev. George E. Stuart

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