As a member of the Society of Jesus, it was embarrassing. As a member of the Society of Jesus, it was distressing, to say the least. It was right there in all the papers: life had become cheap—very cheap—happening at one of the first institutions the Jesuits established in the United States. There, on the nightly news and on the front page of the newspaper, we read how some people at one of the Jesuit schools had made their living buying and selling human beings. It was reported how some profited in declaring that a person who might look a bit different than those who are white and wealthy, were not fit to live, let alone be treated with dignity. It was a sad moment, and something in me needs to apologize to all those good Catholic parents, Christian parents, Muslim parents, and all parents of good will who entrust their children to Jesuit schools.
What am I talking about? It turns out that in 1838, some of the early Jesuits at Georgetown sold some of their slaves in order to keep the university solvent. Back then, our superiors in Rome insisted that to sell slaves meant, first, that they had to be sold with families remaining intact, and only to places where these families could still receive the sacraments. This is embarrassing enough. This is sad enough. It therefore rightly demands an apology. Accordingly, a task force has been set up to find the African-American descendants of these poor people, and to offer them a scholarship to the oldest Catholic University in the United States, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. As sad as this scenario is, however, I am referring to a very recent event at Georgetown University concerning a new form of selling life. I am lamenting this new way of disregarding those we find inconvenient because our own way of life is at risk.
Last month, the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, was invited to Georgetown University to deliver an uncontested talk, which concerned the unapologetic need for the destruction of unborn human life. The Lecture Fund of the university predictably defended her invitation on “free speech” grounds. (I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that this comes from a recognized campus group who invited a well-known pornographer, Larry Flynt, to speak about First Amendment rights at Georgetown University on May 15, 1999—the same Larry Flynt who produced XXX-rated publications, like Hustler Magazine).
At stake here, however, is not only the nature of Jesuit and Catholic education, but also the issue of how we train our young people to understand what is meant by “freedom,” and the inherent duty of each of us to defend the most vulnerable life entrusted to the human family. Americans glibly stand by the mantra that one has the right to do whatever one wishes with one’s own body. Perhaps. But the very moment a woman becomes pregnant, it is no longer just involving “her own” body, but the unborn child’s body developing inside her as well. She now shares her life with another, forever. Abortion kills, it divides, and I have never met any female who was truthfully grateful to the clinic or the person who caused an abortion of her unborn child.
When Planned Parenthood’s lucrative industry was threatened in the selling of procedures and abortifacients causing the destruction of innocent unborn human life, another Supreme Court decision—this time in 1992—decided in favor of PP. It argued that:
These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State. (Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 1992; 505 U.S. 833, 852)
A half-millennium before Christ, the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, famously taught that a man cannot step into the same river twice. According to this way of thinking, everything is in such constant flux, that nothing has any stable nature or purpose to it. While this remains a possible undercurrent in philosophical schools throughout the centuries, Heraclitean instability reappears in a more noxious form in modern existentialism. Thinkers, like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, prepared the way for Planned Parenthood v. Casey by arguing that “existence precedes essence” in such a way that one now is forced to make life “purposeful.” It is now up to the human agent to decide whether or not his or her life will have any kind of goal or meaning. Today, we are all able to create our own world, and our own understanding of who can live (or not) in our fabricated fantasies. Presently, any common discourse, any common care for one another, any kind of convergence or communion becomes a threat against my own way of wanting to be. Ideas do really matter. It may take a while, but thoughts form actions, and actions determine destinies.
Catholic Social Teaching demands that we are creatures made for communion: “…man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself ” (Gaudium et Spes §24). We are cheating our students by not showing them that their truest self lies in the heart of the other; true human excellence begins when I begin to see my own self in the other. This is the entire point of the incarnation: God chose to dwell as one of his own creatures. In Christ Jesus, there are then found all people, and whatever we do to the least of each of these persons, we do even to Christ himself (Matthew 25).
More often than not, the story of the human race has been one of competition and conquest. When God himself came into his own creation in Christ, this was all supposed to end. The Victim now hangs on the Cross, wooing all those with plans of destruction and domination to lay down their violent impulses, and see instead in Christ what it is that they are really seeking. As such, trading in human lives, or selling them, or killing them, is not God’s plan for us.
This is why we should all recoil at the headlines of slaves being sold, and families being divided—all the worse, when some of Christ’s own priests are complicit. Nolo contendere.
But when modern day slave traders are invited onto a Catholic campus to deliver a panegyric encouraging the right of the strong to destroy the weak in the womb, and portraying it as a matter of “justice,” something has gone terribly wrong. Planned Parenthood is responsible for the taking of 300,000 innocent little lives each year in our country. When representatives from this deadly organization are given access to our students, we should worry: souls of these students are endangered, a grave scandal occurs. In charity though, we all should recall the fact that our real enemy is not made of flesh and blood (Eph 6:12). From that perspective, I therefore pray that Cecile Richards, and her constituents—as well as those running our Catholic schools—would realize that fact as well.