Pathetic State of American Catholicism on Abortion Crystallized from Buffalo Pulpit

1/26/2007 11:07:00 PM
By Gabriel Garnica

It is an area that once saw the great Isaac Jogues sacrifice his life for his Faith based on unselfish service to others and passion to save souls. It is a parish named after the great St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of The Church and student of salvation and truth. Beyond those two icons of Catholic courage and example, however, all that remains of true Catholic courage in the state of New York are the pockets of devoted faithful who know a modern John the Baptist when they see one.

If the primary foe of Catholicism in the days of Jogues in the new world were those pagan Indians who saw his faith as a threat to their beliefs and social order, then its main enemy today is political correctness and betrayal of Catholic beliefs for political expediency. If Aquinas sought to educate and preach about salvation and truth, then this Buffalo parish named after him epitomizes the unnecessary struggle between convenience and courage, heresy and devotion and hypocrisy and truth. I say unnecessary because there would be no struggle if all Catholic leadership and clergy defended and demanded obedience to true Catholic doctrine and teaching. Instead of being soldiers of the Faith, these so-called leaders, models and shepherds fold like cheap suits and wave the white flags of political correctness, modernism and cafeteria Catholicism at the slightest whiff of heat.

If anyone wants to see the sad state of the American Catholic Church on the issue of abortion, let him look to the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Buffalo, where a courageous deacon named Thomas McDonnell stood up for his faith only to be betrayed by precisely those who were supposed to lead him into battle. Instead of receiving complete support, as he deserved, McDonnell was criticized by both Church leadership and enough clueless congregants to make one wonder just what passes for Catholicism in this country.

The Facts

Rep. Brian Higgins is a popular upstate New York Democratic Congressman who is known as a fighter for workers and unions and for trying to improve the economic situation in the Irish Catholic area of South Buffalo. As evidenced by his abortion voting record, Higgins has dramatically shifted from a strong pro-life to a strong pro-abortion position over the past seven years as he moved from the state to Congress. As recently as 2002 The National Abortion Rights Action League considered him an anti-choice politician given his 83% voting record in defense of life. Now, Higgins is strongly supported by both NARAL and Planned Parenthood, being given a 100% rating by both organizations. It appears that Higgins started out trying to uphold his Catholic upbringing, but soon discovered what people like John Kerry and Ted Kennedy have discovered before him. Namely, that Catholics cannot get very far in the Democratic Party unless they denounce core Catholic teaching on abortion, which he has done very effectively. Consistent with that betrayal of Catholic beliefs, Higgins recently voted in favor of embryonic stem cell research.

Despite that pattern of betrayal and rejection of his faith's positions on abortion and related issues, Higgins continues to publicly proclaim his Catholicism because he knows that Irish Catholics form his main political base. In other words, Higgins wants to have his cake and eat it as well. He wants Catholic votes while betraying Catholic teaching.

He has no problem publicly rejecting and disrespecting Catholic doctrine while publicly declaring and characterizing himself as a Catholic. This public position is nothing short of a public rejection of his own faith which, given his public position, can only serve as a destructive and harmful example to his Catholic constituency.

Given the fact that Higgins is very popular and works to help many Catholics' wallets with his labor and economic efforts, it appears that most area Catholics are happy to overlook his support of abortion, just as long as he keeps helping them put bread on the table. Likewise, so-called Catholic leadership in the area bows to Higgins as well to stay in his favor and avoid hassles.

The Spark

Although he was baptized and married in St. Thomas Aquinas parish, Higgins is now a parishioner at a nearby parish. He recently attended a remembrance mass for the wife of a political friend on, of all days, Respect Life Sunday. Deacon McDonnell realized that Higgins was in attendance and, repeating words he had given the day before from the pulpit, called on Catholics to pay closer attention to politicians' voting records on certain issues before voting for those politicians. He suggested that congregants speak to Higgins about his record. At this, Higgins and his family stood up and left.

Reaction Against

Witnesses at McDonnell's Saturday comments report that there was applause supporting his words and Rev. Art Smith, the pastor, who was present, agreed with his comments. However, when McDonnell repeated those comments the next day and directed them at Higgins, Smith, Bishop Edward Kmiec of The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and many congregants proceeded to criticize him.

Smith has stated that he feels "horrible" about the incident and the Higgins family's departure and offered an apology from the pulpit after Higgins had left. He has stated that "While we have to always uphold the church's position regarding life, I don't think it's even fair to publicly criticize someone who serves our community and our parish so well." Bishop Kmiec has stated that "The pulpit is not the appropriate place for confronting a member of the congregation. It is my belief that in situations like this, we are more effective when we have substantive, one-on-one conversations with individuals outside the context of the Mass."

Congregants Noreen Curr and Marie Fitzgerald have strongly criticized the deacon, stating that the pulpit and occasion was not the appropriate place and manner to handle this issue. Fitzgerald told The Buffalo News "I think it was terrible the way (the Mass) was done. It's an embarrassment to Brian and to a lot of parishioners who were there." Curr said she "felt bad that he left." Both women wanted the deacon to publicly apologize to Higgins and the parishioners.

Reaction in Favor

Stacey Vogel of The Buffalo Regional Right to Life Committee, on the other hand, said "God bless the deacon a thousand times. He did his job. If every bishop, every clergy member of all faiths did their jobs, we would not have the shedding of innocent life in our country." Vogel stated that her group hopes to give McDonnell an award.

The applause noted above and many reactions from parishioners and bloggers suggest that there is a real division among Catholics over this event. While many feel that McDonnell was wrong to do what he did in the manner he did it, many others feel that his words and actions were necessary and courageous.

Typical Press Coverage

Many witnesses report that McDonnell did not "blast" Higgins as the press has characterized, but merely pointed out the importance of researching the voting records of those one plans to vote for on certain issues, and suggesting that parishioners discuss Higgins' record with him. As expected, the media loves to depict any source of division in the Catholic Church as a battle between enlightened, open-minded, progressive Catholics and ignorant, stubborn, intolerant Catholics who want to drag or keep the Church in the Middle Ages.

Higgins Reaction

Higgins has characterized his relationship with St. Thomas Aquinas Church as "very deep, very meaningful and very long." and has expressed dismay over the incident causing him to leave, stating "The lesson here is that the Catholic Church as enough problems and should take greater care before allowing non-priests to use the church as a forum to advance what clearly was a political agenda…..I want to apologize to the good people of St. Thomas Aquinas Church…they should not have been subjected to that, and they deserved much better."

The Issue

Simply put, this incident crystallizes the sad state of the American Catholic Church on the issue of abortion. Abortion is the most detestable and despicable genocide in history, leading to the intentional murder of millions and millions of innocent lives every year. More unborn children are killed via abortion in one day than died on 9/11.

Despite the clear horror of this barbaric act, the American Catholic Church has failed to stand up and denounce those who dare to call themselves Catholic yet support and defend this wanton murder of innocents. While some courageous clerics do stand up against these Catholic frauds, most provide pathetic lip service, preferring to utter wimpy expressions of "pastoral ministry", "open dialogue" and "proper channels of debate".

People like John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, Richard Durbin, Jennifer Granholm, Kathleen Sebellius, Mario Cuomo, Rudolph Giuliani and George Pataki dare to call themselves Catholic and even use that Catholic label for political advantage yet continually defy church teaching on this most important of issues.

Catholic politicians are increasingly facing the choice between standing up for their Catholic beliefs or rejecting them for political expediency, convenience and practicality. All too often, they choose the latter simply because there is much to gain and little to lose in their decision. The gain is the opportunity to rise in political circles and gain votes. The loss is non-existent given the fact that such people face no backlash from their own Church leaders. If all Church leaders and clerics stood as one to do their job, many of these politicians would move away from the pro-abortion position to avoid the fallout.

Sadly, rather than courageously and vigorously standing their ground on this most profound issue, these leaders and clerics surrender, appease, compromise and even betray that position, allowing politicians a way out. As might be expected, many Catholic voters likewise allow these politicians off the hook merely following the lead of their so-called shepherds. If leadership and clerics all strongly denounced Catholic politicians who support abortion, many Catholic voters would follow suit and vote consistently with that issue in mind.

Many people have criticized the public nature of the deacon's comments or the forum in which he made them, citing them as inappropriate. However, let us consider that Higgins' voting record and self-promotion as Catholic are public as well, and amount to a public rejection of his own faith. Likewise, any politician's voting record is a matter for public discussion, debate and accountability. If Higgins feels that he has nothing to hide and stands by his voting record, why does he shy away from discussing it or try to escape such accountability? I will assume, for the sake of argument, that Higgins actually votes based on his true beliefs and not for votes. Given that assumption, it would seem logical that he actually believes that it is right to defend and support abortion. I will further assume that he is proud of his beliefs. Given this, if Higgins is proud of his pro-abortion votes, why would he be "embarrassed" by having them discussed in any forum? Could it be that deep down he knows he has something to be embarrassed about?

Considering his shift from a pro-life to a pro-abortion position in obvious deference to political advantage and convenience, his strong support of and from radical abortion groups and primary abortion provider Planned Parenthood and his public rejection of the Catholic Church's position against abortion, Rep. Brian Higgins got what was coming to him. He should have to answer for his blatant support of abortion despite his own "deep…meaningful…and long" relationship with his faith.

As far as using the Mass for this accountability as opposed to more private means, one might ask how effective our leaders have been in converting wayward Catholic politicians to the pro-life side using the "one-on-one" and private strategy advocated by the likes of Bishop Kmiec here and Washington D.C. Archbishop Wuerl in the case of Nancy Pelosi. As far as I can tell, the only way to get Catholic politicians to listen is through public accountability. If liberals can use the pulpit to promote their agendas and pretend to be so devoted to their faith, then Catholics should be able to use that same forum to defend their faith from the relentless onslaught of heresy, defiance and betrayal characterized by politicians like Higgins.


The American Catholic Church is quickly becoming a sea of compromise, appeasement, surrender and even betrayal of core Catholic beliefs and doctrine, like a moral Titanic sinking under the weight of its own ambivalent doctrinal inconsistency and rampant political correctness. It has hit the iceberg of a society's watered-down moral chaos, and is taking on water from all sides.

Even as it sinks further into oblivion, its so-called leaders offer further compromise and appeasement as the lifeboats for its survival. Rather than standing firm against the storm as Christ did, these leaders bow to evil and sin out of political and social practicality, greed, cowardice or even agreement with that evil and sin itself. We have reached the sad point where deacons are showing their bosses how to be shepherds. Not only are those leaders criticizing instead of defending their deacons, but also apologizing to those the deacons rebuke. When the general kisses the feet of the opposing force and begs forgiveness for his soldier's courage, we have truly hit rock bottom.

Beware those evil forces that increasingly infect our Church with claims of social justice, "the common good", "open tolerance", "dialogue" and other euphemisms for moral surrender and compromise. Refuse the lie that abortion is just one issue among many. Refuse to accept that the blood of innocents can be bought for better jobs or better schools. Reject those Catholic frauds who arrogantly twist their faith as they wish while insolently using it for personal advantage as well.

May God Almighty grant us more courageous shepherds like Deacon Thomas McDonnell who dare to walk in the footsteps of Isaac Jogues and Thomas Aquinas as servants of truth, courage and salvation!