Today’s post comes from a guest contributor, Chantel, who has been reading our blog since the beginning. She submitted this editorial that she came across from The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly newspaper. The editorial is from 1978, and is reprinted with the permission of the author and publisher. Many thanks to Chantal and Al Matt!
Fr. Hehir Should be Fired
by A.J. Matt, Jr.
March 16, 1978
Fr. J. Bryan Hehir, the USCC’s associate general secretary for international justice and peace, is one of the key men who constitute the inner circle’s think tank at the Washington headquarters of the United States Catholic Conference. Fr. Hehir has been instrumental in the increasing politicization of the USCC and came into prominence and influence during the term of Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin as president of the NCCB-USCC.
Among the “credits” Fr. Hehir can claim are key roles in developing the “Call to Action”; persuading the Bishops to pull back from a firm anti-abortion stance during the 1976 presidential elections; recommending to the Bishops that they approve the turnover of the Panama Canal; blunting any episcopal resistance to the return of St. Stephen’s crown to the Hungarian Communists.
It has become increasingly apparent that the USCC’s inner circle of policy-makers, within which Bryan Hehir is not the least, has become an echo chamber for Carter administration policies in a number of areas.
The secularization of the USCC policy (and therefore the U.S. Bishops’ policy) is now proceeding under Fr. Hehir’s guidance into the area of demographics. According to a recent NC News report, Fr. Hehir has now “proposed a human rights strategy to bridge the gap between the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion and artificial means of birth control and its belief that overpopulation can be a real social problem.” Into the “gap” steps Bryan Hehir with a three point approach which would, in effect, “Carterize” the Church’s position on abortion, contraception and related population matters. Here’s what NC News describes as Fr. Hehir’s proposal:
First, he said, the Church believes that social justice is the key factor in controlling population growth. The Church believes that parents will reduce their family’s size when they are assured of “minimum dignity” and satisfaction of human needs, Fr. Hehir said.
Second, he said, the Church should oppose certain means of population control on human rights grounds. “We would oppose abortion on human rights grounds … and we would oppose sterilization as a tool that is too dangerous to place in the hands of government.”
Third, Fr. Hehir said, he would offer a strictly personal opinion that ‘We could, on the basis of living in a pluralistic society, remain silent on the contraception question’ in the public policy area while upholding the Church’s teachings internally.
He said such an approach was consistent with Catholic tradition because ‘Catholic tradition doesn’t always try to translate internal policy into public policy.'” (St. Louis Review, 3/3/78).
Stripping away the jargon, what the Hehir proposal amounts to is: (1) that an increase in material well being will move Catholic married couples to selfishly limit the size of their families; (2) that abortion and sterilization should be opposed more from a pragmatic perspective than from any absolute moral reprobation; (3) that the Catholic Church should institutionalize what has become known as the Kennedy, Drinan, Carter syndrome of schizophrenic morality: “personally I am opposed, but …”
That Fr. Hehir can use an official position within the Church to propagate such sophistries is an affront to every Catholic whose generosity makes it possible for our Bishops to have a USCC in the first place.
Contrast Fr. Hehir’s narrow and mean view of Catholic parents as selfish materialists with this vision of the love and generosity which motivates truly Catholic couples:
May the Second Vatican Council increase in Christian spouses this spirit of generosity for the expansion of the new People of God. May it also arouse in them the desire for children whom they can offer to God in the priesthood and in religious life for the salvation and service of their brethren and for the greater glory of God. Let them always remember that the expansion of God’s kingdom and the possibility of the Church’s penetration among men for their eternal and earthly salvation is dependent on their generosity.” (Pope Paul VI alloction of 2/16/66).
Fr. Hehir’s proposal to “remain silent on the contraception question” is nothing short of a cowardly moral cop-out covered up by the excuse of our “living in a pluralistic society.”
To suggest, as Bryan Hehir does, that to “remain silent” while our government formulates and imposes laws promoting contraception and other immoral practices is “consistent with Catholic tradition” is simply false.
Catholic tradition as embodied in countless episcopal declarations, papal allocutions and encyclicals has denounced contraceptive propaganda and programs in whatever context they might appear – even in “pluralistic societies”!
In stark contrast to Fr. Hehir’s accomodationist position, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith expresses genuine Catholic tradition with respect to law which violates morality. Addressing itself to the limits of human law in par. 21 of its “Declaration on Procured Abortion,” the Congregation declares:
The law is not obliged to sanction everything, but it cannot act contrary to a law which is deeper and more majestic than any human law: the natural law engraved in men’s hearts by the Creator as a norm which reason clarifies and strives to formulate properly, and which one must always struggle to understand better, but which is always wrong to contradict. Human law can abstain from punishment, but it cannot declare to be right what would be opposed to the natural law, for this opposition suffices to give the assurance that a law is not a law at all.”
For too long Catholics in this Country have endured the clamor and posturing of various and sundry experts who presume to inform their consciences while the real teachers and shepherds, the Bishops, too often remain silent. The time is long overdue for our Bishops, joining in communion with Christ’s Vicar in Rome, to assert themselves, as instructors of the Catholic conscience. Firing Bryan Hehir would be a good beginning.
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Readers, just to note–this was written 32 years ago! The ideology you heard above about Catholic teachings being for private moralityinside the Church and not public morality has served as the justification for decades of dissent by so-called “Catholic” pro-abortion and pro-gay politicians.
Even more important, Fr. Hehir’s and others’ ideas like this were able to advance and take hold over the intervening 32 years because people did not understand the Church’s moral teaching to begin with. For example, Hehir based part of his argument on the “need” for population control. Now, history has obviously proven that perceived “need” wrong since we’re facing something more like a demographic winter. But to even consider that population needed to be controlled was wrong.
We can blame it on the priests and bishops for not teaching, or for teaching incorrectly in some cases, and certainly we have big problems there. But at the same time, when we get to our judgment day, can we say to the Lord in asking forgiveness for our sins and failings, “I’m sorry, Father never taught me this?” Unless we are all prepared from the get-go with true moral teaching and proactively seek that out ourselves, we’ll fall on our faces every time.