“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Ronald Reagan spoke these words in 1987 about the Berlin Wall, one of the great symbols of communism. It was a wall that kept people imprisoned within the communist bloc. People died every year trying to cross it.
Many Catholics are concerned these days — and rightly so — about another wall: a wall at the border with Mexico. They see this wall as a symbol of exclusion, a wall that protects our privileges while keeping our brothers and sisters out. Some people die every year trying to cross this wall as well.
But this week I want to speak of another wall. This week, as we commemorate the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, and observe a national day of prayer for the legal protection of unborn children, and go on the March for Life, I want to speak of the legal wall that separates the unborn from those who have the privilege of being born. By means of this wall not only do we prevent more than 800,000 children every year from entering our country, we reach across to the other side of the wall and kill them. And those who defend this wall say that its reinforcement is crucial to the well-being of the country.
There’s a price to pay when the laws of man violate the laws of God. When Saul violated God’s command, he was removed as king of Israel. When Israel violated God’s law again and again, and failed to heed the warnings of the prophets, they were exiled “until the land should recover its lost Sabbaths.” In American history, there was a price to pay for the acceptance of slavery. In world history, there was a price to pay for the errors of communism.
St. John Paul II once asked: “Can history ever swim against the tide of conscience?” The question was only rhetorical, but it’s worth considering the answer, which he knew from his experience with Germany before and during World War II and Russia during the Cold War. The answer is: For a time, but not forever. Different errors take different amounts of time to overcome. In Germany it was just shy of 15 years. With Russia it was more like 75. With slavery it was 90 years between the founding of the country and the Civil War. The truth will win out in the end. But there is a terrible price to pay on the way to that victory.
We are getting close to the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Since 1973 we have killed more than 60 million children, and enshrined that killing as a right in our law. We are preparing a great day of reckoning.
Is this the only issue in an election year? By no means. Along with the Holy Father, I say clearly: there are a great many threats to human dignity — for example negative treatment of immigrants, racism and human trafficking — and all of them deserve our attention.
But is abortion the pre-eminent human rights issue of our time? Along with the U.S. bishops I re-affirm: it is. It is pre-eminent because of the number of children involved — still close to a million a year in our country alone, and because of the kind of act involved — the direct taking of innocent human life.
Given the size of the Catholic Church in the United States, and given the size of the Catholic educational system, we should be able to raise a whole army of political candidates who can address all of the issues through the eyes of the Gospel, and give each issue its proper weight. And the shame of it is — we haven’t. And the shame of it is — we wonder whether it’s even possible.
And so I call on the young Church of today. Young Church, new wine needs new wineskins. Young Church, tear down this wall!