Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker City, Ore., has caused quite a stir in declaring, “It is categorically impossible for the same person to state that he or she believes simultaneously both what the Catholic Church teaches and that abortion is just a choice.”

The fact that the Bishop was making a thinly veiled reference to a “she” who is a prominent politian turned the stir into a storm. Citing an October interview with Newsweek, the “she” who describes herself as a faithful Catholic, stated her position on abortion: “To me it isn’t even a question. God has given us a free will. We’re all responsible for our actions. If you don’t want an abortion, you don’t believe in it, [then] don’t have one. But don’t tell somebody else what they can do in terms of honoring their responsibilities.”

Bishop Vasa pointed out that morality is not simply a matter of making choices, any choice whatsoever, but of making a good choice or, as he said, a “just” choice: “It seems to me that there are just choices and there are unjust choices . . . An unjust choice would be to choose to terminate the life of another human being. This is not just a choice and it is not a just choice; it is an unjust choice.”

Most would agree that an employer makes a “just choice” when he chooses to pay his help a fair and living wage. The opposite choice, exploitive in its essence, would be an “unjust choice.” Choice itself is neither just nor unjust. But if we want it to be just, we must consult our intellect.

The good Bishop was really making a broad philosophical point, not one that relates to abortion alone or even one that is theological. Yes, he agrees, God certainly endows us with free will. This has never been exactly a secret. But if, in addition to that gift, God did not give us intelligence, we would never be able to use our freedom. A diner is free to choose anything on the menu. But if the diner cannot read Chinese and all the menu items are in that language, he or she is unable to exercise his or her freedom in any meaningful way. The diner needs a translator before there can be an intelligent use of that freedom.

The political figure to whom the Bishop refers neglects to say, “God has given us an intellect.” This is a most egregious omission. The intellect works in tandem with the will so that the will can make an enlightened choice. Without the intellect, the will remains in the dark.

It is indeed odd that in a culture that honors people who are generously endowed with high intelligence, a prominent citizen, when it suits his or her purpose, will suppress that incontrovertible fact. We admire those who have a high I.Q., those who are members of Mensa and those who score high on college admissions exams. To be called an “Einstein” or a “brain” is considered a lavish compliment.

On the other hand, isolating the will from the intellect is disdained. We sternly rebuke those who are willful, obstinate, and unbending, those who do not listen to reason. The derogatory term “airhead” refers to a person who continues to make choices despite being essentially mindless.

Bishop Vasas is saying, basically, that we should use our minds, enlighten our wills and choose what is good. This is simply a matter of common sense. In addition, he is saying, as it were, “Oh, by the way, the Catholic Church endorses common sense.” It is an ominous sign of the times, however, that even an appeal to common sense can generate a national controversy.

Dr. DeMarco is an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell.