A Holy Week miracle

Senate kills abortion rights bill; pro-lifers made voices heard

Nissa LaPoint
Machebeuf students and nearly 1,000 faithful cheer for life at the state Capitol April 15.  The abortion rights Senate Bill 175 was killed by the Senate April 16.

Remember this night; remember this bill.

Life won a victory over the culture of death tonight when state senators began to buckle in the pursuit of the “abortion rights” Senate Bill 175 and killed it shortly before 7 p.m.

Pro-lifers mobilized in less than a week to pray for the defeat of the destructive bill that threatened to create unfettered access to abortion and undo life-affirming laws in Colorado.

Faith-filled citizens inundated state senators with phone calls, emails and personal requests to vote down the bill in support of mothers and for the protection of the unborn.

Jenny Kraska of the Colorado Catholic Conference said this night, April 16, is proof that Catholics can make a difference.

“Whenever someone says that we can’t make a difference, just remember this night, just remember this bill,” she said.

The Senate moved to lay over the bill until May 8, one day after the legislative session is scheduled to end on May 7. This effectively killed the bill, and the Senate will not vote on it.

Sen. John Kefalas, D-Larimer, who belongs to the Orthodox Church, and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, a parishioner at Spirit of Christ Church in Arvada, reportedly began to waver in their support of the bill as pro-lifers made their voices heard.

Without the majority vote of the Democrats, the bill would have failed.

Kraska thanked everyone for their witness that stopped the bill in its tracks.

“It is because of your willingness to engage the public square that we were able to defeat (Senate Bill 175),” she said in a statement. “Your voices matter and are needed in the public square now more than ever; please remember what we were able to accomplish and continue to be involved and make your voices heard.”

Some are calling it a Holy Week miracle.

“I cannot thank you all enough for what you did to make this possible—this is truly a miracle,” Kraska said.

The bill’s progress was stopped one day after nearly 1,000 Christians gathered with Archbishop Samuel Aquila and Greek Orthodox Father Ambrose Omayas at the state Capitol to pray for the protection of life.

Young and old; men, women and children; laity and religious; solemnly prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 p.m. April 15.

The bill was scheduled for a vote that same evening and faithful from the gathering outside flooded the Senate chambers. However, the Senate moved to lay over the bill because one Democrat, Kefalas, a key supporter of the bill, reportedly went home sick.

Bill proponents believe the outside prayer gathering and the high volume of opposition and prayer led the Democrat-controlled Senate to move to end the bill April 16.

During that prayer rally, Archbishop Aquila told the crowd gathered on the Capitol steps that it’s important to participate in the political system. He said Catholics can no longer take the backseat.

“Some of the senators have said they have shut off their phones, some of them said they have never been contacted by so many,” the archbishop said during the gathering. “And you can make a difference. Too many times we have taken a backseat, and Catholics, Christians, and people of good will can no longer take a back seat.”

His statements echoed the words of Pope Francis, who said in September, “A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern.”

COMING UP: Joe Biden is Isaac Hecker’s fault?

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Vice President Joe Biden takes the oath of office at the 56th Presidential Inauguration, Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009 (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released)

U.S. Catholics generally know little about the Church’s history in our country. But whether you’re trying to fill gaps in your knowledge or just looking for a good read, let me recommend a new book by Russell Shaw: Catholics in America – Religious Identity and Cultural Assimilation from John Carroll to Flannery O’Connor (Ignatius Press).

Its formidable subtitle notwithstanding, Russell Shaw’s new book is an easy-to-digest smorgasbord, a portrait gallery of fifteen important characters in the American Catholic story. Three of the heroes of my Baltimore boyhood get their just deserts: Archbishop John Carroll, first and arguably greatest of U.S. bishops; Cardinal James Gibbons, America’s most prominent Catholic for four decades; and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, “Wild Betty” as she once called herself, foundress of the Catholic school system that’s still the Church’s best anti-poverty program.

The politicos (Al Smith and JFK) and the intellectuals (combustible, cantankerous Orestes Brownson and the scholarly old-school Jesuit, John Courtney Murray) are neatly sketched, as are three women of consequence: St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Dorothy Day, and Flannery O’Connor. A trio of New Yorkers (one born in Ireland, another in Massachusetts, and another in Peoria) take their turns on stage in the persons of Archbishop “Dagger John” Hughes, Cardinal Francis Spellman, and Spelly’s rival, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Then there’s the remarkable Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus and, I hope, America’s next beatus.

For contemporary purposes and debates, one of the most suggestive of Shaw’s portraits is that of Father Isaac Hecker, another candidate for beatification. Shortly after his death in 1888, Hecker became the subject of contention in Rome, when an ill-translated biography of the founder of the Paulists, and some intra-Catholic brawling among U.S. hierarchs, led to a papal warning against “Americanism” – a way-of-being-Catholic that Pope Leo XIII deemed excessively privatized, insufficiently contemplative, and dismissive of the Church’s magisterium. Ever since, U.S. Catholic historians have been arguing about whether “Americanism” was a phantom heresy.

There seem to be three contending parties in that debate. The canonical view of classic U.S. Catholic historians like John Tracy Ellis was that “Americanism” was indeed a phantasm of fevered Roman minds. Then, in the 1970s, came the revisionist view that Hecker, and bishops like John Ireland of St. Paul-Minneapolis, John Keane of Catholic University, and Cardinal Gibbons, were in fact exploring a new ecclesiology, a new way of thinking about the Church, that Vatican II would vindicate in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

Now comes Russell Shaw, who, in his portrait of Hecker, continues to press an argument he first raised in 2013 in American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America (the man does have a way with subtitles). Reduced to essentials, Shaw’s contention is that Hecker and those of his “Americanist” cast of mind did represent an assimilationist current in U.S. Catholic thought – a tendency to bend over backwards to “fit into” American culture – that eventually made possible Ted Kennedy, Barbara Mikulski, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden: cradle-Catholic politicians who support public policies that flatly contradict basic moral truths taught by the Church on the basis of reason and revelation, justify their votes in the name of “democracy” and “pluralism,” and are supported by a lot of fellow-Catholics in doing so.

To be sure, Shaw acknowledges that Hecker’s great goal was to convert America to Catholicism, not retrofit Catholicism to the dominant American culture of his day (which I think my friend misstates as “secular” rather than “Protestant”). Hecker’s failure, as I read Shaw, is that he didn’t grasp that there were corrosives built into American public culture that would eventually eat away at core Catholic convictions. And if that’s what Russ Shaw is arguing, then he’s implicitly adopting the “ill-founded Republic” optic on U.S. history advanced by such scholars as Patrick Deneen and David Schindler.

My own view is that the failure of Catholics to infuse American politics with Catholic social doctrine has had a lot more to do with creating Joe Biden & Co. than Isaac Hecker and the 19th-century “Americanists.” In any case, Shaw’s new book and its predecessor are good places to begin thinking about what went wrong here and why.