Pro-life teen tested by reality of own pregnancy

Julie Filby

When Maddie Haas, 18, suspected she might be pregnant, she asked a friend to take her to Walgreen’s to buy a pregnancy test. Not wanting to wait for the results, she headed to the store’s restroom.

It was positive.

First she went numb. Then her mind start racing: How do I tell my parents? How do I tell my boyfriend? What do I do?

She went back to her dorm on the University of Nebraska campus in Lincoln, where she had just begun her college experience two months earlier.

“I remembered the bulletin board had a flyer about unplanned pregnancy,” she recalled in a conversation with the Denver Catholic Register at her Parker home June 12. “I copied down the number for the pregnancy center and called them.”

Maddie, a parishioner of St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial, had been raised in a passionately pro-life family, regularly praying outside Planned Parenthood, attending the March for Life in Washington, D.C., twice, and volunteering with ministries such as Lighthouse Women’s Center. But when faced with the reality of an unplanned pregnancy as a freshman in college, she felt alone, confused and overwhelmed.

Two hours from the time she learned she was pregnant Maddie arrived at the Lincoln Crisis Pregnancy Center where she was greeted by “Karissa,” a bubbly young counselor.

“We talked for an hour,” Maddie said, before she was called back to see a nurse “Debbie.” A second test confirmed the pregnancy and since it was nearly 5 p.m., closing time, Karissa suggested they set up an ultrasound appointment for next week.

“Can we just try for one today?” Maddie asked.

Debbie agreed to stay late: a decision that made all the difference.

“Do you know what you want to do?” Debbie asked Maddie. Maddie told her abortion was an option because she was so afraid of the disappointment the news would bring to her “very pro-life” family.

It was 5:30 p.m. when Debbie put the ultrasound wand on her abdomen. At that moment they both saw her perfectly formed baby.

“Oh yeah, you’re pregnant,” Debbie said.

Maddie was five months along.

The ultrasound continued and as soon as Debbie found the baby’s heartbeat, Maddie’s anxiety began to dissipate.

“When I heard the heartbeat, I teared up,” she said. “Right when I heard it, I went from wondering ‘Do I tell my mom?’ to ‘How do I tell my mom?’

“I wasn’t abortion-minded anymore.”

Her first call was to the birth father, still in Denver, a senior in high school. Their discussion led to pressure from his family to abort, an option she was no longer willing to consider.

The next day after dialing her mother Valerie’s cell, she struggled to speak. Her silence concerned Valerie, who asked: “Is it your grades?” “No.” “Are you pregnant?” Silence. “Are you pregnant?”

Through sobs, Maddie told her everything.

“She was upset, disappointed, sad, mad,” Maddie said of her mother’s reaction. “But at the end of the conversation she said she loved me and supported me.”

She also suggested Maddie go to Mass and confession that night.

“Prayer is what really helped me,” said Maddie who began attending daily Mass and regular adoration. “I prayed to know where God was leading me.”

Maddie finished the semester at Nebraska then moved home in December. On March 1 she welcomed daughter Ellie Grace into the world. While she had considered adoption up until two weeks earlier, she ultimately decided to raise Ellie, with the help of her mother and her father Brad. She plans to go back to school next fall and study nursing.

“It’s not easy for Maddie,” Valerie said. “But she has held her head high … and she reached out.”

It’s so important to reach out, Valerie said.

“No one should go through it alone,” she continued. “That’s when the fear and despair get to you.”

Maddie has been supported not only by her family, but by the wider Catholic community as well, including a Catholic Charities social worker, staff from Lighthouse, clergy who have provided spiritual direction; and friends, parishioners and even strangers who have supported the family spiritually, emotionally and materially.

“We are so grateful for our Catholic family,” Valerie said. “God put the right people in the right places when we needed them.”

COMING UP: The priesthood is more than just a job

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In October, the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region will be held at the Vatican. On the agenda: a discussion on the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood in that region, due to a particularly dire lack of vocations. The news has reawakened discussion on priestly celibacy in general, and whether the time has come to relax the requirement on a wider level. And so, I figured it was time to revisit the subject here, as well.

To set the tone, I’d like to begin my discussion with a very short quiz:

Q: Why does the Roman Catholic Church require lifelong celibacy for ordained priests?

  1. Because sex is bad, dirty and evil, and our priests should not defile themselves;
  2. Because we don’t want to have to support priests’ families out of collection funds;
  3. None of the above; or
  4. Both of the above.

The correct answer would be C, none of the above.

So why, then? Why on earth would these men have to give up the possibility of marriage and children, just because they want to serve God as priests?

Priestly celibacy is a discipline of the Church, not a doctrine. It could change. The rule has already been relaxed in relation to married Episcopalian priests who convert to Catholicism. In this era of widespread priest shortages, and even wider-spread scandals, should we consider expanding that exemption, and remove the requirement of priestly celibacy entirely? Wouldn’t a married priesthood encourage more men, and perhaps healthier men, to respond to the call of God?

Perhaps. But at what cost?

Discussions about the elimination of priestly celibacy are not new. They’ve been around as long as priestly celibacy itself. One of the periods of particularly spirited discussion on the subject was in the late 1960’s. In response, Pope Paul VI wrote an encyclical entitled Sacerdotalis Caelibatus. In it, he explained the reasons for the Church’s long history of priestly celibacy, and he enumerated three “significances,” or reasons, for the tradition:

Christological: The priesthood isn’t just a job. It is a state of being. It encompasses his entire existence. It places a mark on his soul — a mark that will follow him into eternity. The priest is ordained by a bishop, who was ordained by a bishop, who was ordained by another bishop, in an unbroken chain that goes clear back to the apostles. And through that sacramental ordination, and the power and grace it conveys, the priest stands in persona Christi —  in the person of Christ. He has the power to consecrate the Eucharist — to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. He can forgive sins.  And so, standing in the person of Christ, the priest seeks to be like him in all things. He imitates Christ’s life, which includes Christ’s celibacy.

But, you say, Christ also had a beard. Does the priest have to imitate that, too? How far do we have to take this whole imitation thing? Well, the question we must ask is: What was integral to Christ’s ministry? Was celibacy integral? What would it look like if Christ had married and had children? He would have had to work to support them. He would have had to provide them a home.  No iterate preaching, moving from town to town. Jesus was not going to be an absentee husband and father. It was the freedom of celibacy that allowed him to give himself totally to the service of the Father and the Father’s children. So yes, I’d say it was integral. The beard, not so much.

Ecclesiological:  This basically means it is about the Church. Our understanding of a priest is not that he’s a single guy, a bachelor. He, like Christ, is in fact “married” to the Church. You’ve heard all that talk about how the Church is the “bride of Christ.” We really believe that. And the priest, standing in persona Christi, likewise becomes the Bridegroom, giving his life for the Church, and especially for the part of the Church he serves. He doesn’t just offer his “workday” to us, the flock.  He offers his life. He serves us as a husband serves his wife. (And we the faithful, as good “wives”, should likewise be going out of our way to love and care for our priests.)  His attention and affections are not divided between his bride, the Church, and an earthly bride and family. He has far greater freedom than a married man — freedom to not only serve his flock, but to pray and meditate and to grow closer to the Christ whom he represents on this earth. Which then prepares him for further service to the flock.

Eschatological: This means it’s about the next life. Remember my last column, about the Poor Clare Sisters who make the radical choice to live this life as if were already eternal life, focusing only on Christ? Well, priests participate in that too. Scripture says that, in Heaven, we will neither marry nor be given in marriage. (Mt 22:30) Priests and consecrated religious foreshadow that here, reminding us that everything that happens in this life is just a prelude to the life to come.

And so, for all of these reasons, I oppose the wholesale elimination of the requirement of priestly celibacy. I realize that we already have exceptions. I know several of those “exceptions,” and I think they are wonderful people and wonderful priests. But I think they would acknowledge the difference between the exception and the rule, and that the loss of priestly celibacy would change our understanding of the character and charism of the priesthood. The priesthood would be increasingly perceived as just another career choice — one to be entered and left at will.

And whatever the priesthood may be, it is definitely not just another job.

Featured image by Josh Applegate on Unsplash