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: Historical clarity and today’s Catholic contentions

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One of the curiosities of the 21st-century Catholic debate is that many Catholic traditionalists (especially integralists) and a high percentage of Catholic progressives make the same mistake in analyzing the cause of today’s contentions within the Church — or to vary the old fallacy taught in Logic 101, they think in terms of post Concilium ergo propter Concilium [everything that’s happened after the Council has happened because of the Council]. And inside that fallacy is a common misreading of modern Catholic history. The traditionalists insist that everything was fine before the Council (which many of them therefore regard as a terrible mistake); the progressives agree that the pre-Vatican II Church was a stable institution but deplore that stability as rigidity and desiccation.

But that’s not the way things were pre-Vatican II, as I explain at some length and with some engaging stories in my new book, The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform (Basic Books). And no one knew the truth about pre-Vatican II Catholicism better than the man who was elected pope during the Council and guided Vatican II through its last three sessions, St. Paul VI.

On January 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII, thought to be an elderly placeholder, stunned both the Church and the world by announcing his intention to summon the 21st ecumenical council. That night, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini (who would be known as Paul VI four and a half years later), called an old friend. An experienced churchman who had long served Pius XII as chief of staff, Montini saw storm clouds on the horizon: “This holy old boy,” he said of John XXIII, “doesn’t know what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up.”

That shrewd observation turned out to be spot on –– and not simply because of the Council, but because of the bees and hornets that had been buzzing around the ecclesiastical nest for well over 100 years.

Contrary to both traditionalist and progressive misconceptions, Catholicism was not a placid institution, free of controversy and contention, prior to Vatican II. As I show in The Irony of Modern Catholic History, there was considerable intellectual ferment in the Church during the mid-19th century, involving great figures like the recently-canonized John Henry Newman, the German bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (grandfather of modern Catholic social thought), and the Italian polymath Antonio Rosmini (praised by John Paul II in the 1999 encyclical, Faith and Reason, and beatified under Benedict XVI). That ferment accelerated during the 25 year pontificate of Leo XIII, who launched what I dub the “Leonine Revolution,” challenging the Church to engage the modern world with distinctively Catholic tools in order to convert the modern world and lay a firmer foundation for its aspirations.

American Catholicism, heavily focused on institution-building, was largely unaware of the sharp-edged controversies (and ecclesiastical elbow-throwing) that followed Leo XIII’s death in 1903. Those controversies, plus the civilization-shattering experience of two world wars in Europe, plus a rapid secularization process in Old Europe that began in the 19th century, set the stage for John XXIII’s epic opening address to Vatican II. There, the Pope explained what he envisioned Vatican II doing: gathering up the energies let loose by the Leonine Revolution and focusing them through the prism of an ecumenical council, which he hoped would be a Pentecostal experience energizing the Church with new evangelical zeal.

John XXIII understood that the Gospel proposal could only be made by speaking to the modern world in a vocabulary the modern world could hear. Finding the appropriate grammar and vocabulary for contemporary evangelization didn’t mean emptying Catholicism of its content or challenge, however. As the Pope insisted, the perennial truths of the faith were to be expressed with the “same meaning” and the “same judgment.” Vatican II, in other words, was to foster the development of doctrine, not the deconstruction of doctrine. And the point of that doctrinal development was to equip the Church for mission and evangelization, for the modern world would be converted by truth, not ambiguity or confusion.

Over the past six and a half years, it’s become abundantly clear that more than a few Catholics, some quite prominently placed, still don’t get this history. Nor do the more vociferous elements in the Catholic blogosphere. Which is why I hope The Irony of Modern Catholic History helps facilitate a more thoughtful debate on the Catholic present and future, through a better understanding of the Catholic past.