Matt C. Abbott
'The Catholic Church in the Obama Era'
By Matt C. Abbott
October 23, 2010

Below is the text of Dr. Charles E. Rice's keynote address to the national meeting of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, held Oct. 22 at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, Ind.


Charles E. Rice
Professor Emeritus
Notre Dame Law School

Address, National Meeting, Society of Catholic Social Scientists
Holy Cross College, Notre Dame, IN
Oct. 22, 2010

We are privileged to be at Holy Cross College, an institution that "Rudy" put on the map. That film, incidentally, was not fantasy. In addition to football, Dan (Rudy) Ruettiger in his senior year, was vice-president of the Notre Dame Boxing Club which raises large sums of money through the Bengal Bouts to support the Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh. "[T]ough-as-nails senior Daniel Ruettiger," as he was described, won the 175-pound championship in 1976. Dominic Napolitano, the legendary director of the Bengal Bouts, said Rudy was "one of the greatest motivators in a dozen years."

So Rudy is real. And so is the achievement of this excellent college. In important ways, Holy Cross College is what Notre Dame was before it began its pursuit of prestige and the approval of the academic ruling class.

This is a great time for Holy Cross College. And it is a time of great opportunity for us, as Catholics, to be in the United States. That opportunity arises from the economic, political and cultural meltdown that is all around us.

President Obama, elected with 54 percent of the Catholic vote, is substituting for the free economy and limited government a centralized command system along Marxist lines of potentially unlimited power without regard to the Constitution and the will of the American people. At last count, Obama has appointed at least 30 "czars" who claim the right to rule large portions of the economy by decree.

The Obama Regime has nationalized major parts of the private sector; imposed ruinous taxation and debt; expended treasure and lives on dubious, if not aimless, wars; used the servile media to tailor the information available to the public; promoted abortion at home and abroad; abdicated its duty to defend the border against illegal entry; etc., etc. The Regime is one vote short of iron control of the Supreme Court. That would lead, among other things, to a judicial mandate that sodomite unions be recognized as marriages.

It is, unfortunately, credible to say that Catholics played a major role in putting the Obama Regime in power. Highly visible Catholic academics, Catholic politicians who obey their own magisterium, and Catholic clerics and publicists, paved the way for Catholic voters and others to fall for "hope and change." Sadly, there is precedent. For a comparable example of the rapid concentration of executive power by a legally installed regime, we have to look to Germany in 1933. Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor on January 30. He consolidated his power over the next few weeks. The decisive event was the Reichstag's approval of the Enabling Act on March 23, 1933, by which it ceded full and irrevocable powers to Hitler. That was the point of no return. The Enabling Act received the needed two-thirds vote only because it was supported by the Catholic party, the Centre Party. [1]

Obamacare, enacted with the decisive support of Catholic members of Congress, is the Enabling Act of our time in the wide-ranging control it cedes to government over the lives of the people, including the takeover of student aid. Why are student loans in the health care bill? The common denominator is control. No student can now get a federally guaranteed educational loan without the consent of a federal bureaucrat. This can make political loyalty a test for educational advancement, as it was in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Obamacare, which took over one sixth of the American economy, not only funds elective abortion and endangers the elderly and conscience rights. It was enacted by a display of bribery, coercion and deception that was as brazen as it was unprecedented. If the government pays for your health care, it can dictate how you live, what you eat, etc., so as to reduce those costs. Such a concentration of power violates the principle of subsidiarity under which decisions on such matters ought to be made by the people and local governments, rather than by federal bureaucrats. Congress approved Obamacare, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), in reliance on an executive order by the President that was fraudulently claimed to prevent federal funding of elective abortion. Executive orders cannot overrule an act of Congress and Obama's "anti-abortion" executive order even said that it "shall be implemented consistent with applicable law." After its enactment, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) described Obamacare as "an important step toward ensuring access to health coverage for all Americans" but criticized it as "profoundly flawed in its treatment of abortion, conscience rights and fairness to immigrants." [2] But the USCCB had played the role of an enabler here, preserving its objections on abortion, conscience, euthanasia and immigrants while cloaking that disastrous bill, which very few in Congress had actually read, in misleading platitudes about health care for all, etc. The USCCB abysmally failed to condemn Obamacare for its violation of subsidiarity. Some bishops, to their credit, did so, raising the obvious problems of centralization, control and costs.

The smart money says that the November 2nd election will dislodge the Democrats from control of one or both houses of Congress. (Full disclosure: I am proudly and enthusiastically a Tea Party guy.) That political uprising is more than merely economic. Nor does it divide along Republican and Democratic lines. Remember that it was President George W. Bush who signed into law the bizarre bill that will outlaw incandescent light bulbs. A political tsunami may be in the offing because the American people face an imminent loss of freedom that goes far beyond their ability to decide what light bulbs to use or what food to eat. The uprising pits the majority, the Country Class, against the arrogant minority who have made themselves America's Ruling Class. That conflict is religious.

In his important new book, "The Ruling Class," Professor Emeritus Angelo M. Codevilla of Boston University accurately described the Progressive ideology of America's ruling class as itself a religion: "While the unenlightened believe that man is created in the image and likeness of God, and that we are subject to His and His nature's laws, the enlightened ones know that we are products of evolution, driven by chance, the environment, and the will to primacy. ....Consensus among the right people is the only standard of truth. Facts and logic matter only insofar as proper authority acknowledges them." [3]

Professor Codevilla stressed the need to challenge the premises of that secular religion: "Because aggressive, intolerant secularism is the moral and intellectual basis of the ruling class' claim to rule, resistance to that rule, whether to the immorality of economic subsidies and privileges, to the violation of the principle of equal treatment under equal law, or to its seizure of children's education, must deal with secularism's intellectual and moral core." [4]

That core of secularism manifests itself in what Benedict XVI called "a dictatorship of relativism... that recognizes nothing as absolute and which leaves only the 'I' and its whims as the ultimate measure."

Relativistic secularism is the de facto official religion of the United States and other western nations. Thirteen days after 9/11, in 2001, Pope John Paul II, in Kazakhstan, warned the leaders of that Islamic republic against a "slavish conformity" to Western culture which is in a "deepening human, spiritual and moral impoverishment" caused by "the fatal attempt to secure the good of humanity by eliminating God, the Supreme Good."

The answer to secularism and relativism is truth. But Truth, with a capital T, is a person, Jesus Christ, who is not some lawyer or community organizer. He is God. The Catholic faith is not merely a set of doctrines. It is a lived encounter with Christ who, as Pope Paul VI put it, "lives in the Church, and through her teaches, governs and sanctifies." Through the grace of God, we, as Catholics, have that Truth that America needs. But we have failed to deliver it. Among the reasons for that failure is the failure of the American Catholic Church, over the past five decades, to transmit that truth to the young. With John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the Church has seen a rebirth of faith among young people. But their catechetical training has been pathetic, focused more on banners and collages than on content. The bishops are making progress in trying to fix that problem. But: "One cannot escape the fact," said John Paul II in 2002, "that more than in any other historical period, there is a breakdown in the process of handing on moral and religious values between generations."

This is no time for recriminations. Rather, the cultural meltdown offers us an opportunity to fix that breakdown by telling the American people, including Catholics, the truth about the unmentionable issue that caused that culture to unravel. That issue is contraception.

In American culture, the intentional infliction of death upon the innocent is widely seen as an optional problem solving technique. The shootings at Columbine High School are no longer unique. Legalized abortion is a prime example of disposal of the innocent as a solution to a problem. So is euthanasia. The execution of Terri Schiavo is replicated every day, without notice, whenever the parents and caregivers agree that the incompetent patient would prefer what the Nazis used to call "a merciful release." The intentional killing of the innocent is foremost among the five issues generally described as non-negotiable in terms of Catholic principle. Those issues are: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning and same-sex marriage. All five of those "non-negotiable" evils are predictable results of the dominance of the contraceptive ethic.

When an objective history of this period is written, the practical abandonment by the American Catholic Church of the theretofore unbroken Christian teaching on contraception will be seen as not only astonishing and craven but also frivolous.

Until the Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930 no Christian denomination had ever said that contraception could ever be objectively right. The Washington Post, in an editorial on March 22, 1931, said the Federal Council of Churches' endorsement of Lambeth "would sound the death-knell of marriage... by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalized contraceptives would be 'careful and restrained' is preposterous." The seismic effect of that rejection of millennia of moral teaching came in the 1960s with the advent of the pill.

Why is contraception wrong? First, it breaks, in the words of Pope Paul VI, "the... connection — which is willed by God and which man cannot lawfully break on his own initiative — between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive and the procreative." [5]

Second, by so changing the nature of the conjugal act, the man and woman make themselves the arbiters of whether and when life shall begin. They confer on themselves, as Pope John Paul II put it, "a power which belongs solely to God: the power to decide, in a final analysis, the coming into existence of a human person." [6]

And, third, in contraception, instead of what John Paul II called the "total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife," there is a withholding: I give you myself except my fertility, I will accept you only if you are altered to cancel your fertility.

In his 1994 Letter to Families, John Paul II explained that God, who is love, "wills" that each human person ought to come into existence through a loving act of self-gift between spouses united in a "communion of persons" modeled on the self-giving relation of the persons of the Trinity. [7]

Contraception also implies that there is such a thing as a human life not worth living — the life of the child whose existence the contraceptors choose to prevent.

If man makes himself the arbiter of whether and when life shall begin, he will make himself the arbiter of when it shall end as in abortion, euthanasia, etc. John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae, described abortion and contraception as "fruits of the same tree." "[T]he pro-abortion culture," he said, "is especially strong... where the Church's teaching on contraception is rejected." The contraceptive society needs abortion as a back-up. Nor can it say that homosexual activity is wrong without condemning its own premise that man is the arbiter of whether and when sex will have any relation to procreation. As Paul VI predicted, the acceptance of contraception puts "a dangerous weapon... in the hands of... public authorities" to reduce births among minorities. Promiscuity, divorce and cloning also follow from the contraceptive ethic. The growth of pornography, too, validates Paul VI's warning that contraception would cause women to be viewed as objects.

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. (1914-2000), a renowned author and teacher whose cause for canonization is underway, said, "the single, principal cause for the breakdown of the Catholic faith in materially overdeveloped countries like ours has been contraception." If you think contraception is a benign choice rather than an intrinsic evil, consider this: The only creating God has done since Genesis is the creation of each individual spiritual, immortal human soul. When you put a male and a female dog together, the material forces operate and you get a litter of puppies. But a spiritual soul cannot be generated in that way. As Benedict XVI said at the inauguration of his pontificate: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary." The contracepting couple change the nature of the conjugal act to prevent the creation of a child. What they say, in effect, to God is something like this: "For all we know, God, it may be your will that from this act of ours a new human being will come into existence to live forever. For all we know, that may be your will. And we won't let you do it." That is awesome, a definitive denial that God is God. "Contraception," said John Paul II, "is so profoundly unlawful as never to be, for any reason, justified. To think or to say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God." [8]

The decisive legal issue in the United States will be same-sex marriage. Courts in several states have mandated recognition of same-sex unions as marriages. Those rulings appear to be consistent with the Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas. In striking down a Texas criminalization of consensual sodomy, the Court effectively ruled out morality as an independent basis for law. As Justice Antonin Scalia accurately said in his Lawrence dissent, "Today's opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as formal recognition in marriage is concerned."

The Catholic bishops, thank God, are determined to fight the legalization of same-sex marriage. The hard fact, however, is that the fight against same-sex marriage is a guaranteed loser unless the American people experience a reconversion to the authentic Christian position on contraception. In the Wall Street Journal in 2004, Pastor Donald Sensing, of Trinity United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tennessee, said the general acceptance of the Pill made same-sex marriage inevitable:

    Opponents of legalized same-sex marriage say they're trying to protect a beleaguered institution, but they're a little late. The walls of traditional marriage were breached 40 years ago; what we are witnessing now is the storming of the last bastion.... Sex, childbearing and marriage now have no necessary connection to one another, because the biological connection between sex and childbearing is controllable. The fundamental basis for marriage has thus been technologically obviated....There's little left to save. [9]

Pastor Sensing is right. Unfortunately, Catholics practice contraception at the same rate as everyone else. One reason is that they have not been adequately informed. Since Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae in 1968, the American Catholic Church has failed in its duty to inform the faithful on the prophetic teaching of that encyclical and similar teachings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. One reason for the closure or consolidation of many Catholic schools and parishes is precisely that failure of the bishops and priests to educate their people as to the evil of contraception and the entire positive teaching of the Church on marriage and the transmission of life. When, if ever, have you heard a homily in your parish church on that subject? Why do they not teach the full truth?

In his recent address to Human Life International in Rome, Archbishop (and Cardinal Designate) Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, called on bishops to uphold the moral law and to be "obedient to the magisterium." The attack on unborn life, he said, arises from "'an erroneous view of human sexuality which attempts to eliminate by mechanical or chemical means the essentially procreative nature of the conjugal act. The so-called contraceptive mentality is anti-life and the manipulation of the conjugal act, as Pope Paul VI prophetically observed, has led to many forms of violence in marriage and family life." He noted the "devastation which is daily wrought on our world by the multi-million dollar industry of pornography." The answer, he said, was the advancement of the culture of life through the "proclamation of the truth of the conjugal union in its fullness and the correction of the contraceptive thinking which fears life, which fears procreation." [10]

Some years ago, I heard Fr. Hardon recount in a speech, his conversation with the leader of a prominent national pro-life organization shortly after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Fr. Hardon begged that pro-life leader to take a stand against contraception. But that leader declined. But Fr. Hardon was right. It was a missed opportunity. The Beltway pro-life movement went on to reduce the fight for innocent life to political terms more appropriate to a negotiable highway appropriation. In their focus on restricting, but not forbidding, surgical abortion they gave a free pass to contraception. They were totally outflanked by the predictable rise of chemical and other abortifacients which are misleadingly marketed as contraceptives. Plan B, for example, is marketed as an "emergency contraceptive" despite the fact it can have an abortifacient effect. It can be purchased by 17 year-olds without a prescription.

The point here is not to play the blame game. Rather, the time is ripe for us to take the offensive on contraception. When it is explained, with charity as well as clarity, the Catholic teaching on contraception can have a life-changing impact, and not only on Catholics. "The effective separation of sex from procreation," said R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2005, "may be one of the most important defining marks of our age — and one of the most ominous. This awareness is spreading among American evangelicals and it threatens to set loose a firestorm....A growing number of evangelicals are rethinking the issue of birth control — and facing the hard questions posed by reproductive technologies." [11] We need to raise Humanae Vitae and its truth on contraception to a new level of awareness it has never had in the United States. That teaching on contraception is a game-changer because it challenges, to borrow Professor Codevilla's phrase, the "intellectual and moral core" of the secularist, relativist and individualist religion of America's ruling class. The nobility of that teaching can have a surprising impact on young people. But they need to hear the entire truth. If we speak the truth, we will have an impact beyond what we know. Cardinal Edouard Gagnon described a conversation he had with John Paul II:

    [T]he Holy Father... told me, "error makes its way because truth is not taught. We must teach the truth.... not attacking the ones who teach errors because that would never end — they are too numerous. We have to teach the truth." He told me truth has a grace attached to it. Anytime we speak the truth... an internal grace of God... accompanies that truth. The truth may not immediately enter in the mind and heart of those to whom we talk, but the grace of God is there and at the time they need it, God will open their heart and they will accept it. He said, error does not have grace accompanying it. [12]

The stakes are high. Man today has made of himself a god, asserting control over whether and when life shall begin and when it shall end. We are even tampering with genetics to make "designer" human beings according to our own specifications. In 2002, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, addressed this problem in the context of Genesis 3 and the posting of angels east of Eden with flaming swords to keep man, after the Fall, from eating of the Tree of Life. After the Fall, man was forbidden to eat of that tree which gave immortality, "since to be immortal in this [fallen] condition would... be perdition." People are now, Ratzinger said, "starting to pick from the tree of life and make themselves lords of life and death, to reassemble life....[P]recisely what man was supposed to be protected from is now... happening; he is crossing the final boundary.... [M]an makes other men his own artifacts. Man no longer originates in the mystery of love, by... conception and birth... but is produced industrially, like any other product....[W]e can ... be certain of this: God will take action to counter an ultimate crime, an ultimate act of self-destruction, on the part of man. He will take action against the attempt to demean mankind by the production of slave-beings. There are indeed final boundaries we cannot cross." [13]

This is serious business. And we can't kid ourselves. It's all about God. Nineveh repented, prayed and was spared. Sodom and Gomorrah did not and were destroyed.

Americans — of all faiths — need to pray. A local Calvary Chapel has a sign that says it well: "If my people....PRAY. II Chronicles 7:14" That verse says, "[I]f my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."

The Catholic Church will endure forever. But we have no guarantee that she will thrive, or even survive, in a particular time and place. Fr. Hardon saw this and saw what was needed: "I make bold to say that the Catholic Church, the real Roman Catholic Church, will survive only where her bishops are courageous enough to proclaim what the followers of Christ have believed since apostolic times. But the bishops are frail human beings. They need, Lord how they need, the backing and support of the faithful under their care...." [14]

To recover, America needs the Truth, as taught by the Catholic Church. It is time for all of us, regardless of creed, to turn to the Mother of God, who is also our Mother. She leads us to her Son in whom we put our trust. At the Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571, Mary and her Rosary sank ships and saved Christian civilization. She can take care of our problems. We have nothing to fear. We know we are on the winning side.


[1]  Eliot Barculo Wheaton, The Nazi Revolution: 1933-35 (1969), 286-93; William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1959), 88, 276-79.

[2]  Letter to Congress from Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, May 20, 2010.

[3]  Angelo Codevilla, The Ruling Class, 49-50.

[4]  Ibid., 73.

[5]  Humanae Vitae, no. 12.

[6]  Discourse, Sept. 12, 1983.

[7]  Letter to Families, no. 8.

[8]  Discourse, Sept. 12, 1983.

[9]  Wall Street Journal, Opinion Journal, March 15, 2004.

[10]  Zenit, Oct. 14, 2010.

[11]  Russell Shorto, "Contra-Contraception," N.Y. Times Magazine, May 7, 2006, 48, 50.

[12]  Lay Witness, March 1990, 6-7.

[13]  Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, God and the World (2002), 133-135.

[14]  Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., "Contraception: Fatal to the Faith and to Eternal Life," in Father Hardon Archives, "Chastity."

© Matt C. Abbott


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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)


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