By Donna Schaper
Father James Martin, a liberal Jesuit priest, closed the Democratic convention with a prayer in which he asked God to “Open our hearts to those most in need.” On his list was “the unborn child in the womb.” Cardinal Timothy Dolan opened the Republican convention praying for many things, including “the innocent life of the baby in the womb.” Neither really understands how little their words matter to most people.
Religion has been dying a slow death, not even hidden in plain sight. The churches close; the weeds grow up in the parking lots; the people languish. Not even hospice is offered. People just turn away.
Your pastor is probably the last person you’re going to tell about your problem pregnancy or your drug addiction or your extramarital affair. Why? Formal spiritual advisors are widely ridiculed as judgmental fools. Holier than thou is our middle name. This stereotype may not always be true, but it is true often enough to keep people from telling us their secrets. When Father Martin and Cardinal Dolan judge women according to the circumstances of their wombs as part of public rites, even more people vote with their feet about religion than before. An unwanted pregnancy is not a sin, but you wouldn’t know that from public prayers.
When it comes to the languishing of our spirits, we need to be very careful of the bishopric and trust the amateurs. We need to listen to the people hearing the prayers, not the people speaking them. More so, we need to become self-care experts. The golden rule really matters: love your neighbor as you love yourself. Your neighbor is yourself. You are your neighbor. Neighboring is good news and is different from dis-neighboring, un-neighboring, or anti-neighboring. Women are neighbors to cardinals and priests.
Women who need an abortion for whatever reason need no more shame. Nobody needs any more shame as our cup overflows with it everywhere we look. We need to bless ourselves and bless each other as though we are actually fully human adults who are capable of making good decisions and need ordinary health care. I imagine women my age, 73, driving across borders and stocking up their minivans with morning-after pills and distributing them in empty church parking lots. That would be a blessing, absent the preferable and constitutionally guaranteed right to have a legal abortion.
Imagine other public rites: A prayer for “the mother, alone, with too many children, whom she can’t feed or educate,” or “the child whose parents don’t want him,” or “the foster child who has aged out of the system with nowhere to go,” or “the woman who couldn’t get abortion health services early enough to matter to her health or pregnancy.”
In authentic religious experience, people feel heard. They feel connected. They think they might belong to God or each other. When we use prayers at conventions to judge people according to what is in their wombs, we destroy religious authenticity on behalf of political correctness.
Most media outlets think religious people are anti-choice. We’re not. A majority of religious people are “pro-choice.” Pew says that 61 percent of religious people say abortion should be legal in all or most cases and that 56 percent of Catholics believe that abortion should be legal in all cases. A 2019 NPR-PBS Marist Poll found that 77 percent of respondents think the Supreme Court should uphold Roe v. Wade.
So, who are these famous and important Catholics praying to or for? It is certainly not the majority. How dare they take up the sacred space for public prayer with put-downs and judgements against women? I have to respect their willingness to buck trends. But that is far as I can go.
Religious leaders, when asked to speak or pray in public, should figure out how to bless people instead of cursing them. Women are not just their neighbors but also people.
When asked to pray in public, religious leaders might join Jesus in refusing to have an enemy, and refuse the sly punishmentalism for which they are so well-known. Women who have a pregnancy they don’t want to continue need health care, not punishments or judgements or inauthentic religion.
I had two abortions. They were blessings to my life as a mother of three and a grandmother of five. I didn’t need religious permission to make these choices. I needed God, who, by the way, is not a punishmentalist but, instead, guides me in all my decisions large and small.
Amy Coney Barrett may turn out to be the youngest Supreme Court justice, and the first one with children “at home.” She was also kind enough to recognize Justice Ginsberg in her opening remarks. She sounded like a human. It is strange to have to notice normal courtesies but here we are.
I would never want Judge Barrett to violate her conscience by having an abortion. I would also never want her to violate my conscience by enforcing her conscience from the Supreme Court Bench. I would want her authentic faith to come through and show love, care, compassion, acceptance, and a true appreciation of the other as a neighbor.
That’s what I am praying for now, that Judge Barrett, or whoever is appointed, comes into authentic faith instead of thinking she is right about everything. Rites can yield rights.