By Father George W. Rutler
This Tuesday we remember another October 7, in 1571, when the Battle of Lepanto was fought off the western coast of Greece, the largest naval operation before the Normandy invasion. The Holy League, put together by Pope St. Pius V, had 212 fighting ships with 12,920 sailors and 28,000 soldiers, while the Muslim forces of the Ottoman fleet had 278 war vessels, 13,000 sailors and 34,000 troops. Our world, and our little corner of it in New York, would be unrecognizable today had the outcome of that five-hour battle been reversed. St. Pius made that day a Feast of the Holy Rosary in thanksgiving for Our Lady's intercessions, and added to her titles "Our Lady of Victories."
We are now engaged in a clash of cultures even more widespread, and to reduce it to a mere political or economic paradigm would be to ignore its spiritual significance. Observers have remarked a parallel with the moral test which the Church faced in World War II when Blessed Clemens August Cardinal von Galen of Münster risked his life to preach against the eugenics policies sanctioned in his country. Today bishops are also moved to speak out in defense of life when it is threatened in an unprecedented way.
October 4–5 is Respect Life Weekend, and Bishop Joseph F. Martino of Scranton has written a pastoral letter recalling the Church's duty to speak prophetically about our nation's foundational principles. Bishop Martino, whom I knew when we were students in Rome, is a fine historian who did the research for the canonization cause of St. Katherine Drexel. In his letter he quotes his predecessor, Bishop Timlin: "The taking of innocent human life is so heinous, so horribly evil, and so absolutely opposite to the law of Almighty God that abortion must take precedence over every other issue.
I repeat. It is the single most important issue confronting not only Catholics, but the entire electorate." Bishop Martino reminds his people that "it is incumbent upon bishops to correct Catholics who are in error regarding these matters. Furthermore, public officials who are Catholic, and who persist in public support for abortion and other intrinsic evils should not partake in or be admitted to the sacrament of Holy Communion."
A writer for U.S. News & World Report has accused the Bishop of Scranton of violating the First Amendment by denying Communion to anyone who publicly contradicts the Church. This turns inside out the Amendment which forbids the government to interfere with the free practice of religion. Blessed Clemens von Galen well knew such stratagems of the media to intimidate the Church. Pope Benedict XVI, a successor of St. Pius V and also a fervent disciple of von Galen, has said: "God is so humble that he uses us to spread his Word." Neither powerful armies nor minor journalists can stop that.