Charles Camosy is a most unusual pro-life optimist. Make that a Catholic pro-life optimist.
He chronicles the debased language of abortion supporters — calling an unborn baby’s heartbeat a “cardiac pole vibration,” for example — and describes our consumerist society as a “throwaway culture” that devalues life, whether a baby’s, a refugee’s, a disabled person’s or a dementia patient’s.
But where others may see only cause for despair, Camosy understands the current moment of #MeToo and global climate change, political stalemate and ideological polarization as symptoms of a potential ethical and social realignment. And he sees Pope Francis as leading the way.
Quoting a leader of a Catholic renewal movement, Camosy said, “If you don’t think Pope Francis is the cure, you don’t grasp the disease.”
As a moral theologian at Fordham University, Camosy has been in the forefront of bioethical discussions about abortion and other life issues. In his new book, “Resisting Throwaway Culture: How a Consistent Life Ethic Can Unite a Fractured People,” Camosy argues that the church is uniquely positioned to challenge a culture that has lost its moral bearings.
“I want to argue,” he said recently, “that consistently resisting throwaway culture — beyond being the requirement of faith and reason — is the key to winning converts to the pro-life movement.”
Recent popes, from St. John Paul II to Benedict XVI and Francis, have connected the opposition to abortion to Catholicism’s broader consistent life ethic.
St. John Paul links “the Gospel of Life” to issues like treatment of the poor, human trafficking, war and violence of all kinds.
Adding to this, Pope Benedict brought in the environment. “Our duties toward the environment flow from our duties toward the human person,” he wrote.
Pope Francis has described our “throwaway culture” as both morally and environmentally devastating, the product of a consumerism that treats human beings and nature as objects to profit from and discard.
Camosy knows that the pro-life movement has never been the one-dimensional, single issue caricature its opponents and the media often portray it as.
In the early days of the abortion fight, anti-war activists, including Dorothy Day, were outspokenly anti-abortion. During the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s, there was Prolifers for Survival. More recently, Rehumanize International (rehumanizeintl.org) expresses solidarity with all victims of violence, starting with the aborted.
Camosy sees a political realignment in the works, and an opportunity to harness the passion and energy of younger generations who are rejecting current political parties.
Catholics “owe our ultimate loyalty to Christ and his church, not to a secular political party,” Camosy said. “We should expect not to fit into right/left categories. … We are a pilgrim people who should expect to be politically homeless.”
With more Americans than ever before claiming to be independent, and with 50% of millennials refusing to identify with either party, now is the time to challenge the throwaway culture, he argues.
In our hyper-politicized national environment, Camosy’s prescription for what to do next may surprise you.
Speaking at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, Sept. 18, he advocated “a strategic retreat from national politics,” at least temporarily, so that we can “focus more on living out and strengthening a culture of encounter in our own lives and local communities.”
He suggested that we not only engage with those who are suffering on the local level, but that we also pray, go to confession and adore the Eucharist: “Be still in the certainty that God is doing something new in us.”
It’s not a political platform. It’s an agenda for changing hearts. And that has been the goal of the pro-life movement all along.
Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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