Saturday, February 3, 2007

Forsaking Private Conscience for Public Duties (B.C. Courier Times, 2/16/07)

Way back in sixteenth century England , King Henry VIII decided to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn. In reaction to the Pope’s refusal to annul his marriage to Catherine, Henry VIII declared himself to be the head of the church of England. Quite a catch that Henry! Of the five women he tried to marry after Catherine, he was to later have two of them executed. Henry, himself, was to die of syphilis. But, I’m getting ahead of myself….

Henry’s lord chancellor was Sir Thomas More, reknown for his scholarship and piety. While an absolutely loyal subject of the king, he would not give support to Henry’s making a mockery of marriage and of Church teaching. To avoid an oath required by Henry VIII’s 1534 Act of Succession, More resigned from his office.

Tormented that he could not receive the blessing of this widely respected, deeply admired subject, Henry had More executed on trumped up charges.

Over the past five centuries, More’s commitment to conscience over political expediency has inspired people of various religions and of no religion. Winner of 1966 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director (among others), “A Man for All Seasons” chronicled the relationship of Thomas and Henry. Its dialogue can only hint at More’s brilliance, character, courage, and saintliness:
(To attorney general of Wales , Richard Rich, whose perjury was to lead to Thomas More’s execution:) "Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world...But for Wales !"
"I Die His Majesty's Good Servant, but God's First"

Beheaded by Henry VIII, Thomas More is now recognized as the patron saint of attorneys, civil servants, politicians, and statesmen. He is certainly a tremendous role model to all of us, particularly those in the legal profession and those who hold elected office, as well as other government officials.

Newly elected Senator Robert Casey, Jr. and newly elected Congressman Patrick Murphy are familiar with Thomas More. In 1992, Robert Casey, Sr. was honored by the St. Thomas More Society of Philadelphia. While attending law school at Widener University , Patrick Murphy was president of the St. Thomas More Society. I can only assume that both of these educated and intelligent men are fully aware of what natural law and the Catholic Church proclaim about the sanctity of human life (from the moment of fertilization until natural death), as well as the absolutely vital nature of marriage and the family. Hopefully, Murphy's and Casey's future actions will far better recall what “A Man for All Seasons” said about conscience and public officials, than what we have thus far witnessed: "When statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties...they lead their country by a short route to chaos."

On January 22nd, Patrick Murphy avoided meeting with Bucks County constituents who traveled to the capital, for the annual March for Life.

We were part of a tremendous throng who wished to remind our elected officials of the duties of conscience. Elizabeth Fisher of the Courier Times is to be commended for her excellent "Diverse crowd unified for march" . The accompanying photographs supported her report that "an army of demonstrators filled the National Mall and the streets of Washington, D.C." and that "it seemed more a joyous celebration of life than an angry protest." Sadly, Ms. Fisher's honesty about the gathering's size and spirit was an exception in the media. The size of ours was downplayed, at best.

Anyone who has stood on line for a newly released movie has an idea of what “several hundred” people looks like. Anyone who has registered for class at a state college knows what “several thousand” people looks like. Anyone who has been to a major league sporting event knows what “fifty thousand people” looks like.

If you want to see what a peaceful demonstration of "at least two hundred thousand" (of primarily youthful age) looks like, I suggest that you take a look at <>.

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