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Words Really Do Matter

On December 10 American Life League issued a statement in which we called on Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson to clarify his comments on the Catholic Church and birth control.

In an exclusive interview published by Aleteia press the cardinal did exactly that, focusing as American Life League had done on the profound words of Pope Paul VI in his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae and the subsequent teachings of Pope John Paul II and others.

However, the fundamental point that Cardinal Turkson makes in his clarification should be most troubling to us as Catholics who are called to be in the world but not of it. He said, “When I used the phrase ‘birth control,’ what I had in mind was the Church’s own traditional teaching about responsible parenthood. So wherever anyone reads ‘birth control’ in the BBC interview, they should understand it as meaning ‘responsible parenthood.’”

In other words, he was commenting on a profound teaching of the Catholic Church while using the language of those who, for the most part, abhor Catholic truth. This was the source of confusion and we can only hope that damage to souls was not done. But my question is this: Why would a Catholic prelate from any nation in the world use terms that are immediately associated with secular attitudes? As I am not a psychologist, I cannot answer that question, but it brings up a requirement that should be uppermost in the minds of any of us who are struggling to defend the innocent. And that is that language matters!

Weighing our words costs us time and thoughtful consideration, but the result is definitely worth the effort.

Let’s take, for example, the “frozen embryo” court decision in California whereby a judge ruled that a now-divorced couple’s five frozen embryonic babies must be destroyed. What the judge has actually ruled in this case is that five children whose parents are now divorced are nothing more than trash—unintended consequences of a marriage gone wrong. So what do you do about them? You kill them!

The language in this case is mind-boggling to me, but at the same time totally politically correct.

The report does quote Father Tad Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, who said, “It is objectively contrary to human dignity to bring our children into the world in laboratory glassware; they have the right to be conceived exclusively within the marital embrace. Those who are involved in pursuing or promoting IVF invariably act in a disordered and morally unacceptable manner, despite the loftiest of intentions.”

But what we do not hear is that every human embryo regardless of the manner in which he is created is a human person endowed by God with the right to life. This is why saying human embryonic child clears away the politically correct fog!

The lesson that Cardinal Turkson’s flirtation with the term “birth control” has taught us is that a slip of the tongue can lead to massive confusion in the public arena, much to the delight of the purveyors of the culture of death rhetoric.

One more example highlights my point, and that is the recent Centers for Disease Control report that the “U.S. abortion rate has fallen by one-third since 1990.” The good news is that on the subject of surgical abortions, the numbers are going down, but that is not the real story. No, the fact is that as surgical abortion rates have declined, abortion rates caused by chemicals and devices are rising!

In the wake of long-acting reversible contraception, the numbers continue to climb. Such methods have the same modes of action as the pill, one of which is “altered endometrial structure.” This means that the lining of the endometrium is thinned, the preborn baby cannot implant, and therefore he dies. That is abortion.

The CDC does not record these abortion numbers because the deaths are harder to prove. But the results are the same: Babies are dying. So really, the number of deaths by acts of abortion—whether surgical, medical, chemical, or clinical—are not declining.

But the words in the report say something different, something that is false.

Words matter; every word should be weighed with the thought in mind that a comment we share can save a life.

Thank you Cardinal Turkson for making that clear.