What Would Cardinal Bernardin Do?

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin celebrates the burial Mass for thousands of aborted unborn babies in 1988.
Cardinal Joseph Bernardin celebrates the burial Mass for thousands of aborted unborn babies in 1988.

On March 9, Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn signed legislation ending the use of the death penalty in the State of Illinois. Quinn cited statements by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, as well as his reading of the Bible, as “very helpful in reflecting on this issue.”

Quinn drew his inspiration for his position on the death penalty from Fr. Alphonse Spilly’s biography of Bernardin, The Gift of Peace, which focuses on the cardinal’s struggle with a false accusation and with cancer.

Although The Gift of Peace does not address the issue of the death penalty, it is a fact that Cardinal Bernardin spoke of the death penalty as an attack on the value of human life as part of his theory of the consistent ethic of life. He stated, speaking as the director of the U. S. Catholic Bishops’ Pro-Life Secretariat, “We have also opposed the death penalty because we do not think its use cultivates an attitude of respect for life in society.”

But as a Catholic and an abortion advocate, Quinn must have come across statements by Cardinal Bernardin about abortion as an attack on human life. In fact, Cardinal Bernardin’s Consistent Ethic of Life (Fordham University, December 6, 1983), which links abortion and the death penalty as attacks on human life, frequently made headlines in the secular newspapers of the 1980’s and 1990’s. It would be nearly impossible for a public figure to avoid knowing what Cardinal Bernardin thought about abortion.

Specifically, in his address at Forham, Bernardin stated, “Because the fetus is judged to be both human and not an aggressor that Catholic teaching concludes that direct attack on fetal life is always wrong. This is also why we insist that legal protection be given to the unborn.”

In his statement for Respect Life Sunday, October 1, 1989, Bernardin said, “Today the recognition of human life as a fundamental value is threatened. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of elective abortion. At present in our country this procedure takes the lives of over 4,000 unborn children every day and over 1.5 million each year.”

Bernardin’s personal concern for the plight of the innocent unborn led him to officiate at a burial service for 5,000 aborted babies at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois on July 30, 1988. He said at that time that he was simply performing a corporal work of mercy—burying the dead.

It would be disingenuous of Governor Quinn to use Cardinal Bernardin as part of his rationale for eliminating the death penalty, and disregard the cardinal’s myriad of statements against abortion.

Let us pray that now that Governor Quinn has discovered Cardinal Bernardin’s deep respect for human life, he will apply it consistently in his own political life and change his attitude about abortion. All things are possible—even the conversion of a politician from pro-abortion to pro-life.

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