The case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia, in which he was convicted of outrages, even infanticide, turned many a stomach, mine included. To recall the details, he was found guilty of killing three babies after they were born by cutting their spinal cords in two.
Writing in USA Today on May 15, Mark L. Rienzi, associate professor of law at The Catholic University of America, noted the barbarism of the crimes in Philadelphia, but he said that murdering infants is happening in this country, and not just in Gosnell’s filthy “clinic.”
To quote Rienzi’s piece, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in their most recent report on the subject, said that infanticide is, in Rienzi’s words, “shockingly common.”
Think about it. The murder of babies is shockingly common. In 2010, among 100,000 infants, 7.9 were killed — and most often by their mothers!
More frequently than not, the mothers are adolescents with a history of emotional illness. After the first week of life, the killers more often are male caregivers, often unrelated to the victim.
This very disturbing number raises many issues, such as the casual approach to sex rampant in our society, the elevation of self above any universal value, the decline in family unity and community, disregard for human life, and laws and customs that enable or aggravate these very negative influences.
Most Americans, I believe, would find this data of killing babies horrifying. They should. It is amazing that more people are not horrified by abortion. Somehow many in our society have a genuine inconsistency in their mind as they ponder these facts. Killing an infant after birth is atrocious, a crime! Killing a baby before birth is all right, assuming the mother wishes it.
The CDC report leads to another fact. Many children, of course, are not killed in infancy or childhood. Yet, they lead terrible lives because of the circumstances in which they live.
An insidious byproduct of the Catholic clergy sex scandals has been that all the wrongs by priests and bishops have robbed the Church of the credibility it needs to denounce abuse of children by adults. Fifty years ago, when civil rights was a hot topic, the Church’s message was heard and was important. Catholic services and representatives of the Church, such as priests, bishops and nuns long had put their money where their mouths were. Catholic outreach to African-Americans and Native Americans historically had made clear to everyone that the Church puts the dignity of each human being second to nothing.
Sadly, the case is not similar today. People think that the Church first must resolve its own problems before it can call for action against child abuse generally.
It is a pity, because abuse of children is so widespread. Abuse need not be sexual. Children have to live in terrible conditions, in which they are not loved and often hardly tolerated, in which they are ignored, physically abused or emotionally abused.
The problem is taboo in our society, but it is terrifyingly real. Modern circumstances create or abet the problem. The overall culture of selfishness prevails. Parents too often see children as burdens, because children draw them away from things that they rather would do or from relationships and situations in which the children have no place.
Many parents never lay a hand on a child, or even speak angrily, but their indifference to their child or children is devastating to the child.
One day, this culture will reap the whirlwind because of abuse brought upon children, and because of the lack of love. Nobody protects these children.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.