One of the most courageous sermons I’ve ever heard from a Catholic priest

Over the last 25 years that I have traveled around the country speaking at Catholic parishes I have had the occasion to listen to countless sermons from countless Catholic priests. Some of those sermons were limp and lackluster, a great many were quite good — rich in scriptural and practical wisdom and insights — and a few were so compelling that they remained in my mind. This sermon is one of those. Perhaps some of you will agree with me.

This sermon contains no flashy rhetoric. In fact, quite the opposite — the delivery is calm and sedate.  But its content was electrifying. I know, I was present in the church, sitting in the back pew, and I saw how it caused everyone in the church to catch his breath (“can he really be saying these things?!”) and listen.

The uneasiness of the parishioners was palpable. I was actually surprised that no one got up and stormed out or stood and shouted defiantly at the priest. After Mass I told him, “I’ve been Catholic for 52 years now, and that was one of the most courageous sermons I have ever heard. Thank you for being willing to stand up and say what you said.” I was told that day by a parish staffer that there were many Catholic Democrats in the congregation. I wonder if this message will affect the way they vote in two weeks.

The priest is Father John Fitch. The church is Epiphany Cathedral in the Diocese of Venice. And the subject of his sermon is, of all things, politics. Politics and moral issues and how so many Catholics today have become more Democrat than Catholic and more Republican than Catholic. It’s a powerful message. I hope you’ll not only listen to it and think about it but also share it.

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46 Responses to “One of the most courageous sermons I’ve ever heard from a Catholic priest”
  1. Justin says:

    So the Vatican has the death penalty on the books until around 1970; St. Thomas says the criminal forfeits his right to life; the Good Thief says, ‘Truly, our punishment is just,’ before being commended by Our Lord; the Church has a 2,000 year history of implicitly supporting capital punishment, and there are excellent other reasons for it, but somehow it’s now evil in “almost all cases”. Sorry but JPII’s revisionism on this issue doesn’t hold water. A SOCIETY SHOWS IT’S RESPECT FOR A THING (LIFE) BY HOW IT PUNISHES OFFENSES AGAINST IT.

  2. Rick B. says:

    God Bless this priest and all of our religious! A courageous man of God that he is!

    • May God abundantly bless this beautifully articulate truthful priest. May all Catholics seek to honor the Truth of God, honor the priests who speak of His Truths, thus shepherding their people, the people of God.

  3. Chris Stevenson says:

    I’m a little confused on this. Are we upset because our government won’t pass laws to prevent us from sinning? Am I correct in thinking that no matter what laws are in place I have free will to sin or not?

    • Mark says:

      You are not correct in your thinking. You where not given free will to be able to choose anything you want. That includes sin. Your have free will because you were created in the image and likeness of God. You have the free will to choose to do the Father’s will or not to do the Father’s will, not to choose to sin. That would put you above God. Even God can’t choose to sin.

  4. Robin says:

    God Bless this priest, I hope this message will be viewed by many. I from experience can tell you abortion in nothing less than murder, if only I would have known, I now pay the price everyday!

  5. Laura says:

    It boils down to one thing: All human life should be treated with dignity, respect and with the love of God who has created us all. Even on this list of comments and in bulk online, Christians are violating the simplest of truths as our Lord taught…to love one another. The Lord has put us all here on earth at the same time for a reason. Regardless of our vast differences, we are called to love. So as we enter what promises to be a nail biter of an election, no matter the result, I pray we can go forward with love because it is the only sure thing. I don’t know you but I love you. God created you and that is all I need to know. Peace.

  6. Joseph D'Hippolito says:

    “Also, as I once read in a conservative Catholic publication in an article explaining that Jesus never really ‘abolishes’ the Old Law, when Jesus says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” He is really setting up a condition for the death penalty that it *may* be applied by someone in a state of grace, but only by someone in a state of grace. Under that reading of Our Lord’s words, the death penalty cannot be justly used in a secular state.”

    John, nowhere in the NT do either Jesus or His disciples support the reading that you cite. For one thing, “the wages of sin is death.” Always has been; always will be. Anyone who does not embrace Christ as the ultimate atonement for his personal sin will receive divine condemnation at the end of this life. For another, St. Paul himself writes (Romans 13) that the state “does not bear the sword in vain.” This same St. Paul said in Acts 25:11 that “If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die,” as he was being tried in Festus’ court.

    Besides, nobody seriously believes that civil courts should execute adulterers.

    Finally, God Himself demands the execution of murderers because murder is the ultimate desecration of the divine image that humanity bears. Genesis 9: 5-6 cannot be more explicit. God established government to protect the innocent, establish social order and punish the guilty. If the Magisterium rules against such obvious teaching — which Doctors of the Church such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine never refuted — for a foolish rhetorical consistency (to cite Ralph Waldo Emerson), then it loses the right to be taken seriously.

  7. pat hanson says:

    I may be wrong, but the President of the US did not legalize abortion. The US Supreme Court did and they will have to overturn their own ruling. They can do that now because they left the door open to do that. There is a clause in the ruling that states ‘unless……determinatino of when life begins…..’ or something like that. It allows them to reverse themselves. Then why don’t they do it? It doesn’t make any difference what party they belong to or what party appointed them. They are not beholden to any party. This sermon should have been directed at the US Supreme court. We cannot vote them out of office.

    • Christine says:

      Hi, Pat, I know the president cannot officially reverse roe v. wade, but he has voted pro-abortion. Here in Illinois, he voted 3 times against legislation that would require life saving measures for infants that survive and abortion. Three times. So, I can only assume he would support post birth abortion, which is now legal in Holland. The parents have 24 hours to euthanize their newborn if they are not happy with the baby for any reason. And he has said, referring to his own future grandchildren, that if his daughter makes a mistake, he wouldn’t want her ‘punished with a baby’. So, I cannot vote for a person who supports such evils and actively votes for letting live born babies die in the trash. Here are some links:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVNjrATbA20&feature=related
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jszkPtsFH-k

    • Yes, and it’s the president who appoints Supreme Court Justices. Also, as Mike Huckabee argued in the 2008 primaries, there are a lot more things presidents could be doing and haven’t done (executive orders, policies for subsidiaries of the executive branch, etc.).
      The Constitution specifically forbids the courts from legislating, yet the Court has been legislating from the bench since _Marbury v. Madison_, especially in the 20th Century.
      The best way to end abortion is establishing legal personhood for the unborn.

    • The Supreme Court’s domination of the minutiae of civil life is neither normal, natural or inevitable. The “legalization” of abortion was not the result of any legislative activity – democratic law making – but the product of an anti-democratic, elite-planned litigation campaign.

      President Nixon could have forbidden his Justice Department from enforcing Roe and Doe, but he partially favored them, partially because of his concern to liquidate children born of Black-White “miscegenistic” unions.

      Judicial scholar Robert Lowery Clinton, writing in “How the Court Became Supreme” (First Things, January 1999), showed that before Brown v Board of Education of Topeka (1954), the Court’s constitutional interpretations were mostly restricted to matters concerning its own operations. From the beginning, it was Congress and the President which made most constitutional interpretations. (This fact is completely unsuspected, even by most politically educated people.)

      It was the legislature’s refusal to stand up to the Dixiecrats and render justice to African-Americans, while “Old Man River” basso Paul Robeson was running around Stalin’s Russia making America look bad, that resulted in Brown, the decision that marked our selling ourselves into the slavery of the judicial tyranny under which we now labor.

      (Maafa 21 ties together the seeming disparity of slavery and black genocide, really just an alternation of generations of one integral thing.)

      Before the Legislature will reverse the course of “peoples selling themselves into slavery” to “marching back into freedom” (G.K. Chesterton, “The Everlasting Man”), it will require that the People change their hearts about abortion and demand that their Representatives stem the flood of blood. Only then will the Executive develop the will to put the Court in its place.

  8. Richard says:

    I was there and i was inspired!!!!!!

  9. gerald grulich says:

    “forty per cent of self identified catholics think abortion is wonderful. that it’s the best thing ever”. really? i have never heard a more demented statement from a catholic priest. your fascination with this sermon is distrubing. have you no discernment?

    • “The American Values Survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, found that 60% of Catholics would prefer an emphasis on social justice, while only 31% would favor concentrating on the right to life. The ‘social justice’ emphasis is favored even by Catholics who attend Mass weekly, by a bare 51% majority.” http://tinyurl.com/b2ucgnf

  10. Andrew says:

    Great homily. Could have done without the applause since it was during mass. The glaring difference between political party and Catholics today goes to underlying problem of how terrible our catchesis has been for the last 40 years. Pope Benedict XVI could not have timed this “year of faith” better.

    The term “intrinsically evil” should be proclaimed and explained at every opportunity to re-evangelize the poorly chatechised and to let those outside the one true faith delve into catholic moral theology.

    We definitely need to BE Catholic not a republican/democrat that is A catholic.

  11. Gina Nakagawa says:

    Yay, Anne. Well said. As Catholics, we are responsible for knowing the Faith, loving the Faith and following the Faith. Yes, catechesis has been the pits for 40 years, but we can do something about that, and must! God bless Father Fitch. Thank you and God bless you, Patrick Madrid.

  12. tom says:

    He took the gutless route of promoting the Falacy of False Symmetry. Cardinal Bernadin would be proud.

    Instead of following truth wherever it leads, he has chosen to try to split the difference between two errors.

    He accepts the political dichotomy as the media presents it. A clever Hegelian only needs to move the “center” to get him where he wants him to be.

    Let’s see: propose making abortion mandatory and then then middle way is being “pro-choice.”

    I can’t believe people still fall for this.

    • Andrew says:

      Live and therefor vote Catholic, the father’s basic message, is promoting the “falacy of false symmetry?” The rest was incomprehensible but then I studied engineering not lib arts so a little slack is requested.

    • I’m not sure what you’re getting at, Tom, but Dietrich von Hildebrand says in _Trojan Horse in the City of God_ that the Catholic approach to politics cannot be matched to any secular movement or as a “moderate” piecemeal of secular movements, because all secular movements are based upon a false concept of the human person and his relation to society.

  13. Jim says:

    Great Sermon. My wife and I talk often about the lack of direction from the pulpit regarding helping Catholics understand the issues of today and our need to put our lives as Catholic Christians as our guide in all we do, not selectively.

    I recently had the privilege of sponsoring someone in our RCIA program, and was enlightend, 40 years after attending Catholic grammar school, in the teachings of the church and my role in living that faith out each and every day. Today it seems we are guided by the media telling us what is acceptable, burying the foundational teachings of the Catholic Church in doing so. It seems we all need refresher course to wake up and live as Jesus taught us.

  14. Ginny says:

    Not just republicans, dems that profess being Catholic, know one neighbor that goes every morning to Mass yet sees no problem in gay marriage just because he has a daughter in such a relationship and also approves of abortion?

  15. Bob says:

    So what I got from this is the Church has two issues, abortion and gay marriage. Those other things like poverty, war, death penalty, torture, climate change don’t really matter there just fluff. And people wonder why the catholic church isn’t growing and instead is shrinking at very fast rate.. Honestly this just showed the church is an arm of the republican party.

    • Patrick Madrid says:

      Ridiculous. You obviously didn’t listen to his opening remarks where he completely debunks your spin.

    • Sanja says:

      Please read the bible and catechism of the catholic church, you will understand what the church stands for. Church is growing not shrinking. You are misslead and need to pray for the holy spirit to show you the way, back to Jesus and the church that he has started.

    • That’s it, I’m going back to stumping for the death penalty. I am sooo tired of people who want to make out that it’s morally equivalent to abortion. Abortion is murder because it kills a person who has done nothing to forfeit his right to live. The death penalty kills a person who HAS committed an act that forfeited their right to live.

    • Bob,

      I am 100% consistent pro-life. I oppose abortion, war, the death penalty, contraception, homosexual activity, IVF, artificial insemination, embryonic stem cell research, and euthanasia, all of which are aspects of what John Paul II called the “culture of death.” I also believe in conservation of God’s gifts to us. However, the Church has always permitted the State to make use of war and the death penalty when necessary, where the others are intrinsic evils, meaning they’re never permissible.
      The thing is: the number of Americans killed in all wars our country has been involved in is a small fraction of the number of people killed by legalized abortion. The number of Americans killed by the death penalty is a miniscule percentage of the 50 million killed by abortion.
      By sheer numbers, abortion is the more urgent issue. As Cardinal George put it, “Abortion destroys the common good.” Bl. John XXIII said in _Mater et Magistra_ that birth control is the greatest threat to economic justice, and economic justice is impossible in a society that permits intrinsic evils.

  16. Greg Mockeridge says:

    I really don’t understand all the adulation over this homily. I really don’t see how it was really courageous either. What I did find is that it included common misrepresentations of Church teaching on issues like capital punishment and immigration. Prudential judgments on the part of the bishops and even the pope himself as to whether or not civil authoraties can protect society from lethal crime without recourse to capital punishment do not beong to the body of authoritative Church teaching because is not, nor has ever even claimed to be, competent in that area. To even suggest, as Fr. Fitich explicitly claims, that the prudential opposition to the deasth penalty is even close to the Church’s teaching on abortion and euthanasia is flat out false. Such claim fails Moral Theology 0101. If Fr. Fitch is correct then Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement:

    “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

    How the “rare if not practically non-existent” statement has any authoritative bearing is also ridiculous on its face. A speculative statement, which the “rare if not practically non-existent”
    phrase clearly is, cannot be authoritative by its very nature because vioates the law of non-contradcition.

    He is probably right that those Catholics and probably non Catholics who support capital punishment are more likely to be republican than democrat. So what? This is relavent how? I mean those who oppose abortion are more likely to be republican than democrat too. And those who support capital punishment are more likely to be pro-life than those who oppose it.
    Patrick you and I both know thqt the death penalty is often used, with great effectiveness, as a wedge between pro-lifers.

    The problem with listening to priests and most bishops on this issue is that many, if not most have allowed themselves to used as an echo chamber for the bogus claims of the anti-death penalty movement.

    Opposition to capital punishment is a legitimate Catholic viewpoint as is support for it, equally! Clerics, in their official capacity as such, be they priests, bishops, and even the pope himself have no business taking sides on an issue like this. It only serves to open themselves up to exploitation by one side and to alienate the other side. Other than stating the binding moral principles and engaging both sides within that framework, they can effectively mediate both sides and hold them to those principles. This active engagement would bear great fruit which would extend beyond the issue of capital punishment.

    To suggest, as it seems clear was the upshot of Fr. Fitch’s point, that those of us who oppose the dangerous open border policy that, unfortunately is advocated by our bishops, is somehow tantamount to not show respect or recognizing the dignity of illegal aliens is just a nother flat out falsehood. I know of no prominent anti-illegal immigration advocates, Joe Arpiao or even Tom Tancredo for that matter who in any way reflect disrespect or lack of dignity of these people. In fact, the illegals themselves are the worst victims of our unwillingness to protect our borders. Members of the much falsely maligned Minuteman organization often went to great lengths, placing their own safety at risk to save the lifes of these people trying to cross the border illegally.

    Patrick, of course, you have been inside of far more parishes than I have. But I have heard many homilies like like this. I have also heard a lot of stuff like this come out of chncery offices too. So, I find it hard to believe you haven’t either in your “52 years as a Catholic.”

    Again, I don’t think it takes much courage to spout some the errors Fr. Fitch did in that homily.

    • Patrick Madrid says:

      We obviously understood his sermon differently, Greg. He did make the important distinction between things that are intrinsically evil (e.g., abortion) and things that are not (e.g., war). What made it so courageous was that the cathedral was filled with politically left-wing people who openly promote legalized abortion, among other things. You wouldn’t be expected to know the context of this sermon, as you weren’t there before, during and after, as I was, but, whether you choose to believe me or not, it caused a great stir among the folks I spoke to that day, who also felt, as I do, that he did a courageous thing in clearly criticizing the Democrat-first, Catholic second tendencies of many Catholics.

      See the cup as half empty, if you wish. I see it as half full.

      • James says:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/16/opinion/paul-ryan-catholic-dissident.html This a great article and should be read by every republican catholic.

      • Stephanie Broussard says:

        I most definitely agree Patrick.

      • Greg Mockeridge says:

        Patrick, He does make the distinction between capital punishment and abortion, yes, but it was a completely erroneous, he said the teaching on capital punishment and baortion were close. Anyone who knows anything about Catholic morality knows that opposition to abortion and oppostion to capital punishment aren’t even close. I judged it by the content. It was a classic mixing of apples and oranges.

        Actually, I see the glass as both half empty and half full. That’s the way a realist sees it. BUt that’s not really releavent to this issue anyway.

        • Greg Mockeridge says:

          I meant to say “it was completely erroneous’ not I. By the way, it takes courage for a Catholic priest to preach about abortion in a Catholic Cathedral in the U.S. how?

          • Patrick Madrid says:

            I cannot take your question seriously, Greg. If you are a Catholic who’s lived in the United States for, say, the last 40 years, you should know without it being explained to you why it would take courage for a priest to preach this sermon in a Catholic cathedral. If you don’t already understand the answer to that question, I can’t help you.

          • I know parishes where if a priest even preaches about the *Commandments* or Hell or mortal sin, people will walk out, letters will be written to the bishop (and/or provincial, if applicable), and that priest will be sent off to a mental hospital.

            As for abortion and the death penalty, the way I see it, the problem is the notion of “innocent” life. The death penalty is *only* supposed to be a last resort to protect society. If it is issued with revenge in mind, it loses its justification.

            Also, as I once read in a conservative Catholic publication in an article explaining that Jesus never really “abolishes” the Old Law, when Jesus says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” He is really setting up a condition for the death penalty that it *may* be applied by someone in a state of grace, but only by someone in a state of grace. Under that reading of Our Lord’s words, the death penalty cannot be justly used in a secular state.

      • Joseph D'Hippolito says:

        Patrick, it would take a lot more courage for Pope Benedict to chastise and publicly discipline Cdl. Wuerl for refusing to implement Canon 915 in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

        Unfortunately, the bishops value “collegiality” — and, more accurately, their access to political influence — than the values they claim to uphold.

        Devout Catholics have been hosed by their own bishops — and I include the current Pope — on abortion for nearly four decades. Cdl. Dolan makes it a point to yuk it up w/Pres. Obama yet has no time for Judie Brown of the National Life League? JPII and Benedict issue flowing rhetoric about the “sanctity of life” yet refuse to discipline the bishops (cf, Wuerl) they appoint?

        Wake me up when the bishops start taking their own rhetoric seriously.

    • Joseph D'Hippolito says:

      Patrick, Greg is absolutely right concerning capital punishment. In fact, the current abolitionist stance promoted since JPII’s papacy is nothing but arbitrary papal revisionism that contradicts centuries of teaching from both Scripture and Tradition.

      Those of you (like John Hathaway) who consider yourselves “100 percent pro-life” should read the following:

      archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=1463

  17. Diane says:

    WOW! Great sermon!!!! We need more priests like Fr. John to speak out boldly and unapologetically about today’s societal issues in relation to Catholicism as a reminder to what the Church teaches. Very informative and inspiring!!!

  18. ANNE says:

    It is truly sad that in the USA many Bishops and many Catholic Priests have not actively and openly encouraged the reading and study of the “CATECHISM of the CATHOLIC CHURCH, Second Edition”.

    It is no wonder that Catholics are politically all over the place regarding critical issues – in this day of relativism and secularism.

    ALL of the issues discussed by this good Priest are covered in the CCC.
    Due to the lack of encouragement many Church going Catholics have never read the CCC, and there are some Church going Catholics who have never even heard of the CCC.

    The average Church going Catholic does not know his/her Faith in entirety due to lousy catechesis over the past 40 years.

    However we each have a responsibility on our own –
    Pope Benedict – in Porta Fidei – has instructed us each to read and study the CCC which can be purchased in most Catholic cataloges on the internet and in some parish offices.
    When we are judged before Christ, we will not be able to say – I had no way of knowing.

    • Stephanie Broussard says:

      Each and every Catholic has a duty to learn their faith; therefore, it is not solely the responsibility of the Bishops and Priest who do teach the Gospel at every single Mass, but, it is our individual responsibility to know and defend our faith. Ignorance of scripture and church teaching is ignorance of the word of God. Responsibility is ours and it is up to us to know, love and serve God, therefore, it is our individual duty to study the scriptures and the catechism of the Catholic Church in order that we may be better informed of our own faith and belief in the Catholic teachings and traditions.

      • ANNE says:

        I fully agree with you. We each have a responsibility to educate ourselves and our children.
        But there are many Church attending Catholics who do not know about their duty to read the CCC – because no one ever told them.
        Further some Church going Catholics have never even heard of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition”.
        Most Universities that call themselves Catholic and even some Seminaries do not use the CCC as one required student text.
        Bishops and Priests need to actively encourage the reading of the CCC for unity within the Church, and to slow relativism, secularism, heresy, schism and scandal.
        Please help spread the word and the instructions of our Pope for the Year of Faith. See: “What Catholics REALLY Believe SOURCE”
        Give Catholic Bibles and copies of the CCC for Christmas gifts.

    • Joseph D'Hippolito says:

      ANNE, the CCC is not divinely inspired. The Bible, however, is.

  19. ANNE says:

    There are only 4 kinds of Catholics – liberal or conservative does not apply.
    The 4 kinds are: Faithful Catholics, Heretical Catholics, Schismatic Catholics, and Ignorant Catholics.
    This is why our Magisterium gave us the “CATECHISM of the CATHOLIC CHURCH, Second Edition.

    QUOTE: – – ” There are two levels to the New Evangelization.
    FIRST is the FORMATION and EDUCATION of those who practice the faith,
    so they can be better witnesses and evangelizers in their own lives to those in their family, their neighborhood and their workplace.
    The other level is to REACH OUT to the secular culture, to people who are away from the Church or who are seeking something better,
    and to put together arenas where they can feel comfortable coming to find something they are looking for. ” – – -UNQUOTE. Fr. Gino Sylva (who is on the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization).

    For more info on the CCC including quotes from Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict go to: http://whatcatholicsreallybelieve.com or search “What Catholics REALLY Believe SOURCE “.

    • The problem with political categories is we often determine them by issues rather than by philosophy. “Liberal” and “Conservative” ought to refer to an attitude about how government, law and/or economics function. It is theoretically possible for Catholics to be “liberal” or “conservative” and disagree upon pragmatic matters of politics while remaining faithful to the Church. The problem is when intrinsic evils are issues. The late Gov. Bob Casey showed that it’s possible for a Catholic to be 100% faithful and pro-life and liberal. Indeed, many “liberals” were pro-life until the Democratic Party became pro-abortion. Al Gore used to have the best pro-life record in the Senate.
      In part, it was bishops practicing what Leo XIII called “Americanism” who helped transition Catholic Democrats to ambiguity on intrinsic evils. In the early 60s, for example, Chicago’s famous Mayor Daley led an organized movement against legalization of birth control *until the archbishop told him to stop it*.
      This was before Vatican II, before _Roe_, etc., but the bishops were afraid of backlash for publicly opposing birth control and abortion.

    • Add a fifth kind, probably the most numerous: Tepid, lazy, comfortable Catholics.

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