Dear Fr. Martin,
First, thank you for taking the time to visit the Insight Scoop blog and to post your comment. It doesn't matter much to me that you posted the same remarks elsewhere. I've done the same from time to time—and I don't suffer from carpal tunnel as you do. I am sorry to hear of this affliction, and I fully understand that it limits your ability to respond to every post, comments, etc. made here or elsewhere.
Also, I don't have any doubts about you being unabashedly pro-life. Although I am not always successful, I do my best to address stated positions and arguments, and to avoid figuring out motives or attitudes that I am not privy to. And, in doing so, I can be a bit blunt, as my first post on your CNN appearance indicates. But please know that my criticisms are not personal in nature.
A number of folks have already make many excellent points and asked some good questions. I don't want to belabor matters too much, despite the importance of the topic, but will focus on two or three of your remarks. The first is this: "However, as you could see from the CNN show, I also believe that some in the pro-life movement (defined broadly) sometimes downplays the non-abortion parts of the pro-life tradition: that is, the death penalty, war, feeding the hungry, euthanasia, and so on."
Even if this were true (and I do not think it is), it's not clear to me why it is used as an argument when the issue at hand in the CNN interview was abortion (just as the controversy over President Obama's appearance at Notre Dame was about abortion). Or, to put it a different way: does the veracity of what someone states about a specific topic—the Catholic Church's teaching about abortion—change due to how much we have said or not said about euthanasia, war, the death penalty, etc.? No, it does not. As you rightly noted, "Abortion is certainly the pre-eminent life issue these days..." I would simply point out that this, in fact, is what the pro-life movement believes, and that it reflects, I think, the moral teachings of Pope John Paul II.
But I would also point out that it is simply unfair and unsubstantiated to suggest, as you do, that most of those in the pro-life movement have little or no concern about other issues. (Does the person who says, "God is the most important thing in my life" deny, in so saying, their love for their spouse or children or friends? Having priorities does not mean a person is imbalanced; it means they have a goal and a focus.) In fact, study after study shows that those Christians who give the most to charity are usually "conservative" in their beliefs, which means, I think it is fair to say, that they are anti-abortion and pro-life. I know many, many Catholics who are associated in one way or another with pro-life work, and they are also, to varying degrees and in different ways, involved in feeding the hungry, helping the poor, promoting and supporting adoption and helping out single mothers, fighting euthanasia, protesting embryonic stem-cell research, denouncing totalitarian regimes that oppress basic human rights. And many of them are vocally and actively opposed to the war in Iraq; many of them are opposed to the use of the death penalty in this country. None of them, from what I can tell, are in favor of torture.
Put simply, this caricature of the pro-life movement is incorrect. It needs to be vigorously corrected; it needs to go away. It is harming the good name of numerous people who are doing good things but are being misrepresented or misunderstood. We expect such from the media and from abortion-rights politicians, but it is painful to hear from other Catholics.
Amy Welborn, a well-known author and blogger, addressed this in a post today and made a couple of excellent points:
... And of course, the question sneaks up and won't be ignored...why is it only the movements with abortion at the center of their concerns which are scolded for not being broad enough? Where are the calls for anti-poverty, anti-death penalty, and peace groups to include anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia concerns in their agendas?
Those are, I think, fair and important questions. And speaking of how such movements have a natural diversity within them, I should also point out that I, and many others, are not at all happy with the sort of actions taken by Randall Terry and his associates while protesting at Notre Dame. I admire Terry's passion and his desire to stop abortion, but I think his approach, in the end, is not very helpful; it is, I think, quite counter-productive, as it takes away from the much less sensational but more widespread witness of thousands of Catholics.
I mention this, in part, because of your comment, "you don't have to violently disagree with the Notre Dame decision in order to be pro-life. Nor do you have to speak the use the same language, pursue the same political goals or, in general, do the same things, in order to sincerely and ardently work for an end to abortion." In general, I agree; there is certainly room for healthy debate and discussion about the tactics and strategies and approaches used in different venues and forums. But I also think this sidesteps, to a meaningful degree, the real issue at the heart of the Notre Dame situation. Despite what Fr. Jenkins said many times, it was not a "dialogue", nor a conversation.It was bestowing an honor on the most overtly "pro-choice" (that is, pro-abortion) president in the history our country. The reason many Catholics are upset is because they believe, rightly, that the talk of dialogue was a smokescreen for what was actually happening: the most famous Catholic school in the U.S. was honoring the most famous abortion rights advocate in the U.S.
Fr. Robert Barron recently wrote: "Does anyone think for a moment that Fr. Hesburgh, at the height of the civil rights movement, would have invited, say, George Wallace to be the commencement speaker and recipient of an honorary degree at Notre Dame? Does anyone think that Fr. Hesburgh would have been open to a dialogue with Wallace about the merits of his unambiguously racist policies? For that matter, does anyone think that Dr. Martin Luther King would have sought out common ground with Wallace or Bull Connor in the hopes of hammering out a compromise on this pesky question of civil rights for blacks? The questions answer themselves."
The logic here is both quite simple and unavoidable: the reason Notre Dame would never honor a racist—even if he was President of the U.S.—is because Notre Dame knows, along with everyone else, that racism is sinful, evil, and contrary to both Catholic teaching and basic morality derived from commonsense and the natural law. So why is abortion different? After all, it is evil. It is sinful. It is contrary to Catholic teaching. It is contrary to basic morality derived from commonsense and the natural law. So why is it different? Because it has been rendered legal by the Supreme Court? Because many people accept it as a legal right? Because it has somehow been magically turned into a private choice and a "woman's right"?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, "The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death."
Put another way, as some readers have rightly pointed out, it is misleading to suggest that being against abortion is just a matter of "Catholic moral teaching." It is a matter of natural law, and the government/state that legalizes and recognizes abortion as a "right" has seriously, woefully failed in its duties, as the Catechism notes:
Again, this isn't simply what Catholics alone should believe; this is moral teaching that should be clear to all people who seek truth and honestly assess the respective natures of procreation, conception, birth, and abortion. Catholics should not ever fall into the trap of thinking abortion is wrong only "because the Church says so," a trap eagerly jumped into by those Catholic politicians who say they are "privately opposed to abortion, but..."
My point, simply, is this: the reasons used to support or defend the honor given to President Obama at Notre Dame are unconvincing both intellectually and morally. There are many venues and forums for dialogue, even debate, about abortion and related topics. A commencement address is not such a forum. But it seemed obvious that Notre Dame wanted to have the prestige of featuring President Obama at the commencement, as well as wanting to specifically honor him.
Yet it is not clear at all how bestowing such honor will result in fewer abortions, especially since President Obama's actions since taking office demonstrate his unwillingness to compromise or really dialogue about such matters, despite his rhetoric. On the contrary, the entire spectacle gives the impression that what the Church teaches about abortion can be disregarded or suspended for this, that, or the other thing, which in turns undermines the consistent and clear teachings of the Church about not just abortion, but everything else: euthanasia, just war, the death penalty, and so forth. Such a weakening takes us closer to the "state of barbarism" warned about by Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae (par. 14).
We agree on the need for charity. But I think we also agree that we simply cannot overlook that words have meaning, life is precious, and the moral law is unchanging. Sadly, what took place this past Sunday at Notre Dame indicated—regardless of the sincere intentions of those involved—that words are malleable if you mean well, life (at least certain lives) is sometimes secondary, and the moral law can be fudged as long as we insist it isn't being fudged. That, I think, is why so many in the pro-life movement as so saddened and ashamed.
Thank you again for your response; thank you also for your service to the Church and for the Kingdom.
Carl E. Olson
Editor, Ignatius Insight
Moderator, Insight Scoop