Ted Kennedy, Salt + Light, Fr. Rosica, Politics and the Pro-Life Movement

I’ve been hesitant to post about this issue because I don’t want to encourage further infighting within the pro-life movement, but John Bentley Mays has a provocative article in the Catholic Register that I think warrants discussion.

First, the background (which is largely Catholic inside baseball): there was controversy over Ted Kennedy’s Catholic funeral, despite defenses from canon lawyers, and many tried to pressure the Catholic Salt + Light Television station into speaking out against the bishops and priests involved. Not only did Fr. Thomas Rosica (CEO of Salt + Light) refuse, but he issued a strong statement critical of “viscious attacks” from within the pro-life movement. Then, LifeSiteNews.com jumped into the mix and… well, let’s just say it got messy. I don’t want to dwell on the in-fighting… I’d rather get onto Mays’ points.

Mays describes the series of events and blames it on pro-life “extremists,” and — more particularly — on the “hard right,” arguing that they’ve been ineffective in winning over hearts and minds, and suggesting that the discussion should be moved left of center. (emphases mine)

The current war by bloggers and voicemailers against Salt + Light Television and its CEO Fr. Thomas Rosica is a symptom that something has gone seriously wrong in the heart of the pro-life movement in Canada and the United States.

The ultra-militants among the right-to-lifers, of course, have many reasons to feel frustrated… their raving and ranting throughout this affair have almost certainly failed to cause a single person to join the struggle for the protection of the unborn.
They, and the right-to-life movement as a whole, are losing the battle for hearts and minds in the public forum… Clearly, nobody’s opinion is going to be changed for the better by the kind of vitriol spewed out at Fr. Rosica in the last few days. Replying to his critics on the Boston archdiocesan web site, Cardinal O’Malley writes (in words I fully support): If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure. Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us… Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.”

But altering the tone of the discourse about abortion is not the only thing that needs to be done. The whole discussion should be moved out of the hard right political environment into the place it more naturally belongs: the debate over values and goals on the social-democratic left.

As a Catholic on this latter point in the political spectrum, I have long been dismayed by the hijacking of right-to-life issues by the right. The push for human and civil rights has always been a matter of urgency for the modern left, and whatever progress Canadian society has made in other matters important to Catholics — the protection of individual rights, the active agency of the state in caring for the weak, sick and disadvantaged, the levelling of the playing field — has been due to pressure from the left. The extension to the unborn of the human right to life, and opposition to the culture of death, should be central issues on the left. The fact that they’re not, so far, is a failure of imagination in the ongoing life and culture of social-democratic dialogue.

Meanwhile, we can hope the bloggers and blabbers attacking Fr. Rosica, Cardinal O’Malley and Salt+ Light will just shut up.

Wow. Fighting words.

Now, I don’t agree with Mays broad generalizations of politically conservative pro-lifers. Casting everyone you disagree with as an “extremist” or “ultra-militant” is just a little bit unfair.

However, if you can get beyond the disdain, I do think he makes an excellent point that these life issues need to be championed by people on the “left” as well. The more that life issues are cornered in a any political spectrum, the harder it will be to change hearts and minds.

Though, Mays’ approach to bash and blame the “hard right” isn’t exactly setting up a big tent either. I wish he’d better follow the advice he so aptly highlights (“If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure”).

How can we appeal to Liberals and (hey, we can dream) NDPers without alienating conservatives? And, how much of this in-fighting is actually a result of politic differences anyways (i.e. are these two separate issues)?

And… is the absence of life issues as central to the social-democratic dialogue really just a failure of imagination? Or is it that many pro-lifers don’t feel terribly welcome left of center? Does it have anything to do with the fact the the NDP doesn’t tolerate pro-lifers, and that the Liberals tend to demonize them when politically convenient? How might we change that?


(And one other quibble: what’s with all the old folks complaining about “bloggers?”)

7 Comments on “Ted Kennedy, Salt + Light, Fr. Rosica, Politics and the Pro-Life Movement

  1. Hello Blaise,
    Thanks for this insightful post. I admire students that do pro-life work on university campuses. That’s a tough crowd to work with!

    I would encourage you to not shy away from controversy, even if that means respectfully denouncing the clergy for their lack of effort on pro-life issues. If you haven’t already, you should read the excellent article by Archbishop Burke on the Kennedy funeral and the manner in which pro-lifers should deal with these issues. Here’s the link: http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6937&Itemid=121&ed=1

    Also, I would advise you against putting any trust in Fr. Rosica. He talks the talk, but he isn’t willing to put his butt on the line for the pro-life movement.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Hi Steve,

      Thanks for the comment!

      I’m not afraid of controversy myself, though there are a couple reasons I’ve hesitated to wade too far into this fight here. Firstly, though many of our members are Catholic, UTSFL is a secular club — this is a particularly Catholic battle within the pro-life movement, somewhat inside baseball ish. And I think the in-fighting does a lot more harm than good to Catholic pro-life efforts — it’s become vicious (even Fr. Rosica, who’s ironically vicious and judgmental in his call for pro-lifers to not be vicious and judgmental…).

      I disagree with Rosica’s tone, and it’s unfortunate that he uses such harsh language with well-meaning pro-lifers (though, I’m not exactly a fan of LifeSiteNews.com), but I’m not sure it’s fair to say either that he isn’t willing to put his butt on the line for the pro-life movement. Salt+Light recently republished an article he wrote for the Sun in July 2008, for example: Gutless leaders strike again: Henry Morgentaler’s Order of Canada exposes spineless G-G, questionable commissions.

      I think both Rosica and LifeSiteNews.com could have handled the issue better, but I hesitate to dwell on specific criticisms (especially speaking on behalf of the club) that serve to build up walls within the pro-life movement. Disagreement is healthy, but this has become pretty nasty… I’d rather not fuel the fire.

  2. You’ve raised some good points. The Fr. Rosica article is good, but once again, it’s just talk. Have you ever seen him on the sidewalk with a pro-life sign during the 40 days for life? Or did he dare challenge “Catholic” Dalton McGuinty on his same-sex marriage views when Fr. Rosica interviewed him on S&L a couple of years ago? There is a reluctance to self-sacrifice, which is essential to our cause. On the contrary, remember that he called the police to have some faithful Catholics arrested outside his Newman Centre several years ago because they didn’t want a dissenter and excommunicated priest giving a lecture to impressionable Catholic students (http://www.thefreelibrary.com/False+profits+%28Svend+Robinson%3B+Gregory+Baum%3B+Anthony+Padovano%3B+Hedy…-a030006658)

    Archbishop Burke has a great quote in his article:

    “One of the ironies of the present situation is that the person who experiences scandal at the gravely sinful public actions of a fellow Catholic is accused of a lack of charity and of causing division within the unity of the Church.”
    “A unity which is not founded on the truth of the moral law is not the unity of the Church. The Church’s unity is founded on speaking the truth with love. The person who experiences scandal at public actions of Catholics, which are gravely contrary to the moral law, not only does not destroy unity but invites the Church to repair what is clearly a serious breach in Her life. Were he not to experience scandal at the public support of attacks on human life and the family, his conscience would be uninformed or dulled about the most sacred realities.”

    Unity in the pro-life movement is great, but never at the expense of the truth. Unity only works if we are truly on the same page. If we aren’t, if we have profound divisions but are simply trying to pretend that they don’t exist, the effectiveness of the pro-life movement is undermined. I’ll never forget the experience of some pro-lifers witnessing in front of an abortion mill in the U.S. The security guard came up to them and said: “If abortion is such an evil, why is your Cardinal honouring that Kennedy guy?” The pro-lifers were speechless. What could they reply? The Cardinal had indeed undermined their witness. An army divided will never win.

    Sorry for the long post… 🙁

  3. Wow, I’d never heard about him calling the police over a Newman Centre protest. Eep…

    I think that’s an outstanding quote from Archbishop Burke, but I think there’s a bit more to it when it comes to the pro-life movement. Unity in the Church founded on speaking the truth with love? Absolutely. But insofar as the pro-life movement is political, politics is the art of the possible. We can, and must, find support and agreement without that kind of unity.

    For example, the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians likely won’t agree with the Church on a couple things, but if PLAGAL and Catholics within the pro-life movement can agree that elective abortion is unacceptable because it intentionally kills a human person, then we have a basis of moving forward together on that one issue.

    Now, when someone is pro-life, except in the case of rape, that’s an central disagreement — it’s an inconsistency that calls into question the core pro-life argument. That disagreement is a barrier to any progress fighting abortion. But if the disagreement is over whether or not a pro-abortion politician should have a Catholic funeral? Well, that’s something that even some Canon lawyers — who despised his politics — argued strongly for. (Whether he had a right to a Catholic funeral is also a distinct question from whether he should have been honoured at the funeral, versus humbly praying for the repose of his soul, etc.)

    I don’t usually shy away from controversy, but in this case, I think the issue is a bit too complex (and complex in a Catholic political and canon law sense) to tackle head on in my shoes as a UTSFL exec member. I feel like denouncing one side of the debate would do more harm than good, because it’s reached such silly proportions on both sides, and the disagreements are over tactics and canon law, etc, as opposed to fundamental disagreements at the heart of the pro-life argument.

    In response to the “why is your Cardinal honouring that Kennedy guy?” question, I’d have responded that a Catholic Mass of the Resurrection isn’t an “honour,” but a prayer for the mercy and the repose of one’s soul.

    I don’t know, it is a tough question and I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. I guess I’m a little conflicted about it, and I feel it’s largely a Church controversy (outside the formal scope of our club).

    Thanks for your comments though, very important conversation to have.

  4. You’ve made some great points. Obviously there’s a difference between an ecumenical pro-life club and a Catholic group. I definitely hear you.

    Thanks for the link from the Canon lawyer. Certainly, Kennedy could have been given a private funeral, but not a public one. That’s the position of even the most outspoken critics of the Kennedy affair, like John Pacheco at Socon Or Bust. You’re absolutely right that a funeral is not meant to honour anybody, but that’s how the Kennedy affair turned out: Placido Domingo, Yo-Yo Ma, three eulogies (which are forbidden at Catholic funerals precisely because we’re there to pray for the soul’s salvation, not canonize the deceased person), etc. A private funeral would have avoided lots of trouble.

    I sure hope Kennedy repented of his sins. But remember that public sins require a public repentance, otherwise scandal occurs (as we have witnessed). Since no public repentance occurred, I stand by my position.

    Keep up the good work. Your confreres at McGill could probably use some moral support after what happened down there!

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