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?”)