Cleveland Right to Life, 3.9.10
People who do prolife work very quickly learn that there really aren’t
any strangers in this movement. It’s held together by a friendship of
shared beliefs and sacrifices that doesn’t care about age or social
background or distance. So coming here tonight actually feels a lot like
and I’m very grateful to Molly Smith, Andrew Trew, the rest of the great
Cleveland-area prolife leadership and the good people from Salem
Communications for welcoming me with such outstanding kindness.
I also want to thank Bishop Lennon in a special way for being here. The
bishop and I have known each other a long time. He’s a man of wonderful
heart and spirit, and it’s a privilege to call him a brother in
ministry. And finally I need to thank a man I very much admire: Hugh
Hewitt. All I need to say about Hugh is this: Hugh Hewitt is irrefutable
proof that the words intellect, courage, character, good will, wisdom
and talk radio can all fit logically together in the same sentence. So
let’s turn now to the substance of our discussion tonight.
Politics can sometimes work like a virus. The simpler a political slogan
is, the faster people absorb it; the faster they transmit it; and the
less likely they are to really think about it
which means they don’t develop an immunity to its content.
Here’s an example. A theme we’ve heard from many of our political
leaders over the past 18 months goes like this. America needs to return
science to its “rightful place” in public life. Well, who can argue with
that? Science does an enormous amount of good. Obviously science should
have its rightful place alongside every other important human endeavor.
But one thing that this theme often means, in practice, is that
we need to spend a lot more money on research. Especially the
controversial kind. And while we’re at it, we should stop asking so many
annoying ethical questions, so that science can get on with its vital
We could spend the rest of the day debating whether science has lost its
place as a national priority. But I want to focus on those words
“rightful place.” That’s an interesting phrase. A “rightful” place
suggests that there’s also a wrongful place; a bad alternative. And
words like right and wrong, good and bad, are loaded with moral
judgment. A “good” law embodies what somebody thinks is right. A “bad”
public policy embodies what somebody thinks is bad, or at least
All law in some sense teaches and forms us, while also regulating our
behavior. The same applies to our public policies, including the ones
that govern our scientific research. There’s no such thing as morally
neutral legislation or morally neutral public policy. Every law is the
public expression of what somebody thinks we “ought” to do. The question
that matters is this: Which moral convictions of which
somebodys are going to shape our country’s political and cultural future
including the way we do our science?
If you and I as citizens don’t do the shaping, then somebody else will.
That’s the nature of a democracy. A healthy democracy depends on people
of conviction working hard to advance their ideas in the public square
respectfully and peacefully, but vigorously and without apologies.
Politics always involves the exercise of power in the pursuit of
somebody’s idea of the common good. And politics always and naturally
involves the imposition of somebody’s values on the public at large. So
if a citizen fails to bring his moral beliefs into our country’s
political conversation; if he fails to work for them publicly and
energetically; then the only thing he ensures is the defeat of his own
We also need to remember that most people
not everyone, of course, but most of us
root our moral convictions in our religious beliefs. What we
believe about God shapes what we think about the nature of men and
women, good human relationships, and our idea of a just society. This
has very practical consequences, including the political kind. We act on
what we really believe. If we don’t act on our beliefs, then we
don’t really believe them. As a result, the idea that the “separation of
Church and state” should force us to wall off our religious beliefs from
guiding our political behavior makes no sense at all, even
superficially. If we don’t remain true in our public actions to what we
claim to believe in our personal lives, then we only deceive ourselves,
because God isn’t fooled. He sees who and what we really are. God sees
that our duplicity is really a kind of cowardice; and that our lack of
courage does a lot more damage than simply compromising our own
integrity. It also undermines the courage of other good people who
really do try to publicly witness what they believe. And that
compounds a sin of dishonesty with a sin of injustice.
I’d like to dwell on the issue of science for just another moment,
because it will lead us into the rest of our discussion today. I want
you to listen to some thoughts from two very different sources. Here is
the first source:
“Science, by itself, cannot establish the ends to which it is put.
Science can discover vaccines and cures for diseases, but it can also
create infectious agents; it can uncover the physics of semiconductors
but also the physics of the hydrogen bomb. Science [as] science is
indifferent to whether data are gathered under rules that scrupulously
protect the interest of human research subjects . . . [or by] bending
the rules or ignoring them altogether. A number of the Nazi doctors who
injected concentration camp victims with infectious agents or tortured
prisoners by freezing or burning them to death were in fact legitimate
scientists who gathered real data that could potentially be put to good
The same source goes on to worry that, today, many of the bioethicists
who claim to counsel and guide the moral course of American science
“have become nothing more than sophisticated (and sophistic) justifiers
of whatever it is the scientific community wants . . . In any discussion
of cloning, stem-cell research, germ-line engineering and the like, it
is usually the professional bioethicist who can be relied on to take the
most permissive position of anyone in the room.”1
Now listen to these words from my second source:
“What is our contemporary idiocy? What is the enemy within the [human]
city? If I had to give it a name, I think I would call it ‘technological
secularism.’ The idiot today is the technological secularist who knows
everything . . . about the organization of all the instruments and
techniques of power that are available in the contemporary world
and who, at the same time, understands nothing about the nature
of man or about the nature of true civilization.”2
The words from my first source appeared in 2002. They come from the
author and scholar Francis Fukuyama. Fukuyama strongly supports the
benefits of science and technology. He is not
to my knowledge
religious believer. And based on his writings, he seems to have very
little use for Christianity. But he’s also not a fool. He sees exactly
where our advances in biotechnology could lead us if we don’t find an
ethical way of guiding them.
The words from my second source were written nearly 50 years ago, in
1961. They come from John Courtney Murray, the great Jesuit priest and
Christian scholar. Murray was a thoughtful man, and he chose his
language very carefully. He used the word “idiot” in the original Greek
sense of the term, which is quite different from its meaning in modern
slang. For the Greeks, the “idiot” was not a mentally deficient man.
Rather, he was a man who does not possess a proper public philosophy; or
as Murray says, “a man who is not master of the knowledge and skills
that underlie the life of a civilized city. The idiot, to the Greek, was
just one stage removed from the barbarian. He is the man who is ignorant
of the meaning of the word ‘civility’.”3
As I said, these two sources are very different. One was a believer. The
other is not. Father Murray died more than four decades ago, long before
today’s stem-cell debates. But both men would agree that science and
technology are not ends in themselves. They’re enormously valuable
tools. But they’re tools that can undermine human dignity, and even
attack what it means to be “human,” just as easily as they can serve
human progress. Everything depends on who uses them, and how. Fools with
tools are still fools
and the more powerful the tools, the more dangerous the fools. Or to put
it another way, neither science nor technology requires a
conscience to produce results. The evidence for that is the record of
the last century.
Now I’ve talked about these things so far for a simple reason. The
struggle we face today in defending human dignity is becoming more
complex. I’ve believed for many years that abortion is the foundational
human rights issue of our lifetime. We can’t simultaneously serve the
poor and accept the legal killing of unborn children. We can’t build a
just society, and at the same time legally sanctify the destruction of
generations of unborn human life. The rights of the poor and the rights
of the unborn child flow from exactly the same human dignity
guaranteed by the God who created us.
Of course, working to end abortion doesn’t absolve us from our
obligations to the poor. It doesn’t excuse us from our duties to the
disabled, the elderly and immigrants. In fact, it demands from us
a much stronger commitment to materially support women who find
themselves in a difficult pregnancy.
All of these obligations are vital. God will hold us accountable if we
ignore them. But none of these other duties can obscure the fact
that no human rights are secure if the right to life is not. And
unfortunately, abortion is no longer the only major bioethical threat to
that right in our culture. In fact, the right to life has never, at any
time in the past, faced the range of challenges it faces right now, and
will face in the immediate future. Physician-assisted suicide,
cloning, genetic engineering and developments in biotechnology will
raise profoundly serious questions about the definition of “human
nature” and the protection of human dignity in the years ahead.
This raises a pressing question: What do those of us in prolife work
need to do in preparing for whatever lies ahead? Let me offer a few dos
and don’ts that might help guide us, and we can talk about them in
greater depth during our discussion time.
Here's the first don't.
Don't let divisions take root.
Unity is a sign of God’s Spirit. Division is the sign of Someone very
different. St. Augustine said that we need to be united in the
essentials, free in the debatables, and charitable in all things. It’s
good advice. Differing prolife opinions go with the movement's richness.
As a bishop, I've been baffled by the energy wasted on internal prolife
bickering. We can never allow our differences to become personal.
Acrimony among us is a gift to the other side. It's also a form of theft
from the unborn children who will suffer the consequences of our
Here's the second don't. Don't create or accept false oppositions.
and by that I mean the idea that most of our options involve "either/or"
is usually untrue and also un-Christian. During the 2008 election, a
number of new and so-called prolife organizations argued we should stop
fighting the legal struggle over abortion. Instead we should join with
"pro-choice" supporters to seek "common ground."
Their argument was pretty simple: Why fight a losing battle on the legal
front? Let's drop the "divisive" political battle. Instead let's all
work together to tackle the economic and health issues that might
eventually reduce abortions.
The trouble is, Americans didn’t take the gradual,
social-improvement road to "reducing" racism. Quite the opposite. We
passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nor have I ever heard anyone
suggest that the best way to deal with murder, robbery, sexual assault
or domestic abuse is to improve the availability of health care and job
training. We make sexual assault illegal
even though we know it will sometimes still tragically occur
because it’s gravely evil. It’s an act of violence, and the law
should proscribe it. Of course, we also have a duty to improve the
social conditions that can breed domestic and sexual violence. But that
doesn't change the need for the law.
Likewise, if we really believe that abortion is an intimate act of
and of course, it is
then we can't aim at anything less than ending abortion. It doesn't
matter that some abortions have always occurred, or that some will
always occur. If we really believe that abortion kills a developing,
unborn human life, then we can never be satisfied with mere
"reductions" in the body count.
The Catholic bishops of our country have argued for more than 30
years that government needs to improve the economic conditions that can
lead some women to abortion. But good programs for economic justice
don't absolve anyone from the legal struggle to restrict and eventually
end abortion. We can do that incrementally, but we need to do it.
Protecting the unborn child is not an "either/or" choice. It's
"both/and." We need to help women facing problem pregnancies with good
health care and economic support; and we need to pass laws that will end
legal abortion. We need to do both.
Here's the third don't. Don't hate the adversary.
People who support so-called “abortion rights” are opponents to the
cause of life. But they rarely understand the full gravity of what
they’re doing, and they’re never our "enemies." Our enemy is the Evil
One, not other human beings. Abortion-friendly lawmakers and
organizations, and even people who despise us for what we believe, are
still our brothers and sisters. We need to trust in the power of love;
the true power of God. St. Irenaeus of Lyon warned the early Christians
that we've been sent like sheep into the midst of wolves. The moment we
become wolves ourselves, we lose.
Now here's the first and most important do. It's very simple: Do
I said it was simple. I didn't say it was easy. “Martyr” is
originally a Greek word, and it simply means “witness.” We need to
witness our beliefs about human dignity with the example of our daily
choices and actions. But public witness can be costly. We need to be
ready to pay a price for our convictions. We may never be asked to bleed
for what we believe. But we do see character assassination, contempt and
calumny against good people every day in our public media. We need to
prepare for that. Nothing, not even our good name, should stop us from
doing what we know to be right.
Here's the second do. Do keep hope alive.
Cultivating a spirit of joy is not self-deception. It's a way to
acknowledge that God really is on the side of human life and
dignity, and that human nature, created by God and despite the wound of
original sin, is also on our side. Nothing is more inspiring than
happy warriors. I've never in my life seen a joy-filled pro-abortion
event. And I've always found that instructive.
Here's the third do. Do use the best means for your message,
especially the new technologies.
Today's new technologies can be a mixed blessing. But they're also
cheap and useful tools that prolifers
like Brian Burch at catholicvote.org and many others
can use very effectively. Many of the traditional, mainline media are
losing influence. But blogs, social networks, and YouTube channels are
thriving. They offer huge prolife opportunities.
Here's the fourth and final do. Do remember that renewing the
culture, not grasping at power, is our real goal. Political and social
action is vital. But it’s not an end in itself.
Culture is our "human ecology”
the environment where we breathe not only air, but ideas, beliefs, art,
music, social manners and values. Our job is to carry out, according the
talents and skills God gave us, what John Paul II called the
"evangelization of culture."
Many things in American life today fuel a spirit of greed and
self-delusion. Our adversaries often have far more resources than the
prolife movement can ever hope to muster. It doesn’t matter. Culture can
be changed in small but powerful ways. But achieving that change demands
from each of us a lifelong commitment to education; to studying and
really understanding the issues that face us in science, medicine,
technology and law; to deepening the character formation of our children
and ourselves; and ultimately, to personal action and personal witness
in the public square.
Nobody will do these things for us. The task of renewing our country
belongs to you and me. It starts with each one of us individually, and
it spreads outward to other people through our personal acts of courage.
If we change the environment around us one heart at a time, while we
save one unborn life at a time, the day will come when we won't need to
worry about saving babies, because they'll be surrounded by a loving,
I want to leave you with two final thoughts.
Here’s the first. Nothing we do to defend the human person, no matter
how small, is ever unfruitful or forgotten. Our actions touch other
lives and move other hearts in ways we can never fully understand in
Don’t ever underestimate the beauty and power of the witness
you give in your prolife work. You may think I came here today to
encourage you; and of course that’s true
did. But I also came here for me, to see your dedication and to
draw friendship and strength from you. One thing we learn from
Scripture is that God doesn’t have much use for the vain or the
prideful; for big shots or celebrities. But He loves the anawim
the ordinary, simple, everyday people who keep God’s Word, who stay
faithful to His commandments, and who sustain the life of the world by
leavening it with their own goodness. That’s the work you’re really
doing here today. Don’t ever forget it. If you speak up for the unborn
child in this life, someone will speak up for you in the next, when we
meet God face to face.
Here’s my second and final thought. I was in Texas last week, and a
friend shared with me the unofficial motto of the Texas Rangers. It goes
like this: “No man in the wrong can stand up against a fella that’s
in the right, and keeps a-comin.”4 I believe that. I
believe it because the message is true. Virtue does matter.
Courage and humility, justice and perseverance, do have power.
Good does win. And the sanctity of human life will endure.
It will endure because people like yourselves will remember that if “God
so loved the world that He gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16), then the odds
look pretty good, and it’s worth fighting for what’s right.
So let’s pray for each other, and support each other, and thank God
for the privilege of being together in His service.