Pro-Life movement hurt by its militant supporters

  • September 25, 2009
{mosimage}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. They failed to persuade Boston archbishop Cardinal Sean O’Malley to deny U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy a Catholic funeral in full sight of the world. They failed to get Fr. Rosica to hoist himself above the bishops and canon lawyers who gave the green light for the televised funeral service and throw himself into the campaign to denounce them. And 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.

But the problems of pro-life extremists are hardly limited to the Kennedy funeral. They, and the right-to-life movement as a whole, are losing the battle for hearts and minds in the public forum. In an Angus Reid Strategies poll conducted last year, only one in five Canadians interviewed (19 per cent) said he or she supported restrictions on access to abortion greater than those currently in place, while just five per cent advocated the outright outlawing of abortion altogether. The poll also indicated that the more wealth and education a person had, the more likely would be his or her support for abortion rights as presently constituted in Canadian law. This last finding suggests that the position of the church on abortion is losing ground precisely among people whose minds must be changed if there is to be any progress in those statistics: Canada’s educated elite, the country’s present and future leadership.

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.

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