The National Catholic Review

I just listened to a taped interview on NPR with Patrick Reilly, the President of the Cardinal Newman Society that has led the opposition to President Obama’s speaking at Notre Dame’s commencement. I hope those bishops who, in good faith, have taken the same position as Mr. Reilly listened, especially when he compared President Obama to Adolph Hitler. Of course, Reilly said, "I don’t mean to compare them, but…" and went on to do precisely that. The host, Michel Martin, called him out on the comparison, he back-tracked, and she quickly brought the interview to a close. Nonetheless, his comments were grotesque.

To be clear, the problem with current pro-life political strategies lies exactly here. We Catholics look at a two week old embryo and we see a child at a very early stage of development. Most pro-choice people only see a colony of cells. In order to end the practice of abortion, we have to convince people that life, even at its earliest stage, is worthy of respect. Shouting at them, distorting their position, calling them evil and comparing them to Hitler, these tactics are not likely to persuade them of the radical beauty and truth of the Catholic perspective.

The other argument that Reilly floated was that we can object to Obama’s position on abortion more decisively then, say, George W. Bush’s position on the death penalty because abortion is an intrinsic evil. This argument fails also. Birth control is an intrinsic evil and you would be hard pressed to find a governor or mayor who has not signed a budget that provided funding for that. Indeed, President Bush funded birth control, did he not, yet he addressed Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony in 2001 without objection.

I understand that the bishops are frustrated that the political culture has not inclined more to a position on abortion that is, for us Catholics, so basic as to not even require much in the way of an argument. I understand that they may wish to change the way they relate to the political culture, that they want to find new ways to witness to the culture on this foundational issue. But, they are standing next to Patrick Reilly and Randall Terry and that should give them pause.




Anonymous | 5/8/2009 - 6:44pm
Michael, I’m sorry to hear about your mugging and assault; a similar thing happened to me.  But there are multiple dimensions to the injustice of such social phenomena as violent crime, slavery and abortion.  There is the aggregate toll of suffering inflicted by them, but there is also the naked injustice of the violations of rights they represent.  Manipulating external economic pressures to remove incentives to rob, own slaves, or commit abortions may well lower their incidence.  But that does not address the injustice.   Imagine for a moment a state without serious legal restrictions on mugging and in which muggers run amok.  Your argument to Joe Kash, carried to its logical extreme, would suggest that the first item of business for the leaders and electorate of that state in addressing that problem should be ameliorating the economic conditions that incentivize muggings.  Once that’s been done, they can focus (as an afterthought) on working to enact laws to protect the right of people not to be mugged.   Or, again, take the pre-Civil War South.  Do I correctly infer from your advice to Joe Kash, that by the same reasoning, the abolitionist movement should have focused its efforts not on repealing slave laws but first on developing cheap automated cotton harvesting technology?   I doubt this is the best recipe for success.  In a larger sense, I submit that a society that does not formally recognize the most fundamental of rights, regardless of how well it may eventually succeed in masking that injustice by removing economic incentives to violate those rights, is still deeply, deeply unhealthy – perhaps more unhealthy than the society that recognizes the rights but is somewhat less successful in mitigating the incidence of their violation.   And really, with such a fundamental (perhaps hidden) flaw in its commitment to and recognition of the value of human life – the value by which every other improvement in social conditions is ultimately justified – can the great strides such the first society might make in improving those conditions ever be secure?  I doubt it.  They’ll have constructed a fine city on a foundation of sand, or perhaps something more rotten.   Fiat justitia ruat caelum.   (By the way, you seem to be suggesting that only one candidate in the last election was interested in the goal of improving economic conditions that we know are relevant to the incidence of abortion.  That’s just false.)
Anonymous | 5/7/2009 - 8:26pm
What does it mean to say that those abortions “occur due to economics”?  That seems a strangely detached view of causation and responsibility.  One might also observe that armed robbery, not to mention the former institution of slavery in the American South, occur in some sense due to economics.  Plenty of despicable and unjust acts are carried out on economic motivations or under economic influences.  Would you suggest that “maudlin appeals” for the rights of mugging victims, or chattel slaves, and support for laws that recognize and defend such rights, are an “inappropriate” approach?  That calls for anti-robbery statutes and emancipation proclamations should be basically an afterthought, once we’ve succeeded in first “changing the economics” that created the pressures or incentives that induced people to rob or enslave others?
Anonymous | 5/8/2009 - 1:43pm
The significance of the Notre Dame event is not only the University's status as the premier Catholic University in the United States (sorry Georgetown and CUA), but the role of its students, faculty and community in delivering Indiana to the Democratic column.  In  a sense, this event will be a well earned victory lap for the President and the graduating class.  It also marks the return of many Catholics to the Democratic Party - including Catholics who consider themselves pro-life- precisely because the veil has been lifted on the pro-life movement who were perceived as being the religious wing of the Republican Party.  It certainly did not help that a supposedly pro-life party had insisted upon life time limits for welfare which could not but have caused poor women to seek abortions.  The movement has gotten understandable desperate and shrill as a result. The economic argument is an even bigger problem for them, because it makes Republican Catholics face the issue of whether their pro-life stance or their economics is more important to them in the voting booth.  Schadenfreude much!
Anonymous | 5/8/2009 - 1:33pm
As one who has been mugged and assaulted for the contents of my wallet (which they never got since they weren't really armed), I can safely conclude that if the young thugs who mugged me had not been in desperate circumstances, I likely would have gone unmolested that night. In the overwhelming majority of cases, if there were adequate income from work or education for one or both parents, which increased with the birth of a new baby, most abortions would not happen. As for emancipation, after the war, economics and racism kept the sharecropper system in place - as well as a system of capricious justice which further enslaved many - well into the 20th Century.  The abuse of African Americans stopped when automated cotton harvesting was introduced. I am not justifying the treatement of sharecroppers, or of modern day farm laborers.  I am suggesting the opposite.  If the people who would be enslaved or who would be forced into abortion had other options the injustice toward them and the need for them to kill their children would not occur. In the last election, one candidate promised to enact measures to make life possible for 5 of 6 fetuses who might be saved, while the other hinted at actions which may or may not save 1 of 6.  Which candidate is doing God's work?
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 2:15pm
The anti-abortion movement hitched its wagon to the Republican party and has been driven into the ditch with them.  RTL and the GOP are a mirror image of each other with the fringe elements taking center stage and everyone else thrashing around behind the scenes trying to figure out what to do next. Maybe Joe the Plumber will figure out something :) A funny thing happened on the way to that Permanent Republican Majority . . .      
Anonymous | 5/7/2009 - 3:32pm
Michael:  Thanks for posting this. - Tim
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 3:35pm
Mr. Kash, Mr. Winters and I are actually doing more for the cause of decreasing abortion than you think.  Maudeline appeals for fetal rights will not help in 75% of the cases - where the abortion occurs due to economics - either present or future.  To ban abortion without taking care of the economics pushes women - some of them already mothers - into cruel and dangerous circumstances.  When you already have a family adoption is not usually considered an option.   Given that 10% of abortions are considered "necessary" (danger to mother's life, rape, incest), the approach you advocate may be effective and appropriate in 15% of the cases - so for every abortion your approach would prevent, five women would be made more desparate.  Let's change the economics for the five first, then we can worry about the one in six.
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 12:11pm
The Pew Forum recently reported a poll that shows decreasing support for abortion.  Is this because of America Magazine's crusade against killing the unborn or is this partly because of our brave religiouos leaders and people like Mr. Reilly who call a spade a spade. Where is the outrage?  4000 human beings killed on average each day!  I have no problem comparing this to Hitler or any other evil. Get off your high horse Mr. Winters.  Start fighting for the unborn.  Be not afraid!
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 9:05am
Brian, Guilty as charged regarding this issue!
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 11:07pm
Linda, schadenfreude much?
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 10:55pm
The Cardinal Newman Society president is complaining that his comments about Hitler and Obama were taken out of context in the media - leaving a distorted impression ? Does the phrase '' to be hoisted by one's own petard '' seem appropriate ?
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 9:53pm
Crying ''libel'' by this leader of the CNS is quite the pot calling the kettle black.  Only the ''Kettle Winters'' isn't black to begin with...  How rich.  The National Catholic Reporter wrote an informative article about Mr Reilly and the Cardinal Newman Society last month and provides a very helpful background and perspective on CNS.  I've been reading Mr Reilly's charges in dismay for quite some time, much of which is exaggeration, opinion, and outright distortions masquerading as fact.  Just like one of the parish priests in his homilies these past months.  Just like the archdiocesan paper here in its editorials urging local Catholics to follow Mr Reilly's lead at CNS, referring to his website for updated information in the academia abortion wars.  Oddly, the archdiocese publishes, based on Mr Reilly's standards, libel, continuously, in its charges against President Obama; from what he thinks, to what he has done, to what he will do.  It's endless.  If it has to do with President Barack Obama, the paper, the parish priest, and, apparently, the CNS and Mr Reilly, all variously communicate inaccuracies about FOCA, President Obama's statements thereof, his priorities (which oh my goodness, he again confirmed the obvious last week, that FOCA was not his priority), his suspending for review extra conscience clauses last-minute-Bush put into place, his lifting the Mexico policy ban on international funding for family planning not abortion, just to mention a few things.  It's dismaying that there is so much similarity and bonding between such agenda peddlers of misinformation and inflammatory opinions.  Yes yes, don't so many of us make such common charges of distortions and misinformation on the webblogs these days, on and on, back and forth.  But there are facts, there are always facts.  And mentioning Hitler in a conversation about our President had its purposes of comparison.  Making vehement emotional (all capital letters is pure cyber shouting) statements about libel after being exposed may simply show that performers do occasionally go beyond boundaries or fail miserably and get royally embarassed about it.  It is a pathetic sight to behold the refusal to own up.  Placing one's self indefatigably on the media stage has its price, and accountability should be appropriately expensive for the most prolific performers in my view.
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 6:14pm
I just listened to the interview and was fascinated with the final comment, that abortion has been the President's priority, not social justice.  My impression had been that this issue had not been occupying the President's time to the exclusion of national service, the financial crisis (which threatens the poor more than the rich), torture, piracy?  That misrepresents the state of affairs, I believe, and like the mention of Hitler (a time-worn  and unhelpful strategy in web forum flame wars - even when not meant to "compare"), can inflame the issue -- which does not help.
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 12:33am
Ditto on what Joseph (#15) said.
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 6:01pm
Thanks America! Not to be unkind, but this is too good to be true -- to watch Patrick Reilly throw a hissy fit and accuse someone else of libel (or slander) after all the damage he's done. Precious!
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 5:21pm
I DID NOT COMPARE OBAMA TO HITLER.  THAT IS LIBEL.  In fact, I twice stated that I was NOT comparing the two, just to ensure that radical partisans would not deliberately ignore the context of my argument, but there's no stopping Mr. Winters, is there?  Anyone who cares about what Winters says needs to listen to the interview -- at about 6 minutes into it.  I argued that Notre Dame's defense for honoring President Obama -- that they are honoring only part of an individual, despite clear conflict with his public actions and positions -- is ludicrous.  I stated clearly that I was offering extreme examples of how Notre Dame's position could apply to a KKK member or a Hitler, assuming they have certain qualities worthy of admiration.  I know -- big mistake ever to mention Hitler, it was certainly an extreme example and perhaps a less volatile figure could have made the point without getting slammed by deceitful people like Winters.  If Winters doesn't remove his blog immediately and publicly apologize for the deliberate libel, America will have lost any credibility it still had. Patrick J. Reilly, President, Cardinal Newman Society
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 5:06pm
It is sad that one actually has to defend President Obama against any link with Hitler, but perhaps it is necessary.  Hitler specifically sought the extermination of all Jews (plus Slavs, the handicapped, homosexuals, and an awful lot of priests and religious as well).  Barack Obama was probably about 10 years old when Roe v Wade effectively legalized abortion, and while he can be legitimately criticized for not opposing abortion, any hint of a Hitler comparison (even the "I am not comparing them but" kind) posions the well of any discussion, and severely overstates his responsibility for the problem of abortion (which of course long precedes his career in any kind of office. Obama is not a Catholic and thus does not owe quite the same allegiance to Catholic doctrine as Catholics do.  Pro-life people might do a better job of achieving their goal if they stressed persuasion over condemnation.  Perhaps assume that people who accept abortion are not utterly evil, but simply in need (as we all are in various ways) of conversion and enlightenment.
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 4:49pm
Michael, an embryo is what happens after gastrulation, a blastocyst is what exists before.  Embryologists will say they are very different and there are ontological reasons for agreeing with them.  For the purpose of clarity, please do not confuse the two.  One can be against abortion and believe that a blastocyst is not a human life, but living tissue that could become a human life at gastrulation. Also, being pro-choice may or may not have to do with the worth of the child.  The issue is not whether the child should be protected, but whether criminal or financial penalties are to be assessed.  Pro-choice individuals can be pro-life in their belief in the humanity of the fetus and still say no to penalties.  Even Catholic Supreme Court Justices can strike down what is essentially infanticide and yet believe that Roe should not be overturned.  Their names are Roberts, Alito and Kennedy.  If anyone denied them Communion for that belief, we have not heard of it.
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 1:58pm
You said, ''But, they are standing next to Patrick Reilly and Randall Terry and that should give them pause.'' That is absolutely ludicrous. If someone takes a stand against abortion, they should be associated with anyone and everyone else who takes a similar stand, including the most radical among them? With that kind of thinking, I suspect you side with the government for labeling abortion opponents potential terrorist!
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 1:52pm
In order to get the other 250 silent bishops to change the pro-life strategy and wrestle the pro-life agenda away from the Randal Terrys and Newman society,we pro-life Catholics have to some work to do. Seamless Garment, consistent ethic , Pax Christi are Chistian, Catholic based strategies that need members and 'shout outs'. The bishops have made peace with the 'intinsic evil' of contraception in the secular society and have FULLY given up any attempt at codifing in US law their notions about the'evil'. In this secular society. The 'silent' 250 bishops have to harness the  Pro life energy  to address the family, family values, support of pregnant woman, to change hearts and to show the flag of charity.Please  Drop the bloody dolls agenda [dolls made in China?] of the Randal Terrys..    
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 1:29pm
Mr. Winters, Patrick Reilly did not compare Obama to Hitler.  He used Hitler as an easily understood (though apparently not by you) counterexample to Fr. Jenkin's suggestion that one can evade the problem by compartmentalizing the honor and/or its recipient such that no questionable message is conveyed regarding the actions you don't want to honor. Mr. Reilly's remark was an example of refutation by reductio ad absurdum, and there is nothing grotesque about that.  Indeed, this kind of argument is precisely the sort that I think the supporters of Notre Dame's decision have thus far shown themselves least able to address effectively.  I haven't seen a single supporter, much less Jenkins himself, explain whether and why the university would feel content to stand on the same principle if the record of the award recipient were consonant with the highest ideals of the Church except, say, racism or Holocaust denial. Moving to another matter, Mr. Reilly's distinction of abortion and the death penalty on the basis of ''intrinsic evil'' is not invalidated merely because artificial contraception is also an intrinsic evil.  There are obviously other bases on which support for abortion and support for contraception can be distinguished.
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 12:33pm
You're right to call out Patrick Reilly on this. There really is no comparison. Hitler - tyranny against his own people, aggression against his neighbors - had no regard for ALL life. A more apt comparison would have been between the American and German peoples. The German people remained silent and knowing in the face of unspeakable evil. Unless it happened to be their own middle class relatives, as with the Aktion-T4 program.
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 12:33pm
It's interesting to see that Godwin's law (the longer a discussion thread continues on the Internet, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1) has made the leap to the mainstream media.  Internet devotees assume that whoever makes the comparison has "lost" the debate because of rhetorical overkill. Your passing comment that birth control is intrinsically evil displays what I consider to be a profound gap in perceptions of reproductive morality between some Catholic clergy and the majority of the laity.  Humanae Vitae's reasoning on artificial means of birth control has never made sense to me; it seems more anti-technology than anti-family planning.  I for one see nothing immoral about using an umbrella when I don't want to get wet, vs. being told to just stay indoors when the weather forecast is for rain.  I'm open to being persuaded by others with better formation who can explain the theology, but please don't assume I haven't read the actual document; I have. One of the great tragedies of the post-Vatican II era was the failure of the Church to synthesize the concerns expressed by what was then known as "the birth control commission" of 1964-66 with the publication of Humanae Vitae in 1968.  In my opinion, the Church would have been better served by a synthesis that created rules of engagement for the moral use of reproductive technology.  Such a synthesis would have provided Catholics with a stronger foundation for teaching the immorality of abortion, for debating the issues of today like the use of stem cells and in vitro fertilization, and for future debates on topics like cosmetic neurology.  And the bishops would have preserved more of their moral authority to teach on other topics; instead, on reproductive morality the Church looks like a chapter of the Flat Earth Society.
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 11:42am
The irony is lost on these people. As far as I know, Obama did not order the death of anybody, born or unborn, and was not involved in any single abortion. George Bush, on the other hand, introduced a set of torture technques that borrowed from the Gestapo in both methods and name "enhanced interrogation techniques".
Anonymous | 5/5/2009 - 11:32am
Well I dont think the President is comparable to Hitler in terms of sheer evil (though I would note that a good portion of Hitler's death toll will be realized over the course of his term). However, he is quite comparable to him in terms of being the center of a cult of personality and oratory to a degree which is frightening. Oh, and he prefaced and suceeded his statement by asserting that he didint want to compare indiividuals. I thought it was clear that he was just throwing out a list of people whom a secularist would find offensive.

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