The National Catholic Review

God is so good to me. While I pray to have no enemies, private or public, I also pray that if I must have an enemy, it be someone like Patrick Reilly, the President of the Cardinal Newman Society. Yesterday, I called attention to an interview he gave NPR in which he compared President Obama to Adolph Hitler. I make it a point not to reply to comments on my blog posts but seeing as he has accused me of libel – I mean, of LIBEL (Mr. Reilly’s comment begins in all caps) – a response is required.

Libel involves three requirements. A statement must be printed, it must be malicious and it must be false. My charge was certainly printed, if the web counts as printed. Was it malicious? I do not wish any personal ill on Mr. Reilly, but I do wish him political ill, I wish to expose his positions as those of a Catholic Ayatollah (as the National Catholic Reporter recently characterized Mr. Reilly), and to see that people of good sense shun those positions. If that be malice, I plead guilty.

But the crux of the matter is whether or not the charge was false. Mr. Reilly pleads that he said, twice no less, that he did not intend to compare Mr. Obama and Mr. Hitler. Reilly writes, "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." So, it was a mistake, but only because he got caught? I note the absence of any apology to Mr. Obama in Reilly’s comments. And, the fact that he hedged his comparison between denials that he was making a comparison does not alter the fact of that comparison one iota.

I recall a "Law & Order" episode where the police catch a suspect fleeing from them. The suspect says, "I didn’t do anything." The policeman says to his partner, "That’s what they always say when they are running." In the event, I provided a link to the interview and readers can judge for themselves.

Mr. Reilly contends he was merely trying to point out that Notre Dame’s position, that the honor to the President implies no endorsement of his views on abortion, is "ludicrous," that you cannot separate a public figure from the totality of their acts. Alas, that is not how politics works. As Mayor Koch used to say, "if you agree with me eighty percent of the time, vote for me. If you agree with me one hundred percent of the time, go see your shrink." For example, President Bush supported abortion in cases of rape and incest, and approved embryonic stem cell research for some stem cells that President Obama’s policy will prohibit. Politics lives on the slippery slope, especially in a diverse society like ours where not everyone accepts Catholic teachings and few study what we Catholics call "natural law." Besides, this emphasis on "totality" is always fraught with danger, as anyone who lived in the tweniteth century can attest; used in this way, it contains something of the integralist, of the witch hunt, especially when employed by one such as Mr. Reilly whose career seems to consist of calling others heterodox.

But, if Mr. Reilly’s aim was only to make an admittedly complicated point, why not compare President Obama to, say, Richard Nixon. "You can’t applaud Nixon for the Clean Air Act and forget about Watergate," he might have said. After all, comparisons achieve moral clarity when comparing apples to apples, or presidents to presidents. Or, he might have said, "You can’t forget the dropping of atomic bombs on the i


Anonymous | 5/8/2009 - 12:57pm
Thank you DT.  However, where Mr. Reilly and most pro-life activists err is assuming that abortion is a political issue with any electoral significance.  It is not.  It is a judicial issue.  There was never a national law permitting abortion which politicians support or oppose, so curial teaching on politicians who support or oppose abortion is largely irrelevant and indeed slanderous.  Comparisons to Hitler and appeals to the humanity of the unborn (or incorrect appeals to the humanity of blastocysts) won't change that fact. Even though you dislike the result, you must accept the constitutional correctness of Roe or you have no chance of enacting measures to reverse it.  As long as overturning Roe is a fetish for the pro-life movement, contributing time, money or support to the cause is throwing money down a rat hole and can only be regarded as a partisan act.  If the movement continues with its attachment to the Republican Party it will be annihilated within a decade.  For the good of the unborn, it is time to disengage. Why is Roe constitutionally correct?  First, it is based on federal supremacy on equal protection issues.  It is interesting to note that many pro-life politicians describe themselves as federalists and end it there.  This is the kind of definition of federalism that Hamilton and Madison would have objected to.  Federal Supremacy on equal protection issues is entirely legitimate and indeed moral to prevent the tyranny of state majorities from abusing minorities, including in many strong pro-life enclaves the Catholic Church herself.  For many, it would be immoral to base opposition to Roe on such a belief in federal supremacy and the Bishops have no competence or authority to dictate federal political arrangements, regardless of the result. Second, given the absence of legal status for the unborn, women have a right to privacy in relations with their doctors.  That is simply logical.  A legal non-person does not have rights and is chattel.  We may not like that, but the problem is not the right of privacy, but the fact that the fetus is considered a non-person. Third, the status of the fetus lies in the plain language of the Constitution, which in the 14th Amendment defines residency in terms of birth.  The solution to the problem of the unborn lies in the part of the Amendment which gives Congress the ability to enforce the amendment.  Given that there are at least 14 pro-choice states which would prevent the passage of a Human Life Amendment, the only way to grant status to the unborn is by legislation.  If the movement focussed on passing such legislation, or even having a rational discussion, it might have some relevance and Catholics might have a reason to vote pro-life.  There is no such reason presently.
Anonymous | 5/7/2009 - 1:53am
I often find myself agreeing with Michael Sean Winters, but I think he is off base on this one. I think too many people are getting distracted debating about abortion in this comment thread, and aren't paying enough attention to the real issues: logic and rhetoric. Patrick Reilly's argument ran something like this: - Defenders of Notre Dame's decision to invite Obama claim that it is possible to honor someone for one aspect of their work while ignoring significant evils they have perpetuated. - Since not everyone agrees that abortion is evil, let's examine this principle using a case where we all can agree on the evil of the actions of the person involved. >>> Klansman or Hitler - As this extreme example makes clear, it is simplistic to say that one can honor the good a public figure has done without regard for the evil they also have perpetuated.  In the process of laying out this argument, Mr. Reilly twice made clear that he was deliberately choosing an extreme example to analyze the underlying logic of Notre Dame's argument and was not trying to equate Obama and Hitler. I think this is a legitimate rhetorical device. It may be politically stupid to use since so many people will stop at the name of Hitler and not actually pay attention to the way it is being used, but there is nothing offensive in this argument. It is in fact a very common rhetorical tactic.  
Anonymous | 5/8/2009 - 1:13pm
Let me add that there will be many in the pro-life movement who refuse to engage in the questions I have raised, including many in purple and scarlet robes.  They do so at their own peril, at least electorally.  Don't expect pro-choice Catholics to listen to you on electoral issues if you won't listen to us when we raise these legitimate concerns.  Thankfully, the President you are castigating is actually working toward reducing the need for abortion and seems interested in legislatively limiting late term abortion, going beyond the Partial Birth Abortion Act to ban those late term abortions that occur within the womb (which are less safe for the mother than those which are currently banned).  While he does include a health exception that such exception runs throughout medicine when the lives of two people are medically intertwined and only one can be saved.  One need only look to the cases of conjoined twins to see this.  It is morally licit to separate twins in some circumstances, even if doing so will seriously risk the life of one of them.  Instead of fighting the existence of the health exception, it would be better to join in the discussion to assure that it is not appllied frivolously.
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 6:43pm
One permits oneself to wonder how innocent were the people of Hiroshima? How many of the people of Hiroshima were still in the city which had been emptied of its citizens to make a military base against an assumed U.S, invasion. I doubt that a poll [a recent favorite to avoid thinking] of American citizens would have rejected use of the bomb. It had one great effect: it halted the 60 year old unprovoked war in its tracks. The suddenness of the bomb also prevented the carrying out of the orders to slaughter all prisoners of war. It really is just too easy to play Monday morning quarterback.
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 8:21pm
The comparison of President Obama to Hitler is part and parcel of the resugence of McCarthyism. If you doubt this, have a look here:
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 5:51pm
Perhaps we see not only the travesty of killing an unborn child, but also the man huddled on the street with feet that bleed, nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat - while hundreds hurry by.  I am a single issue Catholic only in the sense that every human life is precious, none to the exclusion of others.  Furious denuciations, measures of who is more Catholic than who do nothing to address what we are called to do: Feed the hungry.  Clothe the naked.  Succor the lost.
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 7:27pm
At the risk of being labeled a party-pooper, I have to say that while I always am entertained by Mr. Winter's considerable talents at the keyboard, I am, as a Catholic, often profoundly discouraged by them. And at the risk of being accused of libel, I get the sense that his posts are meant to goad and amuse, rather than further the goodness, truth and beauty of our faith and what it really is about. That's par for the course for successful bloggers, but for someone on the payroll of the esteemed America magazine? Is that consonant with the mission? By all means, subject Mr. Reilly's comments to intense, even withering, scrutiny — but exclusively on their merits, not on ad hominem attacks. Why doesn't America set a higher standard for intra-ecclesial debate? This is not a game. A last point: I do not dispute in the least Mr. Winter's pro-life credentials, but he seems too often to dismiss those who take life issues seriously as "single-issue" Catholics. That is unfair (even if he is right that scandalously many pro-lifers  are inconsistent in their support of life). The writings of Cardinal Bernadin, the famous proponent of the "seamless garment," demonstrate clearly that respect for innocent human life -- most dramatically in the unborn -- is the essential fiber with which that garment is woven.
Anonymous | 5/7/2009 - 9:43am
The outrage of using Hitler in any comparison, I think, is due to some idea that Hitler is a singular, rare, evil person, not likely to be replicated. I wish this were so.  I think that he may be more common than many think!
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 10:16pm
Marcia Mann:  I assume you have tried voting for pro-life candidates already?  The failure is that not enough people are trying!  Don't give up the fight!  We shall overcome!
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 6:27pm
Joe Kash - How extraordinary for you or anyone to assume that "multi-issue voters" (such as myself, perhaps) don't call killing 4000 innocent human lives evil, don't speak up  for the unborn, and don't fight to prevent further culture degradation!! Wow.  And then to be called boring to boot.  Unfortunately, it's clear that invincible pride abiding within a narrow mind can not conceive of a way to address the tragedy of abortion in this country except by its own definitions, rules, and prescriptions for the fix.  Using strategies that have not worked to lower or stop abortions, such as voting for politicians who are not pro-life (but anti-abortion), pushing for the appointment of anti-abortion Supreme Court justices, and sending out postcards to oppose a bill that has not been introduced in Congress and hasn't had a chance of a fart in the wind even in Clinton's adminstration.  Please.  What could possibly be considered boring is the lack of imagination in what has now become a fossilized enraged group, who now almost-universally act like a Borgian (Star Trek) takeover has occurred in the pro-life movement, trying to shout down anyone who doesn't agree with their strategies, methods and strident statements.  There is no attacking of those who care for these lives, there is an objection to the tactics, the innuendos, inaccuracies and slander.  I am grateful that there is a sustained reasoned response on a few Catholic blogs to these outrageous, specious charges.  That's not attack - it's dialogue.  And in some blogs, there is actually emerging more and more conversation and awakening.  Sadly, there continues to be highly motivated spoilers who have no interest in dialogue, but only in verbally charged rhetoric.  And many seem to have an iv going directly to the Republican party.  Witness the first comments to Mr Winters blog entry.  I am anti-abortion and pro-life, and I'm determined to vote best to achieve the outcome of reduction and elimination of abortion in our country and world, and the other seamless garment of life issues, too.
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 4:21pm
This nonsence about ''one issue'' voters is old and boring.  For you multi-issue voters:  Why can't you speak up for the unborn?  Why can't you call the killing of 4000 innocent human lives evil?  Why can't you fight to prevent the culture from degrading further so that peope don't feel empathy for these lives.  Why do you spend so much time attacking those who care for each of these lives?  Four thousand lives are killed each day on average!  Four Thousand!!  Four Thousand!! We had memorials after the first 1000 Americans died in the Iraq war.  We again did this after 2000 and 3000 and 4000!  This took years!  Why can't you multi-issue voters have a proportional sense of outrage over the 4000 lives killed every day in this country by surgical abortion!!!  Where is the outrage!  How long will this go on?
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 2:42pm
The more I read the comments that routinely appear on this blog, the more ridiculous, hateful, and unchristian the hard "pro-life" position sounds -- and I consider myself pro-life! While most Americans agree that abortion is a bad thing and should be avoided, most are not convinced that a fetus, especially in the first trimester, is fully human. We don't issue death certificates for miscarriages and most miscarriages go down the toilet. We Catholics can preach about "natural law" but most people don't really accept or understand the concept. We can talk about DNA, but don't we Catholics think humanity is more than DNA? We are human because God loves us. We are Christians because we want to pass that love on to others as Jesus did. We are offended by abortion because we see it as the antithesis of God's love. But not everyone sees it that way, especially those who are caught up in the hard struggles of the world. The only way we will ever bring about an end to abortion is to show people the depth of God's love. We cannot achieve that by calling The President evil and comparing him to Hitler, or by hastling and deporting immigrants, throwing people in prison, executing people, torturing people and carpet bombing civilians, even in wartime. We can show people God's love by sharing all that we have with those in need and by loving those who offend us. That is what Jesus did and calls us to do.
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 2:22pm
Interesting. All 3 comments are supporting the comparison/equation that Mr. Reilly says he did not intend to make. I'm not sure that is the best way to defend Mr. Reilly in the libel issue.
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 2:36pm
I am a pro-life (and have been since I was aware of what abortion was) Democrat who is currently in the Inquiry process to become Catholic. I love Catholicism - the rich history, the sense that THIS is the real church (I have studied theology and church history for 6 years now), I've read several of Cardinal Raztinger/Pope Benedict's books. But REALLY people! It disturbs me that there is such a strong strand of 1-issue activism out there. It's like the main part you hear about of Catholicism is the equivalent of fundamentalists in my native Protestantism. I think abortion is absurd and abhorrent - who can look at that tiny organism that nonetheless looks just like a person (with an admittedly large head) and not be moved by its humanity!? And further, who can come at it from a religious standpoint and not realize that you're killing a semi-divine being by aborting that baby - it is a cold, murderous act, I agree! But there are so many evils in this world and it seems to me that a) Obama isn't going to change much of the reality on the ground around abortion and b) he IS going to address a lot of the world's other ills. I just watched "Slumdog Millionnaire" from my temperature-controlled, solidly built home in a very well-landscaped portion of one of the more upscale suburbs in Columbus, Ohio and I cried. To think so many people live like that - in intense, brutal squalor! There are so many things wrong with this world and Catholicism is such a beautiful faith I wish we'd realize how much we agree about.
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 1:29pm
I have no problem with the comparison of Abortion supporters with Hitler.  The mass killing of human life is evil.
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 1:09pm

Mr Winters celebrated a few weeks ago when Bill Donohue 'attacked' him.  In that post Mr Winters wrote '.....Donohue's interests are more Republican than Catholic...'  I can't help but wonder if the same applies to Mr Winters.  Author of the book, Left at the Alter:  How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics can save the Democrats, are Mr Winters' views more Democrat than Catholic?   Ultimately, it comes down to this:  Why say a thing about Mr Reilly?  Why pray to be given an enemy?  Why is he your enemy and is this an attempt to dehumanize him?  Is this Ignation thought and the ideas to be espoused from an Ignation publication?  Lastly, are you quite certain to Cardinal Newman's stand?  Another point, I find it rich the man who defends himself from libel will call his opponent's thoughts that of a "Catholic Ayatollah."  Its even richer that he hasn't the fortitude to do it himself but only quotes another periodical.  Talk about hyperbole!

Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 10:39am
You say that Richard Nixon and Harry Truman are more proximate comparisons to President Obama.  Are you really so shallow as to suggest that merely because the men are presidents they have more in common?  The issue here is not whether Obama is a president who made a mistake.  The issue is that he staunchly supports the killing of millions of innocent human beings.  Do you seriously mean to say that cheating and lying (in Nixon's case) is a more proximate comparison for abortion?  That it has more in common with the murder of millions of babies than Hitler's murder of millions of Jews?  And do you also truly believe that civilian casualties during a war (which undoubtably saved hundreds of thousands of American soldiers' lives) equate to murdering millions of babies?  Even if you  somehow justify equating wartime civilian casualties with abortion, your statement that abortion has more in common with Watergate than with the Holocaust is ludicrous.  It tells me quite a bit about YOU, Mr. Winters, that you allow yourself to justify abortion by equating it to a political scandal.
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 10:28am
Addendum: once posted an ad comparing President Bush to Hitler on its website.  The ad used a tape recording of the Nazi leader speaking while it showed images of Hitler and German military prowess during World War II. At the end of the ad, a photo of Bush raising his hand to take the oath of office was shown. Michael, do you think this as was wrong?  Why didn't you write a post condemming
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 10:18am
Liberals have short memories. How often was President Bush compared to Hitler?  Where was liberal outrage then?  Neither Bush or Obama merit comparison to Hitler (for Bush the record is complete; for Obama at least not yet), but people in the public spotlight must expect these unfortunate comparisons.  The old nursery rhyme says: "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me." Even our Lord called Herod a fox!
Anonymous | 5/6/2009 - 2:41pm
Yesterday, in his post, ''The Anonymous Lotto Winner,'' Mr. Winters stated that playing the lottery was his ''one white trash affectation.''  Is Mr. Winters willing to concede that he compared all lottery players to white trash?   It would be nice to see Mr. Winters answer that question.  Alas, he says he doesn't respond to these comments.  How convenient. 

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