Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Austen IvereighSeptember 16, 2009

Not long after I posted on the need for some pro-lifers to learn the democratic and Christian art of civility, the Catholic News Agency -- not to be confused with the highly respected, Church-run Catholic News Service -- ran an item provocatively entitled, "Murder of Michigan pro-lifer a ‘non-story’ for Obama Catholics". The premise of this "news" piece was to berate various organizations considered to be both "pro-Obama" and "Catholic" for failing to mention the recent murder of a pro-life activist, Jim Pouillon.

There were three organizations singled out by the self-appointed mob: Catholics United, which promotes the Catholic social vision in the bishops' Faithful Citizenship document, and two Catholic weeklies, the National Catholic Reporter and, you guessed it, America magazine -- specifically two contributors to 'In All Things' -- MSW and me.

Here's how the charge was laid at my door:

The Jesuit weekly, America Magazine, also completely ignored the murder of the Michigan pro-life activist. None of the magazine's news or blog postings made a mention of Pouillon's murder.  Instead, few hours after his murder, America posted an entry from blogger Austen Ivereigh titled “Lessons in radicalism and civility.”

In his post, Ivereigh quoted former Milwaukee archbishop Rembert Weakland, who in his recent memoirs accused “some parts of the pro-life movement” of lacking civility.

The CNA reporter tried very hard to build a story from that by contrasting our apparently ominous silence with the fact that Catholics United, NCR, and America had earlier spoken out on the murder of Dr Tiller, expressing various degrees of shock.

The implication -- never stated directly, for this sort of insinuation naturally shrinks from the light -- was that we "Obama Catholics" (as opposed to what? Roman Catholics?) have double standards: we care about the killing of a pro-abortion doctor, but not a pro-life activist. And why would that be? What exactly would be the reason behind this inconsistency? CNA leaves it to its comment box, where the mob can unleash their suggestions. Sure enough, the slurs quickly accumulate: "It should come as no surprise that those on the left politically, and those in the Church that espouse heretical views are silent on one murder and incensed by another," suggests Doug from Portland. "After all the goal of unfettered abortion must not be derailed."

For the benefit of Doug and others, I explained under the article the best I could (1) that my post on civility went up before I heard about the Pouillon murder; that (2) when I read about it, I didn't think it affected in any way the the point I was making; and that (3) I had nothing to say about it that was in any way noteworthy. It was clearly a deplorable act, as is any murder; what else was there to say? Unlike Dr Tiller, the man was not well known; and the Tiller murder was worthy of comment in this and other places because it represented a potential crisis for the mostly Christian pro-life movement-- especially if (which turned out not to be true) the killer was motivated by faith. I suspect similar reasons would be given by MSW as well as NCR and the America editorial team if asked why they, too, saw Tiller's murder as newsworthy and Pouillon's scarcely worth a mention.

But why was I bothering? Who are these puritans, anyway? Ed from Minneapolis wondered too. "Why would a website that is intended to be Catholic post an article with a headline which appears to be designed to rile up base emotions?" he asked. "How could such a headline lead to building up the Body of Christ?" Well said, Ed.

More craziness over at LifeSiteNews.com, meanwhile, where John Smeaton of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) -- a British organization opposed to the Catholic bishops' policy of working to bring down the legal upper limit on abortion -- thinks the gushing two-page interview with Blair in Osservatore Romano shows there are "subversive" elements in the Vatican.

Smeaton said the appearance of this interview in the newspaper known to be controlled by the Vatican's Secretariat of State forces him to ask a difficult question: "Are there subversive elements at work in the Vatican who are intent on appeasing Barack Obama and Tony Blair and their anti-life policies?"

The evidence for this extraordinary idea? The failure on the newspaper's part to mention the Blair government policies on  abortion and embryonic research. The tactics are the same as CNA's -- and those of Soviet Communism. It's not what you say, but what you are supposed to think because of what you don't say, that gets you sent you to the Gulag.

Revealingly, LifeSiteNews.com goes on to criticize Blair's government for introducing or planning to introduce CCTV cameras and European-style ID cards. 'Blair's Britain', the site declares, "is being increasingly identified as a 'decaying' and 'broken' society overwhelmed by social problems".

The problem with Osservatore's interview with Blair, in other words, was that it didn't put to the former PM the Conservative Party's critique of Blair's policies. (Osservatore didn't criticize Blair for the Iraq war, either, but oddly that doesn't seem to bother LifeSiteNews.com.)

Now, where was I? Ah yes, civility ....

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
13 years 6 months ago
One difference between the two killings is that Ms. Pouillon's murderer also killed another person against whom he also apparently had a grudge.  It was not immediately clear, as in the case of Dr. Tiller's murderer, that the murder was committed because of the target's position on abortion.
13 years 6 months ago
Perhaps it is not 'civility' that is really in question or actually needed in this debate but authentic Christ-like love as defined by Pope Benedict in describing the witness of Saint Symeon:
He recounted: "[Symeon] began to feel like 'a poor man who loves his brothers.' [...] He saw around him many enemies that wanted to set snares for him and harm him but despite this he felt in himself an intense movement of love for them. How to explain this?
"Obviously, such love could not come from himself, but must spring from another source. Symeon understood that it came from Christ present in him and all was clarified for him: He had the sure proof that the source of love in him was the presence of Christ and that to have in oneself a love that goes beyond one's personal intentions indicates that the source of love is within."
The Pope affirmed that Symeon's experience is important for us today, "to find the criteria that will indicate to us if we are really close to God, if God exists and lives in us."
"God's love grows in us if we are really united to him in prayer and in listening to his word, with openness of heart," the Holy Father explained. "Only divine love makes us open our hearts to others and makes us sensitive to their needs, making us regard everyone as brothers and sisters and inviting us to respond with love to hatred, and with forgiveness to offense."
Many genuinely wise pro-life Catholics are not 'mob' [an all too easy way of categorising persons] but humble enough [as Blessed Mother Teresa stated] so that 'nothing will ever upset [them]'.
13 years 6 months ago
This constant bickering and infighting among the faithful is not becoming.  Austen, this latest post of yours is more of the same in that it will only serve to create yet another angry response from the conservative Catholic blogosphere.
Y'all need to have a conference together and hash these things out in person.  Hopefully the result would be agreement in the notion that it's more important to be the Church than it is to be right.
13 years 6 months ago
Part of the problem with lack of civility is the self-segregating tendencies of human beings...we all tend to hang out with like minded people. We tend to listen to people who reinforce our beliefs. If not careful it's easy to live in a self-selected bubble of media wherein one simply does not read the literature of "other side" in forums where they've 'let their hair down'.
Knowing this to be the case, I routinely peruse America, Commonweal, NCReporter, and other "left-wing" publications because I genuinely want to know what these fellow Catholics are thinking about and why. I also read their blog comments for "man or woman on the street" partisan view points.
One would hope others in the Church who are of this 'side' take the time to read "right-wing" publications and authors for the same purpose.
But it's also important to meet with and speak with people from across the aisle or pew.... neither side is 2 dimensional. That helps keep the ad hominems out of our discourse and keeps us focused on the issues, on the policies, the ideas - which may be right, wrong, healthy, unhealthy, sane, insane....
If one is a liberal Catholic it behooves you to take the time to actually go on a clinic picket line - spend 1 hour this Saturday silently praying out side the local clinic. You'll meet about a dozen 'die-hards' for whom this is a ministry of witness. You'll be surprised by what you find. Stereotypical pro-lifers don't match the reality. Most of the leaders of the movement are women and many of them have had their own abortions. So they're not Puritans, they're people who speak from personal experience and pain.
Most pro-lifers are lay people, not religious or priests. Most are not paid for their activism...it's entirely out of their own pocket. They hear next to nothing positive about their work from the pulpit or "professional Catholic" circles, so they do feel a bit under the gun. Homilies tend to focus on 'safe' topics like "helping the poor" without specifying that most aborted children are from poor women! That most of those children saved are saved by these silent witnesses who care for these women out of their own pockets! Who then get maligned by "professional Catholics" as "not caring about women after they give birth!
35 years of being brow beaten or given the cold shoulder doesn't tend to make people prone to cut "professional Catholics" or the "peace and justice" crowd much slack when they go out of their way to promote the most pro-abortion candidates for office over pro-life candidates because their totem pole of values holds "peace and justice" and Democratic Party politics on a higher plane than defending the defenseless. What do you expect these pro-lifers to do? You can't put someone down for 3 decades and not expect them to lose 'civility' or patience!
13 years 6 months ago
Edmund: I meant 'mob' in the sense that the word is used in the scapegoat mechanism. An enemy, real or imagined, is isolated, and the crowd unites in hostility to him or her. Those who create a mob are those who point at the ''enemies'', launch accusations, and whip up the crowd, which demands sacrifice - that's what CNA were doing. In so far as the commenters on that site were hissing at me and my colleagues, acting with indignation at the supposed sins they believed had been revealed to them, they were, sadly, acting in the manner of mobs since time immemorial. Jesus, of course, was killed by such a mob, and his death and Resurrection revealed the diabolic nature of the scapegoat mechanism. ''Christ-like love'' is, in part, geared to exposing this mechanism - hence my post - but the manner of his response to the mob, as  typefied by Symeon, is a gentle and loving one, as you say, and I'm sure I have much to learn from that. But I don't accept your distinction between Christ-like love and civility: is not civility an expression of Christ-like love in the public square, in democratic exchange? Respect for the dignity and rights of others, a willingness to hear them, and so on? It's the same thing - and what John is appealing for too in the above post.
13 years 5 months ago
Dr Ivereigh has a strange idea of what sort of person is a committed Catholic http://is.gd/4huYd

The latest from america

More than 24 hours after he entered the hospital, Pope Francis’ doctors reported a “marked improvement” in his condition, which they attributed to treatment with intravenous antibiotics.
Gerard O’ConnellMarch 30, 2023
the pope is seated facing away from the camera in front, facing a crowd of people in business clothes who represent artificial intelligence and tech industry leaders
On “Inside the Vatican” this week, Ricardo da Silva, S.J., and Gerard O’Connell look at the viral image of the pope in a puffer jacket, which led to a conversation on Vatican responses to A.I.
Inside the VaticanMarch 30, 2023
These trends should prompt an examen among Catholic educators. Do our schools lead people to drift from religion to money, from community engagement to private enrichment?
Terence SweeneyMarch 30, 2023
A Catholic nun speaks into a microphone
Becquart has been traveling the globe in recent weeks as an ambassador for the Synod on Synodality, planned for October in Rome.
Meagan SaliashviliMarch 30, 2023