Tragedy in Kansas

Everything about the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita yesterday is tragic.

First, Dr. Tiller had a family and friends who have lost their husband, father, brother and neighbor. Because the murder happened in his church, Tiller’s fellow church-goers will doubtlessly be traumatized in a unique way every time they enter the vestibule of their place of worship.

Advertisement

Second, the killing is a tragedy for the pro-life movement. Despite the fact that most pro-life activists are peaceful people, committed to prayer not violence, the whole movement will be tarred with this murder. The charge of hypocrisy – murdering in an effort to stop murder – will ring loud and for many it will ring true.

Third, the killing is a tragedy for the nation. For thirty-five years, both sides in the abortion debate have been shouting at each other, and demanding political orthodoxy on the issue. This has always obscured the fact that most Americans feel ambivalent about abortion. Finally, we have a President who is willing to admit his misgivings about abortion. I don’t think he gets nearly enough credit for changing the way his party has come to view the issue. The murder in Kansas, alas, will only serve to radicalize the discussion again.

Over at the New Republic, Damon Linker argues that there was a kind of logic in the murder. After noting the responsible and respectful statement put out by abortion opponent and Princeton Professor Robert George, Linker asks, "If abortion truly is what the pro-life movement says it is -- if it is the infliction of deadly violence against an innocent and defenseless human being -- then doesn't morality demand that pro-lifers act in any way they can to stop this violence?" No, actually, there is a long tradition in Christian thought that violence only breeds more violence, so morality does not "demand" that pro-lifers go on a murdering spree. Indeed, it is the essence of Christian witness that we see all attacks on human dignity as repulsive.

Which leads to the greatest tragedy of all. How de-humanized have we all become? Here we are – here I am – analyzing the political consequences of a man’s death. You can bet the fundraisers at NARAL know they are in for a few good weeks and the communications director at Operation Rescue is working on his talking points. If the Notre Dame controversy had the positive effect of focussing the nation’s attention on abortion in a way that held out promise for finding common ground on the issue and lowering the abortion rate, the murder yesterday undid all that. The pro-choice crowd will proclaim a new hero and martyr, and while I see nothing heroic in Tiller’s work, I do not doubt he died for his beliefs. The debate will coarsen. The moral uneasiness most people feel about abortion will be replaced by the moral revulsion they feel at the prospect of a man being killed in church.

The goal, let us recall, is a culture of life, a culture that restrains all that de-humanizes us as a people and as individuals. (Original sin, alas, will always find a way to assert itself as a principal part of our inheritance.) And, the only way we in the pro-life movement can provide a truthful witness to the culture of life is to be apostles of love and forgiveness and peace. Someone yesterday thought they could kill in the name of God and in defense of the unborn. Everyone in the pro-life movement must look searchingly at our rhetoric and our attitudes to make sure that we do not provide fodder for such thoughts and actions. De-humanization is not just something other people do.

 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
8 years 6 months ago
Part of this whole idea that killing this man is the same as saving the unborn comes from political organizations sponsored by the Catholic Church.  These would include the NRLC (National Right to Life Committee) and Priests for Life.  They made late-term abortions of severely deformed fetuses that would likely die naturally after birth into the equivalent of infanticide in the minds of many.  This is not to say that Dr. Tiller made any distinction between those that would never survive and those whose mothers decided late in pregnancy that their child should be killed.  The answer to Dr. Tiller's lack of discrimination would have been to make it illegal to abort a fetus that could survive a premature birth.  Where were you on this point NRLC and Father Pavone?  Obviously not reading anything I wrote, but soliciting me for money and writing your incendiary garbage demonizing not only Dr. Tiller, but Kathleen Sibelius and Barack Obama.  Let us hope that these organizations that have profited from the life of Dr. Tiller do not lead others down the same path taken by Dr. Tiller's murderer. 
8 years 6 months ago
As the Bishop of Kansas said recently: "We are at war!" Apparently he meant it-literally.
8 years 6 months ago
President Obama and Notre Dame have some very important things in common. Neither wants to see pregnancies aborted. Both place a high value on dialog as a means toward solving seemingly insurmountable differences. And both recognize that people of faith must live in a society with a secular government. So when Obama took Notre Dame up on its invitation to speak, he was clear to build on those foundations as he made a case to everyone within earshot to look for common ground-even on the most divisive issues. I'm afraid that what you say might be correct: that yesterday's murder of Dr. Tiller may have undone all that. It was as if the shooter were saying, ''No, we won't be having those discussions. Case closed.'' That's what terrorists do. Whenever peace is close in the Middle East, someone on one fringe or the other does something to push public opinion back to the corners. The challenge after this shooting is not to let that happen here in America. There are many, many things that factor into the abortion debate right now that should concern both pro-choice and pro-life proponents, and we have to talk about them. Here's just one example: abortions are way up in the first quarter of 2009. The reason is the economy. Many people who have lost their jobs or are afraid of losing their jobs or who don't have health insurance say they are getting an abortion because they can't afford the approximately $30,000 average cost of giving birth. If we are going to reduce abortions, we have to talk about things like this. We can't retreat to the corners and close our ears. That's not going to do anyone on either side of the abortion issue any good. There are real problems to solve in society, and many of them effect the abortion numbers. Keep talking.
8 years 6 months ago
Rick, that was a bit tasteless (unless I misunderstood the implied tone, then sorry for misunderstanding). Ms Rehbein, if this event has shown us anything it is that murder is murder. Murdering a premie, murdering a disabled child, murdering a zyggote, murdering a healthy child, murdering a physician are all Evil, with a capital E and bolded. Yes we want to limit suffering, and ease it whenever possible, but we also remember that even for severly deformed children, they will be made whole in the ressurection. This world is not all we are for, our souls last forever. Also, Christ surely has a special love for those who lived their entire, short, lives united to the Cross. Also, even a short life gives time for the salvific work of the Church to be done through the sacraments. There is no excuse for active euthanasia or infantacide, period. Mr Winters, I have to give a big Amen to your post. Violence breeds violence, murder is not an answer to murder. Attacking the defenseless, even the perpetrator of an evil so great, is itself very evil. Again, especially since it possibly robbed Dr Tiller of any chance to repent, I hope God gave him a chance to do so. The only thing worse than sin, is when someone doesn't or is robbed of his or her chance to experience the lovinng mercy and forgiveness of God.
8 years 6 months ago
Sadly, it does look like the man accused of the murder has some links to anti-abortion groups, including Operation Rescue. http://www.creativeminorityreport.com/2009/05/killers-own-words.html God Bless
8 years 6 months ago
Will the Archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas and those bishops and members of the presbyterate who encouraged, even inflamed, the radical element of the so-called Right To Life movement be standing alongside the killer of Dr. Tiller when he appears in court to receive their share of the penalty for their responsibility in Tiller's murder?  His blood is no less on their hands than the hand that fired the gun.
8 years 6 months ago
The murder of Dr. Tiller was a tragic event and has rightly been condemned by Pro Life groups.  But let's not forget that each one of the thousands of innocent human beings that were killed by Tiller were just as tragic.  We have to call murder what it is, even while we deplore the murders of those who are themselves guilty of it.
8 years 6 months ago
Would that some of the indignation directed at the assassin of George Tiller were directed at the many thousands of murders committed annually on the streets of our cities.
8 years 6 months ago
Even allowing for the impassioned feelings provoked by this horrible murder, Marie Rehbein and WW O'Bryan's comments cannot be taken seriously and are, I submit, made in bad faith. Those of a Pro-Choice persuasion may dislike their political opponents' arguments, they may strongly disagree with them but unless any of the people or groups Rehbein and O'Bryan mentioned explicitly called for Tiller's murder - which they didn't - suggesting that their forthright rhetoric against abortion was causally linked to Tiller's murder is deeply dishonest and indicative of problematic attitudes to the basic democratic right of freedom of speech. Tiller may have died a martyr's death but he was far from being a saintly man. The abortions he performed on what have been delicately termed ''post-viability foetuses'' were every bit as barbaric as his murder. To say that it is not to exculpate or justify his murder in any way but a sombre recitation of the facts. If Marie Rehbein can explain the qualitative difference between a post-viability foetus and a neonate I invite her to do so. Similarly if she can justify the deliberate, cold-blooded killing of foetuses simply because they happen to have what she called ''severe'' deformities let her do so in her own time. What Tiller's murder has shown us is that in contemporary America life is cheap from conception onwards.
8 years 6 months ago
If Dr. Tiller were holding a knife to the throat of a one year old child, would anyone condemn his being shot to save the child? Not being shot to simply kill Dr. Tiller, but his being shot to save the child. How about if it was a one day old child and Dr. Tiller were posed to plung his scapel into the child? How about a one hour old child? How about a child just born? How about a child about to be born in one hour? Or, one day, or one week, or one month?  Why is there all this concern about Dr. Tiller, but almost no hand wringing or better yet, soul searching about Bush and now Obama spending hundreds of billions on wars that have killed and made refugees of millions of people to speak nothing of all those whose lives could have been saved or enhanced by the good use of this money misspent on war and destruction?
8 years 6 months ago
The remarks about Priest For Life  ,Fr Frank Pavone by M.Rehbein shows her respect for the clergy.I have been sending money to priests for life for years and I don't think their mailings are truthful and not INCINDARY.  THE GRANDFATHER OF 10.
8 years 6 months ago
Don't forget the pitiful gunman, who was nicely basted until the broiling point, probably by bloggers and FoxNews.  You can't be totally sane and desecrate a church by killing within its walls. As much as we hate the act of abortion, unless we examine his case files, we cannot know that the late term procedures Dr. Tiller performed were not because of some inevitable medical need.  I strongly doubt that these were cases where the mother simply had hormonal blues.  Dr. Tiller did not strike me as the blood thirsty type.  Further, he did not strike me as one who was acting in deliberate evil, in other words, his conscience was satisfied that he was performing essential medical services, which means for him he was not committing an evil act.
8 years 6 months ago
John Strangle, It is never medically necessary to kill a born child for the sake of its mother.  Additionally, the war is a non sequitr.  The death of Dr. Tiller is a tragedy for both the victim and the perpetrator.  If we had a descent mental health care system many murders would be prevented.  If we had a decent living wage policy, there would be far fewer abortions. The church needs to focus on charity more and change its legislative program accordingly.
8 years 6 months ago
Demonization you say? Hasn't the left been demonizing opponents since the French Revolution? So it's okay to call President Bush "torturer-in-chief" and a mass murderer for Iraq? It's okay for Bill Maher to call the pope a Nazi and say that VP Cheney's assassination would have saved lives? But it's wrong to say that Dr. Tiller killed babies? We should be suspicious when one side tries to shut down debate by warning of violence. Supporters of established evil accused Martin Luther King during the 1950s and 1960s and abolitionists in 19th century America of fanning the flames of violence and sowing division. Sound familiar? The Church has long rejected the idea that the ends justifies the means. She defends the rights of the unborn and as well the "medical professionals" who kill them. (BTW, didn't our new president have an acquaintance who used violence to achieve political goals?)
8 years 6 months ago
Thank you.  A very responsible and Christian response. I don't like abortions but I believe that they need to be legally offered just the same.  It is only in this offering that love can find its place.  You are so very correct in calling for a look at the language being used. May God bless us all. Chuck Stacy, Episcopal priest of 40 years, Solvang, California
8 years 6 months ago
Mr Thompson, the Church's salvific work accomplished through the Sacraments are for Catholics only.  How many of Dr. Tiller's so-called victims would have been eligible to receive them?  If you wish to argue that no Catholics may have or perform abortions and you wish to make it illegal for someone who is a Catholic by choice to have or perform abortions, then pursue that.  If you wish for all people to have access to Catholic sacraments, then pursue that.    Red Maria, read through these comments again and read the rhetoric that comes from Priests for Life and the NRLC.  They have the wrong villians in the crosshairs.  When it comes to abortion, the persons who contract for the killing are the guilty ones, but they are discussed as though they were the brainless victims of people who wish to profit from their distress.  It is appalling how much happiness this killing has generated in some individuals even though less than 12% of abortions are done after the first trimester.
8 years 6 months ago
No one who was never born need be born again to receive salvation, so one can trust their souls to the hands of God.  More disturbing is the pain reaction in the third trimester and the likely lack of amelioration. As to the morality of a "mental health" abortion - if the woman would self-induce and kill both herself and the child then the only calculus is that situation when you compare losing two lives to one.  If the mother would not self-induce and the child is not doomed to an almost immediate death from chromosomal abnormalities, then the abortion should not be done.  If, on the other hand, the child has chromosomal abnormalities that put the mother's life at risk and will not survive anyway, only one lacking in moral courage and faith in God would withhold abortion.
8 years 6 months ago
Marie Rehbein, Look, I hold no brief for Father Frank Pavone, who has long struck me, to use a British term, as bit of a twit. But to suggest that his rhetoric - or even the rhetoric of the very mainstream NRLC, God help us has played any role in Tiller's murder is, frankly bizarre. Political rhetoric tends to be impassioned and polemical, even more so when a contentious issue like abortion is being discussed. The rhetoric of both Pro Life and Pro Choice camps is frequently full-blooded and sometimes very offensive. Tough. Modern democracies rightly assume that we're grown up enough to cope with free speech without either having fainting fits or reaching for firearms to gun down our opponents. Virtually always, we are. On very rare occasions, disturbed people go out and murder their political opponents but the responsibility is theirs and only theirs. Michael Bindner, George Tiller was an arrogant man with a well-honed line in self-justification. He made his living - and we wasn't a poor man, by any means - from collapsing foetuses' skulls. Quite conceivably, his murderer also satisfied his conscience that he was performing an essential service, which was not an evil act. That is as may be. Both Tiller and Tiller's murderer did commit objectively evil acts.
8 years 6 months ago
For those baffled by the diversity in sentiments from pro-lifers, I refere you to a post entitled, "The Colors of Pro-lifers" [url=http://divine-ripples.blogspot.com/2009_06_01_archive.html#3422869005734155308]http://divine-ripples.blogspot.com/2009_06_01_archive.html#3422869005734155308[/url]
8 years 6 months ago
How few seem to acknowledge the nightmare before Roe v Wade-the mutilation of young girls, often victims of rape and incest, the medical and hypocritical inequity of the wealthy with small families and the poor with too large. How the religiously motivated do abandon the once born-turn their backs on health care programs, rail against Head Start, cut funds for aggressive measures to aggressively alleviate the plight of missing and exploited children, fight needed money for daycare. Further, contraception, the not-making of a fetus, is decried with as much sanctimonious rigor as is abortion. The list of heartlessness goes on. No woman throws an abortion party with hats, horns and streamers. The churches ought to chastise the cruel, thoughtless, and dogmatic soul and provide succor to the woman who has made and seen through, too often alone, a profound choice. God's full love extends to whom man may despise and above that which may be reviled.
8 years 6 months ago
The man was a mass-murderer...of children no less. How did he expect to leave this world? The cliche from Jesus' arrest ''All who take the sword will perish by the sword'' seems apposite here. Requiescat in pace.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Homeless people are seen in Washington June 22. Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., chair of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee, released a statement Nov. 17 proclaiming that the House of Representatives "ignored impacts to the poor and families" in passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act the previous day. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
The United States is thwarting the advancement of millions of its citizens, a UN rapporteur says.
Kevin ClarkeDecember 16, 2017
Why not tax individuals for what they take out of society instead of what they contribute?
Paul D. McNelis, S.J.December 15, 2017
Pope Francis will renew the mandate of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors for another three years, informed sources told America this week.
Gerard O’ConnellDecember 15, 2017
Worshippers recite the Lord's Prayer during Mass at Corpus Christi Church in Mineola, N.Y., on Oct. 13. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)
Making ancient Scripture sensible in contemporary languages will always prove a hazard-heavy challenge.
Kevin ClarkeDecember 15, 2017