Cardinal O’Connor: “Too many people have sacrificed for too long to give up now”

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The brief quotation from the late John Cardinal O’Connor that I used yesterday prompted me to go back and re-read the complete homily from which it was taken. The Cardinal preached this homily on Epiphany Sunday, a little more than a week after the murder of two abortion facility employees in Boston in 1994. Boston’s Cardinal Law had called for a temporary suspension of peaceful pro-life demonstrations in the wake of those murders (and Bishop O’Neil of New Hampshire followed suit). In New York, Cardinal O’Connor took a different approach.

After the recent shootings that killed three people and wounded nine others at a Colorado abortion facility, Cardinal O’Connor’s words sound as fresh as if they were written today. The complete text of the homily is on the EWTN web site. Here’s an excerpt.

It is this sense of the sacredness of every human life that has prompted my very close friend, His Eminence Cardinal Law, archbishop of Boston, to denounce unconditionally the recent killings and woundings that took place in two abortion clinics in his archdiocese. I joined him in that unconditional denunciation and expressed my deep sorrow for the victims and their loved ones, as I have done on previous occasions. Indeed, on this current occasion I have repeated publicly what I have said before and mean, with every fiber of my being: “If anyone has an urge to kill an abortionist, kill me instead.” That’s not a grandstand play. I am prepared to die if my death can save the life of another.

Cardinal Law, one of the strongest pro-life leaders in the United States, knows the situation in Boston as I and others do not, and has called for a moratorium on pro-life demonstrations outside abortion clinics…It is quite possible that were I the archbishop of Boston I would be inclined to call for such a moratorium in the Boston area, at least for a period of time, while trying to sort things out. Indeed, I intend to borrow at least one page from Cardinal Law’s book and ask that every week a different pastor in each of the 19 regions of the Archdiocese of New York schedule a period of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in the cause of human life. I would ask, however, that this be in addition to any prayer vigils that responsible individuals or groups believe that they should conduct legally and non-violently within the Archdiocese of New York in the vicinity of abortion clinics.

The rosary vigils led by my brother bishop in Brooklyn, Bishop Thomas Daily, are wonderful examples of peaceful processions and prayers in the vicinity of abortion clinics. I cannot imagine that any people of good will could object to them, and certainly no one would deny their constitutionality. To my knowledge, prayer vigils held here in New York have been equally peaceful and non-violent.

Here in the Archdiocese of New York, however, I too would be prepared to call for a moratorium on these peaceful prayer vigils on condition that a moratorium be called on abortions. The first is within my power, to call a moratorium on prayer vigils, although I would respect those who might disagree with me and carry out such vigils anyway.

The second, a moratorium on abortions, is obviously not within my power, but only within the power of those who operate abortion clinics. Perhaps during a moratorium on both abortions and prayer vigils here in New York, both sides could meet to determine whether there is anything that can legitimately be the subject of dialogue.

…The New York Post of Jan. 5, 1995, editorially asked, “Why the readiness to tie the Boston killings to the pro-life movement?” The Post answered its own question: “To marginalize the movement in the eyes of the general public.” And it concluded: “Thus far, moreover, the effort seems to be working—which is a pity.” I would like to believe, however, that the current outcries against the pro-life movement are a reflection of frustration rather than a concerted effort to marginalize millions of non-violent, peaceful people whose only sin is their love for every human life, the life of every baby, the life of every mother. If there is a concerted effort, however, I cannot believe it will “work” for very long. Too many wonderful people in the pro-life movement have sacrificed too much for too long to give up now.

…I do not pretend to have a monopoly on how best to save human life. Only Jesus is the expert, and he did it only by dying on a cross.

40DFL response to Colorado atrocity: “Blessed are the peacemakers”

“We must pray for everyone affected by this senseless act of violence….We must continue to oppose all violence and attacks against human life, including the actions of the gunman in Colorado….We must increase our resolve and dedication to using only peaceful and prayerful efforts as the antidote to abortion,” says David Bereit, leader of 40 Days for Life.

40DFL has just released this video in response to the recent shootings at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado that killed three people and injured nine others. Bereit’s full statement is worth hearing on the video, but even more important is his interview with Jewels Green. She’s a former abortion facility worker who is now pro-life and committed to 100% nonviolent action in defense of life. Her remarks begin about 3:20 into the video, and they are worth the twenty minutes it will take you to hear her out.

View this and then share it far and wide. And thank you, David and Jewels.


Colorado violence feeds a fallacy

As I write this, there’s news from Colorado about a shooter who has wounded and maybe killed an undetermined number of people in or near a Planned Parenthood facility. The assailant has been apprehended. I have no idea at this point how the victims are doing or whether they were attacked inside the PP office.

This much I know already: whatever the motives, premeditated killing and assault is every bit as ghastly outside the abortion-procedure room as in it. I wrote as much to the friend who alerted me to the Colorado news. One of her social media contacts saw my reply and commented “fallacy.”

As I saw televised updates about the atrocity (Twitter coverage at that point was already too befouled with invective to read), someone who regularly participates in peaceful pro-life witness outside abortion facilities forwarded a nasty email she had just received. It contained an excerpt from a news bulletin about the shooting, with “Congratulations!” added by the (of course) anonymous sender.

And so a slanderous, persistent narrative continues, equating bloodshed and terrorism with nonviolent witness and action in resistance to abortion.

Now there’s a fallacy. It has a grip. Look at the Twitter feed that followed the initial reports from Colorado, if you have the stomach for it. (Did someone say “viciousness“?)

Nonviolent witness needs to grow, not recede. It isn’t passive. It takes practice. It’s essential. Pope Benedict, 2007: “It is thus understood that nonviolence, for Christians, is not a mere tactical behavior but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is convinced of God’s love and power, who is not afraid to confront evil with the weapons of love and truth alone.”  That applies at all times, in the face of abortions and Colorado shootings and whatever vileness the Twitterverse may be throwing up.








Prayer, peaceful witness, and “a bigger plan” (+ an event tomorrow)

A “Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Forum” is scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow morning, Saturday, November 14, at the Teamsters Hall in Manchester. New Hampshire Right to Life, according to its own blog and Facebook page, is going to be out front with a prayer rally at 9 a.m. From the Facebook post: “We will be carrying our ‘Planned Parenthood Sells Baby Parts’ banner. Bring any pro-life signs you would like to carry. We will have extra signs to share.”

Another public pro-life prayer rally and demonstration was held by Seacoast-area residents earlier this week outside a banquet hall in Portsmouth where the Joan Lovering Center was holding an event – the Lovering Center being a Seacoast abortion facility, sometime site of 40 Days for Life campaigns, and recipient of public funds (thanks to four Executive Councilors – all but David Wheeler). The Center sends out an occasional email newsletter, and one of the recipients recently forwarded me the latest one. I found this excerpt written by the Executive Director particularly interesting:

…this has been a trying time. Not only abortion services, but family planning is being attacked. Planned Parenthood is at the center of the hubbub, but I assure you it is having an impact on all providers. If the extreme right should succeed in defunding Planned Parenthood, they will come after the independent providers next and then the doctors who provide family planning and/or abortion services. Their current viciousness is just one step in a bigger plan to get women out of the workforce, out of athletics, out of government service and back into the kitchen and the nursery, not to be seen or heard from again.

That’s what’s known among educated people as a straw-man argument.

This is a recipient of state contracts who makes no distinction between violence and nonviolence, apparently equating resistance to public funding with “com[ing] after…doctors.” Peaceful resistance is the antithesis of violence, not a gateway to it. Anyone who commits violence, including vandalism, is trying to undermine and discredit peaceful witness.

This brings me back to NHRTL’s planned prayer rally at the PPNNE event. The president of NHRTL, Jane Cormier, is an acquaintance of mine. Yes, she wants to let taxpayers divest from the abortion industry. Ms. Cormier is a vocal coach, opera singer, opera manager, nonprofit founder and director, and former elected official. All by herself, she debunks the conspiracy theory that there’s “a bigger plan to get women out of the workforce, out of athletics, out of government service and back into the kitchen and the nursery, not to be seen or heard from again.”

I suspect a number of women will be involved in this weekend’s prayer rally. The chance of them not being seen or heard from again is zero.

Affirming nonviolence, then and now

Kneeling Ministers, in Birmingham's Kelly Ingram Park, a civil rights memorial. The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Kneeling Ministers, in Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park, a civil rights memorial. The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

In 1963, a few months before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, he and many other civil rights activists converged on Birmingham, Alabama to challenge racial segregation. Their campaign was marked by intensive planning and discipline, because the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was intent not only on a message but on delivering it the right way. Volunteers for the Birmingham campaign were screened and trained, as King recounted in Why We Can’t Wait. He noted, “Every volunteer was required to sign a Commitment Card.”

To what did the Birmingham activists commit?

I hereby pledge myself – my person and body – to the nonviolent movement. Therefore I will keep the following ten commandments:

  1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
  2. Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory.
  3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
  4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
  5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
  6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
  8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain of the demonstration

King added, “We made it clear that we would not send anyone out to demonstrate who had not convinced himself and us that he could accept and endure violence without retaliating” during the campaign. That took guts. It meant putting aside the natural right of self-defense during the demonstration, even as they faced people who had no qualms about using violence, including bombs.

True, Anyone could sign a piece of paper (or in this age, click on “I agree”). So why bother? Because, then and now, nonviolence during a public demonstration isn’t something to take for granted. Public affirmation reinforces personal commitment. Public affirmation is part of accountability to the larger community. It draws a clear line between those protesting peacefully and those willing to resort to violence to impede them.

Today, 40 Days for Life campaigns challenge abortion and affirm the right to life. The founders of 40DFL are Christian, and the program is grounded in Christian spirituality and a commitment to nonviolence. One requirement for participants is signing the 40DFL statement of peace. Without that commitment, one is not a participant, even if standing on the sidewalk outside an abortion facility during a 40 DFL campaign. Here it is.

I testify to the following:

  • I will only pursue peaceful solutions to the violence of abortion when volunteering with the 40 Days for Life campaign
  • I will show compassion and reflect Christ’s love to all abortion facility or Planned Parenthood employees, volunteers, and customers
  • I understand that acting in a violent or harmful manner immediately and completely disassociates me from the 40 Days for Life campaign
  • I am in no way associated with Planned Parenthood, its affiliates or any abortion provider

While standing in the public right-of-way in front of the abortion facility or Planned Parenthood location:

  • I will not obstruct the driveways or sidewalk while standing in the public right of way
  • I will not litter on the public right-of-way
  • I will closely attend to any children I bring to the prayer vigil
  • I will not threaten, physically contact, or verbally abuse abortion facility or Planned Parenthood employees, volunteers or customers
  • I will not damage private property
  • I will cooperate with local authorities

As I sign on once again for 40DFL – for the Statement of Peace must be reaffirmed with each new campaign – I want to take the Birmingham commitment to heart as well. There are no doubt those who will take umbrage at any suggestion that today’s pro-life movement is part of the civil rights movement that came to flower at that March on Washington in ’63. In reply, I can only avow that life is the fundamental civil and human right. Abortion takes lives, and there are businesses that profit from it. Let peaceful public witness to that continue.

I don’t pretend to have endured the physical abuse to which the Birmingham demonstrators were subjected. Their example is awesome even fifty years on. They faced police dogs and fire hoses, and still made a commitment to nonviolent public witness and action. The best way for me to honor their memory is to emulate them, even though I’ve faced nothing worse so far than name-calling.

Recall that the nonviolent demonstrators in Birmingham were far from passive. There was urgency in their goal of justice and reconciliation. From a 1963 UPI report on the Birmingham demonstrations: “King reacted strongly, however, to a statement by Attorney General Robert Kennedy suggesting that the all-out integration drive here was ill-timed. ‘I grow weary of those who ask us to slow down,’ King told a reporter. ‘I begin to feel that the moderates in America are our worst enemy.'”

The events and words of 1963 aren’t frozen in place, devoid of application to our own times. View them not as an archaeologist views a dig, but as a traveler views a map: take this path, not that one. I could do worse than follow the people who signed those cards in Birmingham.