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.