Changing the debate to the debate itself

One of the things that has been gradually happening since even before Obama was elected is an attempt to fundamentally undermine the pro-life movement. Obama’s Catholic supporters got the ball rolling, and it has become a major strategy of both liberal and “moderate” Catholics as well as of secular liberals.

For example, contraception is “pro-life,” supposedly, because it supposedly prevents “unwanted pregnancies” and “reduces” abortion. Of course, this is what pro-choicers have always claimed, but you’re seeing Catholics adopting the same argument, and you’re seeing the Left collectively using the term “pro-life “to refer to “abortion reduction,” rather than a total ban on abortion.

Similarly, condoms are “pro-life” because, allegedly, they prevent AIDS. So, you get trash like this article, which claims the Pope isn’t Pro-life because he opposes contraception.

Of course, this tactic dates back much further than the past year: four years ago, liberals were arguing that support for embryonic stem cell research is “pro-life” and opposing it is hypocritical.

Liberals are working very hard to strip “pro-life” of all meaning, completing the work that the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin started with his specious “seamless garment” argument. Here’s a letter to the editor that encapsulates this mentality.

The latest strategy, motivated in part by the Randall Terry/Archbishop Burke issue, is to attack the “rhetoric” or “tone” of “pro-lifers” and “conservatives,” without really distinguishing between content and delivery.

In my experience, if you say, “contraception is intrinsically evil and violates Natural Law,” people interpret that statement as “mean” and “hateful” and “judgemental.” Certainly, if you suggest stigmatizing people on the basis of contraception, that is considered “mean” and “hateful” and “judgemental.”

I’m only moderately an admirer of Archbishop Charles Chaput. I’ve long felt that he’s truly a “John Paul II” bishop, in that his mentality is, “whatever fills the pews–and the collection plates–must be good.” He actively supports movements like the Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi, Charismatic Renewal and Neocatechumenate Way, in spite of their questionable theological and/or liturgical beliefs and practices, precisely because these groups “get numbers.”

Now, a growing argument, from Catholic “moderates” and “political conservatives” is that expressing certain beliefs or expressing our beliefs in a certain way might “turn people away,” that our goal should be to build a “big tent” political coalition.

Thus, you see Deal Hudson continuing to support Sam Brownback, and criticizing Fr. Euteneuer.

Well, this latest trend has been catalyzed in part by an interview with Archbishop Chaput, in which he says that “liberals are vile,” but that conservatives are “meaner”. This interview has been a hot topic at several blogs and has brought the “let’s all get along and sing Kumbaya” types out of the woodwork.

Then came similar comments from Bishop Lynch, who called Pro-lifers “venomous.”

There *may* be a certain validity to their cases, if a) either one of them actually made a case and b) either one had any credibility.

Chaput does not base his argument on tone, but rather on the audacity of laity in complaining to him. He admits in the interview that he will not deny communion to the pro-choicers in his own jurisdiction (but he’ll gladly make press about Joe Biden). He admits to making jokes about giving Communion to non-Catholics at funerals and weddings. He says he doesn’t believe in actively refusing communion to anyone, and he does not express the need to be in a state of grace in order to receive.

This is the same Archbishop Chaput who, last year, opposed a Colorado Human Life Amendment.

Now, he’s saying that conservative Catholics are “mean.” How nicely nonspecific. I sort of agree with what he’s saying, but “mean” doesn’t define anything. A child can say her brother is being “mean” when he chases her around with a stick. A child can also say his mother is being “mean” when she sends him to his room for chasing his sister around with a stick.

As I would say to my students, “Be specific. Give evidence.”

Robert Lynch’s history shows no fondness for conservative Catholics and our causes. He has officially allied himself with Roger Mahony, Rembert Weakland and Donald Trautman on several issues in the past. He has actively worked against EWTN. He refused to act to help Terri Schiavo. He put strict limitations on Eucharistic Exposition in his diocese.

Now he expects conservatives to listen to him when he criticizes us for being too angry??

If Bishop Vasa, or Bruskewitz, or Burke, or Martino or even Baker were to say this, it would at least have some moral credibility.

Now, Deal Hudson–who, while well-meaning, is certainly primarily concerned about building coalitions–is agreeing with them. He makes a more valid and well-constructed argument, but it still comes off as hypocritical, from someone who’s often been criticized for his rhetoric (also for someone who accuses others of being Pharisaical while having his own history of hypocritical statements about a certain ex-president).

If you want a critique of conservative anger that is actually well-written, here’s Bishop Tobin’s column from 1998 on the Mother Angelica/Cardinal Mahony feud. It’s a good example of trying to see both sides and offering constructive criticism of each.

In any case, vague accusations of “mean” or “vile” or “venomous” speech don’t really help improve dialogue. It’s like the textbook C. S. Lewis discusses in The Abolition of Man, which he calls The Green Book, in which all value judgements are reduced to statements of the speaker’s feelings. “I don’t like what you say, so you are mean.”

Tell me what, exactly, is being said that is wrong, or give examples of how it could be said better (as Bishop Tobin does in the above column). As it is, Bishop Lynch’s claim that we need to be more “civil,” given his own record on controversial issues, comes off as merely saying, “Don’t be controversial at all.”

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