Last Sunday President Barack Obama spoke at Notre Dame University. Ever since he was invited by the university to accept an honorary degree and address the graduates Catholics nationwide, including many bishops, objected to the country’s most prominent Catholic university honoring a president whose positions contradict the core Catholic teaching on the inviolability of human life at every stage.
The commencement became an occasion for debating the issue of legal abortion on demand in the United States. Obama’s speech (www.nd.edu) featured his typical soaring oratory. He admitted that people who call themselves pro-life or pro-choice may never come to agreement on the issue. At the same time, he called for people in both camps not to demonize each other. Notre Dame was wrong to offer an honor and platform to the president, but his words should be taken to heart.
If people committed to the pro-life cause wish to persuade those who do not share our vision, there is only one authentic course: engage in respectful dialogue that never shrinks from principle or the chance to express it clearly and consistently. Other courses of action include angry, hurtful rhetoric and tasteless gestures such as displaying infant dolls smeared with fake blood. They accomplish little, except to invite a rejection of the very message we wish to convey.
Turning hearts and minds to see the reasonableness of Church teaching will not come about by screaming and grandstanding, but by listening and speaking respectfully. We are aided more by the gift of clear Church teaching on the intrinsic value of every human life than by histrionics. Patient, compassionate witness and steadfast dialogue take time and effort, but they do pay off.
A recent Gallup survey (www.gallup.com) shows just how the tide is turning. Since the first time the organization began tracking opinions regarding abortion in 1995, more Americans now call themselves pro-life (51 percent) than pro-choice (42 percent). Is this a reaction against the new president’s policies or a reflection of the soundness of the pro-life position? Perhaps both.
Nevertheless, as Catholics we continue to witness the truth of human life. By engaging in a dialogue of love, we hope to work with the president in the spirit of his own recommendation so that he and all people will see the light of truth and respect the sanctity of all human life at every stage.