Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Hilary White, Catholic pro-life journalist, reflects on significance of Catholic Church in pro-life battle

When I was in Rome, earlier this month, I met Hilary White, the well-known writer for

Hilary describes herself on her blog as "an Anglo-Canadian writer, researcher and art student recently re-assigned by God to Rome and desperately sand-bagging in sight of the coming flood".

The pro-life movement is, thankfully, made up of people of all faiths and none. Hilary, on the other hand, who's a prominent person in the pro-life movement, is unreservedly and forthrightly Catholic. Her answer to my first question reflects her distinctive position.

I asked Hilary: “What is the significance of the Catholic Church to the pro-life movement?” She replied:
"It is difficult to think how to answer that question. Not because it is hard to think of ways in which the Catholic Church has an impact on the movement, but in the way that it is difficult to, say, quantify the significance of water for the existence of life on planet earth.

"I’m being glib, but not inaccurate. While we like to say that the pro-life position can be apprehended and held by anyone with any religious affiliation or none, the reality is that in practice, there are certain factors that, shall we say, mitigate strongly against atheism or even simple modern secular irreligion allowing the pro-life position, at least in its fullness.

"There are things about being a Catholic that make it possible (though never easy) to stand against the whole tide of the world and refuse to sway. It is this absolutist stand that so infuriates the world. Why are the world’s media so doggedly pursuing the Catholic Church on the sex abuse scandals? Why only the Church when there are assuredly whole oceans of fish to fry in the Anglican, Lutheran and Baptist communities? Or for that matter, among teachers, scout leaders and librarians?

"It is because the Catholic religion proposes absolute and unchangeable teachings on life, the universe and everything, and claims for them the infallible authority of God. Catholics grasp the concept that truth is simply what it is, and no amount of 'consensus', 'social progress', or committee-think will change it. It is why Catholics laugh (though somewhat darkly) when media experts demand that the pope change the teachings on homosexuality or abortion or contraception to become accepted by the modern world. The World cannot grasp, no longer has the intellectual capability to grasp, that the Catholic Church presents the truths of religion in the same way as a mathematician presents a mathematical axiom.

"This is the secret of the martyrs. It is not, I guess, that martyrs have some great personal well of strength to endure torture. It is simply that the truth of the Faith is unalterable. It cannot be denied any more than gravity can be denied. We merely shrug in the face of these demands. The axioms of the mathematicians are less certain. It is not within our power to deny. Easier to ask us to fly.

"I have known for some time that there is a deficiency of education within the pro-life movement. There are a lot of sincere and often hard-working people who are, or believe themselves to be, pro-life but who hold the position without a concrete understanding of why. With feeling and sincerity, but with little knowledge.

"I hope your readers will forgive me for the criticism, but there is a strong streak of sentimentality in the movement that is little use in answering in a sensible way the questions and demands of the abortionist world. We cannot expect to win this war on feelings, on a vaguely held notion that babies are cute and that the world will automatically default back to sanity if we can only overturn Roe v. Wade.

"Feelings are easily swayed, as we have seen with the push for legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide in Britain. The media are the master manipulators and can have us cheering for a woman who kills her daughter out of “compassion”. Or at least weeping in sympathy and begging the courts for leniency. Feelings are swayed when they are not under the control and supervision of an informed intellect and will (a Catholic concept, BTW).

"What is missing in the pro-life world is solid education, intellectual training in logic and critical thinking skills as well as the facts. Many are hampered by their ignorance of the dots and lack of training in drawing lines between them. I have met too many nice pro-life people who cannot defend their position in the face of emotive arguments or slogans. 'But what about rape?' demands the abortionist world, and many nice friendly pro-lifers are stymied.

"Liking cute babies is not enough.

"Where the Catholic Church comes in for educational purposes is to provide these robust, intellectually rigorous answers to the abortion movement’s political slogans and their (occasionally) honest questions. Catholicism is not a religion of sentimentality.

"Why is IVF a bad thing? What is the pro-life position on embryonic genetic research? ... Why isn’t there such a thing as a right to commit suicide? Why is it wrong to use donor sperm? Why can we not 'adopt' frozen embryos? Why is rape not a legitimate 'exception' for abortion? What is the moral difference between removal or withholding of 'extreme' medical interventions and dehydrating a comatose patient to death?

"The Church derives its teachings (and yes, I can provide links to the documents answering all these questions) logically from basic principles. We start with an axiom: 'You can’t kill people to solve your problems …or theirs.' (Or as it is put more elegantly, 'thou shalt not kill'.) From this principle it is possible to find one’s logical way, step by step into the things the Church teaches about the sacredness of human life. Sometimes this process has been laborious and on some topics it has taken a long time. Centuries. But there is not one thing the Catholic Church teaches that is not intimately and inextricably connected to everything else she teaches.

"When I was younger, I was convinced, by my Catholic parochial school, that the Catholic religion was nonsense. All merely a set of contrived and arbitrary rules designed to oppress and restrict human freedom. An evil creed by (evil old white) men. Then one day, the thought popped into my mind, 'I might be wrong'. Although I considered the possibility to be very slim, I thought it only fair to investigate this enormous and immensely old and important institution on its own merits. What did the Catholic Church have to say for itself? After eleven years of reading, I was ready to concede that the one thing that could not be denied about Catholicism was that its teachings were not arbitrary. If you accepted their basic premises, the dogmas, doctrines and even disciplines of the Catholic religion where coherent, sane and in keeping with reason. There are no internal contradictions in Catholic teaching.

"After a few more years of reading, I concluded that no other religious or political system proposing answers to the big questions could say the same.

"This is why the Catholic Church must and does necessarily lead the pro-life movement. And it is why when John asked me the question, 'What is the significance of the Catholic Church to the pro-life movement?' I laughed. It was like being asked 'What is the significance of physics to quantum theory?' or 'What does gravity have to do with things falling down?' ...."
I then asked Hilary whether the pro-life movement was winning any of its battles around the world - referring, when I did so, to our recent successes in the UK (in Northern Ireland, on the last British government's failed legislative plans on sex and relationships education, and on the failed attempt to make huge extensions of the British abortion law).  Hilary replied:
"Yes, in fact, we are [winning battles], though it may not look like it. The war is pretty hot, and on the one hand, this means that the bad guys are fighting hard, but on the other, it means that they know they have something big to fight, namely us. If we weren't making life difficult for them, they wouldn't be working so furiously.

"What does not often get reported is that, although the news is nearly all bad at the legislative and judicial levels, on the ground, where it actually counts, the philosophy of abortionism (if I may coin a term) is beginning to burn out. It is not widely known that in Italy, for example, 70 per cent of doctors will refuse to commit an abortion, and the public opposition to euthanasia was enormous during the Eluana Englaro fight, though she died.

"The reason the EU and other places are putting in legislation attacking the consicence rights of health care workers, is that more and more health care workers are exercising them by refusing to have anything to do with abortion. Abortion in the US is getting harder to obtain at the state level, which is why, I imagine, the Obama administration is so keen to put abortion into a national system. In the UK, more doctors are refusing to do them, which is prompting the abortionists in the House of Commons and the medical regulatory agencies to push for more abortion training in medical schools, to weed out early those who might obstruct abortion as doctors.

"Another indication is the explosion of young people at the March(es) for Life. In the last ten years, since I started in this field, the overall numbers of people attending these annual events in Washington and Ottawa has grown enormously. In 1999 when I first attended in Ottawa, I think the number was about 2000 and about 175,000 in Washington. Last year in Ottawa we had around 12,000 (don’t knock it! Canada’s a small country with a government-controlled press) and in Washington it was well over 300,000. At the same time the numbers have gone up, the percentage of young people attending has grown even more. Long gone are the days when the pro-life movement could be characterised as little old ladies with rosaries, and angry old white guys. Feminism, which is the foundation of abortionism, is very widely discredited among young women, a large percentage of whom were raised by single mothers and who have been able to see first hand what it has wrought.

"What is really going to help us is demography. The 1960s 'Me generation', the ones who have created this moral free-for-all have failed to capture a following in the next generations. Young people know they have been lied to and betrayed.

"Most of the best pro-life work around the world is being organised and led by people in their 20s and 30s. People who have survived abortion themselves, who have seen the damage being done not just by abortion, but by divorce, contraception, and the hyper-sexualised culture, are using the activist skills their parents used to tear down the culture, in order to build it back up.

"In Europe the trend has caught on, and pro-life activities have stepped up. In the last two years, I believe we’ve had our first, and well attended Marches and demonstrations for life and family in places you’d never expect to see them. Places like Copenhagen and Brussels.

"Again, as with the Church, the tide is turning against the post-hippie dinosaurs, although, secure in their corner offices in Westminster and Brussels, they may not know it yet. When these young people are taking over those corner offices in Westminster and Brussels, I think we will see quite a different set of trends.

"What the end result will be remains to be seen. It’s why I’m glad I’m here doing this work. I get to watch it all from a front row seat."

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