Sometimes with attribution, sometimes without, but never in context, they have ripped four words, “We are at war,” from a 3,981 word address Bishop Finn made to a pro-life convention April 18, and given it meaning and context of their own making.
None have been so egregious as the Jesuit editors of America. This week’s Current Comment editorial in America disgraces the paper and the Society. It is vicious calumny in service to wicked ends.
Here it is:
A Higher Righteousness
Over the course of his career, George Tiller, M.D., performed over 60,000 abortions, specializing in what are euphemistically called “late-term” abortions. His murder at Wichita’s Reformation Lutheran Church on Sunday, May 31, has sparked soul-searching among some pro-life advocates. Did incendiary speech against brazen abortionists contribute to an overheated environment that then led to the doctor’s murder? Was Scott Roeder, the unstable man who allegedly killed Tiller, egged on by “hate speech”? What moral responsibility do activists and church leaders bear to prevent moral and political criticism on both sides of the abortion divide from escalating into hate speech?
It is not hard to find examples of incendiary speech. Tiller’s critics were wont to step up to the line of incitement and then draw back. Bill O’Reilly regularly called the Kansas doctor “Tiller the baby killer” and devoted 29 segments of his Fox television show to vilifying him. “If I could get my hands on Tiller...” he threatened. “Well, you know. Can’t be vigilantes.... It doesn’t get worse. Does it get worse? No.” Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City is now best known for his proclamation to the Gospel of Life Convention in April: “We are at war!” Though the bishop went on to explain that the struggle is a spiritual one and the means nonviolent, he announced an apocalyptic struggle against evil “that may rival any in time past.”
Defenders of life must recall the warning of the Sermon on the Mount: “If a man calls his brother ‘Fool,’ he will answer for it...; and if he calls him ‘Renegade,’ he will answer for it in hell fire.” For the Gospel of Life to be good news, it must reflect a higher righteousness.
Of course, in the convoluted (nuanced) style America’s editors are adept at, there is enough plausible deniability built into their argument to render the piece content-free on defense.
But the message is clear – Bishop Finn’s comments are to be identified with O’Reilly’s, and whether or not they are responsible for Tiller’s murder, they and all pro-life people who speak forcefully in defense of life will find themselves in hell.
So what’s wrong with that?
1. Bishop Finn did not even remotely refer to Dr. Tiller in his talk at the Gospel of Life Convention. He did not say “We are at war with Dr. Tiller” or any other abortionist, but rather with “Satan, with the glamour of evil, and the lure of false truths and empty promises.” A week after Easter, when the talk was given, Catholics might have recognized these words from the renewal of Baptismal Promises. This war the Bishop said, “is ultimately a spiritual battle for the eternal salvation of souls – our own and those of other people.” And further, in the conduct of this spiritual battle “We are not engaged in physical battles in the same way military soldiers defend with material weapons. We need not – we must not – initiate violence against other persons to accomplish something good, even something as significant as the protection of human life.”
2. Bishop Finn’s talk was a challenge to committed people who defend life through charitable and political activity: “peacefully, prayerfully, and legally.” It stood as a warning to those people to get their own spiritual house in order in the still authentic Catholic tradition of recognizing the true nature of what we fight against. The Bishop’s stated reference point was St. Paul who teaches “Put on the armor of God, in order that you can stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For, our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the rulers of this darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.” (Eph 6:10-12).
3. Bishop Finn has never publicly addressed the subject of Dr. Tiller.
4. Even assuming the editors’ ridiculous use of the Sermon on the Mount, Bishop Finn did not call any of his brothers fools or renegades.
5. Whatever monsters inhabit the mind of the disturbed protestant Scott Roeder, traditional Catholic notions of the divisions of the Church Militant or the Communion of Saints are certainly not among them.
6. There is nothing “incendiary” about Bishop Finn’s words in the context in which he used them. They can only be interpreted as incendiary in the false context that has been manufactured by numerous Catholic Obama partisans, including the Jesuit editors at America.
So why would the editors at America, NCR, and Commonweal, who all got on this anti-bishop bandwagon, attempt to associate Bishop Finn and by extension other outspoken bishops and the pro-life movement as a whole with murder and truly incendiary speech and threats? Why would they seek to make those who have consistently at personal cost defended human life, the enemies of life?
Is it because the ultimate strategy for them to “Sing a New Church Into Being,” is to alienate the Faithful from their Shepherds? Is it because the defenders of life have criticized their master? They will muster any excuse for him, praise him immodestly for actions he has not taken, and destroy the reputations of any who dissent from him.
That is not the way a Christian works for the Risen Lord. But their master is not Risen. He resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And serving a man this way is idolatry.
Ed. Note – I am partially responsible for the popularization of “We are at war” since I titled the blog post containing Bishop Finn’s address by that name. It was not the name he gave his address. I chose that title in the convention of blog posts in order that it be read. For that, I apologize to Bishop Finn and the Catholic and pro-life community at large. Certainly however, the editors of America, NCR and Commonweal read and understood the context.
Second, while this blog carries the name of the diocesan newspaper and is written by its editor, this post is mine alone. -JS