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Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput on the 40th anniversary of Roe V. Wade

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HH: It’s actually a grim day. It’s the 40th anniversary of the Roe V. Wade decision, which has had such extraordinarily terrible consequences for the country, and of course for the 55 million women and children who have gone through that. I’m joined by Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, to talk about what has happened over the course of the last 40 years. Archbishop, welcome, thank you for joining me.

CC: Thank you, Hugh. I’m happy that you asked me to be with you.

HH: On this day, 55 million abortions later, what’s your general thought on what’s has happened since Roe V. Wade was handed down?

CC: Well, you know, it’s almost 56 million, actually. And even one abortion is too many. So if we allow ourselves just to sit for a few moments and think about the vast numbers of unborn children who have been killed, it’s really astonishing. And you know, when I was a boy, I couldn’t have imagined that something like this could happen in the United States. It’s just beyond my imagination that we could have such disregard for human life, and such a disrespect for the unborn. I mean, really, beyond my imagination, because of our commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of liberty, with life being the fundamental underlying value that supports the other two. So it’s just, I’m still astonished by this. And I think the worst thing we could do is ever get used to it and just not take it, allow it to penetrate and move our hearts.

HH: On that point, later today, I’ll talk with Ben Smith of BuzzFeed, a sort of representative of new media. This is not a story, Archbishop. I have been watching all day long. There’s an occasional message, there’s an op-ed in the New York Times, there’s a new poll from NBC/Wall Street Journal, which I’ll come to in a moment. But when a 40th anniversary comes along in the United States, typically the media goes crazy, whether it’s Pearl Harbor or the assassination of President Kennedy, or anything, good, bad, different, D-Day. We review it. We ponder it. Not so, Roe. V. Wade. What’s that tell you?

CC: Well, we began noticing that many years ago when it came to the March For Life in Washington, D.C. You know, there was no reporter, and an underreporting of the numbers. So this is not something that surprises me. I don’t know what we can do about it. You know, the pro-life folks of all persuasions have criticized the press for not being more attentive to this issue, and we don’t seem to get anywhere. I’m indeed grateful for programs like yours, and people like you who really do help the broader community to understand that this is an issue that we just can’t let rest. We have to keep at it, and keep at it until we convince our fellow citizens that we really undermine the future of our country and diminish our own quality by being indifferent to the abortion issue.

HH: Sadly, I think the United States has been an opinion leader here, Archbishop. I think that with Roe V. Wade, we launched not only the abortion revolution in the United States, but around the globe so that I can hardly think of a developed country in which abortion is illegal or even questioned.

CC: Well, I think in some of the European countries, it’s limited in ways that it is not limited here. So although they do have abortion, it’s not available through the whole period of pregnancy like it is here. I think we have some of the worst laws in the world regarding abortion. But I think you’re right, and I think that some of the developed countries that have a religious sensitivity criticize us very severely for this, and are angry that we’ve exported this terrible practice, and in some ways, a way of life now to the rest of the world.

HH: Last July, Gallup did a fairly comprehensive poll that found that only 41% of Americans now self-identify as pro-choice, which is down 6% in a single year. We’ll find out if that drop has continued this year. At the same time, today’s Wall Street Journal/NBC poll says that 70% believe that abortion ought to be legal. How do you reconcile those two numbers, Archbishop Chaput?

CC: I don’t know, but if you want my personal opinion, I think the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll is probably more correct. I think the other polls have given kind of a false optimism to the pro-life folks.

HH: Oh, interesting.

CC: I think we have made some progress in terms of states having laws that limit abortion in some ways, make people think about it before they proceed. But in the context I have, it seems to me that we lose ground on this all the time. I was especially disheartened with the Wall Street Journal poll, because it said that growing numbers of Hispanics and African-Americans, and even a growing number of Republicans, now support Roe V. Wade. So that was really disturbing to me. But I think to me, that’s the accurate poll.

HH: That is, you know, I think increasingly on both sides of the political aisle, conservative and liberal, they don’t want to have this debate. They don’t want to talk about it.

CC: No.

HH: To what do you put that down?

CC: Well, I think if we talked about it reasonably, and looked at all the facts and the underlying science, there’s no arguing by anyone anymore that this is not a human being. And we have to face the real question. Are we willing to let people terminate the lives of an unborn human being for reasons of convenience? And quite honestly, in most of the abortions that take place, it’s not a matter of rape, incest or life of the mother. It’s inconvenience, or I think in some cases, of course, it’s fear, because people don’t think they can take care of the baby. But I think that if we had an honest discussion about this nationally, we’d find many ways of caring for the unborn, helping mothers with unexpected pregnancies who are alone to both manage the pregnancy and then take care of their children. But I think we just don’t want to have the discussion, because if we did, it could lead to the kind of fierce debate in our country that could really lead to the kind of situation we had at the time of abolition. You know, it is that kind of question. It’s a basic question of human dignity and human rights. And I think people are afraid of having a discussion that would be that emotionally intense.

HH: You know, Archbishop, I agree with that. I think there’s another aspect of it, which is when you have 55 million abortions, you probably have between 35 and 40 million women, minimum, alive and in the culture, who have gone through the procedure, who are uncomfortable discussing it, and do not want to be judged by anyone.

CC: Right.

HH: And that therefore, it’s a very difficult discussion to have without upsetting people. And I think you just touched on it. We don’t like that in our culture. I mean, we’ll throw bricks at each other over candidates, but that doesn’t really get into where the kitchens where people live…

CC: Sure.

HH: But talking about past practice or past life does, and especially judging does.

CC: I think, you know, that happens in church, too, when a priest or a minister wants to give a homily or a sermon on controversial issues like abortion, or even divorce. There’s always a fear of offending somebody in the congregation who has had an abortion, or who’s had a divorce. In fact, you’re sure to be preaching to people in those circumstances, or whose daughter, or whose wife had an abortion. I think it can be done very well, as long as you have an honest respect for people and prepare them for the discussion, and show respect for the decision they made and the pressure they were under. But I think it’s so important for us to have a national discussion on this.

HH: And in the context of the comparison with abolitionism, the country had divided north-south, so you could preach in the north on the evils of slavery, and not really offend anyone, or you could preach in the south on the necessity of understanding it was Scripturally countenanced, and not offend anyone. But you never, the Mason-Dixon line, they were probably pretty quiet. And most of the country now is in Mason-Dixon line status when it comes to abortion.

CC: That’s good analysis. There are some places, you know, where it’s still possible to get the politicians to discuss this and vote laws that protect the unborn. But the venues for that are fewer and fewer.

HH: Pennsylvania is a very pro-life state.

CC: It is, and we have a lot of pro-life Democrats here, which you know, I didn’t find, actually, in Colorado where I was bishop before. But here, there’s a significant number of pro-life Democrats.

HH: I was going to ask if it was better. So why do you think that Pennsylvania is a more pro-life culture than, say, Colorado, two communities in which you’re intimately involved.

CC: Oh, I think it’s because it’s respectable to be a Democrat and be pro-life here. And most all the Republicans are pro-life. But I think the example of Governor Casey, who’s still deeply respected here, gave permission for Democrats to be pro-life, and that’s still continued. And I really admire them. You know, there’s, I think there’s some change going on here, as there is throughout the country, and there’s more and more pressure on them. But I’ve met folks who have very courageously stood with the truth rather than with their party.

HH: And what is the pro-life culture like there, compared not just politically, but in terms of vibrancy, of clinics for moms who want alternatives, of adoption agencies? Is there a significant and different tenor between Colorado and Pennsylvania?

CC: I think in terms of outreach to mothers, it’s probably about the same. In terms of groups that have formed to protect human life, you find many more of them here. I think part of that is that there’s, it’s a more deeply religious culture in Pennsylvania. We have a whole lot of unchurched folks in Colorado. But here, the Protestant-Evangelical community is very large, and so is the Catholic community, much larger than in Colorado. And I think religious people tend to be much more pro-life than people who are indifferent to religion.

HH: I think that’s absolutely right. When we come back from break, I’ll continue my conversation on this, the 40th anniversary of the decision in Roe V. Wade, widely ridiculed now, by the way, America. Roe V. Wade was a terrible exercise in Constitutional lawmaking from the bench, gutted in all but its title in subsequent case decisions, mocked by people who read it today as being inane in its reasoning. Nevertheless, it steered us on the course that we find ourselves on 40 years later.

– – – –

HH: Archbishop, before I go back to that, I’ve got to ask you. Since one of your heroes is Thomas More, I don’t know if you saw yesterday Justice Scalia wore a Thomas More cap to the inauguration.

CC: I did, and I’m really, I thought it was kind of interesting that he did that. But I hope he doesn’t experience the same fate as St. Thomas More.

HH: I don’t think we’re going to take Nino off the gallows, no. But I do, it could very well start a trend, don’t you think, the return of the More hat?

CC: I think so. I think so. I think some people thought it looked kind of silly, but I understood what it was, and I really thought it was a wonderful gesture.

HH: It was such good humor. Now Archbishop, in winning the pro-life cause, you’ve got to win over minds as well as hearts. And the Church and the faithful, as you said earlier, Protestant and Catholic, much better in this regard than the unchurched. But what about the argument side? How are you seeing people…you and I have done a number of pro-life conferences together and apart. How do you see people arguing this case now?

CC: Well, I don’t think they want to argue the case. Well, they argue, they don’t argue the abortion issue at all. They argue the rights of women to make the decision for themselves. That seems to be the only argument that they think has standing. And it’s an emotional argument. You know, we all want to make decisions for ourselves, of course. The unfortunate thing is when you make a decision about abortion, you’re making decisions about another person who is not able to defend himself or herself. And that’s why we need to be vocal so that somebody speaks for the unborn. But quite honestly, in all the discussions I participate in anymore, with people who are pro-choice, is it’s all about women’s rights.

HH: And is there any particular approach by a pro-life group that has impressed you as effective?

CC: Well, I think the most effective are the ones where the women who have had abortions are the ones who speak about the matter. I think it’s hugely effective, and I think I’m still constantly put down by the fact that I’m a male when I speak into groups that are pro-choice. So it’s always better to have a woman speak on these issues than a man. I think that’s the most effective, people who have had abortions, people who were almost aborted themselves, women, always, I think those are the best kind of arguments.

HH: Now we are on the cusp of decisions, and there have been many made already about the HHS mandate, which obliges Roman Catholics, and other people of faith, including my friends at Colorado Christian University and Wheaton, and Bible publishing, but also places like Thomas Aquinas and archdiocese to either comply with the law and provide the morning after pill, which is an abortifacient, or not. And how do you feel that debate is going?

CC: Well, I don’t think it’s going well. I haven’t seen any movement at all, and when I say well, I mean I don’t seem to think we’ve won that. I don’t see any movement on the part of the administration yet. We were given an extension until August to conform ourselves to the decision of the, I want to say Governor Sebelius, but…

HH: Secretary Sebelius, yeah.

CC: Yes, and so we are still discussing the best way to approach this as a conference of bishops. I think the longer we put off the decision, the harder the decision is going to be. I personally wish the bishops would move along more quickly on this matter. You know, most of the bishops I talk to just say we’re not going to conform to the law. And I think if we hold firmly on that, I think there’s a possibility of some kind of backing off by the administration. So I really hope that’s the position all people who stand with us take, not only the Catholics, but people of faith and people who are just committed to the principle of religious freedom. We have to stand, or we’re going to fall further back. You know, the next thing they’re going to require of us is insurance policies that cover abortion itself, you know, direct abortion itself. There would be no end to it. If we give up, give in, it’s over with.

HH: Intellectually, Archbishop, I don’t think it’s possible to be pro-life and accept this policy, and the reason I say that is if you become an agency of the morning after pill, as these regulations would oblige Catholic organizations and pro-life organizations to do, then you’re in. I mean, you can’t be oh, we’re forced by the…go back to your abolitionism argument. You can’t really say we really and truly believe this and go along with this policy.

CC: I agree. And even if you have, you come up with a complex, moral argument about being forced to cooperate with evil in a material way but not formally, you’re giving a bad example, and you’re caving in on a principle that will require ongoing caving in, and that’s not a good thing.

HH: Now in terms of this, in the pro-life argument generally, your colleague in Boston, who I believe is a Capuchin as well, correct?

CC: Right, he is also a classmate.

HH: Oh, okay. He did a fine job in the election season defeating the assisted suicide bill.

CC: Right.

HH: I mean, he really went to the mat, rallied the faithful of Massachusetts to defeat that. And it was a way that one does politics that was inspiring and effective. Why isn’t that done on all these issues? I mean, he was relentless. He took to Twitter, he took to the newspapers, he was relentless. Where is that example being followed? I know you and Cardinal Dolan are way out there on this, but what about your brother bishops and the rest of the Church?

CC: Well, I think a lot of them are doing a lot more than people know, because they’re in places that don’t have a media market where they’re very much noticed. I said the same things in Rapid City when I was a bishop that I said in Denver and Philadelphia, and no one noticed there. So I think it depends partly on your market. And I think some bishops are not recognized for their wonderful work that they do, very courageous work. Cardinal O’Malley told me that the efforts there were successful because they were able to raise significant amount of money for media, which I think is a terrifying prospect for many bishops who want to become involved in a very public way. They just don’t have access to that kind of money. And I think it’s true, especially in these expensive media markets like New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, all of them.

HH: Yeah.

CC: To win these, we’ve got to have lots of money, and I think you’ve learned that out in California.

HH: Oh.

CC: …with the proposition on the meaning of marriage.

HH: Yeah, and it takes tens of millions. Last question, Archbishop, in terms of the seminarians, you had a great seminary in Denver, and I’m sure you have one in Philadelphia as well. When young seminarians come in and take up their vocation, are they convicted pro-life people? Or is that…

CC: Absolutely. They don’t have to be taught anything. They come already enthusiastic. Everybody from our seminary here will be going to Washington, D.C. on Friday for the March, so they’ll get up at 3:00 in the morning and get on buses and drive down there for a Mass at the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception, and then will get into the March. Another, the group in Denver goes out to San Francisco, because there’s another march out there protesting Roe V. Wade. So in both seminaries that I’ve been part of in the last part of my life here, the seminarians, without exception, are enthusiastically pro-life, and active on the subject.

HH: And how about on Catholic college campuses?

CC: Well, we have a lot of groups of campus ministers who are promoting these same kind of involvements. I know that I just read an article in the Catholic News Agency today about a young woman who’s heading up Catholics For Life at Regis University in Denver, and I think she’s an example that’s imitated on many of the campuses. Almost all the Catholic campuses have some kind of pro-life movement. Now I don’t know how many students participate. I think it would vary from place to place. Some place like St. Thomas Aquinas College out your way, almost everybody would participate, probably. But in a more secular environment, it’s probably not so many.

HH: And 30 seconds, Archbishop, are you an optimist about turning this around?

CC: I am a man of hope, because Jesus is our salvation, and God’s way wins in the end. Optimism is another issue. I don’t know, yet. We don’t have God’s promise that our country’s going to always be the paragon of virtue that we’ve known it to be in the past. So I just don’t know, and because of that, we’ve got to fight to the end and try to turn it around. I think that the best way to begin is with realistic understanding of what’s going on. I don’t think we’ve won it, I think we’re far from winning it, and we should just keep fighting and fighting and fighting.

HH: On that sober note, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, thank you.

End of interview.


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