He's just Wilde about Life!
by Greg J. Edwards
The BC Catholic, Vancouver
March 20, 2000
VICTORIA -- Father Denis Wilde, OSA, is a busy man: a man of God, a man of
music, a man of life -- pro-life. He's a New Yorker. He visited Victoria
recently to take a counseling course from another man of life, local child
psychiatrist, Philip Ney.
Father Wilde, who holds a doctorate in music, taught music at Villanova
University in Pennsylvania for 21 years. He's also a composer.
Of late, he has been combining his love of music and his love of life in his
work with Priests for Life. In fact, he and local guitarist Oscar Clemotte
teamed up to give a Celebrate Life concert at St. Andrew's Cathedral.
Priests for Life wants priests to talk with their congregations about the issues
of life, but abortion, Father Wilde said, is not the only issue the organization
would like to see discussed openly. It is, however, "the biggest crisis at the
moment; although the looming issue of euthanasia is also pretty terrible."
Father Wilde sees it as "a question of enabling priests to speak ... freely
"There's a silence," he said, because priests don't want to "rock the boat,"
don't want to "divide the congregation," don't want to "upset the woman in the
pew who has had an abortion and make her feel ... whatever."
However Father Wilde said, "the priest is not causing that; the priest is simply
bringing to the surface what is already present. There is already division. The
division is caused by the abortion, not because somebody is bringing up the
One of the problems, he said, "is that people feel that if they address the
issue they are condemning the sinner, so here's where ... 'loving the sinner but
hating the sin' has to be observed."
Priests and seminarians are taught that, "Sure, there are women who are
post-abortive, and we speak to that in this way: we talk about forgiveness as
the most beautiful thing that the Lord ever did. It was the most difficult thing
that he did because he died as the cost of forgiveness."
"It's not passing judgement on anybody: they have to look at their own lives…
(but) forgiveness is the most important point. We need to get that across
because it is a very powerful tool ."
Priests for Life is doing this, Father Wilde said, because
"we need to reach the people who are going to preach, to reach the people who
are going to affect the hearts of those who are attending church.
"In this age," he continued, "when everybody is being tolerant of
everything, we fail to realize that there are some things that we have no right
to tolerate ... so we need to speak out against those issues ... which destroy
families, people, babies, and mothers.
"It is a question of coming to grips with what is morally right versus what is
politically correct, and all of us are swimming in the same atmosphere in which
we want to do what is [politically] correct, but the Lord tells us to do what is
good, not what is politically correct."
Father Wilde emphasized that abortion is a moral issue, not a just political
"Christ always talks about defending life, and the Lord tells us that, too, and
the Old Testament says, 'Choose life, that you may live.' All of the things that
have to do with the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' are reducible to that, and
it comes down in many different ways in both testaments, so if we're dealing
with priests, and we're dealing with parishes, we have to use the guidebook
here, and that, of course, is the Bible and the Church. The Church has always
taught that abortion is intrinsically evil."
Besides, he pointed out, "there are many Protestant groups that are
struggling and are very courageous in expressing themselves on this, so it is
not the religious issue that they want to make it." In addition, he added, there
are many pro-life atheists, so it is not an atheist's issue either.
Father Wilde's work goes beyond working with priests and seminarians and giving
benefit concerts to working with children and youth.
His work includes "talking to the schools, talking to the grade schools even,
because in the grade schools you can" talk "simply about the positive side of
life, about the Lord loving us in life, and building from there."
"Boys and girls in high school react differently. Boys? They're not interested;
they want to be free to explore. Girls? Girls have a reaction that is sometimes
negative: 'This is my body. Don't tell me what to do with it.' They don't say it
outright; you can read it on their faces, but it depends on where I go. A lot of
times I don't have any of that or very little of that."
"I tell them that it's important to be chaste ... that it's important to abstain
because that is the only way that is safe, certainly from AIDS or from other
"When I talk with young men in high school and college, I put it in the
perspective of reverence of the body, because if a boy is going to reverence a
girl, he is going to want to do it in a way that is chaste."
Father Wilde likened abortion to a drug, a quick fix. "It's supposed to take
care of your problems, and so if somebody doesn't want to be pregnant, she gets
'not pregnant'. Well actually she remains totally pregnant in her mind because
the child is supposed to be growing, but it's aborted, it's truncated."
Music is one of his tools, be it classical, be it jazz.
Knowing the kids at Augustus High in New Orleans had two great jazz bands, he
opened up a talk with them by playing a Dave Brubeck piece.
Then, he said "I told them, "Well, the music you heard is a beautiful piece
of music, thrilling and everybody enjoys it. But you know a composition is a
pretty simple concept. It's just a couple of little notes that follow upon
another… but these notes are the genetic code of the whole piece; they define it
for what it is, and that's the way it is with life.
"You plant a seed in the ground and it becomes a tree. It's inevitable that
it's going to become a tree and nothing else but a tree, but you don't see it
right away and yet all the info is contained in that seed."
"From there," Father Wilde continued, "it didn’t take much for us to… see
that every one of us is unique and each of us is unrepeatable and to see
ourselves at week one, week two, week three, and then how little by little we
start to accumulate heart beats, brain waves, finger stubs, and on and on
through pregnancy to the point of birth…So there is an absolute continuity in
life as there is in the music that I played."
He pointed out that music is transcendent: "it transcends language, it
transcends the corruption of language." In the abortion battle it’s "a tug of
war to get the upper hand in defining works; anti-choice, pro-life. Language, I
think determines where the pro-life argument is going…. legally and medically.
With music you can go beyond language to speak to the heart and the soul of the
The power of music, he said, can speak to any issue: political, moral, and
otherwise. "Think of the late 60's and '70s when songs from the Beatles and
beyond were a cry to change things. Music can be very effective in changing the
hearts and minds of people ...
"Again I go back to the …anti-Vietnam war songs, or even the songs from much
earlier that were against slave labor, Sixteen Tons and so on….Music can change
hearts and minds on a moral level, which is a deeper level than the political
one. The abortion issue involves politics, but it goes way beyond that to the
very moral fiber of a civilization."
Will the pro-life movement ever build up the momentum it needs to order to
change the abortion laws?
"It's a wonderful thing,"Father Wilde said, "to see them march in Washington.
It's unfortunate that the media never covers it. They block it out. We have
100,000 people down there, and I would say that a good 40,000 of those people
are under 25 years of age and maybe its even more than that, but conservatively
"It's very interesting," he said, "when you ask in church, 'How many here are
under 27?' (i.e. born after the American abortion ruling in 1973). They stand.
"You know for the first nine months of their lives, the U.S. Supreme court
said to them, 'We really don't know whether you are persons or not.'
"When you see it that way you realize these kids are experiencing their
survival of abortion, and they're not just talking about something that is out
there. They realize deep down that this is a war that they are going to have to
"What's their attitude like? Are they sad-sack kind of people? Nope. Filled
with joy, because they recognize that they know that there's something that they
had to deal with. But they also know that God is in charge, and there's
something about them that cuts though the subterfuge that an older generation is
trying to feed them in this lie of abortion"
Father Wilde was quick to make it clear that violence is no option in this
war. Those who do not use violence "may be anti-abortion, but they are not
pro-life, and that is why I like to use the word pro-life. We have to respect
life and that means we don't take life into our own hands."