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Living the Gospel of Life -- Study Guide

Paragraph Twenty-seven and twenty-eight


One of the many virtues we need in building the culture of life is, in the words of this section, "the humility to listen well to both friend and opponent on the abortion issue." It may seem that we have nothing to learn from our opponents in this matter; after all, what kind of "dialog" is needed on whether you can kill a child? It is true that there can be no compromise or middle ground on the matter of abortion. But the following reflection of Fr. Frank Pavone can shed some light on what the bishops mean in this section:

Bill Baird of New York is known by many as the "Father of the Pro-choice movement." His name is on three Supreme Court decisions which advanced the "right" to birth control and abortion, and he continues to crusade for his cause today. Part of his crusade involves picketing the National Right to Life Convention each year. Yet he doesn't only picket it, he attends it. Wearing his registration badge, he attends the various workshops, visits the exhibit booths, and interacts with the Conference participants in the hallways. Through his presence at these conventions I have come to know Bill over the years, and at my invitation he has visited my New York office and joined me for lunch.

At the Convention one year, I asked him to attend the Mass that I was celebrating for the Conference participants. He graciously accepted the invitation. In my homily, I stressed that the message of respect for life applies even to those who promote abortion. A person's error or sin does not remove his or her dignity, nor take away his or her right to be treated respectfully.

At the conclusion of the Mass I said the following words, after which the congregation erupted in applause: "I hope I don't embarrass him or anyone else, but I would like you all to know that Bill Baird has been standing at the back of the room all during this Mass, respectfully observing all we have been doing. Bill, I want to thank you for accepting my invitation to come to this Mass, and I want you to know that we respect your life as much as we respect the life of any unborn child."

Bill remained until every person left that room, and he commented on the remarkable overflow of love that came from the people. He also told me it was the first Catholic Mass he had ever attended.

Many remarked favorably about the Mass. Shortly thereafter, however, I received a letter which read in part, "I write this letter with a sense of dismay…Bill Baird is an individual who has completely given himself over to Satan, it seems to me. We cannot 'dialog' with evil as monstrous and craven as the butchery of unborn human beings in their mother's wombs…"

I responded to the letter by pointing out that I do not "dialog with evil." I dialog with persons. Neither Bill Baird, nor anyone else who promotes abortion, ceases to be a human person with dignity. Many of the actions they defend are evil; many of the ideas they espouse are erroneous. But they are not the enemy.

The Pope, the Church, and the Lord Himself have always pursued the path of dialog. This dialog can and does break down misconceptions that those on the other side have about us and about the pro-life movement. And by listening to them, it conveys a message beyond words: I respect your life so much that I can take the time to listen to you, despite our disagreement. Indeed, the most challenging word of the phrase "the dignity of every human life" is the word "every."

Discussion Questions

Explain the basis and nature of dialogue, and how love for those who oppose us is not the same as false tolerance or indifference.

What kind of virtues do we need to build a culture of life?

Click here to listen to a talk by Fr. Frank Pavone (Real Audio format) called "Should we Talk to Abortionists?"

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