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When pro-life activists harm the pro-life cause

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Apr 14, 2009

Unchastened by his participation in a spectacle that drew him a public rebuke from Archbishop Raymond Burke, pro-life activist Randall Terry is now picking a fight with Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana.

There's something very seriously wrong with Terry's choice of targets. Archbishop Burke has earned the respect and gratitude of pro-lifers with his repeated insistence that politicians who support legal abortion should be barred from the Eucharist. Bishop D'Arcy has been loud and clear in his opposition to the selection of President Barack Obama as commencement speaker at the University of Notre Dame, which lies within his diocese. These prelates are doing the right thing for the pro-life cause. They deserve support, not embarrassment.

But embarrassment is what Archbishop Burke got from his dealings with Randall Terry, and embarrassment is apparently what Bishop D'Arcy now faces. Why?

In the case of Archbishop Burke, the embarrassment was caused by Terry's exploitation of the Vatican official as an unwitting accomplice in a campaign to humiliate other American bishops. After a meeting with the archbishop in Rome, Terry held in press conference in Washington, DC, and cited Archbishop Burke as support for his claim that Archbishop Wuerl, among others, was shirking his duty-- a public charge that Archbishop Burke had no intention of making. The net result of Terry's precipitous action was to weaken Burke's public standing and strengthen the perception that only "extremists" would withhold the Eucharist from prominent Catholic politicians.

Immediately after that debacle in Washington, Randall Terry announced that he was setting up shop in South Bend, Indiana, to lead protests against Obama's appearance there. There was no apparent need for his involvement; students and alumni at Notre Dame had already organized a very effective campaign of their own. But Terry had devised his own separate strategy, which called for a maximum of publicity. That's where Bishop D'Arcy entered the fray.

Last week the bishop urged Catholics not to participate in "unseemly and unhelpful demonstrations" at Notre Dame. He did not mention Randall Terry's efforts specifically; his statement was couched in general terms. But Terry took the statement as an affront and a betrayal-- not just to him but to the cause of life.

Bishop D'Arcy, the fiery activist said, is "following in the most regretful [sic] steps of St. Peter." He "abandons Christ in the babies." His statement is tantamount to "urging the faithful to abandon the babies-- and thereby abandon Christ."

Now hold on just a minute. Bishop D'Arcy did not urge anyone to "abandon the babies." He didn't even urge anyone to accept the Obama appearance at Notre Dame. Quite on the contrary, the bishop actively encouraged Catholics to protest the honor to Obama, and he announced that he would not attend the commencement ceremonies, as his own personal protest.

What Bishop D'Arcy did say is that angry public demonstrations at the Notre Dame commencement would be "unhelpful." One might argue that Randall Terry's confrontational tactics are more effective than Bishop D'Arcy's quiet, methodical approach. That's a practical question, on which loyal pro-life Catholics may reasonably differ. One might even argue that the bishop should not have discouraged participation in Terry's protests. But to claim that the bishop's statement was a betrayal of the pro-life cause is presumptuous, intolerant, and morally arrogant. In short, it shows all those characteristics that pro-abortion rhetoricians constantly attribute to the pro-life movement. If those traits are on public display when Obama arrives in South Bend, the resulting media coverage could be a huge propaganda victory for the abortion lobby.

Bishop D'Arcy is afraid that intemperate leaders, staging angry public demonstrations, will do more harm than good. If Randall Terry's latest diatribe is any indication, the bishop's fear is amply justified.


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