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my life with hillary

By Diogenes (articles ) | Feb 13, 2005

Fr. William Byron, S.J., erstwhile president of Catholic U, recounts for Commonweal a conversation he had with Hillary Clinton in 1994:

This prompted the first lady to ask how the abortion debate might be raised to a more civil, constructive, and respectful level of discourse. I suggested she might invite prolife thinkers to elaborate moral arguments (as opposed to arguments from authority, or based on emotion, fear, or threat) for their position. And I added that she should think about articulating a moral argument, rather than just a rights-based one, for her position on choice.

My initial reaction to Byron's embarrassingly oafish entry into the debate was to see it as a deliberate disparagement of the pro-life camp. How could Byron dismiss the formidable edifice of anti-abortion argument constructed by Elizabeth Anscombe, Germain Grisez, Paul Ramsey, Robert George, John Finnis, Pat Lee, Hadley Arkes, Gerry Bradley, Gil Meilaender, William May -- not mention his fellow Jesuits Frs. Peter Ryan, James Schall, Kevin Flannery, and Joseph Koterski -- as if it simply didn't exist? Was Byron trying to settle some old score against pro-lifers?

On second reading, I don't think so. What emerges from an inventory of Byron's elementary rhetorical vocabulary is that he has been watching television -- to the exclusion of any other source of information -- uninterruptedly since 1965. How could he know from CBS News or M*A*S*H re-runs that extremely well-crafted philosophical arguments exist? John Finnis must be as remote from Byron's world as Karl Popper was from the world of Sandy Koufax. How else could he imagine that his high school sophomore, pawn-to-queen-four moves in his essay constitute an advance in the abortion debate -- one that he's obviously pleased and proud to set before his fellow Catholics? (Note to Fr. Byron: keep your eye on a clever young chap called Bill Gates -- I think we'll be hearing more about him before long.)

I suppose we have to acknowledge the fact that, were Fr. Byron less a product of his time, less a caricature of the Hesburgh-era college administrator, he wouldn't be the kind of man Hillary Clinton would chat to in the first place -- certainly not to ask how the abortion debate might be enhanced. In his Micawber-like fashion, Byron's strutting (generally) in the right direction. He just needs to be educated in the rudiments. Is there such a thing as an Elizabeth Anscombe exercise video?

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  • Posted by: Pseudodionysius - Feb. 13, 2005 8:11 PM ET USA

    You forgot Raymond Dennehy. I have a recurring dream that Stay-Puft Marshmellow Catholics ala Fr Byron end up in purgatory facing off with Elizabeth Anscombe until they defeat her in debate. Not quite an eternity, but it may feel like one.

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Feb. 13, 2005 6:25 PM ET USA

    There was another fellow Jesuit, since gone home to the Lord, who was like a voice crying out in the wilderness (even within the order!). Fr. Thomas "Toddie" O'Donnell, SJ was a noted Moral Theologian/Ethicist, who remained faithful to the Church in the post-Conciliar years. I remember the absolute disgust he had when G-town Univ. would have the likes of Bill & Hilliary come to speak. Anyway, he fought the good fight and is remembered and loved by many!

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