October 14, 2013

The protection of life from conception must rank first among all dedications of philanthropy

By Father George Rutler

There was a time — and perhaps with improvements in our schools that time will come again — when schoolboys memorized, among other famous classical lines, the expression: “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.” It was the exasperated call, in the second-century B.C. Senate of the Roman Republic, for the conquest of Carthage in what is now Tunisia. “Furthermore, I say that Carthage must be destroyed.” The senator Cato the Elder ended each of his speeches that way, so that it became an inside joke, and his fellow senators chanted it along with him as a kind of ritual.

Churchill said that a fanatic “is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.” In David Copperfield, the gently simple-minded Mr. Dick was obsessed with writing about the head of King Charles, and “King Charles’ Head” has since become a cipher for all sorts of monomania. But Cato was not a futile fanatic, and his obsession was vindicated, albeit some three years after his death, when the heart of the North African empire was indeed destroyed, in flames for days.

Various studies of keys to success in assorted enterprises agree that constant devotion to one goal is crucial. Thomas Edison experimented repeatedly to find the right material for an incandescent light bulb and finally discovered the properties of a carbon filament only after trying hundreds of other materials, including human hair. Was he obsessive? He called it "stick-to-it-iveness" and said that genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. “Keep your eyes on the prize,” in the words of a folk song. On a loftier plane, the Savior said: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

There are those who would stifle the Pro-Life cause by calling it a single-issue obsession. Few would say that about the Abolition movement or the struggle against child labor, even though such worthy causes did attract a fair share of distempered monomaniacs. But slaves and children have to be born first, and so the protection of life from conception must rank first among all dedications of philanthropy.  

Blessed John Paul II once submitted to an interview with the respected journalist Vittorio Messori, who asked him if he was perhaps “obsessive” in his preaching against abortion. The Holy Father replied: “The legalization of the termination of pregnancy is none other than the authorization given to an adult, with the approval of an established law, to take the lives of children yet unborn and thus incapable of defending themselves. It is difficult to imagine a more unjust situation, and it is very difficult to speak of obsession in a matter such as this, where we are dealing with a fundamental imperative of every good conscience — the defense of the right to life of an innocent and defenseless human being.”

Father Rutler is pastor of the Church of Saint Michael in New York City.


  1. Hi Father

    I could not agree with you more. I remind my brother Knights of Columbus at each council meeting to pray the Rosary to end abortion. I'm sure they get tired of hearing it but we must use this great weapon against the evil that is abortion and ask forgiveness for all the damage done.

    Mike Marsili

  2. Oh dear. Has Fr. Rutler too joined the hermeneutic of rupture crowd, which nurtures their self-respect in pitting Pope against Pope (always, of course, in favor of one who isn't currently reigning), and in spreading calumny against the Supreme Pastor of the Church.

    Perhaps he should host a public burning of Lumen Gentium 25.

    Or instead he might try reading and publicly representing Francis with a hermeneutic of continuity.

  3. I completely agree and your analogy to Cato the Elder's dictum is perfect. Don't know if my Latin is accurate (Google translator assisted) but perhaps our dictum should be: Abortus debet utlagari!

  4. May God forgive you for your venom, Susan.

    Beautiful article, Father.

  5. Susan:
    Pope Francis made a pretty strong public condemnation of abortion, which Vatican II called "unspeakable crime" the day before the media frenzy over his comments that we should not "obsess" over the moral rules, ( not exactly what he said by the way. In fact during the frenzy he was meeting with Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life fame in the Vatican. The folks pitting Pope against Pope are of course the folks trying to portray Pope Francis as less vigorously Pro-life than his predecessors, who in fact appointed the men who elected him. Indeed they are pitting Pope Francis against Vatican II, which of course called abortion "unspeakable crime". In any case to a degree while I would concede Pope Francis has a style different from Pope Benedict or Pope John Paul II, i doubt there is large substantive differences. A lot of this is smoke an mirrors created by the pro-abortion media. For a good discussion of what is going on see http://catholicxray.com/the-spirit-of-pope-francis/

  6. Let's be clear: the only person pitting Pope against Pope is the "humble" Francis himself! Who was he admonishing when he referred to those "small-minded rules?" He was admonishing not only the Canon Lawyers who created them, but also the POPES who approved of them! And, who was the "humble" Pope Francis admonishing when he said, "The Church needs to conform to modern times & the spirit of Vatican II. I have enough humility to do something about that." He was admonishing a previous POPE, maybe, Pope Benedict, who knows, but, for what? Not having "enough humility" to conform to modern times? Those who call Pope Francis "humble" haven't the foggiest idea what the word "humble" even means!!! A humble person doesn't refer to themselves as being humble.

    As for Fr. Frank Pavone... he, like all high-profile catholics are desperately trying to refrain from disagreeing with the Pope. In so doing, they are distancing themselves from the Truth. But---as the old saying goes---"There's no "mean" like Church "mean." Fr. Pavone was removed from doing prolife work for quite some time by his own bishop, and no longer do we see him preaching homilies on EWTN, or even participating in the show he created!!! It's really a travesty!!!

    In closing, it couldn't be more obvious that Pope Francis has utter disdain for the office of the Pope. He absolutely refuses to sign, "pp" after his name, he still refers to himself as "Bishop of Rome," and refuses to allow his fellow cardinals/bishops to kiss the Fisherman's Ring (a symbolic gesture that shows respect for the office of Pope). He refuses to live in the Papal Apartment, etc. etc... He obviously doesn't like to live by the rules, and is creating a "mess" with his own rebellious behavior....

    Indeed, we need to pray & sacrifice for him...and for ALL our priests/bishops/cardinals/nuns/seminarians!!!

    BEAUTIFUL ARTICLE, Fr. Rutler!!!!
    May God continue to bless you....