Dr Tiller and Blame

The Catholic blogosphere, awash in posts on Dr Tiller, tries to make some sense of the senseless. Most bloggers are covering the obvious aspects quite well, and I have no wish to walk the well-trod path, except for one statement:

As a Christian pacifist, I condemn this assassination in the strongest possible way. Ending a human life is never a correct approach to resolving a problem. My prayers are with George Tiller, his family, and his faith community. May all be healed from this heinous act.

Comments after some evening thoughts and a night’s sleep:

It was a frequent meme during the ND/Obama/protest debacle that it was Fr Jenkins’ own fault the ND commencement was spoiled. If only he listened to reason, his bishop, the 400k signatories, and the alumni ready to withdraw their millions from the general fund (but not the football lottery). I see a lot of protest now from the same people who agreed with the GOP schtick that it’s time to ratchet up the banging last November, but who disown assassination as a moral and political tool. They should protest. They were wrong with ND, and they’re right today on Tiller.

For the record, I will say that I believe adults have a responsibility to take the blame for their own bad actions, and avoid them, hopefully, in the first place. I thought it was silly to say the protests at ND were all the presidents’ fault. No. Unpopular things happen in an imperfect world. How we react is up to us. There are no marionette strings leading to politicians, entertainers, or religious leaders. We choose. Just us.

That said, our words and actions communicate a certain intent, even as a culture. I heard this morning where the US Attorney General is stepping up protection at abortion clinics. An employee or a client may walk to the door of her or his clinic and wonder. He or she might worry about safety, and that concern might be reinforced by louder or more frequent protests lately. What’s the slogan about the choice one has? Fight or flight? Fighting is almost always a poor choice. It can be understandable, and even moral establishments like the Church attempt to justify it under certain conditions.

The pro-life culture has succeeded over the past several months to paint itself as a leaner (fewer True Believers) and meaner (let’s get loud, and we won’t compromise!) effort. How people react to this post-Republican reality is their choice and responsibility, of course. A few crazies will engage–every large movement has them. It’s also likely that if protesters are allowed near a clinic, that fewer clients will bother with the receiving end of sidewalk counseling. Fewer will bother with any sort of exchange and dialogue at all. And though the political pro-life effort may disdain dialogue, even calling it a fetish, the truth is that the no-dialogue scenario reduces the movement to two things: prayer and talking to itself. As a believing Christian, I have every confidence in the power of prayer. But as a flesh-and-blood human being, I know I also need the interaction with other human beings to root and make incarnate the prayers I offer.

As it is, one more hurdle has been placed in the path of dialogue. People may (and who can blame them?) make a mental note as they encounter or exchange with a pro-lifer: Is this person a crazy who will harm me or others? It’s the kind of a blip that drains a bit of energy from the grace to be found in such encounters. It means we pro-lifers spend more effort and energy establishing our credibility. It puts everybody on the defensive from the get-go. Just a little more erosion as we slog onward to the Kingdon of God.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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22 Responses to Dr Tiller and Blame

  1. Gavin says:

    Except the “Christian pacifist” (being in no way a pacifist) I second your statement, and I’ve been awed by the sympathetic response of the pro-life movement. I have yet to see a single pro-lifer responding to the murder in a less-than-Christian manner. And I read Fr. Z’s comment threads!

    As it is, one more hurdle has been placed in the path of dialogue.
    Indeed, but I’d say that happened a couple weeks ago when many pro-lifers showed they couldn’t handle honor shown to a man they disagree with. Although there’s the vocal crazies in the pro-abortion side, most of them realize that the overwhelming majority of us who oppose abortion are decent, principled people. If anything will make them think of us as crazies, it’s the radical protesters like that old priest and Alan Keyes violating ND’s property rights that will do that.

    This does slightly affect us, but not as much as the embarrassing spectacle of those who can’t tolerate having a Democrat president.

  2. Fran says:

    This was a senseless tragic death and one that ultimately showed no respect for life -at any age or stage.

    Your post, your words – as always are very well put. Thank you for a voice that I can almost always echo, thank you.

  3. crystal says:

    A thoughtful post, Todd. I’m a pacifist too.

    I wish I could say I’ve only seen regret shown by pro-life bloggers, but I’ve seen many a comment here and there that actually justify the murder.

  4. Crystal

    Right, I’ve seen much of it, too. Sad. Very sad.

  5. Jimmy Mac says:

    Too much of contemporary Catholic “thought” is bereft of a Christian sensibility.

    “Fr.” Frank Pavone indicated that the increasing frustration of some with abortion may be used as a justification for violence.

    Frustration is not a valid reason for violent murder? Time for this priest to go on a long, long retreat and reconsider his vocation. Obviously, his ontology has slipped.

  6. Thank you for your typically sensible and sensitive post. The Tiller murder is horrifying on many levels. You wouldn’t believe — or maybe you would — some of the vicious, hateful, insensitive, and downright stupid stuff that’s getting posted on Twitter by “pro-life” “Christians.” Jesus weeps to the point of gagging.

  7. Rod Treat says:

    I’m a proud, pro-life Catholic who is as saddened and outraged as anyone at the senseless murder of Dr. Tiller. But I am forced to wonder how many of you “progressive pro-life Catholics,” who are so quick to attack conservatives and tradionlists, are equally as outraged by the heinous evil perpetrated on a massive scale by Dr. Tiller and his ilk. It in no way justifies his murder, but he did freely choose to do what he did in the name of women’s “freedom,” knowing full well that he was the target of lunatics like the guy who killed him. He lived by the sword and he died by the sword. Evil acts have real consequences, in this life and the next. Certainly, it is not our place to pass final judgment and render punishment. But every choice we make has repercussions we can’t possibly predict. And there will always be lost souls who are willing to take into their own hands the final vengeance which rightfully belongs only to God. We can only pray that Dr. Tiller is one of the souls given a reprieve by our Lord when he descended from the Cross at the timeless moment of his death and ministered to the condemned.

  8. Rod Treat says:

    One other thing. How many of you who are praying for Dr. Tiller and his family are also praying for the man who shot him? Or are you as selective and subjective with you compassion and faith as you are in your political beliefs?

  9. Liam says:


    Your comments presume a great deal about your audience here that they ought not. I realize this is quite normal on the Internet, but as you say, actions have consequences, don’t they?

  10. Todd says:

    Thanks for posting, Rod. I can’t speak for others, but I’ll add my response to your questions.

    I’ve been outraged and deeply bothered by the persistence of abortion for almost forty years. I don’t know if my feelings are “equal” to those of conservatives. I’ve protested, written letters, and donated. I talk to people when the opportunity presents itself. What you read on my blog has a context within the Catholic blogosphere as a whole.

    I agree that acts have consequences. Given the apologetics I read before the ND flap, I think I apply the notion of consequences and shouldering responsibility a bit more than many conservatives I read. I wouldn’t stop at characterizing “evil acts” as having consequences. All acts have them. I openly question if the pro-life witness has been insufficiently holy–far less than what is needed to persuade and enchant others to a more deeply pro-life outlook.

    As for prayers for the murderer, yes, I’m sure most people commenting here are doing that. I didn’t add it to my litany, no, because at the time I wrote it, I hadn’t heard a suspect had been apprehended.

    My approach is to assume people are doing what needs to be done, said, prayed, or whatever. If I criticize, I try to focus on the written or spoken word, on something that’s out there for all to see.

  11. Rod Treat says:

    As I reflect further on some of the comments posted here, I’m disgusted by the high-minded sanctimony of the people who rush to express compassion for men such as Dr. Tiller but would never publicly express compassion for his countless victims or explicitly condemn the egregious evil he committed. And to the sadly confused person who condemned Fr. Pavone, consider this: Fr. Pavone has held the dismembered bodies of the brutally slaughtered unborn in his own hands. I would defy you to do the same and come away as thoughtless and indifferent to such evil as you apparently are. Many of you pacifistic Christians constantly accuse pro-lifers as indifferent to the poor, the exploited, and the innocent victims of American agression, but have no compunction about parading your relative indifference to the incomprehnsibly larger genocide committed in the names of “choice” and “freedom” and “autonomy.” You claim to believe that abortion is an equivalent evil to preemptive war, racism, intolerance, and other social injustices, but you never seem to be able to get nearly as worked up about the murder of innocent unborn human beings as you do about your pet concerns. You’re all a bunch of cluless moral relativists.

  12. Tony says:

    I don’t understand what this “dialogue” is supposed to be. Catholics believe that all life is sacred from fertilization to natural death. Abortion proponents don’t. There is no room for dialogue.

    I decry the murder of George Tiller. The shooter has damaged the pro-life movement, and possibly contributed to the death of more innocent children than had he left Tiller alone.

    I understand the frustration that motivated the shooter to do what he did. Tiller should have been punished long ago for his crimes, but had been given political cover by Obama’s HHS secretary. She quashed medical board inquiries, the democrat district attorney refused to bring suit, pro-lifers were forced to gather petition signatures to convene a grand jury, in which they succeeded, but the grand jury was presided over by someone who wanted to protect Tiller.

    In the face of flaunting of the laws to give protection to this man for political reasons, I can understand (but not justify) the rage that led to this heinous act.

  13. Todd says:

    Rod, thanks for clarifying your point. Clearly, your experiences and emphasis are different from mine and those whom you criticize who comment here.

    The challenge is to feel compassion for people we’ve never seen, as you suggest. We don’t see refugees, victims of war, and the unborn who have been aborted. It’s the challenge pro-lifers face: one cannot be confronted (easily) with the victims. Some are small, almost too small to be seen, and others are private, and we don’t know who they are.

    Your disgust is part of your gut reaction, and I have no problem with it as such. I don’t know that you trip up your own efforts by expressing it. The truth is we all feel, but we don’t feel the same as you, nor do we express it in quite the same way.

    I think Fr Pavone is a big boy who can handle criticism. Having deep feelings for the unborn or having experienced such horror does not logically immunize him from criticism.

    I don’t know that my criticism of my fellow pro-lifers is “constant” so much as it is a bother to them.

    “You’re all a bunch of cluless moral relativists.”

    Not really. I think each person brings the relativity of their own experiences, gifts, and insights to interpersonal exchange in the world. Far from being dictatorial, it is what makes us human. The advantage is that collectively, we can cover a lot more territory than alone, or when we chum with people who think like us.

    I think Tony misunderstands the purpose of dialogue. Converting one’s adversary to one’s point of view is one possible outcome of dialogue. But understanding others is equally important. Even if one’s intent is only to win an argument, the very least one can do is listen to the adversary and learn the strengths and weaknesses of their argument. Pro-lifers must not only be right, they must also be persuasive.

  14. Rod Treat says:

    After reading your response Todd, my questions to you are these: Do you side with Doug Kmiec and the other so-called Catholics who presume to consider themselves wiser than the Church? Do you understand the immutability of the Moral Law? “Catholics” such as Kmiec engage in such obvious intellectual contortions and self-contradictions in their efforts to defend their indefensible positions that many of us have trouble understanding how anyone could by into their absurd reasoning. Kmiec just recently participated in a “dialogue” with Professor Robert George and was completely discredited. And yet I’m certain he’ll continue to be defended by people who obviously have no understanding of the logical progression of their relativistic beliefs. All I can say to such “Catholics” is that if they think the Church should somehow attempt to alter what God created in His infinite wisdom, they should just get it over and become Episcopalians. The day the Church defies God, attempts the impossible, and tries to rewrite the Moral Law, is the day she ceases to be the Church.

  15. Rod Treat says:

    So truth is determined by my feelings which are based on my experiences? Wow Todd, you’re farther gone than I thought. So I guess the Magisterium is just the byproduct of the subjective feelings and experiences of an opressive patriarchy comprised largely of white European males?

  16. Todd says:

    “Do you side with Doug Kmiec and the other so-called Catholics who presume to consider themselves wiser than the Church?”

    You seem to assume a lot with your question. I would not side with Professor Kmiec in his support for the president.

    “Do you understand the immutability of the Moral Law?”

    Sure. But I don’t see Prof. Kmiec in violation of moral law.

    “All I can say to such “Catholics” is that if they think the Church should somehow attempt to alter …”

    I don’t think anything of the sort, and it would be hard to discern any of that in any of the chief commenters on this site.

    Rod, my observation is that you’re getting way ahead of yourself in making your case for a stronger pro-life voice. What I’m saying is that you seem to be laboring under a degree of relativism yourself: applying your own subjective experiences to make an argument against something that isn’t really present here.

    Instead of the Magisterium, you’re asking why we’re not congruent in word to your expectations. Why must my approach be exactly or nearly the same as yours? Criticizing Fr Pavone or publicly praying for Scott Roeder are not matters of morality as defined by the Magisterium.

  17. Fran says:

    I am always greatly saddened that so many discussions on this topic (life issues being the topic) immediately devolve into “what time is the next auto de fe?”

    This constant questioning and scrutiny of other peoples’ Catholicism shows so little respect for any life.

    One of the reasons I love to read this blog in particular, one of the smartest out there without exception, is the measured but very clear life focus that Todd brings to these posts.

    If we cannot discuss, we cannot discern. If we cannot discern, we can never be transformed or transform others.

  18. Michael says:

    If we cannot discuss, we cannot discern. If we cannot discern, we can never be transformed or transform others.

    Fran, that’s exactly right. Thank you.

  19. Rod Treat says:

    Todd – You’re full of it. I never said or even implied the Kmiec directly violated the moral law himself or that Fr. Pavone couldn’t take criticism or that publicly praying for Scott Roeder was a matter of morality as defined by the Magisterium, and you know I didn’t. You’re quite good at setting up straw men and knocking them down, much like a certain empty suit who currently occupies the Oval Office. You’ve obviously been very successful at building a nice little amen chorus to praise your gibberish and stroke your ego. I’ll return now to perusing the dozens of quality blogs and sites out there with truly thoughtful, insightful, discerning, and substantive observations and analyses of the important issues. I don’t think I can stomach any more of your garbage.

  20. Michael says:

    I never said or even implied the Kmiec directly violated the moral law himself or that Fr. Pavone couldn’t take criticism or that publicly praying for Scott Roeder was a matter of morality as defined by the Magisterium, and you know I didn’t.

    Now who’s setting up straw men?

  21. Todd says:

    Rod, would you then care to tackle your issue clearly, and point by point? You were the one who brought Doug Kmiec into the discussion. Without a clear reason, I might add.

    If you want to engage in a discussion here, feel free to do so.

  22. Jimmy Mac says:

    Rod … you have crossed the line of acceptable chat in this blogsite:

    “Todd – You’re full of it …. I don’t think I can stomach any more of your garbage.”

    Feel free to disagree with anything and everything that is said here, but leave the slurs at home.

    Thank you.

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