A Sign of the Times
The late Fr. Stanley L. Jaki once remarked that “it takes unusually strong guts to challenge that secularist and unabashedly anti-Catholic stronghold which is the New York Times.” His choice of the word “guts” is significant. The word “courage” is derived from the French coeur and the Latin cor, both referring to the heart. No doubt it takes great heart to possess the courage to face a strong opponent. But the term “guts” relates to organs just below the heart and adds the note of being visceral. “Intestinal fortitude” is the more esoteric phrase. Dealing with the Times requires more than heart. If one is an orthodox Catholic or a pro-life advocate, it requires the willingness to remain ignored and unrecognized.
Without disagreeing with Fr. Jaki, I would say that taking on the Times demands the additional virtues of patience and hope. Rome was neither built nor conquered in a day. To modify Ira Gershwin’s enduring lyrics, “In time, the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they’re only made of clay, but Catholics and the pro-life movement are here to stay.” At the moment, our religious and moral seismologists are not detecting any crumbling or rumbling.
On January 22, 1988, the fifteenth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, National Book Award winner Walker Percy wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times. It was neither acknowledged nor published. On February 15 of that same year, the esteemed novelist and essayist requested acknowledgment of his letter. Again, he received no answer. Percy’s intention was not in the interest of “entering the fray with one or another argument.” He simply wanted to offer a warning of what might be in store for a society that accepts the principle that “innocent human life can be destroyed for whatever reason, for the most admirable socioeconomic, medical or social reasons.” He warned that in the future, “ten years, fifty years from now,” society might favor “getting rid of,” among others, even “retarded children.” Percy’s letter, which the Times saw fit not to print, was prophetic. Today, better than 90% of unborn babies with Down syndrome are routinely aborted. The state of Belgium is now set to pass a law (in April, 2014) that would permit euthanasia for children. Advocates argue that the extermination of certain children would spare them a prolonged death and would lessen the pain for families.
On January 22, 2014, 41 years after Roe v. Wade, tens of thousands of pro-life enthusiasts braved the freezing temperatures in Washington, D.C., and marched for life, an annual event on a colossal scale that the so-called paper of record also sees fit to ignore. The following day, January 23, a Times online opinion piece called for Pope Francis to “Rethink Abortion.” The author was not a National Book Award laureate, but a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame University named Gary Gutting, who encouraged the Holy Father, in terms decidedly neither gracious nor diplomatic, “to turn away from the dogmatic intransigence that has long cast a pall over the religious life of many Roman Catholics.” It wasn’t a very sophisticated opening gambit—urging Pope Francis to loosen up and allow some abortions on the basis of conscience—nor one meant to initiate discussion. Gutting’s manner was maladroit and his reasoning merely rhetorical. Was he, in fact, really addressing the Pope, who is hardly callow and naïve? Or was he trying to win over those poor souls who have put their fragile faith in the New York Times?
Feminists who oppose violence against women and mothers who are against drunk driving (MADD) can market their “zero tolerance” campaigns with impunity. No one dares charge them with “dogmatic intransigence.” There is no room for “conscience” here. But the Church, who consistently defends innocent human life, is presumed guilty of being immovable, unbending, and unyielding. Gutting and the Times would like to see a Church that would never hold fast to anything, a Church that would endlessly vacillate, forever blowing in the wind. How spineless would any institution have to be to cower and capitulate whenever it is accused of being intransigent?
The New York Times is not about to criticize either feminism or MADD, timely campaigns the paper heartily endorses. The problem with the paper is that it is too much a part of the times and therefore cannot comprehend a voice that represents what is good for all times. John Adams, America’s second president, well understood the limitations of the newspaper. “I have given up newspapers,” he remarked, “in exchange for Tacitus and Thucydides, for Newton and Euclid, and I find myself much the happier.” Perhaps Pope Francis has something to say to the New York Times. But would the Times have the guts to listen?
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—Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth & Charity Forum.