WASHINGTON, D.C. — A “flawed understanding of the human person” led to “a tragic but logical outcome in Roe v. Wade,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan on the morning after the 46th annual March for Life in protest of the Supreme Court’s decision that legalized abortion.
Dolan, the archbishop of New York and former head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) pro-life committee, delivered the keynote address at the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life at Georgetown University on Saturday.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the conference named after Cardinal John O’Connor, who was archbishop of New York from 1984 to 2000 and was known for the particular emphasis he gave to fighting abortion. Dolan, who became archbishop of New York in 2009, is the second successor of O’Connor.
The cardinal began by noting that one of his mistakes in college was to ignore the importance of philosophy and “the seminal, normative ideas that have formed culture.”
Philosophers, he said, have greatly influenced the world’s understanding of “the true nature of the human person,” and some philosophies — particularly those espousing a utilitarian, subjectivist, or pragmatist ethic – have been responsible for reducing the value of human life.
Dolan then offered a litany of what he viewed as the practical consequences of such a philosophy.
“Behold the ‘dictatorship of relativism’ Pope Benedict grieved; behold a Senate hearing that could question the suitability of an acclaimed jurist for a higher appointment because ‘dogma rings loudly in her,’ or another candidate feared as an extremist because he belongs to the Knights of Columbus! Or a third term governor who insists that those questioning abortion on demand, paid for by all, up to the moment of birth, are retrogrades holding back progressivism; behold the ‘throwaway culture’ regretted by Pope Francis,” he said.
In recent months, Dolan and the Catholic bishops of New York have been at odds with Governor Andrew Cuomo who has pledged to pass new abortion legislation that would allow abortions for any reason during the third trimester of pregnancy right up to a mother’s due date.
The cardinal went on to argue that a “flawed anthropology” of the human person has led to current hostility toward human life, be it in the unborn child or the migrant and refugee.
“For if, my friends, you believe that what is true is only what can be verified in a laboratory; that what is good is only what is useful, functional, and productive; that what is beautiful is only what I want, what I need, what I find convenient, what I consider helpful to reach my goals; that the divine is no longer ‘Thee’ but ‘me,’ well, it is no surprise that an innocent baby in the womb could be deemed useless and inconvenient, that grandma dying slowly yet naturally would be thought a burden and annoyance, that a refugee would be caricatured as a rapist and a terrorist,” he said.
Dolan then turned to the example of Reverend Martin Luther King, the American civil rights crusader, who had the understanding that “We are made in His image and likeness. We thus treat ourselves and others with reverence, justice, equality, and respect,” he said, the idea which informed and motivated his “pro-life credentials.”
“But he would insist that, if we get it wrong in ignoring the civil rights of the pre-born, we’ll sure have a tough time promoting the others, because we’d be hypocrites,” Dolan said.
He went on to add that Francis would agree with such an approach, drawing from his recent letter to the Pontifical Academy for Life where he explored “the paradox of ‘progress.’”
“How can those who consider themselves ‘progressive,’ or ‘humanists,’ he wondered, advance a cause that would trample the right to life of the baby in the womb? As he asks, ‘How can an act that suppresses an innocent and helpless life as it blossoms in the womb be thought therapeutic, civil, or simply humane,’” Dolan said.
Dolan’s remarks came during a week in which a heated debate was underway on Georgetown’s campus over the issue of abortion.
On Tuesday, the university’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life hosted an all-female panel on “Resisting the Throwaway Culture.” On Wednesday, the panel was countered with another event organized by the university’s college Democrats and its unrecognized pro-choice student group with Dr. Willie Parker, known for positing that his Christian faith motivates him to perform abortions.
Kicking off the Saturday conference, co-directors Julia Greenwood and Madeleine Ostertag said they hoped the Cardinal O’Connor Conference would serve as a reminder that the young people committed to the cause of human life offer a more consistent understanding of the human person and the defense of life.
Dolan echoed that call in his closing remarks, turning again to the words of Francis.
“As he said to the youth in Rio de Janeiro, ‘Do us a favor; do your duty! Keep the dream alive,’” Dolan repeated.
“John Cardinal O’Connor had a dream; Reverend Martin Luther King had a dream; I have one; so do you. Mine might fade a bit at times, but not this morning. Not as I look out at you,” he continued.
“For as the prophet Habakkuk encourages, ‘For the dream awaits its appointed time. It hastens to the end – – it will not let us down if it seems slow, await it; it will surely come. I will not disappoint,’” he said.