Bridging the abortion debate chasm

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger

A sign outside of Ascension Catholic Church in Oak Park reads, "Life, God's Most Precious Gift."  It was placed there with the parish board's approval by the Respect Life Committee chaired by Cara Carmody and Carol Price.

The thought that went through my mind as I interviewed them was, "These are two women whom pro choice folks could have a conversation with."

Here's what I mean.  Communication theory states that every communication has three components: the sender of the message, the message itself, and the receiver of the message.  Communication can go wrong with any of the three components. 

Cara and Carol would like to see fewer abortions than the million performed last year, but at the same time, they are very aware that the people hearing their message, in Oak Park in general and at Ascension in particular, tend to be liberal.

"We decided that because our parish is such a liberal parish," Cara explained, "that we were not going to be your typical 'pro life' group.  We weren't going to be called pro life.  We would be called Respect Life in order to win members and get people to open their minds and hearts."

October is Respect Life month at Ascension, and the committee has focused on the elderly four years ago, and then in succession the disabled, mental illness and suicide.  This October's emphasis will be on adoption.

The omission of the hot button issue of abortion has been intentional, because the Respect Life Committee wants to place the abortion in the context of a much broader theology, a theology of life using metaphors like Cardinal Bernardin's seamless garment.  The late cardinal argued that to be consistent, if you are against war and against the death penalty you have to be against abortion in most cases.  The seamless garment has many parts, and the Respect Life Committee is choosing to focus on the parts where there is some common ground.

Cara and Carol are very sensitive to the people receiving their message.  Carol said, "That [respect life] was a very intentional wording on our part, because Catholics abort at the same rate as everyone else.  There's no difference between denominations percentage wise.  We assume that if Ascension represents a more liberal part of the Catholic faith, then among the women in our parish about 25% have had an abortion, and so we try to tread very carefully.  We don't want to offend people.  We don't want to make people feel bad, to alienate people." 

And it's not just a matter of being diplomatic for them.  What they want in their parish is for someone to clearly state what the Roman Catholic Church teaches about human life from conception to death.  I think that our church owes that to us to give us what our faith preaches," declare Carol, "and then we can choose to follow it or not."  This is an approach that places the authority in the message and not in the person sending the message.

A footnote: Frances Kissling is a Catholic who is the president of the Center for Health, Ethics and Social Policy.  Although, if pressed, she labels herself as pro choice, she has written the following: "We launched Condoms4Life to educate young Catholics, as well as gay and straight couples, about what we think our faith demands of us: Responsibility. We see St. Valentine's Day, a day representing love and passion for many couples, as the perfect time to remind people that the culture of life means affirming responsible and just sexual behavior-especially for those who are at risk of contracting AIDS. We call on the bishops to join us in this campaign to promote a culture of life and protect the lives and health of the countless men, women and children who are at risk of HIV/AIDS." 

I think Frances, Carol and Cara would enjoy having a discussion.

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