In Toronto and indeed to many pro-lifers across Canada, he is a hero. The Interim has lauded his work. But one thing that we must realize is that these names do not necessarily mean a whole lot to grassroots pro-lifers across the country. This is why it's important to do series like this.
A few years back, I won Father Ted's book Yes I'd do it again (1990) at a Campaign Life Function. Only recently, did I get around to reading it. The bulk of the book is a memoir of his time as a missionary in Kenya. But there were some chapters about his work in the pro-life movement. Fr. Ted went to jail for breaking a court injunction on protesting at a Morgentaler clinic.
I copied several chapters of his book and am publishing them here, in spite of the length. I think it's important that pro-lifers remember our history, and Fr. Ted has many insights in these passages. He wrote the book around 1989, and at the time he was finishing the book, he participated in his first Operation Rescue in Toronto (for which he was sentenced). So he wrote of the events right around the time they took place.
(You can read an interview he gave to Lifesite here).
I Join the Pro-Life Movement
In all my years in Kenya, most of which were spent in the bush, I never heard of an abortion. I speak two African languages and I don’t know the word for abortion in either of them. I am sure there were abortions in Nairobi and Mombasa where the white man had brought his specialized form of paganism. But not in the African bush. Babies were considered a gift from God and while there were some illegitimate births, the idea of killing a baby—born or unborn—to avoid inconvenience would never have entered the mind of an African man or woman. Women were undoubtedly second- and third-class citizens, totally under the domination of the man, but a pregnant woman was always treated with respect. She carried within her the future of the tribe and therefore merited every consideration. In Ireland, we have a saying, “Every newborn baby is a sign that God has not yet given up on the human race.” Translated into Kikuyu it might be like this, “Every pregnant woman is a reminder that God wants the tribe to keep going.” Coming from such a pro-baby atmosphere, it came as a shock to find that in Canada babies were murdered in their mothers’ wombs while society condoned such a holocaust. While many did not approve of abortion, they did not consider that they had any moral obligation to do anything about it!
Perhaps it was my Africa background, I am not sure, but I felt that with thousands of babies being murdered I could not sit on the sidelines. I just had to get in the fray.
I first joined Birthright, a very effective organization founded some years before by Mrs. Louise Summerville. Its chief object is to help pregnant girls and women to carry their babies to term. It provides counseling, baby clothes, a place to stay and schooling for those who want to finish high school. My problem was that to be useful, I would have to be a phone volunteer so many days a week. As I was occupied with my work in VICS and would be away quite a lot I would not be of any real value to Birthright.
I then contacted Right to Life, Toronto, and met Mrs. Laura McArthur, the dynamic President. I became a member of the Board of Directors and also a member of the Speakers’ Bureau. I was a little more useful in the latter capacity as the organizer, Mrs. June Scandiffio, could arrange for me to speak in schools when it suited my schedule.
Some time later, while remaining on the Right to Life Board, I joined Campaign Life Coalition under the Presidency of Jim Hughes. This is the political wing of the pro-life movement, while the Right to Life is part of the educational wing. On a basis of trial and error, I found that of the two organizations, I could be more use to Campaign Life Coalition because of the nature of its activities.
Also, a pro-life monthly paper, called The Interim, had been established and I was asked to write a column for it. Perhaps as a result of this column, I began to get invitations to speak at pro-life conventions and banquets, which I love doing. The budding actor of high school has never completely faded away. A good dinner and a few glasses of wine and I’m back on stage. Pro-life audiences are always very responsive – even to Irish jokes! The fact that we are completely united in our cause—the defence of the life of the unborn child – somehow creates a bond of friendship which is far above mere acquaintance.
I have talked and eaten my way across the length and breadth of Canada and even into the United States. And I have really enjoyed it. I am sometimes introduced in such glowing terms that I wonder if I am that person! I like to introduce myself as both an expert and a specialist. An expert I define as a “dope away from home” and a specialist as “one who gets to know more and more about less and less until eventually he knows everything about nothing.” It’s a good start in case you ever have to make a speech.
The time inevitably came when, having preached and talked and written about the evil of abortion, I felt I had to take direct action. I had constantly picketed outside the abortuary run by Henry Morgentaler. At least 15 babies were—and are—murdered every day, five days a week in this house of death. Of course, there are abortions being performed in a number of Toronto hospitals. But the Morgentaler “clinic” exists solely to do abortions. Therefore, it is the best place to have protests. Also, at that time, the facility was illegal and the government refused to close it. Having discussed the matter with a number of pro-life people, I decided that the best action would be to put a padlock on the rear gate through which the women and girls entered the premises.
There was a police guard both front and back 24 hours a day. Since I had to lock the gate while it was still dark, Steve Jalsevac of Campaign Life Coalition offered to drive me down between five and six in the morning. I felt very brave until we got near the abortuary, and then I began to hope we would be hit by a bus. We drove to the back gate and had stopped before the police officer realized what was happening. I jumped out and was putting the padlock on the gate when he got to me and we had a bit of a struggle. I got the padlock on and locked. He asked me to get into the police car and we went through the usual procedure – name, age, weight, etc. Then he looked at me and said with a smile, “This is ironic, Father. When I was in high school, you came and gave us a slide show on the missions. I never thought I would be arresting you.”
Since that occasion I have been arrested at least a dozen times. I have been on trial on about four occasions. I have been fined several times, but have always refused to pay the fines. I have told both the judges and the police that I would not pay five cents’ penalty for defending unborn babies even if it were to save me from being hanged. And I mean exactly that.
I am writing this on June 14, 1989. An injunction has been issued by a judge forbidding anyone to engage in any kind of pro-life demonstration within 500 feet of the Morgentaler abortuary. This injunction includes praying. I believe that we have an obligation to defy such an infringement of our civil rights. But, what is infinitely more important, we have a moral obligation to put our bodies on the line in defence or the preborn babies. After I write this sentence, I am going to the Morgentaler murder house to say the rosary on the back steps. If and when I return, I shall let you know what happened.
June 15, 1989. What Happened
Yesterday morning about 11 o’clock, I went to the abortuary and knelt on the back steps where the women and girls enter. The security guard came out and the usual dialogue took place. “You are trespassing on private property. Would you please leave?” “No, Bill, I won’t leave.” Police are sent for and two officers arrive. “Father, you are, etc Would you please leave?” “No, officer, I shall not leave.” “You are under arrest. Please come with us.” Into the back of the yellow car and over to Division 14 where I am as well-known now as if I were on the staff. A big Irish sergeant from Galway welcomes me and goes through the usual procedure, taking evidence from the officers who arrested me. Then up to a bare room, with white walls.
I am left alone for quite a while. I think this is part of the therapy. You are left alone to contemplate your crimes. I say three rosaries. Then an officer unlocks the door and says “O.K., Father, you are being released without any charges. “ I say, “You police are not doing your duty. I broke the injunction, and I should be charged like anyone else.” “I’m only carrying out orders, Father.”
On a previous occasion I had heard one officer saying to another “We’ve got to release him. It is instructions from the attorney-general.” If this is true, it is a blatant disregard for the law on the part of the attorney-general. Since it doesn’t suit the political scene, at the moment, to have a priest or minister in jail, justice—in the secular sense of the word—is brushed under the carpet. I’m back in the office again looking out the window. And wondering what to do next!
I didn’t have to wonder too long. A few days after the episode I have described in the last chapter, I got a phone call telling me that there would be an Operation Rescue at the Morgentaler Abortuary on August 23 (1989). Before describing the circumstances which led to my arrest and eventual imprisonment, perhaps it is a good idea to explain what Operation Rescue is all about.
The idea is based on the words of the Book of Proverbs (4:11) “Rescue those unjustly sentenced to death.” And also on the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 82:4) “Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them not into the hands of the wicked.” The practical application of these scriptural principles to the North American scene began in the U.S. a few years ago. Following the inspiration of such dedicated American pro-lifers as Joan Andrews and John Cavanaugh O’Keefe, Randall Terry is the chief organizer of Operation Rescue in the U.S.
Operation Rescue calls on people to put their bodies on the line in defence of preborn babies. On the arranged morning, pro-life people gather outside an abortuary to sit on the steps abd block the doorways. This prevents staff from entering and makes it impossible for the women and girls who want abortions to get into the building. Before going to the particular abortuary the rescuers gather in a hotel or hall for final instruction. They are divided into two distinct groups—the rescuers and the supporters. The rescuers are those who are prepared to actually block the entrance and get arrested; the supporters stand at some distance and pray. They do not invite arrest, but they want to show their active support. Before approaching the abortuary, every rescuer has to sign a paper saying that he or she promises not to engage in any violence whatsoever, either physical or verbal. If they are physically assaulted they will not counterattack. If they are verbally abused, they will not reply. When arrested they will not resist.
It is a heroic promise, but it works, and I have witnessed the most heroic patience on the part of the rescuers. It is also absolutely necessary, as any reaction to violence would end in nothing less than pitched battles. The pro-abortion people engage in the most disgusting, violent and blasphemous language imaginable. A like response on the part of the rescuers would be fatal. It is an exercise in prayer, penance and patience in support of the threatened babies.
In the United States, Operation Rescue has been successful, though not overwhelmingly so. But there is no doubt about this fact: scores of babies have been spared and allowed to live because of Operation rescue. The pro-abortionists have admitted in court that 20 per cent of women who turn away rather than face the rescuers do not apply again for an abortion.
The first Operation Rescue in Canada was held outside the Morgentaler Abortuary in Toronto on October 29, 1988. Seventy-five pro-lifers blocked the entrance and 100 supporters prayed and sang hymns. The abortuary was kept closed for the entire day and no babies were killed. There were several rescues during the year following the first and they were relatively successful. The one which I am about to describe had particular significance owing to the fact that a court injunction had been imposed stating that anyone who protested within 500 feet of the Morgentaler abortuary was guilty of a crime and would be arraigned before a judge with possibility of a prison sentence.
At seven o’clock in the morning, we assembled in a hotel near the abortuary and Reverend Steven Hill led us in hymn singing and prayers. He then gave us our final instructions. He stressed the importance of prayer and non-violence. We walked to 85 Harbord Street—“The Morgentaler Clinic”. About 30 pro-abortionists were already there and were sitting on the steps to prevent us from doing so. They had somehow found out the day and the time of the rescue. There is always a leak and they get to know the day and the time. However they were – unwittingly perhaps—helping to keep the place closed.
There were about 80 rescuers and perhaps 50 supporters. We took our places wherever we could find space both at the front and the back of the building. When girls and women came along seeking entrance to the abortuary, they were quietly contacted by some of our counselors who tried to convince them that their baby was a real baby and that abortion meant killing him or her. Needless to say the reaction to this counseling is always different. Some women will get angry, others will listen and agree to re-think their situation. Success is never 100 per cent but even one baby saved makes the rescue well worthwhile.
Probably because of my clerical collar, I became the target of one small group of pro-abortionists. They glared at me and shouted obscenities and blasphemies. They suggested that I go to Newfoundland “and go to jail with your buddies there.” This obviously referred to the tragic sex scandal involving priests and brothers in that part of Canada. I just looked over their heads and said nothing. I realized the wisdom of the “non-verbal violence” agreement. There is a very strong temptation to reply to these verbal assaults. But that would simply provoke a shouting match which would be most undignified and would not save a baby—and that is the whole object of Operation Rescue.
After about an hour the police arrive in quite large numbers with several paddy wagons. They went through the usual procedure of asking people to move. When we all refused they read us our “rights” and then hauled us off to the waiting wagons. I found it hard to believe that the police in Canada could be so violent. They dragged people along the street in the mud, feet first, and literally threw them into the vans. It was an almost exact repeat of the performances one sees on television taking place in some of the Middle East countries.
Then it came to my turn. I was sitting on the steps and two officers asked me to move. I refused and one of them read my rights. I didn’t bother to listen as I have heard it all before and it means nothing to me but it is part of the procedure. I was then grabbed and hauled to the wagon. I didn’t go limp as I haven’t yet learned how. But I did not resist either.
When our wagon was full we were taken to 14 Division Police Station and put through the usual rigamarole—name, height, weight, colour of eyes etc. Then we were finger-printed and photographed. We were kept for hours—until midnight—in a large room. We had good fun and were fed. Around midnight the men were taken to Don Jail and the women to the Weston Prison.
We were strip-searched and given a prison outfit and taken to the cells. This was well into the small hours of the morning. The noise of shouting and yelling and foul language of the inmates was just awful. We were locked into our cells with other prisoners whom we did not know. My companion was a young black man. He was very polite and explained that I would have to sleep on the top bunk as he did not like heights. At 76, climbing to the top bunk is not as easy as it would be at 25. But I eventually arrived there.
Next day, we were driven—in shackles—to Old City Hall in Toronto for a preliminary trial. We were herded into a large holding cell with about 70 other prisoners. There was seating for about 40, so you either had to stand or sit on the floor. As far as I could gather from the casual conversations, the majority were “in” for drug-related charges. Most of them claimed that they were innocent and had been in the wrong house at the wrong time. The entire scene gave one a terrible picture of wasted lives. Most of them seemed to be in their twenties. For them, what did the future hold!
We were taken into the courtroom four at a time. We were asked if we would sign a document saying that we would not approach within 500 feet of the abortuary before the day of our trial—which would be October 4 and this was August 24. I had my ticket to fly to Ireland the following day. I knew there were people among us who would have to sign the assurance because of having young children or because their jobs would be in jeopardy. Other people depended on them and they had to take that into account. I could not fit myself into any such category. The Church and the Holy Ghost Fathers can survive without me. My secretary, Mary Wildfong, knows the running of the office much better than I do. The holiday in Ireland, while being attractive, could wait till another time. So, I really couldn’t see my way to sign.
I explained the situation to the judge saying that it was almost certain that I would not visit the abortuary as I would be away, but I could not in conscience sign an assurance. I rather hoped that he might say that under the circumstances he would accept this verbal assurance. But he didn’t and I was marched off to jail with six other pro-lifers who would not sign. In retrospect I was very glad that the judge did not agree. I would have felt miserable if I had been at home in Ireland enjoying myself while my friends were in prison.
I have written two articles for The Interim on life in prison. One article considers it from a negative point of view, and the other from the positive. They follow after this chapter. Briefly I said that prison as prison is a terrible experience. To be locked behind bars like a wild beast from which society must be protected is, in itself, a shocking indignity. Even if the physical conditions are not intolerable—as they weren’t—the loss of personal freedom plus the depersonalization which prison deliberately induces have a dehumanizing effect which defies description. If a person were in prison because of a crime, I believe it would leave a spiritual and psychological scar which time could not erase. But when one is in prison for a cause, the situation is entirely different.
We could have walked out as free men by signing a piece of paper. But we chose prison rather than sign away our consciences. We were physically bound but spiritually free—and it is a great feeling! That was perhaps the most positive aspect of our incarceration. The well-known words of the English poet Richard Lovelace—also a prisoner of conscience in the 17th century—kept coming back to me, “Stone walls do not a prison make. Nor iron bars a cage.” The truth and the power of these words were exemplified every hour of the day in the spirits and the inner peace of the men who shared prison with me. There were no complaints but plenty of laughter and fun along with seriousness and prayer.
We had Mass in the cell every day, which meant so much to all of us. It is at time like this that we really value our Faith. I think a spell in prison also helps us to realize how much we take for granted when we are free—the comforts of home life, the tasty food, the freedom to go where we please and read what we like, to hop into the car and drive to see a friend and wear the clothes that suit us, the feel of money in our pockets. None of these very human experiences were ours when behind prison bars. And yet we were happy even though uncomfortable. Amid the ephemeral trappings of the world, it is easy to confuse a life-style with life. When we are reduced to a common human denominator we begin to realize that there is far more to life than a life-style and to living than the accumulation of “things.” The words of another English poet somehow spring to mind. Was it Grey who wrote “The paths of glory lead but to the grave?”
On October 4, we were again taken to court for our official trial. When we entered the court room—handcuffed to each other—the packed court rose to its collective feet and applauded. This we had not expected and it was difficult to hold back our tears. We were “de-cuffed” and the proceedings commenced. Judge Silverman was obviously unsympathetic from the start. Paul Dodds, our lawyer, defended us admirably and a Toronto gynaecologist, Dr. Dennis Xuereb, gave an excellent demonstration with pictures and slides showing the humanity of the unborn child. The judge appeared to absent himself mentally from the evidence. When the doctor had finished the judge declared that his demonstration was irrelevant to the case. He – the judge—was not interested in whether or not unborn babies are human beings or not. All he was interested in was that we broke the injunction. We were then treated to a legal harangue in which His Honour called us criminals and potential terrorists. He deferred judgment until the next day.
The eventual outcome was that we were found guilty. Those of us who had been detained in jail were free now. But all 76 of the accused were put on probation for a year. If we break the injunction again before October 5, 1990, we will be liable to a longer prison sentence. We were not asked to sign anything except a paper saying that we understood the terms. As this was simply a statement of fact we had no trouble signing it. And so we were “free” again. I have to admit that it was a good feeling.
A great pro-life friend of mine, Canon Bob Green, Pastor of St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church, took me out to dinner that evening. In prison I had lost my appetite and thought I would never recover it. But I did. After wrapping myself round a large juicy steak I went home to enjoy a good night’s sleep in my own bed. That, too, is a good feeling.
Prison From the Inside
As I think most readers of The Interim are familiar with the events which led up to my six-week incarceration together with six other men, I shall skip those details and describe life in prison. I have decided to write two articles, one on the negative side of prison life and the other on the positive side. Of the two, the latter aspect is far more important.
I had never been in jail before—except for a few hours—so I had no idea what to expect. It is an experience which I will never forget, which I would not like to repeat, but which I believe I shall. We were incarcerated in the Mimico Correctional Centre, which has been described as the “Country Club” of Canadian prisons. It is probably the least severe of all Canadian jails and certainly bears no comparison with prisons in other parts of the world. In general we were treated well and—remembering that we were inmates—I have no complaints. But as the saying goes, “Prison is prison is prison.”
Apart from the particular prison or the treatment meted out, prison is a most degrading, dehumanizing, animalizing experience. That is the aspect on which I wish to concentrate in this article. I shall mention the details to which one would not normally allude in a respectable paper. But I think it is necessary to be verbally vivid in order to let people know the price that must be paid as the cost of moral conviction. The first thing that happens to a prisoner on entering jail is a strip search. This means standing completely naked before a prison officer and in a fairly public place—in our case this was in the Don Jail, prior to being taken to Mimico. All your earthly belongings are taken from you—except your spectacles. I asked if I could retain my rosary beads but was told “No!” You are then given prison clothes which may not fit you. It is a drab outfit of dark blue. When we had gone through this most embarrassing adventure, we were herded into a holding cell and left there for a long period. I don’t know for how long as our watches had been taken from us.
I think it was only then that I began to realize what prison life really involves. Up to that point everything had occurred in quick succession and there was little opportunity to dwell on the situation. But while I was sitting or standing in the cell it dawned on me that “depersonalization” is inherent in the prison system. From that point on we were “nobodies” with no rights—apart from the basic right not to be killed.
It is said that we do not appreciate the gifts of sight or hearing until we lose them. Neither do we appreciate the gift of freedom until it is taken from us. I think it is true to say that every war that has ever been fought was engaged in by one side or the other in defence of freedom. I believe that we priests are freer than most human beings. We do not have to take into account family commitments and obligations. For many years I have lived a very free life. With obvious restrictions, I could decide where I would go on a particular day; where I would eat; whom I would visit. Suddenly I found myself like a caged animal, locked behind bars, an undesirable from whom society must be protected. On three occasions we were taken to court in a police van—shackled together, both hands and feet.
Next to the loss of freedom I would rate the total loss of privacy. Perhaps it is an even worse experience. When I say “total” I mean ”TOTAL.” From the moment one enters jail one is constantly under observation. From time immemorial it has been the custom—at least in civilized society—for human beings to exercise their less noble bodily functions behind closed doors. Not so in prison. In the holding cells in the Don Jail and the Old City Hall, the toilet bowl is in the open against one of the walls with no door. When we were there the cells were occupied by perhaps 50 to 70 inmates. I am not being facetious when I say that you had about as much privacy as a monkey in a zoo. We hoped there would be some improvement in Mimico, but our hopes were dashed. It was slightly better, as there were low walls surrounding the toilets, but no doors. We had a number of young women guards who might pass along by the window at any time when one was on the toilet or having a shower. I am not saying that they ever did, but the fact that they could and might rendered one’s necessary biological operations less than comfortable.
Having read the above, do you think that I am exaggerating when I say that prison is a degrading and de-humanizing experience? This particular aspect of it, in my opinion, reduces man to the level of the beast. “Security” could be given as an explanation. For four years I was on the staff of the Mau Mau Detention Camps in Kenya. With the lack of running water, the best they could do for toilets was the bucket system. But every toilet had a door on it. And the British at the time were super sensitive about security.
Personally I found boredom in the third negative aspect of prison life. We rose at 6:30 a.m. and lights went out at 10:30 p.m. So we had 16 hours of unoccupied time. As we were on “remand,” we were in maximum security and so had no access to the library. Fortunately the Gideons supply prisoners with bibles, and they were our main reading material. But one can tire even of reading the Bible. We prayed a lot and talked a lot. We got twenty minutes’ exercise in the prison yard. With no arm chairs and only hard stools on which to sit, we spent a lot of time on our beds, and I felt that my IQ was gradually ebbing away from sheer lack of incentive.
The point I am about to make might appear to be insignificant to some people and it is the last on my list of “negatives.” It is the fact that in prison one is always addressed by one’s surname. I believe that we priests are spoiled in many way. Whatever people may call us behind our backs, we are invariably treated with respect to our faces. Catholics and most other people will give us the title “Father.” But in prison I was “Colleton.” Through the kindness of my Holy Ghost confreres, I had a visit from a priest almost every day. Most of the guards were courteous and considerate and they simply called you and said “You are wanted for a visit.” But a few were lacking in any sense of refinement and seemed to delight in roaring “Colleton! Visit!” They used exactly the same tone they would use in ordering a dog to lie down. I believe it was another part of the “de-personalization process.” One of the “inmates” was Dr. Ray Holmes, a retired dentist. Ray is a silver-haired 70, possessed of a lovable nature, a most cultured manner and a deep faith. He has 19 grandchildren. I cringed every time I heard, “Holmes. Visit,” shouted by a guard half Ray’s age, with probably a quarter of his education and none of his culture. But “Prison is prison is prison.”
In this article I have dwelt only on the negative elements of life in prison. But there is far more to it than that. Being in captivity for a cause makes all the difference.
“Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make”
In the last month’s Interim, I described life in prison from the negative point of view. The humiliation and degradation of being reduced to the status of a beast—locked behind bars, bereft of the normal privacy, which is part of civilized living, spoken to as if one were a dog. That is certainly a very real and tangible aspect of prison life. However, there is another point of view—the positive or spiritual.
A 17th century poet, Richard Lovelace, who was also a prisoner of conscience, expressed the positive side of prison in these memorable words, “Stone walls do not a prison make nor iron bars a cage.” The body can be rendered captive—but not the spirit! If I had been imprisoned for a crime, murder or robbery, I would have found prison intolerable. I quite understand now, how people who do not have faith hang themselves in jail. When there is nothing to look forward to but years of degradation, loss of freedom, no privacy, systematic depersonalization, and to add to all this, a sense of personal guilt, what is there to live for? But, being in prison for a cause makes all the difference. All the difference between night and day, light and darkness; I might almost say, heaven and hell. From feeling captive, I experienced an extraordinary sense of freedom. First of all, I did not have to be there. I had only to request the presence of a district justice and sign the condition imposed by the judge and I was free. But I would not have been really free. For—in my particular case—I would have compromised my conscience. My body would have been at liberty, but not my spirit. And that is the lowest form of slavery.
Another positive side to our being in prison was the fact that we were walking in the footsteps of the great. The fact came to me with more than ordinary force one morning when I was reading from the Scriptures. I had not chosen the particular passage, it just “happened” to be part of my daily reading. It is the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians (1:12-14), written from prison:
“I want you to know brethren, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest, that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of imprisonment and are much more bold to speak without fear.”
If my imprisonment was not for Christ, it had no meaning at all. The prison guards certainly knew why we were there and I know that some of them admitted our stand for the lives of the unborn. The fact that more than a thousand pro-life people gathered outside the prison for prayer vigils with lighted candles and the hundreds of letters—which I am still receiving—many from people I have never met, are strong indications that our voluntary confinement had a tremendous witness value. All of these things made the positive side of our imprisonment so important that the negative side was almost entirely blotted out.
The highways of history are strewn with evidence of the sufferings of those who gave themselves for a cause as prisoners of conscience, rather than compromise their principles. St. Peter, “Are we to obey God or men?” St. Paul, “I am here (in prison) for the defense of the Gospel.” St. Thomas More, “ I die the Kind’s good servant, but God’s first.” David Packer, “ I will not guard a house where babies are being killed.” Joan Andrews, “ I do not need to explain to you why I refused to pay the fine or allow anyone to pay it for me—though it was offered. I always knew what my response would be, but I am even more confirmed in it now, with a renewed sensitivity toward not compromising the dignity of the unborn.”
These are but a few of the myriads of people who have written their names in blood and tears in the pages of human annals. Some have passed, but their witness remains like bright stars, reminding us that, though causes differ with every age, principles do not. In every generation, man’s inhumanity to man, whatever form it may take, presents a challenge to those who have learned the truth of the Gospel dictum, “Not on bread alone doth man live.”
People, even the best intentioned, have been confused recently about Operation Rescue. They say that people have no right to break the law. Our Lord made this situation very clear when he asked in the Gospel of St. Matthew to explain the relationship between the state (Caesar) and God. In other words, which do we obey when there is a conflict of commands. Jesus took a coin of the realm and asked, “Whose image is on this?” They said “Caesar’s.” He replied “Render to Caesar (the state) what belongs to Caesar and to God the things that are God’s.” Whose image is stamped on the soul of a child? We find the answer in the book of Genesis (1:26-27) “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, after our own likeness.’ So, God created man in His own image, in the image of God, He created him.”
It is this fact and this fact alone that makes human life sacred. The life of an unborn child belongs to God and not to Caesar and when Caesar makes laws “legalizing” abortion, he is assuming the mantle of God. All such laws are totally null and void and we have not only the right but the obligation to oppose them by non-violent civil disobedience. If 15 children were being murdered every day in a school, would you “pass by on the other side” because it would be illegal to trespass? I hope not!
Our six weeks in prison gave us time to think and pray and that was surely a plus. But, one of the most positive aspects of life behind the bars was the companionship of six wonderful people. We were of different ages, different races, different levels of education and different religions. But the one great unifying factor was our cause—the right of the unborn child to the gift of life. For that cause we were prepared not only to endure imprisonment, but even death. And I believe it will come to that. If a husband were to say to his wife, “ I shall love you as long as you are young and beautiful and slim and exciting, “ he is really saying, “I do not love you at all.” If a soldier were to say to his commanding officer, “Yes, I have joined the army, I shall fight for my country, but I refuse to die,” would he be considered a true soldier?
If we set limits to our love and fidelity for the unborn child, we are less than fully sincere. We may not be asked to die. But we must be mentally prepared to give our all. Think and pray about it!