About that Viral Pro-Life Quote from the Catholic Nun

Sister Joan Chittister has some explaining to do

Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B.

Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post attributed words to Sister Joan Chittister which where not her own. The quote has since been removed. We apologize for the error and any harm which may have come to Sister Joan’s reputation as well.

Someone asked me to respond to the charge that you’re not prolife unless you favor government spending on an extensive list of causes beyond the issue of abortion.

The latest example of someone issuing this spurious charge is Leslie Salzillo who appropriates the words of Sister Joan Chittister, of the Order of Saint Benedict in a viral post on The Daily Kos, Catholic Nun Explains Pro-Life In A Way That Will Stun Many (Especially Republican Lawmakers). Sister Joan’s words have already gotten their own Facebook meme:

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

And Salzillo went further–charging all those who fail to meet Sister Joan’s standards with hypocrisy and misogyny. Daily Kos did not interview the nun this week pertaining to the Planned Parenthood fetal remains scandal. But that story is the reason this meme is making the rounds this week. Salzillo hung her indictment of “Right-wing anti-choice extremists” and Republican lawmakers, along with her call to stand with Planned Parenthood, on the Sister’s words. Sister Joan’s influence is undeniable. I have heard her words played back verbatim even though they were spoken over ten years ago in an interview on PBS Now. Should we pay attention?

Sister Joan’s critiques of the pro-life movement is mistaken in at least four significant ways:

  • She has failed to consider the question of when life begins
  • The science of embryology confirms that life begins at conception
  • Louis Pasteur’s law of biogenesis says that an organism is what it is from the very beginning–it does not become something else as it develops, nor does it spring up spontaneously (“somewhere in between” conception and birth)
  • Sperm and egg (cells) are indeed potential life forms, but once they have united to form a zygote (an organism) each ceases to exist. Organisms are individual entities, whole, living, and distinct beings; in this case, human beings.

First, let’s address the logical flaw in the charge of a lack of morality in those who oppose abortion. It is a non-sequitur to say children suffer, therefore killing innocent human beings is justified. No one would say such a thing if her problem-solving involved killing toddlers rather than the unborn. An alleged lack of caring for born children does not justify killing innocent human beings through abortion.

Second, as to the charges:

“[Y]our morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed . . . “

If the premise were true, the conclusion might be correct. But Sister Joan offers no proof beyond the politics of taxation to demonstrate that those who oppose abortion could possibly also want children to be fed. This is an assertion not an argument. Arguments require evidence.

” . . . not a child educated . . . “

Same problem–we are given zero evidence to support the charge that those who oppose abortion oppose education. And, the burden of proof rests with Sister Joan, since she asserted the charge.

” . . . not a child housed . . . “

And again, no evidence to support this wild assertion.

Third, there’s a problem with Sister’s misuse of her credential, even if she is simply ignorant vs. guilty of willfully twisting the facts. Whenever she offers her opinion, Sister Joan should inform her followers that she is at odds with the teachings of the organization she represents, the Roman Catholic church concerning the facts on the origins of individual lives. The Church teaches the exact opposite of her conclusion (as easily located on The Vatican website):

2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.72

So there is an integrity issue. One of the main reasons anyone would give heed to her words is that she is a Catholic nun.

The fourth reason you may feel comfortable dismissing the “pro-lifers are hypocrites” argument is that it is rooted in verbal trickery. This meme has persuaded countless people that pro-lifer’s are evil, mean and hypocritical. Imagine I were to grant to Sister Joan, “Fine, call me anti-abortion.” Do you think this would satisfy her scruples? Of course not. And I am willing to bet she is not intellectually honest enough to be willing to be called pro-abortion, or even pro-abotion rights. But by zeroing in on the label pro-life she avoids the abortion issue altogher. The same verbal sleight-of-hand is employed by those who insist on only using “choice” instead of saying “choice to abort.”

Finally, Sister Joan charges that anyone who is against abortion is against children if we don’t see government alone as the answer to the problems of feeding the poor, offering hospitality (i.e. housing) to strangers, and discipling those who need to be taught. If the obvious parallels to the commands of Jesus Christ don’t strike you, I imagine you may not have heard His words. But surely a Catholic nun is familiar with the Words of Our Lord, who taught us that it is our job to love our neighbors, not to lobby the Jericho Road Commission on Crime to clean up the Samaritan Passage.

All of this might be forgivable if Sister Joan were completely ignorant to the fact that the church is doing exactly what the Lord says we are to do through the pregnancy help movement, including loving and supporting the women through parenting and childrearing with material, spiritual and emotional help. But since Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the National Abortion Federation are targeting pregnancy help centers, I’m confident she is indeed aware, but somehow still places her faith in government.

If you encounter someone who accuses you of being an uncaring hypocrite, do these three things: return to the nature of the unborn and how we may treat them, point out that any alleged lack of caring for born children does not justify killing innocent human beings through abortion, and finally, inform how we who oppose abortion are offering care to women, couples and children through the pregnancy help movement.

Join us on Cradle My Heart Radio as we discuss the news of the week. We’re open for your calls or you may leave a comment below.

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