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Of Ray Siegfried, Mark Roche and the child we once were

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, October 12, 2005

This Monday’s funeral Mass for Notre Dame trustee Ray Siegfried was a beautiful and inspiring celebration of his life. Life was very precious to Ray – the lives of the adults and children he encountered every day, and the lives of those children not yet born. As he was a great friend of Our Lady’s University, he was also a wonderful defender of the unborn child. He often said that it was his daily visits to the grotto that got him through Notre Dame, and it was no doubt that same devotion to the Blessed Mother that helped him see with such clarity that there is something terribly wrong about adults killing helpless children in the womb to solve our own problems.

On Tuesday, Oct. 11, Ray Siegfried was laid to rest in the cemetery here on the campus of Notre Dame.

Oct. 11 was also, coincidentally, the first anniversary of the publication of a guest editorial by another member of the Notre Dame family, Dean Mark Roche of the College of Arts and Letters. His op-ed appeared in The New York Times, less than a month before the 2004 presidential election.

My purpose here is not to be personally critical of Dean Roche. What he wrote could have been written by countless other supporters of candidates who defend legal elective abortion. My purpose, rather, is to offer, in charity, a gentle illustration of why what he wrote is so damaging and so mistaken.

The sentence which was especially offensive, given our obligation to protect the weak, the defenseless, the least among us, read as follows: “Those who view abortion as the most significant issue in this campaign may well want to supplement their abstract desire for moral rectitude with a more realistic focus on how best to ensure that fewer abortions take place.”

The above quote betrays a grave misunderstanding of the pro-life cause. It is a desire to save human lives that motivates those who defend the right to life. There is nothing “abstract” about the tragedy of the 45 million unborn babies who have been legally killed in our country since the infamous Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.

Having been deeply distressed for the past year by the misguided thinking embodied in the op-ed, I resolved during Ray Siegfried’s funeral Mass to respond. It’s what he would have done: Say what needs to be said.

My wife Phyllis and I sent all eight of our children to Notre Dame because of the Catholic values which Our Lady’s University unambiguously upholds. My confidence in that assumption was shaken, however, when I read Dean Roche’s column of last Oct. 11.

A true story may help illustrate why opposition to abortion is much more than an “abstract desire for moral rectitude.” I heard a woman call a radio show one day. Long ago, she said, she had had an abortion. Through the years that followed, she suffered greatly from the grief that resulted from realizing she had killed her baby. The pain she felt over her unborn child never went away.

Paradoxically, through those intervening years, she continued to be “pro-choice.” Every woman should have the right to get an abortion, she believed.

Years later she met someone she wanted to marry. But she felt she first needed to tell him about the awful burden she had carried all those years. When she told him about the baby she had aborted, he asked her a single question: “Would you have had the abortion had it not been legal?”

“Well, of course not,” she answered.

“Those words had no sooner left my mouth,” she told the radio-show host, “than it hit me like a ton of bricks how wrong I had been all those years to be ‘pro-choice.'”

She went on to explain that, by espousing the view that abortion should be a legal option, available for those who want it, she had cavalierly consigned other women to the same anguish, the same misery that she had experienced as a result of her own abortion. By her “pro-choice” attitude, she had enabled, condoned, endorsed the decisions of other women to abort their children, and thus shared the responsibility for those deaths.

Many in our society today do, in fact, equate what is legal with what is right. Many superficially conclude that anything the law approves must, therefore, be ethical.

What the caller suddenly realized, as she answered her fiancee’s question, is that the law is a teacher. It is the function of law to educate, to guide, to teach those in a civilized society how we should treat fellow members of our human family.

Abortion is not a matter of private morality, but a matter of public morality, because abortion violates the most fundamental right of another human being – the inalienable right to life itself, with which we are each endowed by our Creator.

It is not enough to be “personally opposed” to abortion but “pro-choice” – because abortion is not a victimless act. Each time an abortion is performed, a child dies.

Ray Siegfried helped us appreciate that fact by championing the defense of the unborn child during his lifetime. He knew that Notre Dame, Our Mother, was first the mother of God – the mother of Him Who, when He came to us, chose to do so as an unborn Child. Why did He come that way? What was He teaching us, if not the sacredness of motherhood and the value of the life of a child waiting to be born?

Will we reject the child in the womb, the way the innkeeper at Bethlehem did? Ray Siegfried didn’t. He understood clearly that everyone, from the moment of conception, is created in the image and likeness of the Christ Child.

Thank you for your wonderful example, Ray. May it continue to inspire us to do what you would have done. And may you rest in peace.

Tony Lauinger of Tulsa, Okla. was a lifelong friend of Ray Siegfried. He and his wife, Phyllis W. Lauinger, are the parents of six Notre Dame graduates and two current students. Tony is vice-president of the National Right to Life Committee.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.