Joe Scheidler: 83 Year Young Godfather of Pro-Life Activism and the Next Generation
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Planned Parenthood's scared to death now, that they're going to lose their funding...We're getting the young people and a lot of good, young priests. While you have life left in you, you've got to use it. I can't think of a better cause than saving babies' lives.
Some of the young who gathered outside of the event honoring Pro-Life hero Joe Scheidler in Chicago
P>CHICAGO, ILL (Catholic Online) - On Saturday, April 2, 2011, friends and colleagues of the man called both the "green beret" and the "Godfather" of Pro-Life activism, Joe Scheidler, gathered to honor his contributions at a Banquet Hall in Chicago. At 83 years young, this hero and defender of children in the womb is still going strong. Like those old Energizer Bunny commercials, he just keeps going and going and going. Now, he is training the next generation to continue the great human rights movement of our age; the movement to have the positive law of our Nation and all Nations recognize the Natural Law Right to Life.
Over the decades I have been inspired by - and crossed paths with - Joe Scheidler. I always think of one verse from GK Chesterton's "Ballad of the White Horse." "The men of the East may search the scrolls, For sure fates and fame, But the men that drink the blood of God, Go singing to their shame." Joe Scheidler is what we used to call "a Man's man," unafraid to confront evil, look it in the face and stare it down. How we need more men like him to carry forward this vital work.
At the foundation of his heroism is a strong Catholic faith instilled within him early on in a devout Catholic family. He served as an altar boy and wanted to devote himself to the Lord. In fact, he spent years in a seminary and entered a Benedictine monastery. However, he left after discerning that he was not called to consecrated celibacy but to marriage and family.
In 1965 he married the love of his life, Ann. The domestic church of the Scheidler home includes seven children. When his oldest son Eric struggled with the faith he had been raised and declared himself an atheist, this good father and man of faith offered his participation at Holy Mass and prayers for his prodigal son. Eric came home to the Catholic Church in 1997 and now serves as the Executive Director of the Pro-Life Action League founded by his father in 1980.
In a 2010 interview with the National Catholic Register, Eric described the distinct mission of the League in these words, "We're different from other pro-life organizations in that we encourage on-the-street activism. And not only are we on the street fighting abortion - we recruit and train others to do what we do. Our ultimate goal is to change the culture in which we live into a culture of life."
The Pro-Life Action League is headquartered in Chicago. It describes itself as a "national pro-life educational and activist organization" which is "dedicated to saving lives through activism and to bringing the abortion issue to the public via the media." Their work has been among the most effective front line work for all the years I have been involved in Pro-Life work. However, it has not been without controversy or opposition. There is nothing subtle about the Pro-Life Action League's work.
As a result, Joe has experienced intense opposition. He was accused of being a "racketeer" by the National Organization for Women and two Chicago area abortion clinics and sued in 1986. He was named as the chief defendant, along with the League and other pro-Life defendants in that case styled NOW v. Scheidler. He was found "guilty" of racketeering by a jury but the appeal went up and down the Court system two decades. It was overturned by the Supreme Court in February 2003. Then the National Organization of Women asked the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to undo the Supreme Court's decision. The Supreme Court heard the case again in November 2005 and issued a unanimous decision in favor of Joe Scheidler in February 2006.
I followed the case closely as a Pro-Life constitutional lawyer. I remember my utter shock when I realized that this man who should be hailed as a hero for trying to save innocent human lives was being dragged through the courts and accused of being a "racketeer." Yet, what has impressed me through all these years is that Joe kept up his defense of our smallest neighbors and his prayer on their behalf. This man will go down in history as one of the heroes of this Human Rights Movement. He has the kind of courage desperately needed in our age.
He persevered in doing what was right and stood up against intense opposition, defending the true Right, the Right to Life. After all, "the men that drink the blood of God, Go singing to their shame." Joe Scheidler has been doing this since 1973 when the United States Supreme Court issued their horrid rulings in the companion cases of Doe and Roe which in effect struck down the protection of the Right to Life of children in the womb in all fifty States.
So, on April 2, 2011 four hundred friends, family and fellow defenders of our first neighbors gathered to honor Joe. Outside Pro-Life defenders experienced the animosity of those who seek to perpetuate the lie of the abortion movement and hate the direct, uncompromising efforts of men like Joe Scheidler. Monica Miller from Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, another Pro-Life hero, helped with all of the planning for this event. The banquet received wide coverage in the Pro-Life Press. Catholic News Agency's Benjamin Mann wrote a piece entitled "Pro-life 'godfather' celebrated for 38 years of activism" which can be read in its entirety here Here are a few excerpts from Joe's comments on the event:
"We had a contingent of protesters outside, screaming their heads off," Scheidler recalled. "Then a group of kids came out, who called themselves the 'Crusaders.' There were about a hundred kids with yellow balloons that said 'LIFE' on them, and they rolled out a red carpet for us. It's a battle all the time. During the banquet, they were slicing the tires of people who had pro-life stickers on their cars. If it was a gay-rights group that was having a party, and somebody sliced their tires, they'd have the FBI on it. But they treat us like we deserve it."
"It was very touching for me to hear everyone - they had 23 speakers, for three minutes each, just saying how they got to know me. Many of them were there to say, 'You know, Joe got us started.'"
"I spent eight years in the seminary, and four years in the monastery, wanting to be a priest," he said. "But when I was preparing for ordination, I thought, 'Nope - this is not what I'm called to do.' And then suddenly, everything started to fall together. I read the Roe v. Wade decision, in 1973, and it was an atrocity - it was a great big lie. There is no 'constitutional right' to kill children. I was working as an account executive for a public relations firm at the time, and I just had to quit and do full-time pro-life work."
"I rented a cheap little office only a block from my house, and started from there. At that time you could go into the clinics to talk to the girls, and try to talk the doctors out of abortion. We'd pass out thousands of leaflets, and then we started making films of what we were doing.Then we found out how important it was to do sidewalk counseling, because we could talk a lot of women out of abortion. And I started doing a lot of speaking - I took 185 flights one year, running around the country and over to Ireland, Italy, Mexico, just trying to spread activism."
"It's one thing to work in the courts and the political arena - but that's going to take forever, and it's not going to stop abortion. You have to convert people. So that's my whole thing, to try and promote conversion...Number one, you pray. You have to pray all the time. I can't get through a day without Mass, the Rosary, spiritual reading, and meditation. And in between, you work harder than the devil. You need meditation, and prayer, and closeness to God. Christ has to stay on your mind - you offer everything to him, and join your suffering to his."
"We're gaining quite a bit. Planned Parenthood's scared to death now, that they're going to lose their funding...We're getting the young people. There are more and more of them coming out, and a lot of good, young priests. And all across the country, we're getting good, pro-life bishops.. While you have life left in you, you've got to use it. I can't think of a better cause than saving babies' lives."
This man is a Pro-Life Hero and he is 83 years young.
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