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The Right to Life: The Courage of Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and the Condescension of Michael Sean Winters

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Carl Anderson is correct, the Right to Life should inform our vote

For his courageous defense of the Right to Life Carl Anderson received unjust criticism from Michael Sean Winters, a Washington columnist for the National Catholic Reporter and a visiting fellow at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. In a condescending article entitled, "The state of the race: Republicans and the Moral Life of our country", Winters pilloried both Anderson and the Knights to promote his own political agenda. I suggest that Michael Sean Winters does not like the position which the Knights of Columbus have taken in applying the principles offered in the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church to their citizenship and mission. He is numbered among a group which positioned themselves as the interpreters of this body of teaching for a very long time. They want to equate it with what was once called liberal and is now called "progressive" in the parlance of American political talk. Those days are over.

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - On Thursday, August 4, 2016, the Knights of Columbus concluded its 134th Supreme Convention. This year it was held in Toronto, Canada and took the missionary theme, Light to the Nations. Among the splendid presentations, was the homily of His Eminence, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington and the remarks of His Beatitude Ignatius Joseph III Younan, the Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church of Antioch, on Religious Freedom, the basis for Human Rights Advocacy for the Survival of Christians in the Middle East.

The bestowal of the Knights highest honor, the Gaudium et Spes Award, to the Little Sisters of the Poor, expressed gratitude for their courageous defense of the dignity of conscience against the hostile efforts of the Obama Administration to compel them to dispense contraception and abortion inducing pharmaceuticals and services. They stood firm in the faith, inspiring Christians across confessional lines. After visiting with the Little Sisters on his pastoral visit to the United States, Pope Francis wrote: "Precisely for the sake of this dignity of conscience, the Church strongly rejects the forced state intervention in favor of contraception, sterilization, and even abortion."

On August 2, 2016, Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson delivered his Annual Report presenting the contributions of the Knights globally to the mission of the Church. The Knights of Columbus is the world's largest Catholic family fraternal service organization, with over 1.9 million members. His service to both Church and Nation should be honored by anyone who loves the Church.

I do not personally know Carl Anderson, but we have met on several occasions. I benefited from two of his prior roles of service in pursuing my own vocation. I did my Master's Degree at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family of the Pontifical Lateran University in my continuing studies to enhance my ministry as a Deacon of the Church. He was the founding vice president and first dean of the Washington, D.C., session of this graduate school of theology, which is now located at The Catholic University of America, where I am now engaged in doctoral work in Moral Theology.

As a constitutional lawyer and public policy activist, I drew inspiration from his public witness  as a fellow Catholic Lawyer engaging in Public Policy work. He demonstrated professional excellence and continued to be a morally coherent Catholic. His service to the President of the United States during the nineteen eighties, and to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, provided a model for me of what it  means to integrate faith and life. As the popular adage goes, Carl Anderson has not only "talked the talk", he has "walked the walk".

In the speech Carl Anderson gave on August 2, 2016, he addressed multiple examples of the Knights of Columbus living the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church. The foundation for all of them is respect for the dignity of every human person created in the Image of God. He spoke of faithful citizenship, referring back to an address he gave in Quebec eight years ago. He quoted the words and said he stood by them:
"How should Catholics exercise their responsibilities as citizens?' Catholics often confront a dilemma in deciding how to vote: Can we support a candidate who may be attractive for many reasons but who supports abortion? Some partisan advocates have sought to excuse support for pro-abortion candidates through a complex balancing act.

"They claim other issues are important enough to offset a candidate's support for abortion. But the right to abortion is not just another political issue; it is in reality a legal regime that has resulted in more than 40 million deaths.

"Imagine for a moment the largest 25 cities in the United States and Canada - Including New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas and Vancouver - all of these cities - suddenly empty of people. This is what the loss of 40 million human beings would look like. In fact, 40 million is greater than the entire population of Canada.

"What political issue could possibly outweigh this human devastation? The answer, of course, is that there is none. Abortion is different. Abortion is the killing of the innocent on a massive scale. We need to end the political manipulation of Catholic voters by abortion advocates. It is time to end the entanglement of Catholic people with abortion killing. It is time to stop creating excuses for voting for pro-abortion politicians.

"We will never succeed in building a culture of life if we continue to vote for politicians who support a culture of death. Catholic voters have the power to transform our politics. Faithful Catholics can build a new politics that is not satisfied with the status quo but one that is dedicated to building up a new culture of life. If we truly hope for a culture of life and a civilization of love, then we must first think, and then act, in new ways."

However, the Supreme Knight continued,

"But today, I would add this. We must also think in new ways if we are to build a civilization of love. Last year, during our Supreme Convention in Philadelphia, I spoke about the racial murders that occurred in an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. At that time, I said, "Our nation owes these courageous Christians a debt of gratitude for showing us a noble path."

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"Tragically, since that time racial violence has continued in the United States. Just weeks ago the Knights of Columbus urged Catholics and others to join us in nine days of prayer for national healing and reconciliation. And this too is a most important demonstration of faithful citizenship: that in times of national tragedy we refuse to let the worst among us define who we are as a people.

"Faithful citizenship means that in times of tragedy we raise a standard of charity, of unity and of fraternity that can make possible forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. Faithful citizenship calls us to follow the "better angels of our nature" to build a better society. But to build a better society we must have the freedom to follow those angels.

"Pope Francis has warned that the encroachment on religious freedom in the West is a "polite persecution." This, he said, "Takes away from man and woman their freedom, as well as their right to conscientious objection."  More recently, he called for governments to have "a solid law guaranteeing religious freedom." He said, "People must be free to profess their faith at the heart of their own culture, not merely at its margins."

"At the same time, the pope has spoken about violent and deadly persecutions, saying: "Christians around the world are suffering the greatest part of this discrimination. The persecution of Christians today is even greater, the pope said, than in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs today than in that era."

"This summer, the Pew Forum reported that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world, with persecution occurring in 108 countries. Today, this persecution is seen most clearly in the Middle East. Christians there have been tortured, murdered, enslaved and driven into exile."

For his courageous defense of the Right to Life Carl Anderson received unjust criticism from Michael Sean Winters, a Washington columnist for the National Catholic Reporter and a visiting fellow at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. In a condescending article entitled, "The state of the race: Republicans and the Moral Life of our country", Winters pilloried both Anderson and the Knights to promote his own political agenda. I will turn to his article after setting a context for the position affirmed by Carl Anderson.


The Right to Life, with all of its political, economic, cultural and social implications and obligations, is not only a political issue. Nor are those who hold it and act consistently single issue voters. The Right to Life position is a moral worldview. It offers a lens through which we should view every political, cultural, social and economic issue. It should inform every aspect of our participation in society, especially the exercise of our citizenship. Carl Anderson is absolutely correct; it must inform the way we vote. His clarity is courageous and refreshing.  

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In 1947, C.S. Lewis addressed the decline of Britain in an insightful book entitled "The Abolition of man: How Education Develops Man's Sense of Morality." He warned of the subjective and relativist trends in the British educational system and reasserted the timeless moral truths of Christianity. Lewis called for a return to the classical Christian vision of the human person and the cultivation of virtues as the path to true human flourishing and freedom. He defined what he called "the chest" in this work as the "higher emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments or character." He wrote that without this "chest", men and women devolve into self-idolatry, losing their human dignity and true freedom.

The West is a mess, just as Lewis warned. Lewis' words are quite timely: "And all the time - such is the tragicomedy of our situation - we continue to clamor for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive,' or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity.' In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."

We desperately need "men with chests" in this urgent hour. Carl Anderson has proven himself to be numbered among them. The Right to Life is the foundation for every human right. The language routinely used in the political discussion surrounding legalized abortion in the United States reveals an Orwellian newspeak which is polluting our public discourse. Phrases such as "abortion rights" should be completely rejected by anyone who recognizes the fundamental Human Right to Life for what it truly is. Abortions do not have rights, only human persons have rights. The first among them is the Right to Life.

Every procured abortion is the taking of innocent human life and is always and everywhere intrinsically immoral and unjust. As Catholic citizens, we should have no confusion about this matter. The child in the womb has a Natural Law Right to Life. It is the current legislation and jurisprudence of the United States which fails to recognize it. Every law which fails to recognize the Right to Life is an unjust law. In an address to the Italian Pro-Life movement, Pope Francis put it this way, "Every civil right rests on the recognition of the first and fundamental right, that of life, which is not subordinate to any condition, be it quantitative, economic or, least of all, ideological."

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Without the right to life there are no other rights and the infrastructure of rights is thrown into jeopardy. Human rights are goods of human persons. When there is no human person to exercise them, all the rhetoric extolling them is nothing but empty air and sloganeering. There is a concerted effort by some to re-frame the pastoral empathy demonstrated by Pope Francis as suggesting that he wants to deny the primacy of the Right to Life as the polestar of the Social teaching of the Catholic Church. This is untrue.

We must stand in solidarity with those who have no voice. In his prophetic challenge to all of us to go into the peripheries, to oppose the culture of waste, and to remember that the Church is a field hospital, he brings a wonderful freshness to this vital work. In an address to Catholic Medical Associations on September 2013, Pope Francis put it this way, "A widespread mentality of the useful, the "culture of waste" that today enslaves the hearts and minds of so many, comes at a very high cost: it asks for the elimination of human beings, especially if they are physically or socially weaker. Our response to this mentality is a decisive and unreserved "yes" to life."

He continued, "The first right of the human person is his life. He has other goods and some are more precious, but this one is fundamental -the condition of all the others" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on procured abortion, 18 November 1974, n. 11). Things have a price and can be sold, but people have a dignity; they are worth more than things and are above price."

Francis is a Pro-Life Pope. He insists upon the restoration of the recognition of the Right to Life in the civil law. He offers a wonderful new framework within which to continue the work encouraged by his last two predecessors who were passionately Pro-Life. In his apostolic exhortation,The Joy of the Gospel, (Evangelii Gaudium) he wrote: 

"Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care, with particular love and concern, are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church's effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative.

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"Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems.

"Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offence against the creator of the individual.

"Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or 'modernizations'. It is not 'progressive' to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life." (Par. 213, 214)


The Pro-Life position is a solidarity position. Carl Anderson articulated this beautifully and the global missionary fraternal organization he leads demonstrates it in their work with the poor, in all of their manifestations. The child in the womb is our first neighbor. It is always and everywhere wrong to take the life of a neighbor. When there is no recognition of the preeminent Right to Life, there follows an erosion of the infrastructure of all human rights. Human rights do not exist in a vacuum; they are goods of the human person.

Our failure to recognize that our first neighbors in the womb have a right to be born and live a full life in our community undermines our claim to being a compassionate society. All the talk about compassion for the poor rings hollow when we fail to hear the cry of the ones whom Teresa of Calcutta rightly called the "poorest of the poor". We are responsible for one another. We are our brother and sister's keeper.

Medical science confirms what our conscience long ago told us. We routinely operate upon him or her in the womb. We send 4D ultrasound photos of him or her as they grow in that first home of the whole human race. These children are members of our human family. The fundamental human right to life also informs much in our criminal justice system. For example, in our criminal law, we prosecute someone who intentionally takes the life of a woman with child in a vehicular homicide for two criminal offenses. The irony is immediately obvious to anyone who is not blinded by the propaganda of those who oppose the Right to Life.

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Legalized abortion on demand is an open rejection of the ethic of being our brothers (and sisters) keeper. It rejects solidarity while still mouthing the word as a slogan. There can be no enduring lasting solidarity upon which to build a secure future in a culture that kills its own children and calls it a right. No politician or political candidate who advocates for legalized abortion, or for euthanasia, passive or active, should ever receive the support of Catholic Christians.

Catholic teaching on the Right to Life is not simply a "religious position". It is a truth revealed by the Natural Law and clearly confirmed by medical science. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, "The Natural Law is "present in the heart of each man and established by reason. This law is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties." (CCC. # 1956)

No other class of human beings can be killed as a matter of personal choice. This is because everyone knows that is wrong - just as everyone really knows that it is wrong to kill the unborn child through abortion, even if they continue to lie to themselves and use the language of deception to cover over the evil. Of course we must vote accordingly. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson was correct - and he was courageous -  in reaffirming the words he spoke eight years ago:

"Abortion is the killing of the innocent on a massive scale. We need to end the political manipulation of Catholic voters by abortion advocates. It is time to end the entanglement of Catholic people with abortion killing. It is time to stop creating excuses for voting for pro-abortion politicians."

Michael Sean Winters

Now, I will address what prompted me to write this article. Not only do I want to publicly thank and affirm Carl Anderson for his courageous stand on the Right to Life and its implications on how we must act politically, I want to publicly object to the way he was treated by a fellow Catholic named Michael Sean Winters.  Winters referred to the speech which the Supreme Knight gave as a "shocking speech" in his article in the National Catholic Reporter.

After reading the piece, I wondered if Winters had actually heard or read the Anderson speech? He used a few words, excerpted out of context, as a springboard for launching a screed against Republicans. Winters disagrees with the approach to the Social Teaching of the Church embraced by Carl Anderson - and others who do not agree with Winters. He has a right to contend with Carl Anderson, and others, especially in areas where prudential judgment and the application of the principles contained in the Social teaching of the Church are concerned. But he did not do that in this article.

Instead, he excerpted one quote and used it as a jumping off point from which to denigrate and disparage a fellow Catholic by associating him with everything Winters dislikes about what he considers to be "conservative" politics. For example, consider this sentence, "When Anderson refers to the Knights as "the strong right arm" of the Church, the emphasis is on the word "right." The sentence is trite and condescending.

Perhaps there is something else behind this temper tantrum of an article? If so, it would still not justify such treatment of a fellow Catholic. Winters sets up a faithful Catholic leader as a straw man and then hurls invective against him. Toward the end of the article, one reason he may have used Carl Anderson as a straw man finally emerges. Winters really doesn't like Donald Trump.

He writes, "My principal interest in Anderson's speech, however, is that I fear it is reflective of how many of my conservative Catholic friends will respond to the Trump phenomenon. They will revert to default mode, as if the rise of Trump does not tell us something deeply disturbing about our polity. They will continue to isolate abortion, failing to recognize that such isolation does not persuade those not already convinced."

Apparently, Winters had a political motive for writing the article. Earlier, he referred to what he called "Anderson's political baggage". What about his own?

He continued to opine with his poison pen, "We all have baggage, but why should the entire Catholic hierarchy be saddled with Anderson's particular baggage? Because he has the money? The Knights have the money but the Knights are well advised to seek a new supreme knight who has no political baggage, who knows how to run a charitable organization and an insurance company, but who did not cut his teeth working for a senator or a president."

So, after assailing Carl Anderson, while really wanting to tear down those pesky conservatives, Republicans and supporters of Donald Trump, Winters ended by throwing a bone to the Knights of Columbus. It was an attempt to make it seem as though he was not mudslinging in the article. "I am glad the Knights do such great charitable work. But, it is a scandal that they also get involved in politics in ways that frustrate, and do not advance, the concerns of their members and the moral vision of the Church they love."

Really, Mr. Winters? A scandal? Who made you the arbiter of how Catholic citizens get involved in politics? Who gave you the authority to make such an assertion? The Knights of Columbus most certainly advancing the moral vision of the Church!

I suggest that Michael Sean Winters does not like the position which the Knights of Columbus have taken in applying the principles offered in the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church to their citizenship and mission. He is numbered among a group which has positioned themselves as the interpreters of this body of teaching for a very long time. They want to equate it with what was once called liberal and is now called "progressive" in the parlance of American political talk.

Those days are over.

Rescuing the Social Teaching

Prior to 2004, the phrase the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church referred to the teachings found in the Sacred Scriptures, expounded upon in the Christian tradition, developed in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, explained within a contemporary series of encyclical letters, apostolic letters and exhortations, and summarized in some sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, many Catholics and other Christians had not read many of these sources for any number of reasons. Thus, what sometimes claimed to be the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church was closer to being the spin of self-appointed experts, some of whom have had their own political, cultural, social or economic theories and agendas.

On April 2, 2004, the Memorial of Saint Francis of Paola, Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, then President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace released the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of Church. It was exactly what had been lacking. It contains a very readable summary of centuries of teaching and sets forth the themes of that rich Social teaching of the Church for all men and women.

I recommend the Compendium when I preach or teach concerning areas of social concern. I believe every Catholic home should have a paper copy of this resource book right next to their Bible and Catechism. I respectfully suggest this to the many Christians of other communities with whom I work in social causes and whom I increasingly address in joint public forums.

I am often asked after speaking where I get some of the insights I share. I explain the Compendium, its sources and its purpose. It should the place we go to find the assistance we need to be faithful to our mission in the work of influencing the culture for the true common good.  Rather than accept what some self appointed expert tells us is Catholic Social teaching, we should inform our own minds, hearts, lifestyles and social participation by the real deal.

The Social Teaching of the Catholic Church offers principles which can help to steer western culture away from the path of self-destruction it is on. It is not only for Catholics, other Christians or even just religious people. It is for all people and all Nations. It is offered by the Church to those who seek to build a truly just society and promote the real common good.

This teaching is called social because it speaks to human society and to the formation, role and rightful place of social institutions. Many of these truths and principles can be known by all men and women because they are revealed in the Natural Law and then expounded upon in Revelation.The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church explains:

"The exercise of freedom implies a reference to a natural moral law, of a universal character, that precedes and unites all rights and duties. The natural law "is nothing other than the light of intellect infused within us by God. Thanks to this, we know what must be done and what must be avoided. This light or this law has been given by God to creation. It consists in the participation in his eternal law, which is identified with God himself.

"This law is called natural because the reason that promulgates it is proper to human nature. It is universal; it extends to all people insofar as it is established by reason. In its principal precepts, the divine and natural law is presented in the Decalogue and indicates the primary and essential norms regulating moral life. Its central focus is the act of aspiring and submitting to God, the source and judge of everything that is good, and also the act of seeing others as equal to oneself. The natural law expresses the dignity of the person and lays the foundations of the person's fundamental duties." (Compendium # 140)

This Natural Law is more fully revealed through faith and revelation. However, truths such as the dignity of every human person at every age and stage of life are knowable through the exercise of reason and binding on all. The Right to Life informs the Christian position concerning respect for every human life; whether that life be in the first home of the womb, a wheelchair, a jail cell, a hospital room, a hospice, a refugee boat, a senior center or a soup kitchen.

In his report - and in his speech- Supreme Knight Carl Anderson showed a through grasp of the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church. He also outlined with great specificity the ways in which the 1.9 billion members of the Knights of Columbus are putting that teaching into faith informed, authentic social action. I thank the Lord for Carl Anderson and for the Knights of Columbus.

On the Right to Life, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson confronted the condescension of Michael Sean Winters and emerged victorious. He is to be commended.
Deacon Keith Fournier is the the Founder and Chairman of the Common Good Foundation and a  member of the Catholic clergy, a Deacon of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Virginia,who has been ordained for twenty years. He and his wife Laurine have been married for forty years and have five grown children and seven grandchildren. Fournier is a constitutional lawyer who served as the first and founding Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice in the 1990's. He appeared as co-counsel in cases before the United States Supreme Court on Pro-Life, Religious Freedom and Pro-family issues. He ministers in the Catholic Church and the broader Christian community. He serves as the Editor in Chief of Catholic Online and does the Daily Readings, narrates their growing library of prayers. He will soon launch two series for the Catholic Online YouTube Channel and the California Network. He is a senior contributing writer to THE STREAM and writes The Common Good with Deacon Fournier Column for the Catholic News Agency.


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