Father Ted Colleton looks back on a life of service to the pro-life cause
To be published in the August 2007 edition of The Interim newspaper, Canada’s national pro-life newspaper
Campaign Life Coalition national president, International Right to Life Vice-President and Interim editorial advisory board member Jim Hughes interviewed pro-life personality and long-time columnist Fr. Ted Colleton on April 3 at La Salle Manor in Toronto. Fr. Ted has "retired" from pro-life work and will return to Ireland later this year, but not before looking back at the pro-life movement and his contributions to it.
Interim: Father, The Interim newspaper is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In your opinion, what impact has The Interim had?
Fr. Ted: Well, as far as I know, it has informed people in different places, particularly the people in and around Toronto, of what a terrible thing the murder of millions of babies over the past number of years has been and we hope that it has had a great effect in stopping at least some of the terrible crimes of the murder of unborn babies.
Interim: You were a regular columnist with The Interim since almost its inception in 1983. You were also one of the people responsible for keeping The Interim alive. The late Joe Borowski contributed by purchasing large quantities of the newspaper each month and then distributing them free of charge in Manitoba. And you, through the sale of your books and going out speaking and selling the books, brought in over $1 million. What kind of response did you receive over the years to the books and to the columns that you wrote?
Fr. Ted: As far as I know, they made a very good impression. People often spoke to me about them and they seemed to enjoy the book, which is simply just the story of my own life in Africa, and I understand that it brought in quite a lot of money to The Interim, which was necessary, because it isn’t easy to keep an organization like that going. We needed funds for it and I think that the book did some good.
Interim: How did you get started writing columns for The Interim?
Fr. Ted: I’m not, by any means, a great writer, but I think it was the first editor who asked me to write about action that people needed to take and I started giving it some thought and reading up on it, in order to write a column each month, but I always took the stand that abortion is the murder of a true human being.
Interim: What do you see as having been the biggest problem in the 30-plus years you spent battling abortion here in Canada?
Fr. Ted: It’s difficult to say ... I think perhaps the church was at some kind of loss to impress on people what a terrible thing the murder of thousands and thousands of babies is and I think it’s a pity that it couldn’t have done more. I think, perhaps, we didn’t realize ourselves - we Catholics, who perhaps should have realized more than anybody else, because it is the teaching of the church on the matter - but I’m not sure that we did as much as we really could have and we began to take abortion for granted. We knew that there were abortuaries around the country where babies were being murdered - and murdered is the word - and I think we began to get too used to that and to consider the people who stood outside the abortuaries and who took a stand against abortion as being peculiar people who should have minded their own business. So, I think while some people did a great deal, there were thousands and thousands who really didn’t do what they should have done to stop this terrible crime in our country.
Interim: I know that in writing your columns, you were highly critical of Catholic politicians, like Dalton McGuinty, the premier of Ontario, and Paul Martin and Jean Chretien, both former prime ministers of Canada. You also drew some ire when you called abortion murder and the people said that you can’t call it murder because the unborn are not really human beings. You have been really strong in your insistence that, first of all, Catholic politicians told a lie and should be held accountable for their actions and secondly, that abortion is really the murder of human beings.
Fr. Ted: Well, I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think that there is any doctor, whether pro-abortion or against abortion, who would not admit that the baby in the mother’s womb, from the moment of conception, is a human being. In other words, the baby has a body and a soul and has a mind - even though it may not work yet - but nevertheless, it is as truly a human being as you and I and the Pope in Rome and the Queen of England ... We’re all different in our different ways, but that doesn’t mean that we are not human beings with the same right to life as every human being has.
Interim: Could you address the issue of the Catholic politicians and what the Catholic politicians have done here in Canada?
Fr. Ted: We’ve had some very good politicians who have taken some very good stands, such as Tom Wappel and people like that, but I think we’ve had many politicians who haven’t done what they should have done.
Interim: During the time of Operation Rescue, you got thrown in the clink and you spent considerable time in jail. Do you think that the time spent there helped to really reawaken a lot of people about the seriousness of the issue?
Fr. Ted: I hadn’t thought about it, but I suppose that it did. Being in jail, of course, is supposed to be a disgrace, but it is not a disgrace to be in jail for the faith, you might say, and for the defence of babies - I think there should be far more people who should be ready to do that. Being in jail is a humiliation to some extent, but I didn’t even consider that. After all, our Lord was in jail - he was a prisoner and then crucified. And there have been many other people, such as Dr. Ray Holmes, a great friend of mine, and Rev. Ken Campbell, and Fr. Alphonse de Valk, who went to jail and were in jail for some time and had to suffer for it. And I think that if I were condemned to death - to be hanged or beheaded - I hope that I would be able to accept that, in defence of the thousands and thousands of babies who were, and still are, being murdered here in Canada.
Interim: What were some of your most memorable moments in the pro-life movement in Canada? You mentioned spending time in jail for the cause of the unborn and so many presentations that you gave right across the country - you must have met people who were considering abortion and who were moved as a result of what you had to say. I remember being with you at a Life Chain when a young couple came up and began speaking to you and it was through whatever you said to them, that they went away changed - their whole attitude changed.
Fr. Ted: These things didn’t happen as often as we’d like, but they did happen. When we were standing outside an abortuary, one of Morgentaler’s abortuaries, we would have women come by who wanted to go into the abortuary - now many of them just walked past us, but we tried to stop them as politely and gently as we could - and some would change their minds, though not as many as we’d like. In fact, a wonderful book, written by Grace Petrasek, has been published about the miracles that have actually happened outside the abortuary - wonderful stories about people entering the Aid to Women offices instead of the abortuary next door and, after having spoken with the staff at Aid to Women, changed their minds - dozens of babies were saved, possibly hundreds. The book (House of Miracles) is certainly worth reading.
Interim: What keeps you going? Here you are at 93, you’re going to be 94 on July 20, and you’re saying that you’ve got to continue to do something to stop this crime? What keeps you going?
Fr. Ted: I hope it’s my faith, and it’s about every baby having exactly the same right to life as I have, and if their right is not being defended by the police or the government, then it’s up to us as Christians to be ready to give our own lives, if necessary, in order to save even one baby’s life. That may sound ridiculous, but to me it’s simply the truth. We’ve got to take a stand for God and for these babies.
Interim: You’ve taken a lot of flak over the years for your stand. I remember at one church some people even spoke up during Mass against what you had to say and from time to time, there have been bishops who have said to you, "Ted, be more prudent." And you would say, "Look, bishop, these babies are being killed." What was your most challenging moment in the pro-life movement? Was it trying to relate to those who were asleep on the issue?
Fr. Ted: I think that every bishop should take a strong stand against abortion. Some bishops, such as Bishop Nicola De Angelis, Bishop Adam Exner and Archbishop Fred Henry, have certainly taken a strong stand on the matter. I think every bishop should take a strong stand at the foot of the Cross, as it were, on this issue of abortion. Certainly, some bishops have, as have many, many parish priests across the country. After all, every Sunday, we have hundreds and hundreds of people listening to a priest talking and I don’t mean that we should make abortion the only subject of our homilies, but we should never allow it to be forgotten.
Interim: After 30 years in the missions in Africa, you were asked unceremoniously by the president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, to leave the country and then you’ve done missionary work here in Canada for about the equivalent amount of time. Do you have regrets about coming to Canada?
Fr. Ted: (chuckling) Maybe Canada has, but I don’t think I have. I like Canada itself very much. Now, I loved Africa. I was dismissed from Africa by President Jomo Kenyatta who had taken over from the British, simply because I had stood up to him on certain cases. But I have no regrets about being here. I love Canada itself.
Interim: In Africa, you talked about the eagerness of the children to learn and I know that you’ve spent a lot of time in schools talking to children. Over the past 30 years, have you noticed any difference in the attitudes of the children in Canada? In your time here in Canada, going to various schools in the last 30 years, what has your experience been?
Fr. Ted: Well, to go back to Africa, I was in Kenya for 30 years with the people there and I was teaching. I was the principal of schools there and pastor in charge of missions and I had never - this was 40 or 50 years ago - I had never heard of an abortion being committed in Africa. Now, there were things being done in Africa - certainly a lot of attacks on young girls by boys and, for instance, a man could have four or five or six wives (and) one chief even had 15 - but I had never heard of an abortion being committed, the idea of killing a baby. This was among Africans who didn’t believe in the church, maybe didn’t believe in Christ, but they all believed in God. I never met an African who was an atheist. They all believed in God. In Canada, I used to talk mainly in Grade 8 classes and I’d like to thank the principals who always allowed me to do so. I think there was only one principal who wouldn’t let me speak, because I had condemned abortion, and this was a Catholic principal. I’d show the children pictures of babies in their mothers’ wombs and it was obvious that the baby was a human being. Now, I wasn’t the only speaker, but I think that speaking in the schools did a great deal to help them understand.
Interim: The situation in Canada is not much different from countries around the world with no law prohibiting abortion or limiting it. Should we be looking to countries such as Ireland for leadership on the issue? What’s the situation in Ireland?
Fr. Ted: I’m hesitant to comment on that without having all the information, but I know Ireland is not the Ireland I’d like it to be regarding abortion. It is not the most pro-abortion country in Europe, but I’m sorry to say that there have been abortions in Ireland, too. I haven’t lived in Ireland for perhaps some 60 years, although I have visited, but you don’t always get the full picture on a visit or meet the people you’d like to meet to discuss the situation there.
Interim: You’ve made many friends here in Canada over the last 30 years and you’re talking now about the possibility of retiring to Kimmage Manor in Ireland. With so many friends here in Canada, how do you - and they - feel about that?
Fr. Ted: (amused) I don’t know how my friends would feel, but I’m sure they’re not going to be terribly upset over my leaving here. I’ve made many friends in Canada and I think I’ve made many enemies. There are certainly many people whom I admire so much here in Canada. I turn 94 in July. I think I can’t do the work I was doing and I don’t know whether it was good work or not. If I were to go home to Ireland, it would probably be to a house there for retired priests and I would simply be going there and living in retirement - too old to teach in schools or work in parishes or to work in general - I would be praying of course; what you’re trying to do is to save your own soul and hope to save others.
Interim: You were a catalyst in starting Business for Life with Tom Fritz and his brother, Pat, and Steve Cuneo and Jimmy Holmes and others. They’ve done such a fine job of raising funds for the pro-life cause and that’s got to be one of your major accomplishments.
Fr. Ted: I think I’d be boasting if I said that it was my accomplishment. There was Ray and Rita Holmes, Jimmy and Pat Holmes, Tom and Anne Fritz, Steve and Pauline Cuneo, and many others who have taken a lead stand on this.
Interim: It was as a result of your homily in his church in Chestow, Ont. about pro-life work that Tom Fritz came to you after Mass and said, "You know, Father, I was planning to spend my money on a boat and now you’ve made me change my mind. What is it that I can do for the cause?"
Fr. Ted: You’ve reminded me of something that I’d totally forgotten and it would be pride on my part, but what you have said is true. Tom Fritz and his wife got in touch with me and he said that he was planning to spend a sum of money on a boat for the summer. He was a successful businessman and he said, "You’ve made me change my mind and I’m going to put that money into something to stop abortion." He has done wonderful work and used his money to try to stop abortions. He hasn’t been perfectly successful, as none of us has been, but it was a wonderful thing that the Holy Spirit inspired me to mention it there. I don’t even know what I went to preach about. I think the priest just said, "Ted, would you give a homily at Sunday Mass tomorrow?" And that’s how it happened.
Interim: What’s your final word to The Interim? The Interim spun off LifeSite Daily News, which is electronic news that you can access every day. What’s the final word that you would pass on to the readers of The Interim and LifeSite News and to John-Henry Westen and Steve Jalsevac of LifeSite News and Paul Tuns of The Interim?
Fr. Ted: I think we’ve had editors in the past, too, but Paul Tuns has done a great job at The Interim, together with Steve Jalsevac and John-Henry Westen at LifeSite News and many other people as well. To produce a paper every month or the news every day is not easy, but I think they’ve done a very good job. I’d say that all the churches, especially the Catholic parishes, should try and promote The Interim and encourage people to read even one or two articles, to keep in mind the fact that the baby in its mother’s womb has exactly the same right to life as the Holy Father or the Queen of England.
I was very pleased to be able to contribute to The Interim and I wish The Interim and LifeSite News continued success. I will keep them and Campaign Life Coalition in my prayers, together with the cause of the unborn.
Interim: Thank you, Father Ted. Thank you for everything.
See The Interim newspaper at http://www.theinterim.com/2007/june/index.html