Wednesday July 14, 2010

Global Pro-Life Movement Must Adopt Comprehensive Cultural Approach: A Conversation with Professor John Rao

By Hilary White

GARDONE RIVIERA, Italy, July 14, 2010 ( – The global pro-life movement must take a holistic approach to the society it is attempting to change, or it risks failure by compartmentalizing the issues into discrete and isolated topics, a professor of history told (LSN) last weekend. For Catholics, he said, this means adopting the complete and comprehensive tradition of the Church, without editing for political reasons. (read the complete interview here)

Dr. John C. Rao, who holds a doctorate in history from Oxford University and is associate professor of history at St. John’s University in New York City, gave an extensive interview to LSN on Saturday, in which he spoke of the need for the pro-life movement to understand the wide cultural parameters of the war it is in.

He said that “without the larger context,” that is, without examining and addressing the whole of the anti-life, anti-tradition, anti-rational culture, the pro-life movement “might be able to win temporary victories,” but its opponents will simply turn to new venues and methods.

“What counts for our opponents is the spirit that motivates them, and not particular mechanisms that they utilise to impose the consequences of that spirit. If Roe v. Wade were overturned, the spirit that leads people to desire abortion will try to find another way of introducing it.”

Anti-life forces, he said, “would utilize whatever tool worked at any given moment.”

“So if it was [political and economic] centralization in one country, they would use centralization. If it was decentralization, they would be decentralization. If the courts are the tool for being able to promote their goals … they would use the courts. But if the courts turned against them, they’ll emphasize the democratic spirit and argue that the courts are working against the popular will.”

Unless this hostile force “which dominates the whole culture, is opposed, and ultimately defeated in every sphere, it’s going to rear its head.”

“I would certainly not oppose overturning Roe v. Wade,” he added, “But I think it’s important to know that that’s not the end of the game. The murderers would not think they had to give up the battle – they’d find another way to deal with it.”

Dr. Rao was speaking from an annual symposium held in the foothills of the Alps in northern Italy where each year speakers address the philosophical, economic, historical and cultural trends that have re-shaped the world since the end of the Christian European era.

The Roman Forum was founded in 1968 by the renowned Catholic thinker Professor Deitrich Von Hildebrand in the aftermath of the backlash in the Church against Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. This encyclical letter defended the Christian view of the sanctity of life, conception and birth. This, Dr. Rao said, “was something so important that he felt that it needed a greater lay effort than existed at the time.”

In time, he said, “it became clear that in order to defend Humanae Vitae, and defend everything it stood for, there had to be a deeper defense of the entire tradition of the Church” – that is, not only the fullness of Catholic teaching on every aspect of human life, philosophy and doctrine, but also art, music and culture.

“Pope Benedict has made it clear that what has happened in the last 40 years has certainly not been helpful to the Church at all. As a consequence, what we’re doing is simply following along in the lines that he himself is emphasizing today.”

This holistic approach to tradition, he said, “is absolutely necessary in order to fight abortion, in order to fight contraception and everything else that was significant to us in the foundation of this organization.”

Conferences at the Roman Forum’s Italy symposium in Gardone Riviera cover a wide range of topics, but all centre on the consequences to life and family of the modern trends in these areas.

This year the Gardone symposium boasted representatives from eight countries, including England, Australia, Estonia, Poland, Austria, Italy and the U.S., most of whom are active in some way in pro-life activities in their home countries. The symposium’s chaplain for the last 18 years has been Monsignore Ignacio Barreiro, head of the Rome office of Human Life International. Bruno Quintavalle, a lawyer and founder of the UK political party Pro-Life Alliance, is another who attends every year.

“Every year” said Dr. Rao, the symposium is “filled with people who always see how each of these ‘border issues’ are essential to what they’re doing. So when they leave, they have more ideas about how to continue their work.”

“Everything fits together. You start trying to deal with one issue and you end up finding that you have to bring all the others into the picture,” he said.

For the future, the Roman Forum is working on ways to bring in people who are honestly seeking answers but who are not necessarily Catholic or Christian or committed to the traditional worldview. This “New Beginnings” approach, he said, faces the fact that “more and more people, as the situation deteriorates in all regards … are going to awaken to the fact that there is a big problem in the world.”

These, he said, are “not going to be necessarily part of different hostile groups that have existed historically, with whom we have an adversarial relationship. They’re going to be real seekers. And what we want to do is provide a forum, that we control, that we’re guiding, that is Catholic in character that might be able to give to such seekers some kind of welcome and guidance and friendship in a way that we can nevertheless direct to a real, clear, purposeful goal.

“We don’t want to end up being an ecumenical project that just simply asks people what they think and what they feel and the like. We have something to teach them, but we also want to do so recognizing that they’re honestly seeking answers.”

Read the full text of the interview here.

To find out more about the Roman Forum: