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Transcript: Fathers McBrien and Pavone
Written by Chris Wallace / Published May 17, 2009 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a rush transcript of the May 17, 2009, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Joining us now, two members of the church with sharply different views. Father Richard McBrien, a professor of theology at Notre Dame, supports the decision to honor the president. Father Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life, has been leading protests against Mr. Obama.
Gentlemen, as we said, Notre Dame has a long history of inviting presidents to speak there. Back in 2001, George W. Bush, the new president, spoke. And of course, as governor of Texas, that state had conducted 152 executions, which the church condemns.
Father Pavone, can't Notre Dame invite a president of the United States to speak without signing on to all of his policies?
FATHER FRANK PAVONE: We're not here disagreeing with the president because he contradicts Catholic teaching or what it means to be Catholic. The problem is he contradicts what it means to be president.
This is about abortion. And in 2008 there were 37 executions. Just today there will be 37 babies at 21 weeks of gestation or more — the size of a large banana — dismembered, crushed, thrown in the garbage. And the president is not raising his voice, recognizing their right to be protected. That's the problem.
WALLACE: Father McBrien, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says that abortion is a, quote, "intrinsic evil." Doesn't that put it in a — in a different category and make it even more unacceptable than other policies that go against church teachings?
FATHER RICHARD MCBRIEN: Sure, an intrinsic evil is worse than other what I call run- of-the-mill evils, but all of them are evils, and we can't let people off the hook just because they differ with the Catholic Church's official teaching on something which we regard as an intrinsic evil.
There are many things that the Catholic Church opposes as evils. And evil is evil whether it's intrinsic or not.
WALLACE: But, Father McBrien, one of the issues here — Father Pavone says it isn't just about Notre Dame, it's about President Obama as president.
But one of the issues here is what does it mean to be a Catholic university. In 2004, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said this, "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles." And yet President Obama's honorary degree to be awarded to him today says he is inspiring this nation to heal its divisions of religion, culture, race and politics in the audacious hope for a brighter tomorrow.
Father McBrien, Notre Dame's president says that this isn't an endorsement of Obama. It sure sounds like one.
MCBRIEN: Well, there's another sentence in that statement of the American bishops that should be quoted, and it said that those individuals should not be given awards, honors or platforms which suggest support for their actions.
And Father Jenkins, our president, has made it very clear that the honorary degree and inviting the president of the United States to address our graduates in no way suggests support for all of his positions, including his position on abortion and on embryonic stem cell research.
However, there are other — there are other positions he has taken, whether it's on immigration or poverty or whatever, which are entirely consistent with Catholic social teaching.
In fact, Mike — I mean, Chris — I'm talking about your dad — in fact, Chris, if we required 100 percent agreement with the Catholic Church's official teaching from everyone who speaks at or gets an honorary degree from a Catholic university, we would then not have any politicians of either party.
WALLACE: Father Pavone, do you think that Notre Dame inviting the president to speak at the commencement and to receive this honorary degree — and we just quoted from it. Do you think in some sense that endorses his position on a variety of issues, including abortion and stem cell research?
PAVONE: Well, it certainly says that we're honoring this man. Now, I don't think there's anybody in human history that you can say they don't have some positions right.
But all of us can think of positions that someone could take that would make us say they shouldn't be invited to speak at a Catholic university — for example, suppose they were an avowed racist or an advocate of terrorism.
The problem here is that we're trivializing abortion, and — but the people are speaking out. People are getting angry that 1.2 million children are being aborted every year. Now, this honorary doctorate today is a law degree. Law is for the protection of human rights.
The president admitted on the campaign trail he doesn't know when the child gets human rights. How can you defend human rights if you don't know who has them?
WALLACE: Let's talk about the president's policy since he's come into office, though, Father Pavone. He said in his last news conference that he's trying to, quote, "tamp down the anger over abortion."
Now, while he supports choice, he has brought pro-life advocates into the White House to talk about trying to decrease unwanted pregnancies and to increase adoptions.
While he has lifted the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, he has also limited that just to embryos that would have been discarded anyway from fertility clinics.
Do you see him in any way tamping down, trying to reach some kind of accommodation here?
PAVONE: Chris, can you imagine somebody saying about the clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that we should reduce the numbers of those instances but that it shouldn't be illegal?
We have to protect children. He's refusing to recognize that these children have rights. Now, I've held aborted children. I've buried them. I've picked up the broken fragments of their skulls. I don't know if Father McBrien has done that.
But the people around this country are tired of trivializing abortion. They're tired of mixed messages coming from Catholic institutions that are supposed to have a pro-life mission. We're tired of looking at abortion as just on an equal level with other issues. It's not.
And we're calling on the president to recognize that he doesn't have the authority to do anything except to strive to protect these children's rights, and he's denying that they even have them.
WALLACE: Father McBrien, do you feel that in any sense — do you give President Obama any credit for, in a sense, trying to tamp down the anger, or — and how to you intend to respond to the argument that the church says that the killing of children can never be justified? Doesn't that mean what it says?
MCBRIEN: Well, yes. And I agree with Father Pavone that we should never trivialize the outcome of abortions. I mean, they — the outcome is always very, very ultimate. It's serious.
But there are other life issues that we also have to take into account. And beyond that, we have to also acknowledge that the approach that has been taken by a number in the so-called pro-life movement, which is really a pro-birth movement, has not worked.
We're looking to reduce, significantly reduce, the number of abortions. They were — they were reduced under President Bill Clinton. They were increased under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
So it's not a question of a Democratic policy or a Republican policy. It's a question of identifying the causes that lead women to feel they have no alternative but to have an abortion and to deal with those issues, to deal with poverty, to deal with child care, to deal with all the issues that make abortion more attractive, if you will, or more compelling for many women who otherwise would not have an abortion.
WALLACE: Gentlemen, we've got less than two minutes left. With anything a president does, there's always a political component. I want to put up the latest Gallup poll which is interesting because for the first time in the history of Gallup surveys, it finds more Americans calling themselves pro-life than pro-choice.
Father McBrien — and I'm going to ask you both quickly to speak to this.
Father McBrien, how do you explain that?
MCBRIEN: I can't explain it. I'm not a pollster. But I'm pro- life, too. But my pro-life position, like the U.S. Catholic bishops in their official statements every four years prior to a presidential election, includes a whole spectrum of life issues.
So when one says one is pro-life, we have to be careful that it is not confined to pro-birth, that it is pro-life across the whole spectrum from conception to death.
WALLACE: And, Father Pavone, you get the last word. How do you explain that for the first time in its history, Gallup now finds more Americans describing themselves as pro-life than pro-choice?
PAVONE: Chris, it's easy to explain. I travel to four states a week as director of Priests for Life, which is the church's largest pro-life ministry, and I see the women and men who have had abortions speaking out in the Silent No More awareness campaign saying, "Hey, I regret my abortion. I regret killing my child."
The pain is making more people pro-life. And also, these young students, including those that invited me here today to lead them in an alternate commencement ceremony — they're aware, Chris, that they're survivors of abortion. It's very personal to them.
They were not protected when they were unborn. And today they're saying that that's got to change for our unborn brothers and sisters. We've lost thousands. We've lost friends. We've lost classmates. And they're speaking up all across the country.
The nation is becoming more and more pro-life because they're realizing a policy like we have, abortion on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy, is just not where the American people are today. It's not where they've ever been. The president's position on this is in the minority.
WALLACE: And, Father Pavone, very quickly, because you are going to be leading this alternative ceremony during the graduation in the grotto, a prayer vigil — very briefly, the 2,600 students receiving graduate or undergraduate degrees — how many do you expect to boycott the ceremony and come to your service?
PAVONE: That's a good question. I haven't heard any numbers, Chris. But I know that the ones who will be there represent a change that is coming across this country. We're going to see more of this in the months and years to come.
WALLACE: Father Pavone, Father McBrien, we want to thank you both so much. Thanks for helping us understand what the debate at Notre Dame today is all about.
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