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Friday, January 09, 2009

Richard John Neuhaus, 1936–2009

In an Internet-driven world, news gets out very quickly. Even so, many of you may not know that Fr. Richard John Neuhaus died this morning. The following appeared on the web page of First Things, the very influential publication of which Fr. Neuhaus, a pro-life stalwart if ever there was one, was editor in chief...

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus slipped away today, January 8, shortly before 10 o'clock, at the age of seventy-two. He never recovered from the weakness that sent him to the hospital the day after Christmas, caused by a series of side effects from the cancer he was suffering. He lost consciousness Tuesday evening after a collapse in his heart rate, and the next day, in the company of friends, he died.

My tears are not for him--for he knew, all his life, that his Redeemer lives, and he has now been gathered by the Lord in whom he trusted.

I weep, rather for all the rest of us. As a priest, as a writer, as a public leader in so many struggles, and as a friend, no one can take his place. The fabric of life has been torn by his death, and it will not be repaired, for those of us who knew him, until that time when everything is mended and all our tears are wiped away.

Funeral arrangements are still being planned; information about the funeral will be made public shortly. Please accept our thanks for all your prayers and good wishes.

In Deepest Sorrow,
Joseph Bottum
First Things

This first appeared in the July 29, 1982, issue of National Right to Life News, it is a story Dave Andrusko wrote after Fr. Neuhaus delivered a speech to the 1982 NRLC convention.  To read Fr. Neuhaus's speech, please visit:

The Pro-Life Movement: Keepers of the American Dream

The Pro-Life Movement today stands as the principle defender of the historically radical belief that "every person has an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," Reverend Richard Neuhaus told an overflow audience at the 1982 NRLC National Convention.

Rebutting the stereotype of the Movement as a reactionary force Neuhaus argued that on the contrary the pro-life movement is radical, "not by virtue of how far out it is but by virtue of how deep and central is the question it raises." That question, which Neuhaus said is the beginning of all moral judgment and all just law, "is simply this" Who then is my neighbor?"

Neuhaus told his audience that the outcome to the debate over abortion is fundamental. Abortion is not merely one issue among many. The answer we give to that question, Neuhaus said, will "define the America that we pass on to our children…"

Neuhaus posed the options before our country in this way: "Will it be an America that is inclusive, embracing the stranger and giving refuse to he homeless? Or will it be an exclusive America in which we grasp what we have for ourselves and beat off those who call us to share?"

A humane and progressive society is marked by an evermore expansive definition of the human community for which we accept resistibility Neuhaus said. "The American people do not subscribe to the narrow and constrictive logic of Roe v. Wade that would exclude from that community those who fail to meet the criteria for 'meaningful human life,'" he said.

Neuhaus shrewdly observed that those who would presume to speak of "meaningful life," or "unloved children" are saying much more about themselves than they realize.

"If we say a life is without meaning, we are not saying something about that life; we are saying something about ourselves," he said. "Meaning is not ours to give or withhold. Meaning is there to acknowledge and revere."

Likewise, when people speak of a child that is unloved, "we are not saying something about these children; we are saying something about our failure to love," Neuhaus said.

Piercing the rhetoric that pro-lifers seek to "impose their morality," Neuhaus argued that "it is more accurate to say that our goal is to restore the legitimacy of law by bringing law back into democratic conversation with the convictions of the American people." That fundamentally necessary conversation was broken off by Roe v. Wade, Neuhaus said, "and among the victims of that broken conversation is the legitimacy of the law itself."

Pro-life initiatives would restore the opportunity to converse. Neuhaus noted that irony of those who oppose even the consideration of a human life amendment.

"Why do our opponents so distrust the judgment of the people?" he asked.

"Why are they so afraid of the democratic process? Are their numbers so few, are their arguments so weak, that they dare not expose their case to the light of public debate in the legislatures of this land?"

The authentic liberal vision of American, he said, is one that "is hospitable to the stranger, holding out arms of welcome to those who share the freedom and opportunity we cherish."

But, tragically, American, a land of immigrants, has closed its doors to the ultimate immigrant. Neuhaus said: the unborn child.

Those threatening newcomers "are stopped before they enter our line of moral vision," Neuhaus said. "They are stopped early, still in the darkness of the womb, before they can force us to recognize them as ourselves, before their all too person-like appearance can lay a claim upon our comfort and maybe upon our conscience."

In its Roe v. Wade decision, "the court invoked the darker side of our national character," he said. "We were given license, indeed encouragement, to close our heart to the stranger, to patrol the borders of our lives with lethal weaponry."

Later in his speech, Neuhaus again challenged the mythology that portrays pro-abortionists as a liberal, progressive force and the pro-life movement as an anti-liberal force. On the contrary, it is the members of the Movement who "are light keepers in a time of darkness."

Indeed, "You are not the defenders of an old order but the forerunners of a world yet to be," he noted. "What we would retrieve from the past is the promise of the future."

Neuhaus said he believes "this great testing of the American experiment" will prevail on the side of life. "And yet, if that hope is deferred for a time, we must not be discouraged," he said. "We are recruited for the duration, we must be long distance radicals; we must never give up.

Referring to the convention's theme [A New Birth of Freedom], Neuhaus concluded, "I do not know if there will again be a new birth of freedom--for the poor, the aged, the crippled, the unborn. But we commend this cause to the One who is the maker and the sure keeper of promises, to the Lord of life.

"In that commendation is our confidence: confidence that the long night of Roe v. Wade will soon be over; confidence that the court will yet be made responsive to the convictions of a democratic people; confidence, ultimately, in the dawning of a new and glorious day in which law and morality will be reconciled and liberty will no longer war against life."

Contact: Dave Andrusko

Source: National Right to Life
Source URL:
Publish Date: January 8, 2009
Link to this article:


The IFRL is the largest grassroots pro-life organization in Illinois. A non-profit organization, that serves as the state coordinating body for local pro-life chapters representing thousands of Illinois citizens working to restore respect for all human life in our society. The IFRL is composed of people of different political persuasions, various faiths and diverse economic, social and ethnic backgrounds. Since 1973 the Illinois Federation for Right to Life has been working to end abortion and restore legal protection to those members of the human family who are threatened by abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. Diverse though we are, we hold one common belief - that every human being has an inalienable right to life that is precious and must be protected. IFRL is dedicated to restoring the right to life to the unborn, and protection for the disabled and the elderly.   Click here to learn more about the IFRL.

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