Ray Flynn: A Real Pro-Life Catholic Democrat

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Following the Bart Stupak betrayal, several pundits declared the end of the pro-life Democrat. For months, Congressman Stupak and a small group of Catholic House members had held out against Obamacare, insisting it be stripped of funding for abortion. But when the bill returned from the Senate with abortion funding intact, Stupak revealed himself to be a “hollow man” and caved in to pressure from the White House.

Yet there remain within the Democratic Party men and women who deserve the support and recognition of the pro-life community. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) remains strongly pro-life, for one, and I still have hopes for newly elected Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), in spite of his vote against the Obamacare repeal.

But the man all pro-life Democrats should be looking to for leadership is former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn. Flynn served as mayor from 1987 to 1993, before President Bill Clinton appointed him ambassador to the Holy See.

Before I ever met Flynn, I had heard the story of his return from the Vatican in an attempt to meet with Clinton after the president had vetoed the partial-birth abortion bill. I’m told Ambassador Flynn waited for hours outside the Oval Office, though I could never confirm whether he was finally able to speak with Clinton.

But I saw firsthand evidence of Flynn’s pro-life commitment the night I attended a dinner in San Francisco in honor of Archbishop William Levada, before the archbishop left to head up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

It was August 2005, and the San Francisco hotel ballroom was crammed full, with more than 2,300 attendees there to honor the archbishop. I sat at a table with my friends Bill and Marjorie Campbell, and we all watched and listened as one city or state official after another paid tribute to Archbishop Levada — but not without some jibe about his protests against abortion and his opposition to same-sex marriage.

The archbishop took it all in with a friendly smile, but as the evening wore on, I wondered whether anyone was going to pay him the tribute he really deserved. After all, he was the archbishop who had stood up for life and marriage in one of the most liberal cities in the country.

Then to the podium came Ray Flynn, who until that time I had not noticed in the room. Flynn got right to the point. Instead of making a joke out of the archbishop’s witness, he called it “courageous,” thanking him for defending life and marriage in a city where these positions usually provoke public ridicule and sometimes worse.

The crowd had to listen to Flynn; and as he was a lifelong Democrat, a former mayor of Boston, and Vatican ambassador, they had to respect him. Flynn knew firsthand the price to be paid for being pro-life in the stronghold of the Democratic Party. His speech on that occasion remains for me one of the most powerful Catholic testimonies I’ve ever witnessed.


I was reminded of Flynn’s remarkable speech today
when I received an email from him containing remarks he made at the dedication of the Pope John Paul II Hall at the Polish Community of Our Lady of Czestochowa Roman Catholic Church in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Bishop Robert Hennessy presided at a special Mass at Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, and Marek Lesniewski-Laas, honorary consul of the Republic of Poland, delivered greetings from the Polish government. But Flynn, who was born in the neighborhood, spoke personally of the Holy Father he got to know so well while serving at the Vatican:

I spoke with the pope on numerous occasions and traveled to several countries with him, but his personal kindness to my family will be what I will always be most grateful for. I was with him in Boston long before he became Pope, and was in Rome when he died.

When Pope John Paul II is beatified on May 1, 2011, in Rome, thousands of Americans will travel to the Vatican to witness the special event, while millions more will watch on Catholic television. Young people need to be reminded of the very positive impact that John Paul II had on our culture and society. He spoke out on issues when it wasn’t very popular, and reminded us about the dignity of every person.

Ray Flynn is a Democrat who embodies precisely what he admired so much about John Paul II — a man who speaks the truth to a society that doesn’t want to hear it.

Deal W. Hudson

By

Deal W. Hudson is ​publisher and editor of The Christian Review and the host of "Church and Culture," a weekly two-hour radio show on the Ave Maria Radio Network.​ Formerly publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine for ten years, his articles and comments have been published widely in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and U.S. News and World Report. He has also appeared on TV and radio news shows such as the O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes, NBC News, and All Things Considered on National Public Radio. Hudson worked with Karl Rove in coordinating then-Gov. George W. Bush's outreach to Catholic voters in 2000 and 2004. In October 2003, President Bush appointed him a member of the official delegation from the United States to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of John Paul II's papacy. Hudson, a former professor of philosophy for 15 years, is the editor and author of eight books. He tells the story of his conversion from Southern Baptist to Catholic in An American Conversion (Crossroad, 2003), and his latest, Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States, was published in March 2008. He is married to Theresa Carver Hudson, also a Baptist convert, and they have two children, Hannah and Cyprian who was adopted from Romania in 2001.

  • John Brown

    If he’s so prolife why is he a member of the party of slavery, Marxism, KKK, and abortion?

    (Note: this does not let the Republicrats, who ignore their own party’s platform, off the hook)

  • Dan Deeny

    I’m glad to hear that Amb. Flynn is pro-life. We must all pray for him. As a pro-life Democrat, he must be a very lonely man.

  • minerva’s owl

    In the last election, 14 pro-life Democrats lost to Republicans. It’s a mistake to label one party as pro-life and the other as pro-abortion. After the election, DFLA (Democrats for Life of America)bemoaned the defeat of many pro-life Democrats, in the midst of the Republican upsurge. Their list includes the following:
    Congressman Alan Mollohan (D-WV);

    Congressman Barry Bright (D-AL);

    Congressman Chris Carney (D-PA);

    Congressman Travis Childers (D-MS);

    Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA);

    Congressman Lincoln Davis (D-TN);

    Congressman Steve Dreihaus (D-OH);

    Congressman Brad Ellsworth (D-IN);

    Congressman Barron Hill (D-OH);

    Congressman Paul Kanjorski (D-PA);

    Congressman Jim Marshall (D-GA);

    Congressman Charlie Melancon (D-LA);

    Congressman Jim Oberstar (D-MN);

    Congressman Ike Skelton (D-MO);

    Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS); and

    Congressman Charlie Wilson (D-OH).

  • Rob

    I’m glad that John Brown is playing the Rum, Rebellion and Romanism card. No wonder so many Know Nothings joined the GOP–and why Pio Nono wove a crown of thorns for Jefferson Davis. Look, the facts are simple. The Republicans talk the talk–but they don’t walk the walk. Don’t buy the Grand Old Pravda. Ronald Reagan set back the cause of life for a generation by naming O’Conner and Kennedy to the bench. And is Scalia pro-life? He wants to leave it to the states–let them determine it. Stephen Douglas and popular sovereignty live!

  • bdk

    This is the same Ray Flynn who boasted after leaving the primary polls in the last election that he voted for Hilary.

  • Kathryn

    Didn’t pro-life hero Rick Santorum stump for Arlen Spector?

  • Brian English

    “In the last election, 14 pro-life Democrats lost to Republicans.”

    How many of those Democrats voted for Obamacare?

    “It’s a mistake to label one party as pro-life and the other as pro-abortion.”

    I know Democrats for Life like to claim that, but how can you seriously maintain that position? The contrast is really startling when you look at the votes on the Partial Birth Abortion Act (basically legislation to prevent infanticide):

    House: 218 Republicans and 63 Democrats in favor; 4 Republicans, 163 Democrats and 1 Independent opposed.

    Senate: 47 Republicans and 17 Democrats in favor; 3 Republicans, 30 Democrats and 1 Independent opposed.

    There may be individual Democratic members of Congress who are pro-life, but the leadership of that party is stridently in favor of abortion.

  • Brian English

    “The Republicans talk the talk–but they don’t walk the walk.”

    What pro-life initiatives did Republicans fail to support? Do you know who Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito are?

    “Ronald Reagan set back the cause of life for a generation by naming O’Conner and Kennedy to the bench.”

    I have to grant you O’Connor. Reagan wanted to name the first woman to the Court and O’Connor’s statement that she found abortion morally repugnant was enough for him to disregard objections to her by pro-lifers.

    Kennedy was the result of there not being enough Republicans in the Senate. Bork was Reagan’s initial choice for that seat, and if he had been confirmed, Roe would have been overturned in 1992 in Casey.

    “And is Scalia pro-life? He wants to leave it to the states–let them determine it. Stephen Douglas and popular sovereignty live!”

    Pro-life is not the issue for Justices of the Court — Original Intent is. Original Intent Justices will get the issue back to the states, where people can have some say on the issue. If you are waiting to get a majority of Justices on the Court who will rule that under the Constitution an unborn child is a person for constitutional purposes, Jesus is going to return before you get that.

  • anonymous

    I greatly admire any democrat who has the courage to speak up against abortion, and I’m tired of the issue of abortion being tied to one party or another. It is difficult to be a pro-life democrat, since in most elections, I must give my support to someone I completely disagree with on everything except for morals. It disturbs me that in today’s society, someone who is in favor of universalized health care or the Dream Act must be pro-choice. In fact, last January, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I attended a local march for life at my state’s capitol. The speakers included three or four republican state representatives, who talked about eliminating public funded abortions and outlawing abortion all together, but they also talked about how republicans had just taken control of the House, and how soon they will have complete control, which disturbed me.

    To sum it all up, as a democrat greatly influenced by my Catholic faith, I have a great admiration for any democratic politician who goes against cultural norms related to the usual morals of their party, to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

  • Mark

    “Proud to be a Pro-life Democrat” – anonymous

    = priceless

  • DonH

    You Democrats are fooling yourselves. How can you be a documented member of a pro abortion group and call yourself pro life??? Have you looked at the party platform at all in the last 30 years? Here is how the 2008 version starts out:

    “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.”

    Have to say that this is 100% at odds with the Catholic Church. How can one honestly consider themselves a member of both???

  • Martin

    If you are a pro-life Democrat you’re in the wrong party!

    If you are serious about being pro-life and you don’t want to be a Republican or an independent

  • Rob

    So, I take it then Mr. English you would prefer to see something along what Ron Paul backs–leave it to each state to determine if abortion should be legal or not. I grant you that such a system would be much better than the current one but remains flawed and one that a Catholic could not support. Such a system would also lead to other concerns. What passes for marriage in New York or Utah would be quite different than what passes for the traditional definition of marriage embraced by the Church.

    I am aware of Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. I am also aware of Justice O’Conner. And Kennedy. And Souter. And John Paul Stevens. And Burger, Brennan, Potter Stewart, Blackmun and Powell–all five were appointed by Republican presidents and proved to be decisive in backing Roe vs. Wade.

    I am glad you like your GOP. I am happy with my GOD.

  • Brian English

    “So, I take it then Mr. English you would prefer to see something along what Ron Paul backs–leave it to each state to determine if abortion should be legal or not. I grant you that such a system would be much better than the current one but remains flawed and one that a Catholic could not support.”

    That is the best we are going to get in this world. Do you believe we should not save any because we cannot save all? How do you propose we go about getting abortion banned in the entire country? I would be very interested in hearing your theory.

    “John Paul Stevens. And Burger, Brennan, Potter Stewart, Blackmun and Powell–all five were appointed by Republican presidents and proved to be decisive in backing Roe vs. Wade.”

    First, you failed to identify the pro-life initiatives Republicans have failed to support.

    Second, you really want to fault Republican Presidents for nominations that were made before abortion was presented as an issue to the Court? And as far as Souter goes, he is another example of what you get when the Democrats control the Senate.

    “I am glad you like your GOP. I am happy with my GOD.”

    Is that the new catch phrase for those who support the Party of Death, either directly or indirectly? It is catchy.

  • MarylandBill

    On economic issues, I tend to believe the Democrats have it right (Anyone who calls most Democratic ideas socialism or communism essentially prove they don’t understand socialism and communism). That being said, the Democratic Party’s stance on abortion and many other social issues have forced me to stop voting for most Democratic Candidates. But Republican support for pro-life issues, with some notable exceptions, is often lukewarm at best. How many budgets passed by Republican controlled congresses included support for Planned Parenthood?

    In the last election, I chose to vote for a third party candidate for governor because the Republican Candidate (according to the Catholic Voting guide provided by both the Baltimore and DC archdioceses) as pro-choice!

    With respect to Mr. Brown, the Democratic party may have been the party of the KKK fifty years ago, but following the Civil Rights movement, many who sympathized with the KKK defected to the Republican Party.

  • Rob

    Mr. English, I appreciate what little the Republicans have done on life–it is certainly better than the Democrats. But the lesser of two evils remains evil.

    “That is the best we are going to get in this world. Do you believe we should not save any because we cannot save all?”

    Please read my remarks. I said the Scalia and Paul model is better than the current system. That does not mean it is good.

    “How do you propose we go about getting abortion banned in the entire country? I would be very interested in hearing your theory.”

    A constitutional amendment is probably the best bet though I concede your point that there is little support for it these days. What I do like is what is being done by Republicans at the state levels–if not the national one. I agree with Father Pavone that the only way for Americans to turn against abortion is to see it. I support mandatory ultrasound measures (which, to their credit, many Republicans at the state level support).

    Your “party of death” comment is off base to say the least. I would quote the Psalms back to you. “Put not your trust in princes.” They will only betray you. Even Grand Old Princes from the Grand Old Party.

  • Brian English

    “Mr. English, I appreciate what little the Republicans have done on life–it is certainly better than the Democrats.”

    Sorry, I am not picking that up from you.

    “Your “party of death” comment is off base to say the least. I would quote the Psalms back to you. “Put not your trust in princes.” They will only betray you. Even Grand Old Princes from the Grand Old Party.”

    The “put not your trust in princes” line is usually used by those who have chosen to surrender the field. We are not there yet. Abortion is a political and legal issue and that is where we have to fight.

  • Rob

    Yes, I agree. But if we are blindly led by partisan allegiance, then we are doomed. Pro-lifers will be taken for granted (if they are not already). There are some very good candidates on life in the Republican field. I hope one of them prevails. My fear is that the Republicans will nominate someone who talks the talk but does not walk the walk on life. Who in that field was for abortion before he was against it? He was for state health-care before he was against it. Must be something in the water off Cape Cod…

  • Steven

    I left the Democrats after last year’s midterms. But I couldn’t join the Republicans because of their love affair with Tea Party economic libertarianism that borders on economic libertinism. Nor could I trust the GOP any more because it’s only interested in fattening the wallets of the fat cats and kowtowing to the likes of UNION BUSTERS such as the Koch brothers and their lackey “governors” in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina and Florida. Heck, I’d rather be a lone wolf Prolife Socialist.

  • Mark

    “Your “party of death” comment is off base to say the least.”

    True, “party of death” is incomplete. A more accurate description would be “party of death, homosexuality, cultural Marxism, class envy, Socialism, weak national defense and bankrupting future generations via blatant fiscal irresponsibility”

    Also, where are all of the social justice clowns who self-righteously lectured that the unborn and marriage could be sacrificed in order to get a “man of peace” like Obama in the White House — now that we have three wars?

  • Rob

    Mark, I agree with your take on the Democratic Party. I responded that it was “off base” since I am not a member of it and I oppose what they stand for.

    The other party is also a party of death. They are the party of unjust wars and capital punishment. They also talk the talk about fiscal responsibility–and did little to practice it.

    Follow the banner of Obama or follow the banner of Bush. But if you do, you stand in front of Pilate’s palace and join in the ancient cry, “We have no king but Caesar!”

  • Mark

    Hi Rob,

    First, I said absolutely nothing about President Bush or the Republican Party. Your projections are very telling, however.

    My great grandfather was a Chicago cop when Wrigley Field was being built, so as you can imagine, I do not come from a long lineage of Republican voters. I am mature enough to admit however, that there is no comparison between that which is evil and that which is disappointing. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have warned us about this kind of moral relatavism.

    “The other party is also a party of death. They are the party of unjust wars and capital punishment.”

    Really? It appears that your proportionality-o-meter needs some adjusting.

    Capital punishment is merely a political football for the disingenuous left and I can prove it. In 2010, there were 46 executions of convicted murderers in the U.S. and millions of liberals voiced opposition. Also last year, we saw a record number of police officers (145) killed and not a single word was spoken by ANYONE on the left. Apparently there’s no room on that elusive seemless garment for those who actually put their lives on the line to protect our comfortable way of life.

    The unjust war thing is silly because:

    – it is not part of the Republican platform the way abortion and homosexuality is for the Democrats
    – a Democrat president has not only continued the war in Iraq, but has escalated the war in Afghanistan and now has started yet a third war in Libya.
    – the Pentagon has locks on the doors. We do not and should not have access to ALL information regarding our national defense (and it is naive wishful thinking to believe that the Pope does). The best we can say is “with the limited information available to us, we do not believe that the war(s) rise to the level of being just” A far cry from arrogantly proclaiming “unjust war!”

    It’s also amusing how some of the same limp-wristers on the left proudly boast in one breath how they never have and never would own a gun — and then in the next, hold themselves up as expert military strategists.

    Rob, you can not truly believe in the moral equivalence between executing 46 convicted murderers and killing over 1,000,000 babies every year.. no sane person could. This is evidence of a person who has decided that since his team has no chance of winning, the entire season should be cancelled for everyone.

    Some numbers for you to consider:

    – 137 babies are aborted every hour
    – 3,304 babies are aborted every day
    – 23,196 babies are aborted every week
    – 100,516 babies are aborted every month

    I do want to thank you for not mentioning torture — a political football so insignificant that it makes the 46 executions of convicted murderers look relevant in comparison.

    Thanks

  • stilbelieve

    MarylandBill said, “With respect to Mr. Brown, the Democratic party may have been the party of the KKK fifty years ago, but following the Civil Rights movement, many who sympathized with the KKK defected to the Republican Party.”

    Bill, for your information, Republican Congress members supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act in HIGHER percentages in both Houses than the Democrat members did.

    And on your comment, “On economic issues, I tend to believe the Democrats have it right….”

    You REALLY do? So, you like the economy we have going into the third year of the Obama Administration? You like gasoline prices going from $1.70 per gallon at the end of the last administration to almost $4.00 now? You like the ongoing unemployment hanging around 9%, with the real percentage on people out of work closer to 18-20%. When the last Democrat President, who screwed up the economy, Jimmy Carter, was replaced by Reagan, within two years Reagan got the unemployment down from 10% to 7%, and produce something like 28 consecutive months of continuous economic growth (the longest in peacetime history) while lowering record levels of inflation of 13.5% to 4%. All of this while lowering taxes on every wage earner and businesses and increasing tax revenues to the federal government and increasing the Pentagon budget leading to the end of the mighty Soviet Union and the “Cold War.”

    Last MONTH, ALONE, the Obama Administration ran up a deficit of $250,000,000,000 (250 billion) in 28 DAYS. The deficit for the entire last YEAR of the Bush Administration was only $170,000,000,000 (170 billion).
    That

  • Mark

    In a post above, I wrote:

    ” In 2010, there were 46 executions of convicted murderers in the U.S. and millions of liberals voiced opposition. Also last year, we saw a record number of police officers (145) killed and not a single word was spoken by ANYONE on the left.”

    I heard an updated number today — there were actually 162 officers killed during 2010. Sorry about that.

  • Richard C.

    Sad to say, there has just been some bad news for Ray: the other day, his house was burglarized while he was at a funeral, and a host of mementos of his career was stolen, including gifts from Pope John Paul II, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, and President Reagan:

    http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1326141&srvc=rss

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