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.