I’m Still a Radical: An Anthology of the Writings of Father Ted Colleton, C.S.Sp. Interim Publishing Company Ltd. Toronto $15
Good old Father Ted. What an inspiration he has been for an entire generation of pro-lifers throughout this country and beyond. First taking up his pen for pro-life upon returning to Canada in 1971 from mission work in Kenya, Father Ted has been fearlessly hammering away at the ramparts of the culture of death for the last 30 years; starting his crusade when he was a hale and hearty priest of 58 and scarcely relaxing his efforts now that he’s a still amazingly hale and hearty priest of 88.
Father Ted is a ubiquitous and tireless leader who somehow manages to be present at every conference and demonstration, in every magazine and forum where the fate of the preborn is addressed, debated or discussed. Most folks, blessed to have made it to the threshold of their 90s, would regard this as a time to trim their sails and coast a little. Not Father Ted.
Who among us – even those much younger and with energy to burn – doesn’t occasionally long to give pro-life work a rest? Just for a week or a month, we tell ourselves, wouldn’t it be a relief to not have to dwell on this ugliest and most dispiriting of modern-day realities? Wouldn’t it be great to go to a party and talk and laugh and not have to drag abortion into the discussion even once, thereby offending some (if not most) of the guests and making our hosts sorry they ever invited us?
Father Ted’s example is particularly shaming to we journalists. How much more smoothly and profitably our careers proceed when we don’t try our editors’, publishers and readers’ patience by repeatedly referring to abortion; that oh-so-rigorously denied ghost at the banquet of conspicuous consumption; that putrid spoiler at the feast of unfettered carnality.
But of course even temporarily choosing to ignore an atrocity like abortion is the first step on the road to the big sleep; to the “see-hear-and-speak-no-evil” stupor of the “good German.” Before you know it, your negligent holiday from pro-life has been silently extended to a year or a decade and you’re happily spewing the same weaselly words and phrases as everybody else who can’t bear the truth; cowering behind vague, imponderable verbal constructions like “fetal matter” for unborn baby; “a woman’s private choice” for the legally enshrined female prerogative to snuff out inconvenient human lives; or (that latest darling of obfuscation brought to us courtesy of the stem-cell debate), “blastocyst,” a term which manages to make a human embryo sound like a target to be harmlessly gunned down in a video game.
Collected in I’m Still a Radical are 12 years’ worth of Father Ted’s monthly Faith and Life columns for The Interim, from 1987-99. There are thoughtful Lenten and Christmas reflections, panegyrics and memorials for other notable pro-life warriors, and some absolute humdingers of front line reportage from various protests and conferences.
There aren’t many of us, religious or lay, who can withstand vituperation for any length of time. At the 1995 HLI conference in Montreal, Father Ted and the other silent demonstrators were jeered and pelted with eggs, tomatoes and condoms.
On another occasion, a particularly shrill woman yelled into his face that he should go and join his buddies at the Mt. Cashel Orphanage. But you never catch Father Ted flinching or succumbing to self pity.
Perhaps the most moving pieces in this collection, are his reports from prison where he served six weeks in the fall of ’89 for protesting outside the Morgentaler abortuary.
Momentarily wondering if it’s proper for a man of the cloth to get hauled off to jail like that, Father Ted remembered a talk with Auxiliary Bishop Vaughan of New York who suffered similar incarcerations and told him that it went clear against his family’s immigrant values to get arrested too. Then the Bishop looked at his bishop’s ring with three figures on it – Jesus, Peter and Paul. “Each was arrested, tried and executed by the legal authorities of the time,” Bishop Vaughan reminded him. “Yet, each was innocent of the charges brought against him.” Quoting Matthew 25, the Bishop concluded, “We shall be judged on what we did for the least of our brethren.”
Father Ted’s may not be the most elegant or alliterative prose around but, like a wily Irish terrier who returns again and again to an eternally juicy bone, Father Ted grabs hold and productively works his pro-life theme from every conceivable angle.
As most readers of this paper already know, the abortion debate is the supreme and defining debate of our time. It is the argument in which all other arguments ultimately converge, and the great test which tests exactly what we mean by words like “Christian,” “human” and “life.” Whatever clarity and conviction the pro-life side has won in this country so far, are due in no small measure to the heroic work and testimony of Father Ted Colleton.
Herman Goodden is an editor with Challenge magazine and a columnist for the London Free Press.Copies of Fr. Ted’s book can be purchased for $15 including shipping and handling by calling The Interim at 416.204.1687 and asking for Maria Vandenberg or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Discounts are available for bulk orders of 10 or more.