“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” asked the very attractive brochure announcing the pro-life conference, with the catchy title of “Save the Planet’s People,” which was to be held in Toronto at the end of June.  The special guest referred to was John Cardinal O’Connor of New York.  The Cardinal did come, he did speak at the closing dinner as he was supposed to, and all of the 950 people in attendance would undoubtedly agree that his presence made the occasion a most memorable one.

Wartime conditions

It was very special in being held almost in wartime conditions.  Not long before, the Cardinal had gone on a Rosary walk in his own city, and had been the target of abuse by homosexuals and other pro-abortionists along the way.

In Toronto a crude poster was distributed in anticipation of the Cardinal’s visit; dripping in red ink, to simulate blood, it accused the Cardinal, Joe Scheidler and Ken Campbell of being personally responsible for the yearly deaths of 250,000 women in the world through illegal abortion.  It called for a massive rally against them and their pro-life friends at the Conference.

In view of such hate propaganda and the New York experience, Campaign Life Coalition was prepared for hostilities.

As an experienced campaigner should, General Jim Hughes took appropriate action; together with Colonel Claire Dodds and members of their very competent staff of junior officers, he prepared a very effective strategic plan to deal with the situation.

The Cardinal was to say Mass; the pro-abortionists were kept guessing whether it would be in a hotel or at St. Michael’s Cathedral, or where else.

When the Catholic pro-lifers returned  from St. Patrick’s Church, some 350 pro-abortionists were yelling and screaming and waving placards in front of the hotel, with only the cops and the hotel employees to hear them: the pro-lifers went into the hotel through a back door.  The Toronto police, who acted most professionally throughout, prevented any major confrontations from taking place.

As the Globe reported, one of the abusive women in front of the hotel, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics, shouted out that the Cardinal “opposes all struggles against the oppressed.”  This was very ironic, in view of what Cardinal O’Connor had said in his sermon in St. Patrick’s.

After thanking the Redemptorist Fathers for the use of their church, he mentioned that during the winter they fed 270 people every day and sheltered many in their church basement ever night.

So often we are told, he observed, that Catholics care only for the unborn; the Redemptorists show how false this is.  Later on, his speech at the dinner radiated concern for the oppressed; its central message was the need for compassion.

The Cardinal at dinner

The Cardinal was introduced by Nat Hentoff, a columnist for the Village Voice, the New Yorker, and the Washington Post, and author of a biography of the Cardinal.  He managed to make his introductory words light, amusing, and yet sincere.  The Cardinal responded in kind, pointing out that his life story, even though written by an atheistic Jew, could surely prove very useful when the process for his canonization began.

The Cardinal’s address was delivered in a low tone (though the microphone picked up every word), and the most impressive thing about it was its air of conviction.

He was very complimentary to his hosts.  In an earlier interview with the press, he related, he had explained that he was in Toronto to give new hope to those who were working with such commitment for the protection and enhancement of human life, and who often got discouraged.  But the obvious dedication of those attending the conference had shown him how wrong he was:  it was not he who gave them encouragement, but rather he picked up encouragement from them.

Compassion for the victims

The Cardinal was especially gratified to see so many young people in the audience.  But his one central theme was the dignity of every human being, and the consequences which flow from this conviction:  we need to be compassionate to every woman who has had an abortion, and even to the abortionist himself.

As he stated, perhaps the happiest time of his life was when he was much younger, working with handicapped children – and receiving as much benefit from them as he could give to them.

The Cardinal pointed out that in his archdiocese, any woman who is pregnant and in difficulties can receive all the assistance she needs to bring her baby to term, from shelter to medical care, all at archdiocesan expense.

He himself has helped recently in the rehabilitation of one woman, who had been on drugs and alcohol, and resorted to prostitution, and had lost all sense of her own worth.  So much for the assertion that he has no concern for the oppressed!  Almost the whole of his speech was directed at emphasizing that all human beings matter – a principle which is at the very heart of democracy; no human beings are diposable.

It is hard to convey just how impressive Cardinal O’Connor’s address was.  The  man who came to dinner was billed as the main event, and he lived up to his billing:  he provided an excellent conclusion to a very successful conference.  In spite of his own words to the contrary, it was surely very heartening for his listeners to be in the presence, if only for a few hours, of a prominent churchman whose commitment to the saving of innocent human life is at least as great as their own.