God gave us heroes, not for us to merely admire them, but to learn from their example. We at The Interim were fortunate that we could learn from Fr. de Valk – a former Interim editor and the long-time editor of Catholic Insight – not from afar, but just on the other side of the wall of our office. While he was the longest serving editor in the paper’s first 20 years, he continued to influence the paper long after he left. He has provided wise counsel to me personally on numerous occasions when I asked for his advice on how to think about an issue or how to cover something, but I want to give three examples in which he broadly influenced me, two of which can be seen in the paper each issue and one a more personal note.
Fr. de Valk, like myself, is a trained historian who found himself doing pro-life journalism. That background explains how he practiced journalism – the so-called first draft of history. Early on during my tenure at The Interim I made the mistake of saying that a particular court made a decision about an issue and he corrected me: “No, a court did not make that decision, a judge did.” This was the historian who wanted everything precisely sourced. So it was not the Supreme Court of Canada, but justices so-and-so who ruled; it was never a government that created a new law or regulation, but the minister in charge of the department responsible for new rules or law. As close readers of Catholic Insight know Fr. de Valk insisted that individuals who are responsible for policy and judgments own them. We follow this rule at The Interim still today and it makes our journalism better. Institutions do not make decisions, people do. We need to hold them accountable by naming them. (The same goes to giving credit.)
Secondly, after reading an editorial I had written, he admonished me because I said that abortion is not a Catholic issue. He said, quite correctly, that abortion is a Catholic issue, but that what I meant is that abortion is not only a Catholic issue. That short lesson – there was a thorough discussion after the initial admonishment – taught me two things. The first is the importance of being precise and specific with words. More importantly, and bolstered by discussions about numerous issues over the years, is that we care about moral decadence and the assault on religion not because of their effects on Catholics, but their effects on society and the individuals who make up society for whom the Catholic must care for and love. (The same is true for Christians in general, but Father and I were talking to each other as Catholics.) We are called to speak for the protection – including spiritual protection – of people who might not care about such things for themselves.
Lastly, on a purely personal note, a lesson I should not have needed, but we have priests and other teachers in our lives to remind us of things that we need to move to the front of our minds after we’ve misplaced over them. In a conversation I said that my wife was not involved in pro-life work. Once again I was admonished. Fr. de Valk reminded me: “Christina had your children, is raising them, and supporting you in your pro-life work. There is no more important pro-life work than raising a family.” It is obviously true and something I knew on an unappreciated and sub-conscious level. I just needed reminding. It is easy when battling the Culture of Death to see only the big picture and get wrapped up in the political and cultural issues and ignore the importance of a single family and unique individual. Being pro-life is not some abstraction.
Fr. de Valk, on behalf The Interim, I thank you for being the pro-life movement’s historian, journalist, teacher, priest and wise counselor.