COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Father Bill Carmody has defended life outside abortion facilities for more than 25 years. Now, in the view of some pro-abortion activists, he and other life defenders are partly to blame for a Nov. 27 rampage shooting that killed two civilians and a policeman outside of a Planned Parenthood abortion center.
“I’ve been getting a lot of vitriol,” Father Carmody said. “One voicemail said, ‘You have blood on your hands.’ Another guy said, ‘You better stop going out there or something is going to happen.’ I don’t know if that’s intended as a threat, but it means nothing to me.”
He heads a large pro-life community that finds itself at the center of controversy, as social-media pundits, politicians and abortion advocacy groups blame peaceful pro-life demonstrators for inspiring a lone gunman reportedly known to none of them.
The Inquisitr news website, an international publication with more than 40 million unique monthly viewers, reports that Twitter erupted with tweets under hashtags #whitechritianterrorist, #whiteterrorist and #Christianterrorist before police had arrested a suspect.
Progress Now Colorado and Pro Choice Colorado held rallies at the Colorado Capitol in Denver Tuesday, demanding pro-lifers apologize for criticisms of Planned Parenthood’s sales of human body parts.
“It makes me angry,” said Dr. Diane Foley, a Colorado Springs physician and president/CEO of Life Network. “This isn’t the time or circumstance for political opportunism. They want to blame us for talking about videos that show bad things were going on at Planned Parenthood. We had nothing to do with a crazy man deciding to take lives. He had no right.”
Foley said Colorado Springs, a community of nearly 500,000 residents, has a close-knit and highly functional pro-life community of Catholics, Protestants, Jews and others.
“Various groups have had a number of conference calls this week, and no one condones what happened,” Foley said. “There is never a reason to take innocent life by any means.”
Officer Swasey: Pro-Life Elder
Though the suspect shot 12 victims, including six police officers, none was associated with Planned Parenthood. Officer Garrett Swasey, a 44-year-old father of two who worked for the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs’ police department, was a pro-life elder at Hope Chapel, an evangelical church in Colorado Springs.
“Swasey was pro-life,” explained Colorado Springs resident Melissa Musick Nussbaum in an article published Monday by National Review. “Swasey believed that each unborn child is created by God and is a gift from God.” Nevertheless, she explained, he gave his life trying to stop the attack on an abortion business.
Among abortionists who practice at the center is Savita Ginde, who was seen in the fourth undercover investigative video of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the harvesting and selling of baby parts.
The center schedules most abortions for Thursdays and Fridays. Father Carmody showed up at 9am for routine Friday prayers and sidewalk Mass the morning of the shooting spree. It was snowy and cold, so he and other pro-lifers left at 11am.
Just 38 minutes later, central dispatch received a report of shots fired.
The shooting quickly hit the news, so Father Carmody made a call to check on Planned Parenthood’s security guard. The guard, hired to monitor Father Carmody’s organized activities, typically left the facility after the last patients showed up at 11am.
“I said, ‘J.C., are you okay?’” Father Carmody recounted. “J.C. (the security guard) said, ‘Yes, I’m okay.’ Then we talked a bit. He asked me to pray for him and for a relative who has cancer. And he asked how I was doing.”
Father Carmody next called higher-ranking Planned Parenthood officials to express his sorrow for the fact a criminal had targeted their business. The next morning, Father Carmody came face-to-face with Vicki Cowart, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains, during a vigil at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church.
“She said, ‘Father Bill, what are we going to do?’ I said, ‘We need to pray.’ She just nodded her head. She did not verbalize a response,” Father Carmody said.
It isn’t the first time Catholic pro-life demonstrators have had cordial encounters with people on the other side of the issue, including employees of Planned Parenthood. Father Carmody said he and his large group of regulars outside of the center — which varies from 30 to several hundred, depending on the day — have never been confrontational.
“I won’t allow it,” Father Carmody said.
They pray and hold Mass each Friday, second Saturdays of each month and more routinely during the annual 40 Days for Life celebration. They are available for sidewalk counseling of mothers with unwanted pregnancies who approach them.
“There is not a great deal of animosity among our side and the pro-choice side,” said Deacon Jim Bachta, of St. Patrick Catholic Church, who routinely assists Father Carmody with Mass outside of the facility.
Deacon Bachta recalls a woman showing up with a pro-abortion sign to protest a pro-life vigil.
“She was walking backward and fell over onto the sidewalk and scuffed up her hands,” Deacon Bachta said. “One of our people got out a first-aid kit and bandaged her up. Some of their people were very thankful. This is not personal. It is a moral and philosophical dispute.”
Attorney Elliot Fladen lived across the street from the center for about two years and began counter-protesting Father Carmody and other pro-lifers the first day he saw them holding a vigil. He carried his baby daughter to the gathering and confronted pro-lifers with signs. Soon, he found himself befriending them.
“They were very nice people,” said Fladen, who describes himself as an agnostic from an Orthodox Jewish family. “We would talk about my qualms with their beliefs, and they were incredibly civil. They really came to like my daughter. No one was ever mean to me.”
The pro-lifers did not convert Fladen, but he finds himself troubled by abortion. He won’t call himself “pro-choice,” but says he cannot accept the concept of abortion as murder. He said a fetus is not a “person” in his personal and legal view.
Though Fladen defends the rights of pro-life demonstrators, he understands why some want to blame them for inspiring violence.
“You may equate abortion to genocide or mass murder and believe the solution does not involve violence,” Fladen said. “That’s how most abortion protesters feel. The problem comes when someone else hears this message. The person may agree with the conclusion, that abortion is genocide, but not the concept of pursuing a peaceful solution. This person may feel morally obligated to affect a deadly solution to the genocide and mass murder.”
Catholic Pro-Life Teachings Reject Violence
Father Carmody said nothing in Catholic pro-life teaching should lead a person to kill. The pro-life message, he said, is not confusing.
“The ends do not justify the means, no matter how noble the end is,” Father Carmody said. “There is nothing nobler than ending abortion, but that does not justify immoral or violent means to get it done.”
Joel Patchen, author of the pro-life novel Hushed — which he calls the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the pro-life movement — frequently attends Mass and prayer outside of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood. He said “mass murder” or “genocide” are the only adequate descriptions for abortion.
“When someone expresses truth, people will take it in different ways,” Patchen said. “Those people are responsible for what they do with it. You see information from the Bible and other religious texts misused all the time, usually out of context. We can’t start blaming everyone who expresses a truth for the way some other person may process and misuse the information.”
Though suspect Robert Lewis Dear uttered something about “baby parts” to arresting officers, authorities have reported no clear motive for his crime.
If Father Carmody meets Dear, he knows what he will say.
“I’m praying for you, and God have mercy on your soul,” he said.
He also has words for those who are exploiting the crime for political expedience or to further the pro-abortion agenda.
“Everyone should just stop and mourn,” Father Carmody said. “All this talk is tacky. It is like selling a father’s estate before the funeral. Let’s bury the dead, and let’s mourn. That’s what the deceased deserve from us right now.”
Wayne Laugesen writes from Colorado.