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New York’s Cardinal, Edward M. Egan, criticized Fordham University for honoring Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer with the Fordham-Stein Ethics Prize. Why? Apparently because they were pressured to do so by the Cardinal Newman Society, which sponsored a petition inveighing against honoring the jurist who wrote the decision overturning the ban on partial birth abortions.
Why should that issue be the only determining factor in the appropriateness of honoring Breyer? We need to stop litmus testing each other over single issues. It never helps and in the case of the Cardinal Newman Society, it’s making them less than honest about their mission. Despite claiming to be about Catholic identity, their own President, Patrick J. Reilly declared that their “only issue is life, the right to life”. Well which is it? Identity or pro-life activism? Why does their website market them in one way, but their leader speak in another?
Why should an organization that is “dedicated to renewing and strengthening Catholic identity at America’s 224 Catholic colleges and universities” limit its definition of a strong Catholic identity to maintaining fidelity to a single Catholic teaching? Does it really make sense to reduce a two thousand year old story to a single doctrine? Does that make sense for any tradition or community?
I admit that as a Jew, even a traditional Jew, my tradition accords me greater latitude on the issue of abortion.


In fact, Maimonides describes what we call partial birth abortion as being acceptable if the mother’s life is in immediate danger. Interestingly, it was the absence of this kind of proviso which gave Breyer cause to declare the ban unconstitutional.
It does suggest that “all or nothing” may not be the best way to go on this issue. In the name of reducing the overall number of abortions, we end up creating realities in which it is legal to perform more of them. But I appreciate that followers of other faiths may have no other alternative in light of their beliefs.
Maybe Fordahm should honor Justice Breyer and maybe not. That’s for them to decide. But whatever one’s view of this or any other issue, and however important the issue may be, the traditions we love always have more than one view and always have more than one way of honoring them.
When we lose site of that and single issue litmus testing becomes the mark of faith, we all lose the best of what each of our traditions teach and lose the richness that has allowed them to thrive for thousands of years. I wonder how the folks at the Cardinal Newman Society, or any of the Jewish, Muslim, etc. organizations that take the same approach to being a good Christian, Muslim or Jew, think that will strengthen anyone’s identity.

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