Princeton University’s Robert P. George recently received the University of Notre Dame’s 2023 Evangelium Vitae Medal – widely regarded as the nation’s most important award for heroes of the pro-life movement.
The banquet and awarding of the medal were hosted April 29 by the Indiana university’s de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, and was attended by more than 500 people. The celebration was preceded by the celebration of Mass by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., in Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
“The Evangelium Vitae medal is very special indeed to me,” he reflected. “And yet, I feel a deep unworthiness to receive it … because so many courageous and dedicated men and women have done so much more … in defending human life in all stages and conditions. The vast majority have gone unsung; they deserve this honor more than I.”
A renowned constitutional and political theorist and legal philosopher, Professor George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Professor of Politics at Princeton University and the founding director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.
Rachel Hendricks, coordinator of diocesan Respect Life Ministries, attended the event. “It was a joyful and beautiful celebration … in honor of Professor Robert George’s long-standing dedication to the promotion and defense of the dignity of every human life,” she said.
Professor George will join attorney Harold Cassidy in a pro-life discussion May 21, "“The Dobbs Decision and The Past, Present and Future of the Pro-Life Cause,” at 1:30 p.m. in St. Agnes Church, Atlantic Highlands. Click HERE for details.
Hosted by Catholic Vote and Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes Parish, the event will feature a conversation between Professor Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, and Harold Cassidy, who has engaged in a broad variety of litigation, both trial and appellate, in his 47 years in the private practice of law.
The Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal, named after Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, “[honors] individuals whose efforts have advanced the Gospel of Life by steadfastly affirming and defending the sanctity of human life from its earliest stages,” the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture website explains. Announced annually on Respect Life Sunday, the first Sunday of October, the award consists of a specially commissioned medal and $10,000 prize.
"In his lifetime of work, study, writing, and teaching, Professor George has insisted … on the essential dignity of the human person, the role of the law in defending it, and the possibility of our reasoning together in charity to promote it," said O. Carter Snead, director of the de Nicola Center. "Professor George’s patient, persistent demonstration of the right relationship between the civil and moral law has helped to lay the groundwork for a renewed appreciation of the rights of the unborn and an understanding of the proper role of law in defending those rights.”
George noted that many of those who championed the pro-life movement did not live to see Roe v. Wade overturned, naming them “12 apostles of life,” and accepted the recognition on their behalf.
"For 49 years, five months, and two days, our law taught a gross moral untruth," he said. "It taught generations … that the choice to destroy a child in utero is a basic liberty, indeed a fundamental right; it taught that that the child is … a meaningless mass … a piece of property rather than a person with dignity and a right to life. That is a false lesson that it is our job to help people to unlearn."
In his homily at the Evangelium Vitae Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Bishop Rhoades noted that George “has been an eloquent witness to the Gospel of life, teaching and defending the truth about the sacred value of human life … a truth that can be recognized in the natural law written in the human heart, known by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace.”
A conversation with Professor Robert George
The Monitor caught up with Professor George following the Notre Dame University event to discuss the pro-life movement and his particular affinity for defending the unborn.
The Monitor: Over the course of your career, what led you to champion the pro-life cause in particular?
RG: I have devoted myself to the pro-life cause for a very simple reason: My parents taught me that each and every member of the human family, from the newly conceived child in the womb to the frailest elderly person, as a creature made in the very image and likeness of God, is inestimably precious and is therefore to be honored, protected, and loved. They taught me that, despite the many respects in which people are different and unequal – in, say, strength, beauty, intelligence, talents of various sorts, wealth, power, social status – everyone is equal in fundamental worth and dignity. All, therefore, must enjoy the equal protection of the laws. We may not treat some people as inferior in worth, or others as superior, based on race, sex, ethnicity and so forth; nor may we treat some as inferior or others as superior based on age, size, location, disability, stage of development or condition of dependency.
TM: What do you believe needs to happen in order for society to change its outlook and behavior toward abortion?
RG: Those of us who recognize the profound, inherent and equal dignity of everyone, beginning with the precious child in the womb, must speak out courageously, and work with unflagging determination, to persuade our fellow citizens that killing is not the answer; the “solution” to a challenging pregnancy can never be to offer a woman the ghoulish pseudo-compassion of the abortionist’s knife. Rather, we must “love them both,” reaching out with genuine compassion and loving care to mother and child alike. As we work to reform the law – something we absolutely must do – we must also attend lovingly to the real needs of women for whom pregnancy and motherhood do bring serious difficulties and challenges. The pro-life movement has always done this, though the media refuses to give our movement credit for it, but we must redouble our efforts as we work in the political and legal spheres, now that Roe v. Wade is gone, to extend the mantle of the law’s protection to our tiny brothers and sisters at the dawn of their lives.
TM: How does having these public discussions, particularly in the wake of the Dobbs decision, help bring about change in society?
RG: I believe that the truth has luminosity and power. St. Pope John Paul the Great spoke of “the splendor of truth.” And truth does have a splendor! But truth must be spoken; truth does not speak itself. People will not perceive its luminosity – its splendor – unless people speak it. It is up to us to have the courage to speak the truth about the sanctity of human life, the inherent dignity and equal worth of every member of the human family. Every single one of us is called to bear witness to truth, and today there is no truth more in need of being boldly spoken than the truth about the precious child in the womb.
TM: Do you often speak with people who disagree with the pro-life stance, and if so, have you been able to convince them of the validity of the pro-life perspective?
RG: Well, doing what I do, working where I work, you won’t be surprised by the answer to this question! Yes, I spend a great deal of my time speaking with people who disagree with the pro-life stance. What I try to do is speak the truth in love, just as St. Paul instructs us to do. (Sometimes, as you can imagine, the love is not reciprocated, but that’s OK.) I also try to listen – and learn. I know I’m not infallible. (That’s one thing I’m absolutely certain about.) So, if I’m wrong about something, I want to be corrected. But, honestly, the arguments for abortion (and euthanasia) are weak – they cannot survive sustained, rigorous rational scrutiny. Now that doesn’t mean my interlocutors are always persuaded, but usually I can at least get them to worry about clinging to the pro-abortion (or pro-euthanasia) position. And I have had many gratifying experiences of people coming to embrace the pro-life cause on the basis of rational reflection and discussion. Many of today’s most determined and effective pro-life advocates were, earlier in their lives, supporters of abortion.
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