Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Martin Sheen ... Pro-Life

No doubt you've heard the news that Our Lady's University will be honoring actor and activist Martin Sheen with its prestigious Laetare Medal:
SOUTH BEND -- Actor and human rights activist Martin Sheen has been awarded Notre Dame's Laetare Medal for 2008.

He will receive the medal, the oldest honor given to American Catholics, during the Notre Dame's 163rd Commencement May 18.

"As one of our nation's most recognizable and accomplished screen actors, Martin Sheen has achieved a level of celebrity that few Americans enjoy," said the Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame's president. "He has used that celebrity to draw the attention of his fellow citizens to issues that cry out for redress, such as the plight of immigrant workers and homeless people, the waging of unjust war, the killing of the unborn and capital punishment. We welcome the opportunity to lift up his example for our church, our country, and our students."

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Sheen was born in 1940, one of 10 children of a Spanish-born father and an Irish-born mother. His legal name is Ramon Gerardo Antonio Estevez, but he later adopted his stage name in honor of the pioneering televangelist Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

A self-described Catholic peace activist, opponent of abortion and student of Catholic social teaching, Sheen acknowledges his spiritual debts to St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Dorothy Day, the Rev. Daniel Berrigan and the late labor leader Cesar Chavez.
The appropriateness of the award has been called into question by some given Mr. Sheen's remarks on abortion that appeared in an interview with The Progressive:
Q: What are your views on abortion?

Sheen: I cannot make a choice for a women, particularly a black or brown or poor pregnant woman. I would not make a judgment in the case. As a father and a grandfather, I have had experience with children who don't always come when they are planned, and I have experienced the great joy of God's presence in my children, so I'm inclined to be against abortion of any life. But I am equally against the death penalty or war-- anywhere people are sacrificed for some end justifying a means. I don't think abortion is a good idea. I personally am opposed to abortion, but I will not judge anybody else's right in that regard because I am not a woman and I could never face the actual reality of it.
Now, that's certainly an unfortunate quote, especially given that he repeats verbatim the "personally opposed, but ..." mantra that so many pro-abortion politicians have invoked dating back almost 25 years to Mario Cuomo's infamous speech at Notre Dame. Anyone who has read this blog knows that I'm certainly no apologist for that "personally opposed, but ..." nonsense. But is that an isolated quote from Sheen (although he does include the interview on his website)? And how old is it? Five years? Has he said anything like that since then?

Notwithstanding Sheen's statements in that interview, I think it's pretty clear that Martin Sheen has promoted and supported various pro-life causes throughout the years (as well as countless number of left-wing causes ... none of which are contrary to Church teaching, but a few of which - in addtion to his naming Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich as "elected officials that I admire very much" - expose him as being a littly nutty). Here are some examples of Sheen's pro-life credentials:

  • Sheen backed out of the Million Mom March in DC once he found out that it's primary purpose was to promote abortion.

  • Sheen filed an amicus brief against NOW and in support of Operation Rescue and other pro-life activists in NOW v. Scheidler.

  • Sheen was named by Feminists for Life as one of its Remarkable Pro-Life Men.

    (The previous 2 links, by the way, are from Jill Stanek. If Sheen's pro-life enough for her, that ought to settle the matter.)

  • Sheen supports the work of the Consistent Life Network.

  • And I understand that Sheen has donated mucho dinero to crisis pregnancy centers (although I could not find a link to substantiate that assertion, but it could be that this comes under the umbrella of his support for the Consistent Life Network).

  • Finally, it's not like the guy is running for office as a "personally opposed, but ..." candidate (although he played one on TV). If Sheen were a politician instead of an actor, there would be more cause for taking issue against Notre Dame's decision to honor him. But he's not a politician. Furthermore, as noted above, it's pretty clear that the guy in his personal actions (apart from voting) is opposed to abortion and has taken substantive steps to promote the pro-life cause. Surely his actions speak louder than one soundbite.

    Besides, plenty of prominent Catholic pro-lifers (including Fr. Pavone of Priests for Life and Austin and Cathy Ruse - the current president of the pro-life Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and the former chief pro-life spokeswoman for the nation's Catholic bishops, respectively) have come out in support of John McCain - a man who talks a pro-life game now that he wants conservative votes but who supports abortion in the cases of rape, incest, and a threat to the life of the mother, and who is a vocal proponent of ESCR funding. If McCain is somehow palatable to pro-lifers despite his shaky credentials and lack of fire in the belly when it comes to pushing the pro-life agenda, surely we can cut Mr. Sheen some slack.

    In short, I've got no problem with Notre Dame acknowledging where Mr. Sheen is right on the issue of life. In fact, if we're really serious about winning political liberals over to the pro-life cause, we should all be willing to acknowledge when they are right. For that reason, I support Notre Dame in honoring Martin Sheen for his work on behalf of society's least of these (including the unborn).

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    At 3/04/2008 12:37 PM, Blogger mrsdarwin said...

    In fact, if we're really serious about winning political liberals over to the pro-life cause, we should all be willing to acknowledge when they are right.

    A good point, and an interesting and balanced analysis.

    At 3/04/2008 12:42 PM, Blogger Jeff Miller said...

    He also supports homosexual causes and raises for for GLBT dinners. He is also pro-women's ordination.

    His pro-life conviction did not keep him form campaigning for Dean, Kerry, and Richardson and he has never gone to the March for Life for publicly criticized the Democratic Party for killing the innocent. His pro-life conviction is trumped by just about anything.

    I think it is a disgrace to honor a man who last year called conservatives "Bastards" and questions whether 9/11 was an inside job.

    At 3/04/2008 12:46 PM, Blogger Jeff Miller said...

    Another thing is that by honoring him we are saying that just as long as you are personally opposed, but will do nothing to end abortion that this is acceptable. The message to the Democratic Party is just as long as you say you are pro-life you don't actually have to follow up on it.

    There is no difference between Kerry and Sheen because they both say the same thing.

    At 3/04/2008 1:01 PM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

    "I think it is a disgrace to honor a man who last year called conservatives "Bastards" and questions whether 9/11 was an inside job."

    He's certainly nutty as a fruitcake, that's for sure.

    "There is no difference between Kerry and Sheen because they both say the same thing."

    C'mon. There's a huge difference between Kerry and Sheen on abortion. Just like there's a huge difference between Sheryl Crow and Sheen. Just like there's a huge difference between Rick Majerus and Sheen.

    Kerry is a politician who actively supports abortion by filibustering people like Alito, by promising Planned Parenthood to do all he can to keep abortion on demand legal, by promising to nominate only pro-Roe justices, etc.

    Sheryl Crow is someone who uses her celebrity to not only actively promote abortion, but actively campaigns and lobbies for politicians in Missouri to change their votes on ESCR.

    Rick Majerus uses his position as a Catholic basketball coach at a Jesuit university to openly challenge his Church's teachings on abortion and ESCR at a pro-Clinton rally and in follow-up interviews to defend his actions against his Bishop.

    Martin Sheen has done nothing like that. He is someone who has in his private works of charity supported and promoted the pro-life cause. All we have to the contrary is a line in an interview - in what was otherwise a fairly solid pro-life response - that unfortunately muddles his position by relying on the "personally opposed, but ..." mantra. He isn't out there using his celebrity to actively advocate for the "pro-choice" position. If he were, we wouldn't be having this discussion because I'd be right there calling him "pro-abortion" as well.

    As it is, without that one line in that one interview, based on his actions, we'd be looking at Martin Sheen as a solid pro-lifer.

    At 3/04/2008 1:24 PM, Blogger Michael J. Iafrate said...

    Another thing is that by honoring him we are saying that just as long as you are personally opposed, but will do nothing to end abortion that this is acceptable.

    Did you not read Jay's list of things Sheen has done to oppose abortion?

    Great post, Jay.

    At 3/04/2008 2:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


    I looked up the Consistent Life Network and recognized at least 20 names of dissenters from Humanae Vitae. Many are from Call To Action, and/or homosexual activsts, socialists etc. Almost a Who's Who of CINOs'. A notable exception was Dale Vree of The New Oxford Review.

    I posted a response to your post at Rich Leonardi's.

    I really enjoy your blog and many of your links.


    It is very easy to find out when and where activist Sheen is protesting the War, The former school of the Americas at Fort Benning Ga., the death penalty etc. When was the last time he was actually at an abortion mill protesting or praying? Backing out of his sponsorship of a pro abort rally after a little heat sure does not make him a staunch pro-lifer to me. The amicus brief just tells me that he supports Joe Schiendler's right to free speech. A position that also protects himself as a left wing activist. PETA also supported the amicus brief.

    I am trying to find out if Sheen has given any financial support to The Women's Support Center or Elizabeth New Life center here in Dayton, Sheen's hometown. I know he has been invited to protest/ pray etc.at the mill when he has been here in Dayton to raise money for the local PBS station.

    I have been active in the local pro life movement and have never seen or heard anything about Sheen's pro life activism here.

    I think he participated in some type of public pro life event some where else years ago, a convienent little note on his activist resume.

    He did headline the ACLU michigan event last Dec. and was at a GLBT confab in Texas a week or so before.

    When I get any info on any Sheen Financial support of the Dayton Crisis pregnancy centers I'll post it here. I know that donations can be made anonymously but Sheen has not been shy about publicity for putting up the money for murdered environmentalist Sr. Dorothy Stang's portrait at C. J. high school.

    Tim Lang

    At 3/04/2008 3:40 PM, Blogger Rich Leonardi said...

    What we're faced with is a statement he gave in a far-reaching interview only five years ago put up against what essentially amounts to hearsay and rumor. (One person at the InsideCatholic.com site said he had confidence in Sheen based on his private conversation with a movie critic who evidently met Sheen.) Could not Notre Dame find a more exemplary Catholic? perhaps someone, even a relatively anonymous someone, doing more unambiguous work in the vineyard?

    Moreover, to highlight his pro-life credentials, as Notre Dame's president did, when a simple Google search of "Martin Sheen" and "abortion" will take you to the interview with the "personally opposed, but .." argot strikes me as at the very least sloppy.

    At 3/04/2008 4:21 PM, Anonymous M.Z. Forrest said...

    I think the following statement gives a good indication of what Sheen believes and addresses some periphery issues. The link has more extensive quotations from him.

    We (are) the most confused, warped, addicted society in the history of the world. We are addicted to power, we’re addicted to our own image of ourselves, to violence, divorce, abortion, and sex.

    As a father and a grandfather, I have had experience with children who don’t always come when they are planned, and I have experienced the great joy of God’s presence in my children, so I’m inclined to be against abortion of any life. But I am equally against the death penalty or war– anywhere people are sacrificed for some end justifying a means.


    At 3/04/2008 4:38 PM, Blogger Rich Leonardi said...


    Those remarks are from the same interview; when the abortion question was put to him directly, he claimed he would not question another's right to it.

    At 3/04/2008 4:45 PM, Anonymous M.Z. said...

    Fine, so you and others simply willfully disregarded his sentiment in a game gotcha. Understood.

    At 3/04/2008 4:54 PM, Blogger Rich Leonardi said...

    Fine, so you and others simply willfully disregarded his sentiment in a game gotcha. Understood.

    I linked to the interview on my site and chose to highlight his response to a direct question.

    I'll take your calumny as an indication you've run out of arguments or interesting things to say.

    At 3/04/2008 5:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Sheen used stronger and clearer language against Michigan's Constitutional ban on same sex marriage last December than he has ever used against Roe v Wade.

    He called Michigan's ban on same sex marriage "outrageous".

    Regarding a liquefied natural gas project in California Sheen said, "I am absolutely convinced that this project must be stopped and stopped now."

    The bold activist gets ouraged about gays not being able to get married and absolute about natural gas projects that "must" be stopped but somehow loses that bold conviction when the issue involves the killing of people through abortion.

    Tim Lang

    At 3/04/2008 5:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Interesting that Sheen has been an active participant in every singe one of the nutty leftist causes he's taken up over the years (to the tune of getting himself arrested 70+ times), yet he has absolutely no public record of pro-life activism. He hasn't attended any pro-life rallies. He hasn't taken part in the March for Life. He hasn't given any interviews or speeches where he's railed against abortion (yet he never has to be prompted to offer a biting soundbite on topics like foreign policy, nuclear power, environmentalism, conservatism, or the oxymoron of gay "marriage").

    None of that is coincidental.

    It's because Sheen's "I'm personally opposed, but..." position is NOT a pro-life position. It's unarguable that Sheen supports abortion rights, and that is irreconcilable with being pro-life.

    And while Sheen's support of abortion rights should alone disqualify him from receiving an award purportedly for Catholics who reflect the ideals of the Church, let's not forget that he's also a vocal and unapologetic supporter of the abominable notion of gay "marriage."

    Notre Dame has disgraced itself in recent years by hosting events like the Queer Film Festival, the Vagina Monologues, and Coming Out Day (in which, under the shadow of the Virgin Mary from atop the golden dome, a large closet door is placed on the lawn from which gay students emerge, symbolically "coming out"). The school bartered away whatever remaining credibility it had as a Catholic institution by deciding to farcically honor Martin Sheen as an exemplar of Catholic values.

    At 3/04/2008 5:46 PM, Anonymous M.Z. Forrest said...

    My beloved Rich,

    If you are going to accuse me of calumny at least do have some decent material to do it with. You are self-serving Republican apologist who has a grievance with nearly every bishop and every diocese in the country. Whoever gets in the way of your little political pogram earns your disdain be it the Vatican, religious instiutions, the USCCB, bishops, or clerics. You commit calmny against more people before breafast than I did in my little comment.

    At 3/04/2008 6:07 PM, Blogger Jeff Miller said...

    "As it is, without that one line in that one interview, based on his actions, we'd be looking at Martin Sheen as a solid pro-lifer."

    Wouldn't publicly supporting a pro-abortion politician be a blot on being a solid pro-lifer?

    But even if he was should a Catholic university give an honor to someone who fundraises in support of homosexual causes and supports women's ordination?

    At 3/04/2008 8:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Sheen is against abortion like I am against alcohol. I'd never vote to ban it, but I think it is a bad idea for anyone to drink alcoholic beverages. Same with Sheen and abortion, bad idea, but he isn't going to vote for candidates who would do anything to ban it, and he will support candidates who treat abortion as a sacrament. I think Sheen is the perfect "pro-lifer" for contemporary Notre Dame.

    At 3/05/2008 1:58 PM, Blogger Rich Leonardi said...

    A St. Blog's maxim:

    When an ideologue like T. Marzen disagrees with you, you probably have a valid point; when he starts throwing mud, you've arrived at the truth.

    At 3/05/2008 4:01 PM, Anonymous WebDesigner said...

    Just a brief correction of the original post - the author states that Mr. Sheen has posted the "Progressive" interview on his website, making it seem that the appearance on the site makes it more credible. In actual fact, the interview is posted on MartinSheen.Net, which is a completely unofficial website which is not endorsed by Mr. Sheen in any way, serving only as a compilation of photographs, interviews and articles in an archival setting. That being said, please feel free to visit and research our Library.

    WebDesigner at MartinSheen.net

    At 3/05/2008 4:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Pro-choice, pro-same sex marriage activist, Laetare Medal recipient, Martin Sheen firing up the Gay Brownshirts at the Dallas GBLT Black Tie dinner and auction last November, Sheen is their headliner and makes a nice donation and is credited with making the event a great success!

    The Dallas Voice has complete coverage including Sheen calling President Bush, "shit" and a "goddamn liar".


    Any thoughts Sheen supporters?

    Tim Lang

    At 3/05/2008 4:34 PM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

    For the record, please don't count me as a "Sheen supporter". I think the guy's nutty, and I completely disagree with him politically on the vast majority of issues.

    I just think that attacking his pro-life credentials is somewhat misguided. If there's other stuff out there that preclude him from receiving the Laetare Medal, then have at him. But basing opposition to the award on his pro-life views or lack thereof just doesn't seem the way to go as far as I'm concerned.

    At 3/05/2008 11:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Not sure how you can say Sheen is pro-life when he claims that while he is "personally" against abortion, he supports abortion rights.

    That's called being pro-choice.

    Even if you take Sheen at his word that he's "personally opposed," he still thinks women ought to have the choice of abortion.

    Also, citing his supposed filing of an amicus brief against NOW in the NOW v. Scheidler case as proof of his pro-life credentials is deceptive and misleading.

    NOW v. Scheidler dealt with the civil liability under the RICO and Hobbs Acts of pro-life protesters who use physical force to block access to abortion clinics. The case had NOTHING to do with the substantive issue of abortion (i.e., whether it should be legal, whether it should be restricted). Consequently, even if Sheen did indeed file a brief, all that demonstrates is that he supports the right of the protesters to express themselves without being subject to frivolous lawsuits from abortionists.

    Sheen's alleged involvement in NOW does nothing to contradict or refute his professed pro-choice position of "I'm personally against it, but women ought to have the choice" or his unwavering support for every singe pro-choice candidate for office the Democrat Party rolls out.

    At 3/06/2008 6:31 PM, Blogger Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz said...

    Part of the problem with his comment in The Progressive is that he said he couldn't make a judgment when it came to Black or Hispanic or lower-income women choosing abortion. In other words, there seems to be some latent racism/classism there, though he would certainly rail at the very suggestion.

    However, also consider this little tidbit from an interview found at PBS (http://www.pbs.org/kcet/globaltribe/voices/voi_sheen.html).
    He supported the building a bathhouse at a garbage dump on the outskirts of Manila where thousands of people live. The interviewer pointed out the obvious fact that the Philippines is a Catholic country and since he's a "devout" Catholic what did he think about the Church's teaching on contraception? (Get the connection? Catholic country, lots of poor people living in a garbage dump, so they need to defy the Church and get a hold of contraception in order to contracept themselves out of their miserable existence.)

    His reply: "Well, I think that Catholicism's basic foundation of faith is personal conscience. I think it's between you and God, not you and the Church. I think the Church is a conduit to God. The Church is not God..." and blah, blah, blah, on he goes.

    Devout Catholic my foot.

    At 4/16/2008 10:00 AM, Anonymous Dave Kothman said...

    I wonder if Mr. Estevez will be starring in this year's production of The Vagina Monologues on the Notre Dame campus? Another embarrassment to Our Lady's School. Thanks, Fr. Jenkins.

    At 5/12/2008 8:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Martin Sheen is pro-life. Like Justice Scalia, he doesn't think the Constitution mentions abortion at all and that laws for or against abortion are both constitutional.
    His approach to the legality of abortion is flawed, but he is not fundamentally a "pro-abortion" radical fanatic. His approach is that abortion laws will fail, just as they did pre-RvWade, and just as they fail in Latin American countries. Sheen is not a systematic theologian, so we cannot approach his various, scattered statements on abortion to try to create some coherent view. His approach is more pragmatic and probably changes from time to time.

    He has made some nutty statements and exaggerated support for the most liberal causes out there. This is simply a reaction to 8 years of the Bush presidency, a presidency full of anti-Catholic legislation and policy which has hindered children's health insurance and promoted unjust war, torture, and the death penalty. So much for our 'pro-life' president.

    By the way, Notre Dame continues to be the most preeminent Catholic university in this country. The presence of a play that protests sexual violence against women (and uses some over the top sexual humor) does not bring shame to this university. Rather, it demonstrates that the university is mature enough, confident in its fundamental Catholic identity, and willing to engage in dialogue with the broader culture, however liberal and feminist and strange it might seem to us.

    At 5/12/2008 8:34 AM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...


    You had me in agreement until the last 2 paragraphs, which contain some truths, but are mostly full of horse manure.


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