St. Louis author Colleen Carroll Campbell hits a home run with her recent Post-Dispatch column, demonstrating the absurdity of abortion laws in the United States. She’s saying that the public at large is missing the point: there is no ontological difference between the death of Caylee Anthony and the deaths of uncounted other children. And it isn’t that the law pretends there is; rather, it is that the civil law has developed in a climate of narcissism. Chesterton’s Fr. Brown in the story The Chief Mourner of Marne was faced with something similar, except in reverse.
A man had shut himself up in his house, clearly miserable with remorse over killing another man in a duel. But the townfolk couldn’t understand why he should be remorseful over such a trifle, and wanted to welcome him back among them. Perhaps they rather liked duels, we are not told. Fr. Brown, coming from the man’s house, told them to leave the man in peace to make his own peace with God. The townfolk thought Fr. Brown harsh and uncharitable to leave the man in such a state. But the man had indeed something to be so remorseful about and (with the man’s permission) Fr. Brown told them what it was. When they learned the whole story, the townfolk wanted the man to burn forever in hell:
“There is a limit to human charity,” said Lady Outram, trembling all over.
“There is,” said Father Brown dryly; “and that is the real difference between human charity and Christian charity. You must forgive me if I was not altogether crushed by your contempt for my uncharitableness to-day; or by the lectures you read me about pardon for every sinner. For it seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. So you tolerate a conventional duel, just as you tolerate a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.”
“But, hang it all,” cried Mallow, “you don’t expect us to be able to pardon a vile thing like this?”
“No,” said the priest; “but we have to be able to pardon it.”
Yes, a priest has to be able to pardon vile things that human beings could never pardon. This is the Casey Anthony case in reverse. She does not consider what she did so terribly wrong. Perhaps she just made a mistake, to use the modern phrase. In any case, she doesn’t think she did anything demanding a lifetime of mourning, a lifetime of repentance, so she’s out gaily in society. The difference in our story is that the townfolk know what really happened, or at least think they do, and they condemn her for it. They are compassionate towards a young narcissist when she has a conventional abortion they do not consider sinful and may even congratulate her for it. But they condemn her for an unconventional, excessively late-term abortion even though the baby is equally dead.
It is likely that one day Casey Anthony will realize what she has done, and will be sorry for it. And who will be there to touch her with a benediction? Fr. Brown. And (one hopes) the rest of us.