Off-Key Applause

 by Lynn Vincent

One of the classic moments in Casablanca, the great Humphrey Bogart film (1942) set in German-occupied French west Africa, comes when an anti-Nazi leader has the small nightclub orchestra play France?s national anthem to drown out the singing of German officers.

Almost everyone joins in?many with tears of defiant national pride. At first the officer?s battle back, singing louder than before. But soon, overwhelmed by the citizenry?s patriotism?which was revived by a single brave resistance fighter?the Germans fall silent and begin to look thoroughly uncomfortable. The citizens go on to finish their triumphant rendition of La Marseillaise.

Pro-life leaders through much of May have been buzzing about a real-life magic moment of that kind. It happened at the May 8 funeral of Cardinal John O?Connor, New York?s archbishop and a staunch defender of the right to life of unborn children. More than 3,500 people, including a host of political luminaries, attended the service at New York?s St. Patrick?s Cathedral. Seated in the front row were Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Al and Tipper Gore.

It was a stately service, marked by tender eulogies and tributes to a man who often said he wanted to be remembered as a simple priest. But it was the words of Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston and Cardinal O?Connor?s best friend that inspired mourners to render a pro-life La Marseillaise in spontaneous protest of America?s war on the unborn.

"He preached?the necessity of seeing in every human being from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, and every moment in between, particularly in the poor, in the sick, in the forgotten, the image of a God to be loved and to be served," Cardinal Law said. "What a great legacy he has left us in this constant reminder that the church must always be unambiguously pro-life."

Applause rippled, then thundered, through the cathedral like a tidal wave. The pro-abortion political leaders at the front did not join in. The president and Mrs. Clinton began whispering to each other and kept their hands still, as did the Gores. Despite Cardinal Law?s attempts to gesture gently for quiet, the huge crowd then rose for a standing ovation that reportedly lasted 3 minutes and 9 seconds.

The politicos also rose, but reluctantly and with obvious discomfort. The Clintons and Gores still refrained from applause. Under the duress of whirring television cameras that captured the moment, they seemed caught between a rock and a political hard place: Should they appear on TV participating in a pro-life ovation, or appear on TV politicizing the funeral of a widely respected religious leader? Aides later parsed the moment in classic Clinton style: The Clintons and Gores stood only as a gesture of respect to the church and the cardinal, aides said.

The president and his veep did not, apparently, want their actions to be confused with a gesture of respect for what Cardinal O?Connor, along with most of his 3,500 mourners, believed: simply that America?s children ought to be allowed to live.

"Reprinted by permission from WORLD Magazine, Asheville, NC (800) 951.6397."