Robby George on the murder of George Tiller

On William Bennett‘s excellent weekday morning talk-radio show today, Morning in America, I heard Dr. Bennett read a quote from Robby George of Princeton on the murder of the late-term abortionist George Tiller.

You will remember Robby George’s informative and civil "discussion" with Doug Kmiec which I posted the other day.

Here is the quote from Robby George:

"Whoever murdered George Tiller has done a gravely wicked thing. The evil of this action is in no way diminished by the blood George Tiller had on his own hands. No private individual had the right to execute judgment against him. We are a nation of laws. Lawless violence breeds only more lawless violence. Rightly or wrongly, George Tilller was acquitted by a jury of his peers. "Vengeance is mine, says the Lord." For the sake of justice and right, the perpetrator of this evil deed must be prosecuted, convicted, and punished. By word and deed, let us teach that violence against abortionists is not the answer to the violence of abortion. Every human life is precious. George Tiller’s life was precious. We do not teach the wrongness of taking human life by wrongfully taking a human life. Let our "weapons" in the fight to defend the lives of abortion’s tiny victims, be chaste weapons of the spirit."

It looks like Morning in America picked this up from National Review Online.

BTW… Bill Bennett has perhaps the greatest name for a blog ever: Nota Bennett

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. My only disagreement with this comment (at this time — and it may change in the future) is was this due to someone who did not support abortion? Was it due to maybe a botched abortion? Maybe it was due to some personal disagreement? Maybe it was a business dealing gone wrong?

    At this time, we do not know. To say it is was the shooter’s way to help stop abortion, is to make certain assumptions we do not know.

    Reminds me of the Washington DC snipers a few years ago. Every expert was saying that it was an “angry white male(s).” Turned out to be the total opposite.

  2. Memphis Aggie says:

    This is a disaster of the first order and not just because it was a murder, but because it will unjustly be used against the pro-life movement to paint us as savages.

    Compare that outcome to the value of having him (Tiller) around. We can say we value everyone’s live – including Tillers. Or one better, had Tiller been converted to faith he would have been a very potent voice. This murder is the worst possible outcome, especially if someone acted out of a distorted anti abortion sentiment.

    Remember the justifiable anger over Waco and Ruby Ridge over an untethered and trigger happy Fed? It was completely deflated by the monstrous act of Timothy McVeigh so that any chance that justice might be served through reasonable means was lost through the gross excess of vengeance.

  3. Eric says:

    I don’t know if this has been covered in other threads.

    A hypothetical.

    If the shooter is the father of a child that was due to be killed today by Tiller, would this be justified? A father protecting his child.

  4. mike says:

    I’m not clear on the law thing – Did not the colonists in America defy the law (the unjust law) thru arms to bring about their goals of LIFE, liberty & the pursuit of happiness? Did not the saintly Pearse defy the English establishment thru arms to free Ireland from tyranny? God’s law is perfect but human law is flawed and therefore it must, on occasion, be corrected THROUGH ACTION. The notion of a perpetually peaceful and just society is jaded and unrealistic


  5. There are a few things that can be said here:

    1) In a certain way, it is fitting that a man who’s life work was the unjust taking of human life, had his life unjustly taken.

    2) The measure with which you measure, will be measured out to you.

    3) It is a terrible thing to fall in the hands of the living God.

  6. Maureen says:

    Yes, the stupid hypothetical has been covered.

    No, it wouldn’t protect the child, unless you at the same time were able to take some action to prevent all other means of mayhem from being committed. Which you can’t. And there would be no way to be sure that the abortionist or the mother would go ahead with it, so you would still be in the wrong regardless. This kind of hypothetical is a grave offense against free will and the potential for human beings to accept grace and do the right thing.

    And no, it’s not civil disobedience to go around shooting people down, and no, you the individual do not have the powere to become judge, jury and executioner without trial.

    We are against abortion in part because it employs just such highhandedness!

    This murder was an offense against man and God, no matter who did it and no matter his or her reasons. Let us have no more of these hypotheticals.

  7. Rancher says:

    I have watched/read the mainstream media coverage of this incident with some interest. I am actually surprised at a couple of things given the ususal bent of the mainstream, liberal media. #1. They are, for the most part, not assuming that the shooter was a member of a pro-life group and seem to almost be going out of their way to be “fair” (as fair as they are capapble of) on the issue.

    #2. The media is emphasizing that the victim performed “late term abortions” and they note that he was one of the few to do so. The “tone” of many media comments seems to be negative towards him not because of abortion in general but the late term aspect of his work.

    I would also comment that I monitor some liberal blogs (I like to gather intelligence info on the enemy) and I have noted that there is not as much rancor over this murder as I would have expected. Some posters, while not supporting the murder, pointed out the “extreme” type of abortions (not that they are not all extreme) that Tiller performed. Interesting and a little surprising.

  8. Amy P. says:

    I am upset and disgusted by this. As much as I abhor abortion and the “work” Tiller did, this morning I’d rather have him alive than to deal with the damage this killer has done to the pro-life movement.

    The DHS report. Obama’s unabashed love of abortion. The general leftward bent of politics and government. This murder does not bode well for us, our ACTUAL cause (which doesn’t condone or encourage this cold-blooded murder), and our freedoms of speech, assembly, and religious expression. It just doesn’t.

    Rancher, I’m heartened by your comments, but I’ve also waded through a few that are eager to throw all of us in jail with Tiller’s murderer. To them, we’re guilty for being part of the pro-life “culture” (never mind that the last murder of an abortionist was in 1998 and that the usual killers are middle-aged men, hardly a representative sample of the pro-life movement and hardly indicative of a widespread homicidal bent in the same). It doesn’t matter what good we do. It doesn’t matter what we say. It doesn’t matter if we condemn this until we’re blue in the face.

    George Tiller is dead. Killed by someone with limited, but existent, connections to the pro-life movement (someone who also has a criminal history and a anarchist, anti-government tendency) killed him. Expect the rest of us to suffer the consequences.

  9. problem says:

    I have two points on Robby George’s above statement.

    First it is not at all clear that this is a moral evil. We do not know enough about the object, circumstances, or end of the act.

    Second, the question at hand for some is whether the United States can considered a nation of laws any longer. If the U.S. is no longer a nation of laws then there may indeed be a duty to restore to a nation to the order of law through force. (As a side, it always amuses me when some American Catholics argue that recourse to violence is somehow illegitmate. I seem to recall an act (the American Revolution) in which British subjects engaged in essentially covert military actions against both military (loyalist combatants) and non-military targets (non-combatant loyalists). The non-combatant loyalists’ great crime was to report their rebellious and violent neighbors to the proper authorities. For this they were persecuted, killed, and ulitimately driven from their homes. All this over “no taxation without representation”. Sic semper tyrannis and all that. For those of you who reject recourse to violence: the most gracious Queen is happy to accept your return as her loyal subjects (she would also like her land back).)

    My point is not to call for either a revolution or violence against anyone. My point is simply that Catholics must be consistent in principle. There are really only two options. 1.) Catholics must reject recourse to force in principle and become pacificists. They seems to be the trajectory or Cardinal Bernardin’s “consistent ethic of life”. This option has something to recommend it: it is simple to explain to be people. I think this is why this theory had such traction (at least as it was commonly explained). 2.) Catholics must affirm that recourse to force is sometimes not only permissible but also a good. This option has something to recommend it: it is in the tradition.

    If principle number two is admitted, thn Catholics seem to have three responsiblities. First, Catholics must give clear reasons when recourse to force is permissible in the theoretical order. Second, they must clearly articulate why recourse to violence is or is not permissible in the current political situation. Most Catholics seem either to skip this step or act as if it is self-evident. Third, since Catholics seem to have choosen the principle that recourse to violence is not per se evil, they must understand that the one consequence of this is that the matter becomes on a certain level a judgment that has to be made in the pruduential order by individuals.

  10. Supertradmom says:

    I am very concerned with two things here: first, we must pray for the soul of Dr. Tiller. The man who murdered him obviously did not think about Tiller’s own salvation. Secondly, those of us who work in the anti-abortion camp peacefully have been undermined. The press already has used the word “vilified” with respect to the pro-life stance against Dr. Tiller’s late-term abortion record. NOW is basically using this incident to call upon the government to take a stronger stand against pro-lifers. This entire incident puts all of us in danger.

    Prayer is needed. I am so glad Mr. George comments are so clear.

  11. Andy F. says:

    I condemn the horrible murder of George Tiller. I pray for his soul and for the individual who committed the crime. However, I can’t escape the words Our Lord spoke to St. Peter: Those that live by the sword, perish by the sword. May God have mercy on all of us.

  12. Limbo says:

    Andy F. you took the words straight out of my mouth.
    Tiller died in the culture of death that he perpetrated.

    I prayed tonight for the family of the accused. How their hearts must ache.

  13. Londiniensis says:

    I note that President Obama has lost no time in linking, however obliquely, the murder of George Tiller to the pro-life movement:

    I am shocked and outraged by the murder of Dr. George Tiller as he attended church services this morning. However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.


  14. Bill in Texas says:

    Carl Olson has an excellent post, with a long citation from moral theologian Charles Rice on why the murder of abortionists is not justified by any Catholic teaching about just war, capital punishment, or justified rebellion.

    I think some posters here, in this thread and in the other(s) on Tiller’s murder, would do well to read Rice’s analysis and consider it prayerfully. In my opinion, “drama” posts are not helpful at all.

    And with that, and my earlier posts in the “A few thoughts about the Tiller murder,” I am bowing out of these threads. I believe I can be a lot more helpful and productive for pro-life by actually witnessing to the cause of life than by participating in further bloviation.

  15. GordonBOPS says:

    I that is the key point– vigilante justice is not the solution here — moral culpability of the involved parties aside; the laws of our nation rightly are designed to discourage this type of action, frankly, avoiding this type of action is a key to an ordered society (this aint the Wild West here). Not that legalized abortion is itself rightly ordered in this society; but we have an obligation to obey the LEGITIMATE laws enacted in our respective parts of the world. From here, we’ll let the civil authorities handle the proper way to address this act.

  16. Pseudomodo says:

    Look at the big picture…

    Yes, some kooks did something terrible and people will be angry at catholics for a while, but then slowly they will want to know more about us…

    There will be analysis and investigation with moderate and rank&file catholics being interviewed… then there will be more interest and dialogue. There may be a few setbacks with catholics getting onto airplanes but that’s par for the course.

    Then there will be ABC and CNN specials and in-depth presentations on the mainstream media, then there will be radio and TV programs like Catholicism 101 and maybe “Little Basilica on the prairie”, a new hit show and there will be more and more dialogue then maybe there will be a Muslim cleric suggesting that maybe just maybe the federal government will have to enshrine Canon Law into the consitution…

    If recent history is accurate, in ten years WE will be the media darlings…

    Oh, wait a minute… we’re catholic…

    …never mind…

  17. Noah Moerbeek says:

    Some thoughts I had while thinking about this issue

    “Punishment is justice for the unjust.\” St Augustine

    “An unjust law is no law at all.\” (in On Free Choice Of The Will, book 1, section 5) St Augustine

    “Order your soul; reduce your wants; live in charity; associate in Christian community; obey the laws; trust in Providence.\” St Augustine

    I will trust in providence whatever comes next and not think about what has come to past.

  18. Mark says:

    Well put, problem!

  19. cathguy says:

    I am sickened by those who keep asking questions like “was this justified?” It was a cowardly act of murder. Plain and simple.

    Dr. Robert George has, as usual, hit the nail on the head. I had NO IDEA that there was so much extremism in the Catholic traditional movement. Not just anti-semitism, but even pro-violence positions against abortionists. There are people here who are acting like they are smarter than the foremost pro-life scholar in the country!

    I am done with this blog for ever. I feel like I am waking up from a nightmare. I will pray for anyone who advocates violence in pursuit of their aims. Fr. Z is either unwilling to moderate his blog, or he agrees with allowing those who advocate violence being given a forum. Either way… I can’t in conscience participate.

    Fr. Z., if you would, please oblige me by locking me out of the blog. I would not want to be tempted to revisit after what I have seen here.

    I would hope right thinking individuals wake up as well. We must oppose abortion by any legal and moral means available. The stuff Fr. Z is allowing in the com-boxes is crazy. Yes, this is a criticism of you Father, and a public one. This may end up being the only post getting deleted.

    I am repulsed.

  20. Tom A. says:

    Dear Cathguy,

    Would it repulse you if a prisoner at Auschwitz took action to kill an SS Guard. After all, that act would be a violation of the laws of the Nazi regime. What really repulses you is the fact that our nation is allowing a holocaust to occur right under our noses and our laws are unable to stop it.

  21. Girgadis says:

    While I cannot believe some of the comments I’ve read here, I feel it is better
    to be aware that such mentalities exist rather than lock out comments that are
    repulsive. Whatever you think of George Tiller and his deplorable actions, keep
    in mind one thing: if women didn’t VOLUNTARILY seek his services, he’d have
    been out of business. He never held a gun to anyone’s head or sought a court
    order to force a woman to abort her child. Unlike Hitler, he didn’t have a
    military force that rounded women up and held them against their will to
    exterminate their children. On another thread on this blog, someone actually
    suggested that the president was responsible for Tiller’s death because he
    left the killer with no option. First, abortion took place before Obama and
    by the looks of things, it may continue after he’s out of office. Second, Obama
    will not be in office forever and third, the killer had the same options as the
    rest of us and murder isn’t one of them and never will be for people who call
    themselves Christians. Yes, I’m sickened by what I’ve read here. There will
    be those who undoubtedly point out that abortion is a sickening and repulsive
    act and I should be more outraged at abortionists, but there’s a difference
    between the Tillers of this world and us, and it is our faith and our trust
    in Jesus Christ, who, as it was pointed out, never killed anyone to see His
    will done. Defending a murderer is an admission that you don’t truly believe
    in the power of prayer and the possibility for conversion, which are
    the most powerful weapons we have in this battle while simultaneously working
    to effect change through the courts and the law.

  22. problem says:

    Dear Cathguy,

    You wrote, “There are people here who are acting like they are smarter than the foremost pro-life scholar in the country!”

    This is an argument from authority and is the weakest form of argument. I might add, however, that there are participants on this blog who have academic credentials equal to Dr. George’s. I might also add, if we are go to get into the academic game (my Ph.D. is better than yours game), Dr. George does not have a doctorate in either Catholic Theology or in Moral theology but rather in the philosophy of law.

    You wrote, “I am sickened by those who keep asking questions like “was this justified?””

    Why are you sickened by those who ask questions? Both Socrates and Christ continually ask questions and questions which most found offensive. Questions are good and it is natural for humans to question. The question is never the problem only the answer. I will continue to imitate Christ by asking questions.

    You wrote, “It was a cowardly act of murder. Plain and simple.” This is neither plain nor simple. Murder is defined as the taking of innocent human life by an unlawful authority. Was Tiller innocent? The answer is no. The debate, if there is a debate, is whether the killer acted lawfully.

    You wrote, “Fr. Z is either unwilling to moderate his blog, or he agrees with allowing those who advocate violence being given a forum.”

    As far as I am aware no one has actually advocated violence. You should be charitable in your reading of another’s post.

    You wrote, “Either way… I can’t in conscience participate.” Is it fair to assume then that you do not have conversations with pro-murder (i.e. abortion supporters) individuals then? After all they advocate violence against babies. If you cannot discuss with those who in your view (incorrectly I might add) advocate violence against murderers then you surely cannot discuss with the pro-abortion crowd.

    Pray tell, how do you even evangelize?

    Less emotion and more argument would be beneficial.

  23. Tom A. says:

    Dear Girgadis,

    The unborn child did not VOLUNTARILY seek out Dr Tiller either. The mother took the victim to the place of execution just like the SS took the Jews to the gas chambers.

  24. Michael J says:


    Nobody here, to my knowledge has actually “defended a murderer”. You’re a bit premature with that one. Instead, there is a (reasonable, in my opinion) discussion about whether the person who took the life of Tillman is, in fact, a murderer.

    I’ll grant that with the little information we currently know it is likely that this person is guilty of murder, but it is you who have judged this man without recourse to all of the facts.

  25. Girgadis says:

    Tom, your point that the child is the innocent victim with no say in the matter
    is well-taken. But gunning doctors down in cold blood is not the way to stand
    up for the unborn no matter how many scenarios you invent.

  26. GordonBOPS says:

    I that is the key point– vigilante justice is not the solution here — moral culpability of the involved parties aside; the laws of our nation rightly are designed to discourage this type of action, frankly, avoiding this type of action is a key to an ordered society (this aint the Wild West here). Not that legalized abortion is itself rightly ordered in this society; but we have an obligation to obey the LEGITIMATE laws enacted in our respective parts of the world. From here, we\’ll let the civil authorities handle the proper way to address this act.

  27. Tom A. says:

    Dear Girgadis,

    Gunning anyone down in cold blood is never the answer to any problem.
    My point in making my comments is to begin a debate on when is it allowable
    to disobey a law of the state? At what point does it become an obligation
    to disobey. The gas chamber analogy is an obvious choice, since the Nazis
    clearly lost thier moral authority to govern, but my fear is that our
    government may also lose its moral authority. So far, our laws have been
    unable to prevent the wholesale slaughter of innocence, our laws are allowing
    the dismantling of traditional marriage. What was an abomination a generation
    ago is now celebrated as a moral good by our culture. Remember, in our
    nation, laws are being made by majority rules. The majority is often wrong.
    At what point are we no longer obligated to follow these immoral
    rulings? I do not have the answer, but Catholics everywhere should start
    thinking about these things. There are dangerous signs in our culture that
    could lead to a persecution of the Catholic faith right here in America.

  28. ssoldie says:

    I can only think at this time, that there will not be 250 late term abortions done by the late Dr. as there was in 2003 by his hands. Isn’t it something to be known for murdering 60 thousand little human people, because the law says it is o.k…….. Wow what an epitath.

  29. Kevin says:

    In terms of taking the law into one’s own hands, children in utero exist outside of the law of the United States. It is not possible in this instance to usurp the authority of the government, because the government has deliberately excluded this section of humanity from its protection.

    If a private citizen had shot Al Capone, following upon the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, he would have been usurping the government’s authority because the government considered that massacre to be illegal, and only failed to try anyone for it for want of evidence.

  30. Mark says:

    Nail on the head again, problem!

    Cathguy is the extremist. He accuses us all of advocating violence, when no one has actually done that. We’ve merely been having the necessary discussion about how Catholic teaching on Legitimate Defense applies to the abortion situation.

    But, as I said in some other threads, even the mere asking of this question (even if the answer eventually developed is against violence in practice) makes many “pro-lifers” uncomfortable or downright indignant. Cathguy is obviously an extreme example of that unwillingness to even consider uncomfortable hypotheticals.

    But if we dont consider them and answer them…then eventually more guys like this shooter are going to conclude we dont have an answer and do more crazy stuff. So it is dangerous NOT to have this discussion. The pro-life movement has avoided it for too long.

    And I think the hypocrisy you noticed about not being willing to engage in the discussion with us and shunning us…but then not likewise stigmatizing and shunning pro-choice people…is a very important point.

    And again…we are not, ultimately, even advocating violence. It is the mere “consideration” of it as a hypothetical (even though ultimately concluding against it) which Cathguy apparently finds intolerably offensive! And yet I’m sure he doesnt shun all his pro-choice acquaintances like this, and would have no problem with “dialogue” and “debate” with them.

    Even if someone were advocating violence against abortionists…what they’d be advocating would be no worse than the pro-choice position. And yet the former is, in some pro-lifers’ minds, not even worthy of debate, is contemptuous and excluded entirely from the table of civil discourse, whereas they are at least willing to engage those advocating the murder of babies in civil debate. It’s absurd!

    Would that such a stigma existed against the pro-choice position among pro-lifers! But, no, the pro-life movement has surrendered to society’s definitions of who is worthy of civil debate and who is to be shunned, even when they are entirely inconsistent. So pro-choice people are just “misguided” and we have to keep being friends with them and just try to win them over through “dialogue”…but people merely discussing the hypothetical ethics of using force to stop abortions…are crazy extremists who must be shunned and not engaged in any sort of discourse.

    It’s a rubicon in the pro-life/anti-abortion movement(s).

  31. little gal says:

    I realize that this is a bit dated, but I just came across this piece comparing the ‘taking out’ of George Tiller to the actions of Dietrich Bonhoeffer vs a vs Hitler. For those who are studied in moral theology, I would appreciate any comments on this. Here is the link:,0,5615518.story

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