Because of their affection for St. Aphonsus Liguori, a certain Pennsylvania couple, devout in their Catholic faith, named their son after him. And the young Alphonsus Liguori Casey (1893-1956) learned about hardship and poverty at an early age. He was orphaned when he was 11. To support his brothers and sisters, he worked as a mule boy in the anthracite coal mines of Scranton, Pennsylvania. He labored during the day and studied at night. Alphonsus never forgot the lessons he learned in his youth. He graduated from high school and in his 30s earned a law degree and set up a law practice representing miners in their claims against the company.
His son Robert achieved enough distinction in his life to justify writing an autobiography (Fighting for Life) in which he recalls his earliest memories of the scarred hands of his father. He revered the legacy that Alphonsus brought to him from the mines of Scranton that included a visceral identification with the weak and the endangered. Abortion, he would say, is not a question of when life begins. It is a question of when love begins. “No insignificant person was ever born,” he stated, “and no insignificant person ever dies.” He asserted that his Democratic Party’s position on abortion “is inconsistent with our national character,” and that it can “never prosper if it does not protect the powerless—before and after birth.”
After graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in 1953, he received a law degree from George Washington University three years later. He became governor of the state of Pennsylvania in 1986. Four years later, he was re-elected, defeating a pro-choice Republican by more than a million votes while carrying 66 of 67 counties. It the largest margin of victory in Pennsylvania gubernatorial history. While governor, he did as much as he could to protect the unborn given the tight restrictions of Roe v. Wade. “In this country, the greatest country in the world,” he stated, “every child deserves to be born.” Planned Parenthood sued over his state’s Abortion Control Act and the case was heard by the United States Supreme Court (Planned Parenthood v. Casey). The 1992 decision, which Casey called “a victory for the unborn child,” affirmed the legality of a 24-hour waiting period before obtaining an abortion, informed consent about health risks for women seeking abortion, parental consent for minors seeking abortion, and detailed record keeping on the abortion industry.
Casey was shunned by his own Democratic Party. At the 1992 Democratic convention in New York, he was kept from the podium by the Clinton-Gore ticket. After being rejected as a speaker at the 1986 Chicago convention, Casey demanded that “those who believe in the right to life be accorded the right to speak.” The ill treatment given to him by his own party embarrasses and contradicts its alleged commitment to fairness, democracy and social justice issues.
Casey aspired to run for the presidency in 1996, but his health was waning. He had bypass surgery in 1989. Four years later he underwent a rare heart-liver transplant. In the aftermath of a remarkable recovery, which extended his life and his trials by seven years, The New York Times dubbed him a “folk hero” for his courage and determination. His autobiography won the 1997 Christopher Award.
On May 30, 2000 Robert Casey passed from this world. Princeton University’s Robert George lamented the loss, stating that “the pro-life movement has lost a champion, the Democratic Party its conscience, and American politics a model of principled statesmanship.” He was survived by his wife, four sons, four daughters, and 20 grandchildren.
It takes a man of humility to be a man of magnanimity. This is the central irony of the moral law. The man of pride can neither see straight nor love right. There is a moral line that flows from a St. Alphonsus Liguori to a young Scranton coal miner and his numerous descendants that offers us the hope that humility will one day save the world.
DR. DONALD DEMARCO is a senior fellow of Human Life International, professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University (Waterloo, Ontario) adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College (Cromwell, CT), and regular columnist for St. Austin Review. His books, including How to Remain Sane in a World That Is Going Mad, are available through Amazon.com.