After the recent death of abortionist turned pro-life advocate Dr. Bernard Nathanson, his close friend Fr. C. John McCloskey said that the doctor's conversion to the faith was “one of the great Catholic moments of the 20th century in the United States.”
The 84 year-old doctor, who was responsible for close to 75,000 abortions during his career as an obstetrician before undergoing a profound change of heart, died from cancer on Feb. 21.
Fr. McCloskey, a prominent Opus Dei priest, was instrumental in Nathanson joining the Catholic Church – a step the physician took 15 years after renouncing his role as one of the most staunch abortion advocates in U.S. history.
In a Feb. 22 interview with CNA, Fr. McCloskey remembered the late doctor as “a great, very intelligent man” who had made “a big sacrifice personally in order to change his opinion on a very important issue.”
The two met in the early 1980s and bonded over a love of great literature, soon after Nathanson had abandoned the abortion industry. During the course of their friendship, the repentant abortionist would make the second great decision of his life – to be baptized into the Catholic Church.
In 1996, he was baptized and confirmed on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the crypt of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City by then Cardinal John O'Connor. Fr. McCloskey called the event “one of the great Catholic moments of the 20th century in the United States.”
He noted that although Nathanson knew that “he was completely forgiven of his sin by the waters of Baptism,” the doctor “realized the great evil that he was involved in” and worked to rectify his mistakes “over the course of several decades.”
Part of the “great evil” that Nathanson took part in before his conversion involved performing or sanctioning abortions on tens of thousands of unborn babies.
A successful gynecologist who followed his father's career path, Nathanson eventually worked to co-found the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws in 1969. Now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America, the organization would become one of the strongest advocates of legal abortion in the nation.
By the mid-1970s, however, Nathanson began to undergo a drastic interior change and eventually declared himself to be pro-life in 1979.
“The more and more he went into the question of abortion the more he realized he was killing human beings,” Fr. McCloskey said, “and so he publicly came out and said I'm going to the other side – the light side away from the dark side.”
Nathanson soon after produced the 1985 film “The Silent Scream,” which shows sonogram images of a child in the womb attempting to move away from an abortionist’s instruments.
Although Nathanson was “vilified by the secular press,” after the release of the film, Fr. McCloskey said the movie “had an enormous impact on the country.”
The doctor would later release the documentary called “Eclipse of Reason,” which explains various abortion procedures in graphic detail. Nathanson also wrote several books.
“From that time on, he went to get a degree in ethics from Vanderbilt University,” and traveled “all over the world giving talks on pro-life issues,” Fr. McCloskey said. Nathanson would also serve as an expert witness in state legislatures and “continued to practice medicine for a good many years.”
Although critics of Nathanson's conversion were were perplexed as to how a former atheist Jew became of the the most prominent Catholic pro-life advocates, Fr. McCloskey – who has aided in numerous conversions – said he wasn't surprised.
“My experience in dealing with Jewish people whom I love dearly is that, the great majority of them, if they want to become Christian, they become Catholic.”
Fr. McCloskey added: “I think his conversion from atheism to Catholicism will be seen as a real turning point in our history.”