Adrian Jones on Gosnell (the movie): The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer
Pole that he was, Karol Wojtyła had a well developed sense of historical irony. So from his present position in the Communion of Saints, he might be struck by the ironic fact that the Synod on “Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” currently underway in Rome, coincides with the fortieth anniversary of his election as Pope John Paul II on October 16, 1978. What’s the irony? The irony is that the most successful papal youth minister in modern history, and perhaps all history, was largely ignored in Synod-2018’s working document. And the Synod leadership under Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri seems strangely reluctant to invoke either his teaching or his example.
But let’s get beyond irony. What are some lessons the Synod might draw from John Paul II on this ruby anniversary of his election?
1. The big questions remain the same.
Several bishops at Synod-2018 have remarked that today’s young people are living in a completely different world than when the bishops in question grew up. There’s obviously an element of truth here, but there’s also a confusion between ephemera and the permanent things.
When Cardinal Adam Sapieha assigned young Fr. Wojtyła to St. Florian’s parish in 1948, in order to start a ministry to the university students who lived nearby, things in Cracow were certainly different than they were when Wojtyła was a student at the Jagiellonian University in 1938-39. In 1948, Poland was in the deep freeze of Stalinism, and organized Catholic youth work was banned. The freewheeling social and cultural life in which Wojtyła had reveled before the Nazis shut down the Jagiellonian was no more, and atheistic propaganda was on tap in many classrooms. But Wojtyła knew that the Big Questions that engage young adults—What’s my purpose in life? How do I form lasting friendships? What is noble and what is base? How do I navigate the rocks and shoals of life without making fatal compromises? What makes for true happiness?—are always the same. They always have been, and they always will be.
To tell today’s young adults that they’re completely different is pandering, and it’s a form of disrespect. To help maturing adults ask the big questions and wrestle with the permanent things is to pay them the compliment of taking them seriously. Wojtyła knew that, and so should the bishops of Synod-2018.
2. Walking with young adults should lead somewhere.
Some of the Wojtyła kids from that university ministry at St. Florian’s have become friends of mine, and when I ask them what he was like as a companion, spiritual director, and confessor, they always stress two points: masterful listening that led to penetrating conversations, and an insistence on personal responsibility. As one of them once put it to me, “We’d talk for hours and he’d shed light on a question, but I never heard him say, ‘You should do this.’ What he’d always say was, ‘You must choose.’” For Karol Wojtyła, youth minister, gently but persistently compelling serious moral decisions was the real meaning of “accompaniment” (a Synod-2018 buzzword).
3. Heroism is never out of fashion.
When, as pope, John Paul II proposed launching what became World Youth Day, most of the Roman Curia thought he had taken leave of his senses: young adults in the late-twentieth century just weren’t interested in an international festival involving catechesis, the Way of the Cross, confession, and the Eucharist. John Paul, by contrast, understood that the adventure of leading a life of heroic virtue was just as compelling in late modernity as it had been in his day, and he had confidence that future leaders of the third millennium of Christian history would answer that call to adventure.
That didn’t mean they’d be perfect. But as he said to young people on so many occasions, “Never, ever settle for anything less than the spiritual and moral grandeur that God’s grace makes possible in your life. You’ll fail; we all do. But don’t lower the bar of expectation. Get up, dust yourself off, seek reconciliation. But never, ever settle for anything less than the heroism for which you were born.”
That challenge—that confidence that young adults really yearn to live with an undivided heart—began a renaissance in young adult and campus ministry in the living parts of the world Church. Synod-2018 should ponder this experience and take it very, very seriously.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.
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There have been notorious murderers brought down for reasons other than their most horrific crimes. Al Capone, mob boss, was felled by tax evasion; Dr. Kermit Gosnell, abortionist, by illegally selling prescriptions for painkillers.
I’d be surprised if there are any readers of The Catholic Thing who don’t know who Gosnell is, but just in case: he’s the former operator of a Philadelphia abortuary, who was a specialist in late-term and “partial-birth” abortions. He would regularly take babies born alive (his clinic’s procedures were slapdash at best) and cut their spinal cords at the neck.
Al Capone was a better person.
Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer is in some ways like an hour-and-three-quarter length episode of Law and Oder: SVU– although the best-ever episode. The director of the film (also one of its stars) is Nick Searcy. Here he plays Gosnell’s defense attorney and manages to be convincing enough so that – even though we know he will lose the case – there’s still dramatic tension in the trial sequences.
Opposing him in court is an assistant district attorney played by Sarah Jane Morris. Ms. Morris is the film’s true star and its dramatic hub. I cry easily and did several times watching this film. Morris is an actress of the first order and her eyes show depth of feeling, whether of anger or sorrow or compassion, and it was she who made me tear up.
The levels of evil in this story are manifold. It starts, of course, with the indifference to human life inherent in abortion itself. Yet you could say – after the familiar pro-abortion mantra – that legal abortions should at least be safe and rare, whereas at Gosnell’s “clinic” they were anything but safe, were very frequent, and many weren’t even legal, occurring after the time limit prescribed by Pennsylvania law.
All this came to light because of a raid on Gosnell’s clinic by the Philadelphia P.D., the FBI, and the DEA looking for evidence related to those painkiller prescriptions.
During the raid, Gosnell is called into a procedure room to aid a patient “in distress.” One of the Philly cops, James Wood (Dean Cain), sees the patient sitting up, her hands on her belly: she’s clearly full-term. This can’t be right. . . . It’s just a glimpse, but it was enough to make me realize Mr. Searcy is as good a director as he is an actor.
Similarly, there’s a very nice sequence of scenes featuring an ambitious blogger, Molly Mullaney (Cynthia Fiallo), with bright red streaks in her hair and the requite tattoos, suggesting a far-Left pro-choicer, which is true. But she’s honest.
And there is some excellent balance between scenes, as, for example, when Detectives Wood and Stark (AlonZo Rachel) discover Gosnell’s collection of . . . baby feet and a later scene in which the prosecutor (Ms. Morris) plays with her own baby’s tootsies and, pro-choice though she is, “has a moment.”
Later, drinking something strong both to deaden her emotions (unsuccessfully) and to loosen her tongue, she explains to her shocked husband what investigators have discovered. “I’m gonna get that bastard,” she says.
The District Attorney (played by Michael Beach) is the first to pronounce Gosnell the worst serial killer in American history and warns his team that the courthouse will be swarming with reporters, all of whom will make this case (about the hottest of hot-button issues) a nightmare for the prosecutors. But when they arrive for the trial, only Molly the blogger is there, although that will change – thanks to her.
Gosnell is rated PG-13, which rating should put at ease any fear that the film is exploitive of the gore associated with abortion. To the extent that there is gore, it’s verbal. The horrors of the abortuary are described, not shown. Normally that would be bad cinema, where the rule is: Show, don’t tell. Here it works.
Gosnell, as portrayed by Earl Billings, lacks “affect,” as perhaps the bad doctor does – so much so that you might have thought he would escape conviction with an insanity defense. His Gosnell is ever-smiling and always in denial. “I look at all the women I’ve treated,” he says proudly, “as if they were my own daughter.”
Much of what’s in the film is based on trial transcripts, but there are some scenes that seem less fact-based – even unlikely. In the morgue, examining the bodies of the largest baby corpses recovered from Gosnell’s clinic of horrors, the medical examiner hands a scalpel to our heroine, the woman prosecutor, so she can cut into a skull to see if the brain is or is not intact (intact would mean the child was born alive and then murdered). This seems unlikely – a violation of medical and legal ethics. But it’s meant to be a kind of “crossing-the-Rubicon” moment for her. She’s pro-choice, after all.
Gosnell is not preachy. It’s fact-based. Janine Turner appears as a “respectable” abortion provider testifying for the prosecution, who – in cross-examination – says she has performed 30,000 abortions. As much as any line in the film, that one brought me up short. It’s that staggering number, of course, but it’s also because Ms. Turner, so stately and beautiful and composed, delivers the line so matter-of-factly. What she describes would make the film R-rated if it were shown.
Earlier, as the murderer’s trial is set to begin, a judge asks Gosnell if he has anything to say. He expresses concern for the rare turtles he keeps at his clinic. The judge instructs the prosecutor to see to the turtles’ welfare, because the judge takes the Endangered Species Act very seriously: “You are going to have to figure out how to deal with these vulnerable creatures.”
As mentioned, Gosnell is rated PG-13. Only one scene (in the morgue) involves blood – a liver autopsy. The teleplay is by Andrew Klavan; the screenplay is by Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinny and is based upon their bestselling book. There are some interesting cameos, including the actual prosecutor, Christine Wechsler, and our friend and former contributor, Austin Ruse, as one of the late-to-the-trial press corps.
Sarah Jane Morris
As a man are you welling….
Published on Jan 5, 2016
A new study released by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health suggests that praticipation in spiritual practices during childhood can lead to better health and well-being during early adulthood. Researchers found that those who attended religious services or prayed daily throughout their upbringing reported greater positivity and more satisfaction in their lives in their 20s.
Science Magazine has first author Ying Chen remarking on the study results:
“These findings are important for both our understanding of health and our understanding of parenting practices. Many children are raised religiously, and our study shows that this can powerfully affect their health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.”
The study, published the American Journal of Epidemiology, showed subjects were less likely to exhibit depressive symptoms, smoke, use illicit drugs, or have a sexually transmitted infection than people raised with less regular spiritual habits. Previous studies have also suggested a link between religious upbringings and a reduced risk of premature death.
The study drew data from the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII) and their children in the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS). These samples included more than 5,000 youths who had been followed for between 8 and 14 years.
The results found that children who were exposed to religous services regularly were 18 percent more likely to report higher happiness during their young adulthood (age 23-30). These people were also 29 percent more likely to volunteer in their communities and 33 percent less likely to use illicit drugs.
The study also found that those who practiced daily prayer or meditation were 16 percent more likely to have a happier outlook in their early adulthood. These people were 30 percent less likely to begin having sex at a young age and 40 percent less likely to contract a sexually transmitted infection.
The study did note that it had limitations, primarily that the sample size was mostly children of white females with relatively high family socioeconomic status, although previous research by senior author Tyler VanderWeele suggests that the effects of early life religious service attendance may be greater for black versus white populations. Another limitation was that the study did not take into account the influences of family and peers.
Overall the lasting effects of regular attendance to religious services and private daily prayer were practically the same. VanderWeele concluded:
“While decisions about religion are not shaped principally by health, for adolescents who already hold religious beliefs, encouraging service attendance and private practices may be meaningful avenues to protect against some of the dangers of adolescence, including depression, substance abuse, and risk taking. In addition, these practices may positively contribute to happiness, volunteering, a greater sense of mission and purpose, and to forgiveness.”