A Sheen example
Catholic actor is honored for his social justice activism; not everyone delighted
By Sam Lucero
News and Information Manager
Last month the University of Notre Dame named Catholic social activist and actor Martin Sheen recipient of its Laetare Medal. It is the university's oldest and most prestigious honor, given to a Catholic "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity."
In announcing the award, Holy Cross Fr. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame said that Sheen has used his celebrity "to draw the attention of his fellow citizens to issues that cry out for redress." Sheen will receive his medal during the university's commencement exercise in May.
Not everyone is pleased with Sheen's selection by the university.
It seems whenever a Catholic institution recognizes him, both Sheen and the institution receive some criticism. That was the case a few years ago when Sheen received an honorary doctorate degree from Marquette University.
"As you are building up the character of Mr. Sheen as a devout Catholic, why didn't you mention that he is pro-abortion?" wrote one critic to the local diocesan newspaper.
Martin Sheen is a lightning rod for criticism. First of all, he is in the public eye because of his profession - acting. Secondly, he uses his celebrity status to bring attention to peace and justice issues, especially anti-war matters.
Unlike other Hollywood celebrities, whose convictions to a cause end once the TV cameras stop rolling or when the cause no longer benefits their careers, Sheen's conviction to ending homelessness, nuclear weapons proliferation, Third World debt and military buildup penetrate his soul.
Unfortunately for Sheen, his outspoken views and strong criticism of political leaders whom he believes jeopardize a peaceful world are not shared by all Americans. That many citizens disagree with Sheen's views is not surprising. However, discrediting him on the grounds of not being a faithful Catholic is disappointing.
Because Martin Sheen has chosen as his vocation a life devoted to speaking out against one form of social evil - the buildup of weapons and armies at the expense of the hungry and poor - he is automatically ridiculed as pro-abortion.
What is Sheen's view on abortion? In an interview with The Progressive magazine in 2003, Sheen stated:
"I cannot make a choice for women, particularly a black or brown or poor pregnant woman. I would not make a judgment in the case. As a father and a grandfather, I have had experience with children who don't always come when they are planned, and I have experienced the great joy of God's presence in my children, so I'm inclined to be against abortion of any life. But I am equally against the death penalty or war - anywhere people are sacrificed for some end justifying a means. I don't think abortion is a good idea. I personally am opposed to abortion, but I will not judge anybody else's right in that regard because I am not a woman and I could never face the actual reality of it."
When one pro-abortion group listed Sheen as a supporter of its March for Women's Lives in 2004, Sheen had his name removed from the list.
God calls his people to use their gifts and talents to serve his church in many ways. Protesting in front of a military base rather than in front of an abortion clinic is what Sheen believes he is called to do. Should he be portrayed as "pro-abortion" for following his conscience?