Fr. Thomas Vander Woude, pastor at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Gainesville, Virginia, has a special place in his heart for children born with Down syndrome. His recent parish campaign to save one such life grabbed headlines. But to understand this story, and why these children are so special to Fr. Vander Woude, you need to know another story. This one blew me away.
Earlier this month, Fr. Vander Woude got wind of a young couple in another state whose unborn child had been diagnosed with Down syndrome. The couple made the decision close to ninety percent of parents in their shoes make—to abort their special needs baby. Because the pregnancy was almost six months along, they had just days before the legal cutoff for abortions in their state. But Father Vander Woude had other ideas.
He contacted the parents and convinced them to hold off just a little longer, while he and a volunteer sent messages via the church’s social network accounts, pleading for a family willing to adopt the baby and save its life.
The next morning, the calls and emails began—over 900, in fact—some from as far away as England and The Netherlands, ready to make the life-changing decision to adopt a special needs child. As the torrent subsided, three of the families were placed in contact with the expectant parents and an adoption agency for interviews.
You would think this outpouring of love and acceptance for a child nine out of ten American couples consider unworthy of life would impress pro-choicers—especially those who repeat the tired accusation that pro-lifers care only about children in the womb, not after they’re born.
Well, I’m sad to say pro-abortion activists at the blog Jezebel wasted no time in heaping scorn on Father Vander Woude and the hundreds who responded to his call. One Jezebel blogger accused him of pressuring this woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy by “crowdsourcing an adoptive family.”
“[A]nti-abortion folks,” she cedes, “care more about fetuses with fairytale narratives than actual babies.”
But this particular accusation that Father Vander Woude and his Twitter followers care nothing about older children with Down syndrome rings especially hollow. You see, this priest isn’t the first person in his own family to snatch a victim of Down syndrome from certain death.
His father, Thomas, Sr., died in 2008 after leaping into a septic tank to save his youngest son, Joseph, who had fallen in. According to sources at the time, Thomas, 66, allowed himself to sink beneath the sewage while holding 20-year-old Joseph above his head until rescuers arrived. Joseph has Down syndrome. His father died so that his special needs son would live.
It seems Fr. Vander Woude, who officiated his dad’s funeral, inherited a pro-life view that is not just intellectually true, but one of action. His father would be proud.
The groundswell of families who responded to this plea for adoption are putting feet to their pro-life views, while at the same time showing how wildly out-of-touch with reality abortion apologists have become.
This story also reveals how we might hope to return what Pope Benedict called a “culture of death” to a “culture of life.” It requires doing and saying. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote to his former seminarians, “Not in the flight of ideas, but only in action is freedom. Make up your mind and come out into the tempest of the living.”
Fr. Vander Woude and his father have both given some of those with “fairy tale narratives” a chance at a real happy ending.
Further Reading and Information
Inheriting Pro-Life: How a Son Learned from His Father to Defend the Weak - Next Steps
The diagnosis of Down syndrome or other similar conditions ought not to be a death sentence for unborn children. While you may not be able to adopt a child with special needs, there is still much you can do to help.
Volunteer in a crisis pregnancy center, get involved with church ministries for pregnant women, and learn about Down syndrome and other disabilities by checking out groups like Joni and Friends.
Remember that all life is precious; God makes no mistakes. As Christians we have an obligation to protect and nourish life wherever and whenever we can.