KEVIN LEININGER: If ‘love your enemies’ can bridge even the abortion divide, what else might it do?
Don Page was worshiping at St. Vincent’s Catholic Church five years ago when Father Dan Scheidt challenged parishioners to think of the person they disliked most — and befriend them.
Page, who by that time had already been a pro-life sidewalk counselor for five years, had no trouble coming up with a name. He knew the rest would not be so easy.
“I thought, ‘How do I do this? I detest this person.’ He would always come out and harass us ” said Page, 87, a retired printer who after much prayer reached out to the late abortion Dr. Ulrich “George” Klopfer and, in the process, demonstrated the power of forgiveness and the potential of redemption.
Klopfer, who died at his Illinois home in September at the age of 75, performed abortions for years in various cities and in Fort Wayne before his clinic on Inwood Drive closed in 2013. Just last week, a mass burial was held in South Bend for the 2,411 fetal remains found on Klopfer’s property following his death. What Klopfer did in life and what was discovered after it ended made him a reviled figure among many, which is precisely why Page’s overture was so remarkable.
Even though the clinic was closed by the time Father Scheidt delivered his sermon, Klopfer would continue to visit on an almost weekly basis, spending Wednesday nights in the vacant building. So one day, Page approached him and said, “Please forgive me. I’d like to be friends. He said, ‘OK.’ ”
And for the next five years, almost until the day Klopfer died, the two men shared a coffee one morning each week in the clinic parking lot while discussing their lives, abortion and, yes, faith.
“I asked him, ‘You’re a doctor. Why are you doing this?’ He considered it a service because he thought a child wouldn’t be taken care of properly if it wasn’t wanted,” Page said. “He had inner demons. He had grown up in Dresden (Germany), which was firebombed in World War II and had seen his relatives killed.”
That didn’t justify abortion in Page’s mind, of course, but it did begin to provide insight into Klopfer’s motivations. So by the time Klopfer revealed he had been baptized as a Lutheran as a child, the relationship was such that Page could give him a personalized copy of Luther’s Small Catechism, with the appropriate pro-life Scripture verses highlighted.
“After that I kept asking him, ‘Are you going to read it?’ He would say, ‘Yeah,’ ” Page recalled.
Whether Klopfer ever did read it is unknown, but the two men came to know each other well over the final five years of Klopfer’s life, developing what Page unashamedly calls a friendship. As a friend, Page assured Klopfer that God is able and eager to forgive the sins of all who repent and believe in Christ.
Page can’t say for certain Klopfer ever did that either, but said Klopfer seemed different the last time they met: Aware of his own sickness, he was mellow, more contemplative and serious. And when Klopfer died, his wife called Page to say he had passed in apparent peace, with a smile on his face.
“We’re hopeful there was a conversion,” said Abigail Lorenzen, operations and media director for Right to Life of Northeast Indiana, who said Klopfer’s often-pornographic comments to pro-life demonstrators gradually vanished as he got to know Page, and said the remains found on his property troubled her but may reflect Klopfer’s tendency to “hoard” things, such as the medical records and numerous other remnants discovered in his Fort Wayne clinic, many of which remain.
And if the unlikely friendship changed Klopfer, it affected Page as well.
“At first I kept looking at his hands, thinking what he’s done with them,” Page said. “Then I thought, ‘My hands are dirty in God’s eyes, too.” So today, when he stands once a week outside the nearby Planned Parenthood office, Page makes an extra effort to reflect the love God freely offers to everyone.
Scheidt, who met Klopfer through Page, told the Catholic News Agency that “It became clear in our conversations that we were (Klopfer’s) only friends. It’s what prompted him to drive the distance . . . We must go in search of the divine image in every person. I saw in George Klopfer not simply one who slaughtered, but a lost sheep . . . God has the ability to transform and heal human life. Jesus has given us everything for us to be part of the happy ending.”
Only God knows whether Klopfer was redeemed at the end of his life, but the mere possibility has something to say to Americans of all political and religious persuasions who often seen more eager to destroy adversaries than to persuade them. Page certainly isn’t giving up: In the Catholic tradition of praying even for the dead, he continues to seek God’s mercy for the man he once hated.
Love your enemies, Christ said. If it was easy, more of us would do it. But isn’t the chance for a happy ending against all odds worth the effort?
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at email@example.com or call him at 461-8355.