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Saint Mary Church Ridgefield, Connecticut
This Handbook was created by the Saint Mary Respect Life Committee in June 2010 and released for Parish use during Respect Life Month, October 2010.
To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others. . . . This is the death of freedom. —Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, no. 20
Table of Contents
Prayer to End Abortion ……………………………………………. 8
Section I – Saint Mary Respect Life Committee
Saint Mary Respect Life Committee Mission Statement and Objectives ….. Who we are …………………………………………………………………. What we do …………………………………………………………………. Billboard Subcommittee ……………………………………………. Birthright International of Danbury ………………………………… March for Life ……………………………………………………… Priests for Life ……………………………………………………….. Life Chain …………………………………………………………… 11 11 11 12 13 14 14 15
Section II – Prayers, Intercessions and Quotes
Prayers …………………………………………………………….. Intercessions ………………………………………………………. Quotes ……………………………………………………………… 19 21 23
Section III – USCCB – Pro-Life Activities References
USCCB Mission Statement…………………………………………… 27 Resolution on Abortion ……………………………………………… 28 Respect for Unborn Human Life: The Church's Constant Teaching … 30 Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: A Campaign in Support of Life … 32
Section IV – Voter Information
Conscience and the Catholic Voter …………………………………… The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship……… 53 57
Section V - Resources
Pro-Life Websites ……………………………………………………… 65
Prayer to End Abortion
Lord God, I thank you today for the gift of my life, And for the lives of all my brothers and sisters. I know there is nothing that destroys more life than abortion, Yet I rejoice that you have conquered death by the Resurrection of Your Son. I am ready to do my part in ending abortion. Today I commit myself Never to be silent, Never to be passive, Never to be forgetful of the unborn. I commit myself to be active in the pro-life movement, And never to stop defending life Until all my brothers and sisters are protected, And our nation once again becomes A nation with liberty and justice Not just for some, but for all, Through Christ our Lord. Amen!
Prayer by Father Frank Pavone - Priests for Life
Saint Mary Respect Life Committee
Saint Gianna Beretta Molla 1922 - 1962 Patron Saint Against Abortion and of Pregnant Women
Tenth of thirteen children born to Alberto and Maria Beretta, she was a pious girl raised in a pious family; one sister became a nun, and two brothers, including Enrico Beretta became priests. While in college, she worked with the poor and elderly, and joined the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. Physician and surgeon, graduating from the University of Pavia in 1949, she started a clinic in Mero, Italy in 1950. She returned to school and studied pediatrics, and after finishing in 1952 she worked especially with mothers, babies, the elderly, and the poor. Active in Catholic Action, and a avid skier. She considered a call to religious life, but was married to Pietro Molla on 24 September 1955 at Magenta. Mother of three, she continued her medical career, treating it as a mission and gift from God. During her pregnancy with her fourth child, she was diagnosed with a large ovarian cyst. Her surgeon recommended an abortion in order to save Gianna’s life; she refused and died a week after childbirth, caring more for doing right by her unborn child than for her own life. Today that child is a physician herself, and involved in the pro-life movement.
St. Mary (Ridgefield, CT) Respect Life Committee A Lay Apostolate A People of Life and a People for Life
Mission and Objectives Statement (May 1, 2008) Mission: To act as a lay apostolate in proclaiming the Gospel of Life and in working toward implementation of the USCCB "Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities".
Objectives: • • • Developing and promulgating a respect for and culture of life in Fairfield County. Changing hearts and minds in regard to issues of human life via educational efforts. Supporting post-abortion healing and reconciliation, pregnancy advisory services and adoption.
Who We Are: We are a lay apostolate group dedicated to the idea that all human life is created in God’s image. We strongly believe that life begins at conception and continues until natural death. Through our many projects we try raise awareness of the sanctity of human life, of the over 14,000 abortions performed in the State of Connecticut every year, and of loving alternatives. Our goal is to change hearts and minds, and ultimately see the 14,000 annual abortions in the State of Connecticut eliminated What We Do: Our committee has several teams s which support projects and events throughout the year. They include a Billboard and Media campaign , support for Birthright International of Danbury, March for Life, speakers/presentations, memorials to the unborn, and Life Chain. The Committee also works to interface, regarding areas of respect for life, with other organizations and ministries, including the Knights of Columbus and Life Teen, and other Respect Life organizations throughout Fairfield County. Our Website: http://www.stmaryrespectlife.org/index.html
Billboards and Media
Mission Statement It is the mission of the Billboard and Media Project to reach out to local citizens, through billboard and collateral media, with a totally educational message fostering the medical and moral truth about abortion, the beginning of Life, and “Life” issues. It is our intent to ensure that all citizens living or working in the Danbury area and Fairfield County are made aware of a significant pro-life presence and inclination in their midst, while becoming educationally aware of the true reality of abortion. It is also our intent that those who may be responsible for policies affecting life issues, either in private or public endeavors, may be aware of the truth regarding those issues and of a significant support for that truth in our area. Billboard and Media Project Objectives The billboards will adhere to totally educational messages. The objectives of these educational messages are: • To educate the citizens living or working in the Greater Danbury and Fairfield County area on the true facts regarding human life. To daily reach a large proportion of those citizens with a message regarding the sacredness of human life. To supplement the messages of other Pro-Life educational groups in our areas. To foster a sense of a large Pro-Life presence in the area. To present a visible sign that resistance to the anti-life movement will not go away. To effectively negate any existing/latent feelings that Pro-Life is an “extremist” cause. To energize those in the area who have felt that “political correctness” demands their silence on the issue. To bring out latent supporters of Life. To reach across lines of religion to all who may consider the value of human Life. To increase, in the short term, Catholic “Esprit de Corps” regarding the Pro-Life issue. To reach out, in the long term, to other religions to join us in our educational effort. To reach those who are considering abortion, with the true educational facts, and to direct them toward further assistance. To supplement billboard messages with collateral media, such as wallet cards, bumper stickers, etc.. To reach those who are in related policy or decision making positions with the truth regarding human life and the dedication of local citizens to that truth.
• • • • • • • • • • •
Birthright International of Danbury
238 White Street, Danbury CT 06810 (203) 744-3737 What they do: Birthright helps any girl or woman regardless of age, race, creed, marital or economic status, who feels distressed by an unplanned pregnancy. Birthright is there for every woman who calls for help. Whether that call is for nothing more than an anonymous pregnancy test or for friendship and support lasting through the delivery and beyond, Birthright is there. Every woman is special and deserves to be treated as an individual. Birthright cares for every woman and does not pass judgment on the "quality" of life or circumstances of a pregnancy. It does not dwell on the past. Birthright instead asks, "How can we help?" No matter how difficult a situation may seem, Birthright helps each woman plan constructively for her future. Birthright allows each woman to ask questions and to explore her options without pressure and without passing judgment. Birthright does not use "scare tactics" or pressure, show abortion slides or pictures, picket or harass abortion clinics, evangelize or lobby for legislative changes or engage in the public debate on abortion. Birthright maintains a 24-hour free hotline: 1-800-550-4900 and hundreds of local crisis telephone and drop-in chapters. Birthright gives its services free of charge. A tax-exempt, charitable organization, Birthright exists because of the financial and moral support of its donors and volunteers. It is independent, interdenominational, and not affiliated with any religious or political group or public agency. http://www.birthright.org/htmpages/index.htm How we help: Our volunteers raise money for Birthright with a Mother’s Day Baby Bottle collection or flowers event or by other fund raising events.
March for Life
What it is: An event of the Pro-Life Movement held in Washington D.C. on the anniversary of Roe v Wade (January 22, or the nearest weekday) each year on behalf of unborn children and life principles set in the context of our Declaration of Independence – that the right to life is inalienable and endowed by our Creator. What we do:
We contract a bus every year to take parishioners and local citizens to Washington D.C. to participate in the March for Life. We publicize the availability of the bus in our Parish and neighboring Parishes.
Priests for Life
What they do: Priests for Life was started in 1991 to do one of the most important tasks in the Church today . . . to help priests around the world spread the Gospel of Life to their people. The ministry of the priest is demanding. The priest presents to the world truths that are difficult to grasp. The priest confronts injustices in the world, which are often deeply entrenched in the attitudes and laws of society. Priests must be steadfast in calling for the protection of life at every stage, in exposing the myths surrounding abortion and euthanasia, and in working with others to provide compassionate alternatives. The priest, amidst the demands of his ministry, needs support and encouragement from his congregation, his bishop, and his fellow priests. The Priests for Life association was founded to provide encouragement and support in the defense of human life. The association’s up-to-date information equips priests to stand confidently in front of their congregations and preach the Gospel of Life. It’s materials and seminars help priests to identify and overcome any fears they may have in this regard. The mission of Priests for Life is to unite and encourage all clergy to give special emphasis to the life issues in their ministry. It also seeks to help them take a more vocal and active role in the pro-life movement, with predominant emphasis on the issues of abortion and euthanasia. Priests for Life exist in order to show the clergy how to fight the culture of death.
How we help: We often sponsor a Priest for Life to come to our parish to speak at the masses or to make a Parish presentation. We disseminate information, papers, reports and extracts from Priests for Life.
What it is:
Annually, on the first Sunday in October, LIFE CHAIN invites the churches in each city and town across North America to stand on a designated local sidewalk and pray for witness. Life Chain is a peaceful and prayerful public witness of Pro-Life Americans standing for one hour praying for our nation and for an end to abortion. It is a visual statement of solidarity by the Christian community that abortion kills children and that the Church supports the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception. How we help: We promulgate awareness of the upcoming local Life Chain several weeks before the event and invite all families to join the public witness gathering. Those responding to the invitation to witness meet in Danbury at Main Street and West Street from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Prayers, Intercessions and Quotes
Saint Catherine of Sweden 1331 -1381 Patron Saint Against Abortions
Fourth of the eight children of Saint Bridget of Sweden and Ulf Gudmarsson. Educated at the convent of Riseberg. Married by arrangement at age 13 to the pious German noble Eggart von Kürnen. Soon after their marriage, both she and her husband took vows of chastity and continence. Travelled to Rome, Italy in c.1350 to be with her mother. Widowed soon after. For the next 25 years the two women used Rome as a base for a series of pilgrimages, including one to Jerusalem. When home, they spent their days in prayer and meditation, working with the poor, and teaching them religion. They each had to fend off the unwanted advances of local men, including young lords; during one of these, a wild hind came to Catherine’s defense, chasing off the troublesome, would-be suitor. When Bridget died, Catherine took her body back to Sweden, burying it at the convent of the Order of the Holy Savior (Brigittines) at Vadstena. Catherine became superior of the Order, and served as abbess. Wrote a devotional work entitled Sielinna Troëst (Consolation of the Soul), but no copies have survived. Attained papal approval of the Brigittine Order in 1375. Worked for the canonization of her mother.
"It helps now and then, to step back and take a long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own."
Archbishop Oscar Romero
Prayer for Protection of Human Life at its Beginning
God our Father, you lovingly knit us in our mothers’ womb. Grant that each human embryo will be respected as a human being, and not dismissed as a product to be manipulated or destroyed. Grant us the courage and conviction to be your voice for our sisters and brothers at the very earliest stages of their development, and for all defenseless unborn children. Jesus, Divine Healer, foster in those conducting medical research a commitment to finding cures in ways that respect these little ones and all your vulnerable children. Holy Spirit, grant us the wisdom to develop morally sound treatments for conditions now thought to be incurable. Help us persevere in defending human life while alleviating suffering. Show mercy to all who have cooperated in killing our tiniest brothers and sisters. Bring them and all who support destructive embryo research to true conversion. Grant them the ability to see the immeasurable dignity of all human beings even in the first days of life. Father, we ask this in Jesus’ name, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Prayer for Life
Father and maker of all, you adorn all creation with splendor and beauty, and fashion human lives in your image and likeness. Awaken in every heart reverence for the work of your hands, and renew among your people a readiness to nurture and sustain your precious gift of life. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen.
That our President, members of Congress, and all political leaders throughout the world may recognize the sacredness of life, and defend the fundamental right of every human being to live, from the moment of conception until natural death; We pray to the Lord: That all who have been involved in abortion may come to true repentance and seek God’s merciful and healing love; We pray to the Lord: That all bishops and priests may teach the lay faithful to love the Gospel of Life, encouraging them to embrace each new child; We pray to the Lord: That every child may be given the opportunity to live in an environment of love and care; We pray to the Lord: That politicians and world leaders may guide society according to the principles of right reason, respecting the most fundamental and basic right of each person, which is to live; We pray to the Lord: That any mother contemplating an abortion may realize the beautiful gift of new life and embrace her child with gratitude and joy, with the support of family and friends; We pray to the Lord: That women and men who have been scarred by abortion may turn away from the temptation of discouragement and despair, and find light and joy in the forgiveness of Christ; We pray to the Lord: That all who defend life may find the necessary strength and courage to continue despite great challenges; We pray to the Lord: For all health care professionals who conscientiously object to moral evils advocated in our nation’s laws: that the Holy Spirit will be their guide and support for acting rightly and that he will lead them to peace in trying times; We pray to the Lord: For our political leaders: That they have the courage and wisdom to lead our country In a manner that respects the dignity of all human life; We pray to the Lord:
For all who work to advance respect for human life: That they remain humble instruments in God’s hands And always bear witness to the Lord’s love and mercy; We pray to the Lord: For all who suffer with depression, grief or anguish following an abortion: That they will turn to the Lord Who will wipe away all their tears Through an outpouring of his merciful love; We pray to the Lord: For all who have been involved in abortion, euthanasia, or other sins against the dignity of human life: That our merciful and compassionate Lord will allow them the grace of repentance before their death; We pray to the Lord: For mothers and fathers who suffer remorse and pain after an abortion: May they find peace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation And be consoled through the ministry of Project Rachel; We pray to the Lord: For all who’ve helped a family member or friend obtain an abortion: That the grace of repentance will lead them to Confession And the great gift of Divine Mercy; We pray to the Lord: For all baptized Christians: That we live out our baptismal call To be witnesses to the truth of the Gospel And God’s love for human life; We pray to the Lord: For young women in crisis pregnancies: that they may receive loving support and guidance, and consolation from our Blessed Mother; We pray to the Lord: For all children: that their beauty, joy and innocence may serve as reminders that each child is a precious gift from God; We pray to the Lord:
Wherever respect for life and human dignity are lacking, there is need of God’s merciful love, in whose light we see the inexpressible value of every human being. Mercy is needed in order to ensure that every injustice in the world will come to an end in the splendor of truth. ~ Pope John Paul II, Homily, Dedication of the Shrine of Divine Mercy, Krakow, Aug. 17, 2002 The human goal is not wellbeing but God himself, and … human life must be defended at every stage. Indeed, no one is master of his own life. Rather we are all called to treasure life and to respect it from the moment of conception to its natural end. … I express my appreciation of those who work more directly at the service of children, the sick and the elderly. … ~ Pope Benedict XVI, remarks after Angelus message (February 7, 2010) The bishops of the United States remain committed to health care reform that will help everyone to be cared for and assure that no one will be deliberately killed. … … A health care reform bill without adequate protection of personal conscience would be an earthquake in our legal and political life. The laws of the United States have protected conscientious objectors in many areas of life. To remove that protection in health care now would bring us closer to despotism. It seems strange that some legislators who most protest against the church’s “imposing” her ideas on others are the very ones who are willing to impose their own private morality on everyone else. ~ Cardinal Francis George, “Cardinal’s Column,” Catholic New World (January 31, 2010) A single human soul is of more worth than the whole universe of bodies and material goods. There is nothing above the human soul except God. In the light of the eternal value and absolute dignity of the soul, society exists for each person and is subordinate thereto. ~ Jacques Maritain, The Rights of Man and Natural Law (1943) Mother Teresa said that Christ comes to us in the distressing disguise of the poor. She also said that it is a terrible poverty that a child must die so that people might live as they wish. Taken together, I believe that the poorest of the poor are those whose poverty lies in the loss of a child. We should consider them the face of Christ in our lives and help them with a kind word, a listening ear, a healing embrace. Only love can overcome the tragedy of abortion, and that love must begin with each of us.
~ Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus, Address at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of Project Rachel Unfortunately in our culture we [are held] fast in a grip of deadly attitudes about human life, about the human person, especially in the moments of his or her beautiful but fragile beginnings and in the vulnerable times of old age and illness. There are some in our culture and in our country … who think that human civil institutions or some given human subject bestow the right to life. No! Not any of us can bestow the right to life. We can only recognize the right to life, uphold and defend it, and cherish its beauty. ~ Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, homily at the Opening Mass, National Vigil for Life, Jan. 21, 2010 “When the family is weakened, it is inevitably children who suffer. If the dignity of women and mothers is not protected, it is the children who are affected most.” ~ Pope Benedict XVI, “Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace,” Jan. 1, 2009 “There are international campaigns afoot to reduce birth-rates, sometimes using methods that respect neither the dignity of the woman, nor the right of parents to choose responsibly how many children to have; graver still, these methods often fail to respect even the right to life. The extermination of millions of unborn children, in the name of the fight against poverty, actually constitutes the destruction of the poorest of all human beings.” ~ Pope Benedict XVI, “Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace,” Jan. 1, 2009
“I thank God for my handicaps for, through them, I have found myself, my work, and my God.”
~ Helen Keller
“Abortion – the direct, intentional killing of an unborn girl or boy – is not health care. Abortion robs an innocent child of his or her life, and robs mothers of their peace and happiness. For 25 years, the Project Rachel post-abortion ministry of the Catholic Church has helped women move beyond their grief and remorse after abortion, helping them find peace by accepting God’s forgiveness and by forgiving themselves and others involved in the abortion decision. Abortion funding can only increase the number of dead and grieving.” ~ Cardinal Justin Rigali, Statement for Respect Life Sunday, September 29, 2009
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Pro-Life Activities References
Saint Joseph Patron Saint of Unborn Children
Descendant of the house of David. Layman. Builder by trade; traditionally a carpenter, but may have been a stone worker. Earthly spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Foster and adoptive father of Jesus Christ. Visionary who was visited by angels. Noted for his willingness to immediately get up and do what God told him to do.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Pro-Life Activities References
Mission Statement: We proclaim that human life is a precious gift from God; that each person who receives this gift has responsibilities toward God, self and others; and that society, through its laws and social institutions, must protect and nurture human life at every stage of its existence.
U.S. Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, November 2001 The Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, under the guidance and direction of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, works to teach respect for all human life from conception to natural death, and organize for its protection. To serve this goal we: * Develop educational material on pro-life issues * Conduct educational campaigns in the Church – e.g., * Respect Life Program that begins on the first Sunday of each October * Conduct educational campaigns in the public square – radio, print, exhibit * Circulate fact sheets and other information on critical issues. * Publish Life Issues Forum, a biweekly column for Catholic newspapers. * Publish Life Insight newsletter. * Encourage and enable programs to meet the needs of pregnant women, children, persons with disabilities, those who are sick or dying, and all who have been involved in abortion. * Provide dioceses with pro-life liturgical suggestions each month. * Coordinate/advise on public policy efforts concerning these issues. * Assist dioceses to implement major pro-life programs.
Resolution on Abortion National Conference of Catholic Bishops
November 7, 1989
The decision of the U. S. Supreme Court in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services provides reason to hope that our nation is moving toward a time when unborn children will again enjoy the protection of law. The Court recognized states' legitimate interest in protecting prenatal life and their authority to adopt laws favoring childbirth over abortion. The Court indicated that a state's interest in protecting life might well exist throughout pregnancy, not only after viability. We are encouraged by this. Yet abortion on demand remains our nation's legal policy because the 1973 Supreme Court decisions that legalized abortion throughout pregnancy have not been overturned. Because of those decisions many citizens believe that women have a moral right to abort their unborn children. This has led to erosion of respect for the right to life, which is bestowed by the Creator and cannot legitimately be denied by any nation or court. More than one and a half million unborn children in the United States continue to die each year by abortion, and increasing numbers of women suffer abortion's physical, emotional and spiritual pain. Often they suffer alone, deserted by men unwilling to acknowledge their own responsibilities as fathers. Most Americans believe that abortion should be illegal except in certain limited circumstances; an overwhelming majority agrees that unmarried minors should not obtain abortions without parental knowledge or consent. Nonetheless, pro-abortion or so-called "pro-choice" groups have mounted a campaign to convince legislators and others that Americans want abortion on demand. These organizations have formed new political arms and have intensified efforts to defeat politicians who do not support permissive abortion. Because of the critical importance of the issue and the need for a timely response, we wish to reaffirm our conviction that all human life is sacred whether born or unborn. With the Second Vatican Council we declare that "from the moment of conception life must be guarded with the greatest care, while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes" (Gaudium et Spes, para. 51). As leaders of the Catholic community in the United States, we acknowledge our right and responsibility to help establish laws and social policies protecting the right to life of unborn children, providing care and services for women and children, and safeguarding human life at every stage and in every circumstance. At this particular time, abortion has become the fundamental human rights issue for all men and women of good will. The duty to respect life in all its stages and especially in the womb is evident when one appreciates the unborn child's membership in our human family, and the grave consequences of denying moral or legal status to any class of human beings because of their age or condition of dependency. We who revere human life as created in the image and likeness of God have all the more reason to take a stand. For us abortion is of overriding concern because it negates two of our most fundamental moral imperatives: respect for innocent life, and preferential 28
concern for the weak and defenseless. As we said three years ago in reaffirming our Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: "Because victims of abortion are the most vulnerable and defenseless members of the human family, it is imperative that we, as Christians called to serve the least among us, give urgent attention and priority to this issue. Our concern is intensified by the realization that a policy and practice allowing over one and a half million abortions annually cannot but diminish respect for life in other areas." No Catholic can responsibly take a "pro-choice" stand when the "choice" in question involves the taking of innocent human life. We therefore call upon Catholics to commit themselves vigorously to the implementation of all three elements of the Pastoral Plan—an education and public information effort, pastoral care for pregnant women and their children, and a public policy program in defense of human life in all its stages, especially the unborn. Our long and short range public policy goals include: (1) constitutional protection for the right to life of unborn children to the maximum degree possible; (2) federal and state laws and administrative policies that restrict support for and the practice of abortion; (3) continual refinement and ultimate reversal of Supreme Court and other court decisions that deny the inalienable right to life; (4) supportive legislation to provide morally acceptable alternatives to abortion, and social policy initiatives which provide support to pregnant women for prenatal care and extended support for low-income women and their children. We urge public officials, especially Catholics, to advance these goals in recognition of their moral responsibility to protect the weak and defenseless among us. Our concern about the national debate on the legal dimension of this vital issue should not distract us from the continuing need within our own community to educate, to form, to encourage people on life issues, most specifically, the right to life of the unborn. This right of the unborn to life demands legal protection and we will continue to insist on this. At the same time we recognize, as we rightfully engage in this debate, that we must hear the issues the struggles, and the anguish of women who face issues in a way that we never will. As we continue to teach clearly and forcefully the moral evil of abortion, we must also—as our Pastoral Plan suggests—speak to them a word of understanding and encouragement, a word of solidarity and support. Both in word and deed, we must inspire the entire community to help carry the burdens of all our sisters in need. Above all, we ask people to commit themselves to daily prayer and sacrifice so that our nation might soon witness the end of the scourge of abortion. We continue to ask God's merciful assistance, without which we labor in vain. May the patroness of our nation, Mary, the Mother of God, who herself said "yes" to life, intercede before her son for the restoration of respect for all human life in our day. Resolution adopted unanimously by the U.S. Catholic bishops at their annual meeting in November 1989.
Respect for Unborn Human Life: The Church's Constant Teaching
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law" (No. 2271). In response to those who say this teaching has changed or is of recent origin, here are the facts: From earliest times, Christians sharply distinguished themselves from surrounding pagan cultures by rejecting abortion and infanticide. The earliest widely used documents of Christian teaching and practice after the New Testament in the 1st and 2nd centuries, the Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) and Letter of Barnabas, condemned both practices, as did early regional and particular Church councils. To be sure, knowledge of human embryology was very limited until recent times. Many Christian thinkers accepted the biological theories of their time, based on the writings of Aristotle (4th century BC) and other philosophers. Aristotle assumed a process was needed over time to turn the matter from a woman's womb into a being that could receive a specifically human form or soul. The active formative power for this process was thought to come entirely from the man – the existence of the human ovum (egg), like so much of basic biology, was unknown. However, such mistaken biological theories never changed the Church's common conviction that abortion is gravely wrong at every stage. At the very least, early abortion was seen as attacking a being with a human destiny, being prepared by God to receive an immortal soul (cf. Jeremiah 1:5: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you"). In the 5th century AD this rejection of abortion at every stage was affirmed by the great bishop-theologian St. Augustine. He knew of theories about the human soul not being present until some weeks into pregnancy. Because he used the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, he also thought the ancient Israelites had imposed a more severe penalty for accidentally causing a miscarriage if the fetus was "fully formed" (Exodus 21: 22-23), language not found in any known Hebrew version of this passage. But he also held that human knowledge of biology was very limited, and he wisely warned against misusing such theories to risk committing homicide. He added that God has the power to make up all human deficiencies or lack of development in the Resurrection, so we cannot assume that the earliest aborted children will be excluded from enjoying eternal life with God. In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas made extensive use of Aristotle's thought, including his theory that the rational human soul is not present in the first few weeks of pregnancy. But he also rejected abortion as gravely wrong at every stage, observing that it is a sin "against nature" to reject God's gift of a new life. 30
During these centuries, theories derived from Aristotle and others influenced the grading of penalties for abortion in Church law. Some canonical penalties were more severe for a direct abortion after the stage when the human soul was thought to be present. However, abortion at all stages continued to be seen as a grave moral evil. From the 13th to 19th centuries, some theologians speculated about rare and difficult cases where they thought an abortion before "formation" or "ensoulment" might be morally justified. But these theories were discussed and then always rejected, as the Church refined and reaffirmed its understanding of abortion as an intrinsically evil act that can never be morally right. In 1827, with the discovery of the human ovum, the mistaken biology of Aristotle was discredited. Scientists increasingly understood that the union of sperm and egg at conception produces a new living being that is distinct from both mother and father. Modern genetics demonstrated that this individual is, at the outset, distinctively human, with the inherent and active potential to mature into a human fetus, infant, child and adult. From 1869 onward the obsolete distinction between the "ensouled" and "unensouled" fetus was permanently removed from canon law on abortion. Secular laws against abortion were being reformed at the same time and in the same way, based on secular medical experts' realization that "no other doctrine appears to be consonant with reason or physiology but that which admits the embryo to possess vitality from the very moment of conception" (American Medical Association, Report on Criminal Abortion, 1871). Thus modern science has not changed the Church's constant teaching against abortion, but has underscored how important and reasonable it is, by confirming that the life of each individual of the human species begins with the earliest embryo. Given the scientific fact that a human life begins at conception, the only moral norm needed to understand the Church's opposition to abortion is the principle that each and every human life has inherent dignity, and thus must be treated with the respect due to a human person. This is the foundation for the Church's social doctrine, including its teachings on war, the use of capital punishment, euthanasia, health care, poverty and immigration. Conversely, to claim that some live human beings do not deserve respect or should not be treated as "persons" (based on changeable factors such as age, condition, location, or lack of mental or physical abilities) is to deny the very idea of inherent human rights. Such a claim undermines respect for the lives of many vulnerable people before and after birth.
For more information: Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion (1974), nos. 6-7; John R. Connery, S.J., Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective (1977); Germain Grisez, Abortion: The Myths, the Realities, and the Arguments (1970), Chapter IV; U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, On Embryonic Stem Cell Research (2008); Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (1995), nos. 61-2.
Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: A Campaign in Support of Life
In our present social context, marked by a dramatic struggle between the "culture of life" and the "culture of death," there is need to develop a deep critical sense, capable of discerning true values and authentic needs. What is urgently called for is a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life. All together, we must build a new culture of life. —Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, no. 95 Introduction We issue this Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: A Campaign in Support of Life to put forth "a precise and vigorous reaffirmation of the value of human life and its inviolability, and at the same time a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person, in the name of God: respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life" (The Gospel of Life, no. 5). As pastors and teachers, we proclaim that human life is a precious gift from God; that each person who receives this gift has responsibilities toward God, self, and others; and that society, through its laws and social institutions, must protect and nurture human life at every stage of its existence. These beliefs flow from ordinary reason and from our faith's constant witness that "life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception" (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, no. 51)—a teaching that has been a constant part of the Christian message since the apostolic age. A Consistent Ethic of Life A wide spectrum of issues touches on the protection of human life and the promotion of human dignity. As Pope John Paul II has reminded us: "Where life is involved, the service of charity must be profoundly consistent. It cannot tolerate bias and discrimination, for human life is sacred and inviolable at every stage and in every situation; it is an indivisible good" (The Gospel of Life, no. 87). Among important issues involving the dignity of human life with which the Church is concerned, abortion necessarily plays a central role. Abortion, the direct killing of an innocent human being, is always gravely immoral (The Gospel of Life, no. 57); its victims are the most vulnerable and defenseless members of the human family. It is imperative that those who are called to serve the least among us give urgent attention and priority to this issue of justice. This focus and the Church's commitment to a consistent ethic of life complement one another. A consistent ethic of life, which explains the Church's teaching at the level of 32
moral principle—far from diminishing concern for abortion and euthanasia or equating all issues touching on the dignity of human life—recognizes instead the distinctive character of each issue while giving each its proper place within a coherent moral vision. As bishops of the United States we have issued pastoral letters on war and peace, economic justice, and other social questions affecting the dignity of human life—and we have implemented programs for advancing the Church's witness in these areas through parishes, schools, and other Church institutions (e.g., Communities of Salt and Light ; Sharing Catholic Social Teaching ). Taken together, these diverse pastoral statements and practical programs constitute no mere assortment of unrelated initiatives but rather a consistent strategy in support of all human life in its various stages and circumstances. To focus on the evil of deliberate killing in abortion and euthanasia is not to ignore the many other urgent conditions that demean human dignity and threaten human rights. Opposing abortion and euthanasia "does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing and health care" (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 23). We pray that Catholics will be advocates for the weak and the marginalized in all these areas. "But being 'right' in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the 'rightness' of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community" (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 23). Pervasive Threats to Human Life Where does one begin? Today, when human rights are proudly proclaimed and the value of life itself given public affirmation, the most basic of all human rights, "the very right to life," "is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death" (The Gospel of Life, no. 18). Sometimes very difficult or even tragic situations can be the basis for decisions made against life, circumstances that can diminish the personal culpability of those who make choices that in themselves are evil. But as Pope John Paul II points out, today the problem goes further: "It is a problem which exists at the cultural, social and political level, where it reveals its more sinister and disturbing aspect in the tendency, ever more widely shared, to interpret . . . crimes against life as legitimate expressions of individual freedom, to be acknowledged and protected as actual rights" (The Gospel of Life, no. 18). The question "Where does one begin?" is easy to answer: "We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of any innocent human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem" (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 21). Thus some behaviors are always wrong, always incompatible with our love of God and the dignity of the human person. Abortion, the direct taking of innocent human life prior
to birth, is always morally wrong, as is the deliberate destruction of human embryos for any reason. Assisted suicide and euthanasia are not acts of mercy but acts that are never morally acceptable. Direct attacks on innocent civilians during war and terrorist acts targeting noncombatants must always be condemned. Our concern is only intensified by the realization that a policy and practice that result in well over a million deaths from abortions each year cannot but diminish respect for life in other areas. In this pastoral plan, then, "we are guided by a key insight regarding the linkage between abortion and these other important issues: Precisely because all issues involving human life are interdependent, a society which destroys human life by abortion under the mantle of law unavoidably undermines respect for life in all other contexts. Likewise, protection in law and practice of unborn human life will benefit all life, not only the lives of the unborn" (Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: A Reaffirmation , 5). This is why we focus here on the pervasive threat to human life arising from the widespread recourse to abortion, from public policies that allow, encourage, and even fund abortion, and from a growing effort to promote the taking of human life through euthanasia. The Legacy of Roe v. Wade In January 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States gave our nation Roe v. Wade and its companion decision Doe v. Bolton, and in so doing effectively removed every legal protection from human beings prior to birth. The legacy of Roe is virtually incalculable. In its wake it has left death and sorrow and turmoil: the deaths of millions whose lives were destroyed before birth and even during the very process of being born. Countless women traumatized so deeply by abortion that they spend years struggling to find peace, healing, and reconciliation. Men who grieve because they could not "choose" to protect a child they helped bring into existence a society increasingly coarsened by toleration and acceptance of acts that purposely destroy human life. These attacks on human life are carried out within the family and with the active involvement of those in the healing profession—institutions that traditionally have protected the weak and the vulnerable. Often they are carried out at the urging of fathers who, rather than protecting their child, believe their only responsibility is to help pay for an abortion. And today, those who support and provide abortion freely acknowledge that killing is involved, and choices once treated as criminal and rejected by the common moral sense have become socially acceptable. In 1992, the Supreme Court reaffirmed Roe v. Wade—in large part, it said, because admitting error and reversing a prior decision would undermine the Court's authority. It said also that "people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail" (Planned Parenthood v. Casey). In other words, Americans had come to rely on legalized abortion as a backup for contraceptive failure.
In 2000, in Stenberg v. Carhart, the Court expanded the abortion liberty beyond killing in utero; it now wrapped in the mantle of the U.S. Constitution the practice of killing during the process of birth. Abortion has come to be seen by many not only as a "right" to end a pregnancy prior to birth, but as a guarantee that a child aborted will not survive. This is clear in regard to partial-birth abortion, as well as in the growing reports of children who, having survived mid- and late-term abortions, are put aside and left to die because they were not supposed to live in the first place. Today, some seek ways to alleviate human diseases through research that involves the deliberate destruction of human embryos. Such research, it is claimed, will enhance human life, when in actuality it "reduces human life to the level of simple 'biological material' to be freely disposed of" (The Gospel of Life, no. 14). Often these embryos that are targeted for experimentation were created in laboratories by in vitro fertilization in attempts to assist couples struggling with infertility. Such efforts, however, embrace the manufacturing of human life without considering the consequences, including the many ethical dilemmas resulting from such misuse of scientific technology. A Word about Violence Our goal is to eliminate violence against unborn children, their mothers, and those who are dying. We unalterably oppose the use of violence in any form to achieve this objective, and we condemn the actions of those few who advocate otherwise. During the past decade, several persons involved in the practice of abortion have been killed, and others have been harmed, by tragically misguided individuals claiming to be pro-life. Such violence against human beings is indefensible. It is an offense against God's command: you shall not kill. It also unjustly stigmatizes the pro-life movement in the eyes of many Americans as being violent and intolerant. We abhor and condemn such violence unequivocally. Abortion and Contraception The Church's teaching and pastoral efforts on responsible parenthood are appropriately treated more fully in other documents. However, we address the issue here, because some promote widespread use of contraception as a means to reduce abortions and even criticize the Church for not accepting this approach. It is noteworthy that as acceptance and use of contraception have increased in our society, so have acceptance and use of abortion. Couples who unintentionally conceive a child while using contraception are far more likely to resort to abortion than others. Tragically, our society has fallen into a mentality that views children as a burden and invites many to consider abortion as a "backup" to contraceptive failure. This is most obvious in efforts to promote as "emergency contraception" drugs that really act as early abortifacients. With Pope John Paul II we affirm that contraception and abortion are "specifically different evils," because only "the latter destroys the life of a human being," but that they
are also related (The Gospel of Life, no. 13). It is important to remember that means that are referred to as "contraceptive" are, in reality, sometimes also abortifacient. An end to abortion will not come from contraceptive campaigns but from a deeper understanding of our human sexuality, and of human life, as sacred gifts deserving our careful stewardship. The Issue of Capital Punishment The United States is the only Western industrialized nation today that utilizes capital punishment. Increasingly the bishops have spoken out against its use, and Pope John Paul II and individual bishops have sought clemency for persons scheduled to be executed. There are compelling reasons for opposing capital punishment—its sheer inhumanity and its absolute finality, as well as concern about its inequitable use and an imperfect legal system that has sentenced innocent people to death. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: "If...non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person" (no. 2267). Executing the guilty does not honor one who was killed, nor does it ennoble the living or even lessen their pain, for only love and forgiveness can do that. State-sanctioned killing affects us all because it diminishes the value we place on all human life. Capital punishment also cuts short the guilty person's opportunity for spiritual conversion and repentance. The consequences of widespread loss of respect for the dignity of human life—seen in pervasive violence, toleration of abortion, and increasingly vocal support for assisted suicide and research that destroys human embryos—make it all the more urgent to reject lethal punishment and uphold the inviolability of every human life. "Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly when we demand respect for each and every human life, including the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others" (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 22). Thus we are called to extend God's love to all human beings created in his image, including those convicted of serious crimes. In so doing, we can help to make "unconditional respect for life the foundation of a new society" (The Gospel of Life, no. 77).
Rededication to the Cause of Life In this Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: A Campaign in Support of Life we renew our call for individual Catholics and the many institutions and organizations of the Church to unite in an unprecedented effort to restore respect and legal protection for every human life—to be what the Holy Father asks us to be: a people of life and a people for life (The Gospel of Life, no. 78). It is our hope and expectation that in focusing on the need to respect and protect the lives of the innocent unborn and those who are disabled, ill, or dying, we will help to deepen respect for the life of every human being.
The Program This pastoral plan calls upon all the resources of the Church—its people, services, and institutions—to pursue this effort with renewed energy and commitment in four major areas. I Public Information and Education to deepen understanding of the sanctity of human life and the humanity of unborn children, the moral evil of intentionally killing innocent human beings—whether at the beginning of life or at its end—and the mission of the Church to witness to and serve all human life. II Pastoral Care for women with problems related to pregnancy; for all who have been involved in abortion; for those who are disabled, sick, and dying, and their families and caregivers; for those who have lost loved ones to violent crime; and for those in prison sentenced to death. III Public Policy efforts directed to restoring legal protection to the lives of unborn children and those vulnerable to pressures to end their lives by assisted suicide, and to providing morally acceptable alternatives to abortion and assisted suicide. IV Prayer and Worship directed to participation in the sacramental life of the Church and in programs of communal and individual prayer, that the culture of death that surrounds us today will be replaced by a culture of life and love. This plan foresees dialogue and cooperation between the national episcopal conference and priests, deacons, religious, and lay persons, individually and collectively. We seek the collaboration of every Catholic organization in this effort. Dialogue among churches and religious groups is also essential. We encourage continued interreligious consultation and dialogue on these important issues, as well as dialogue among ethicists. We urge Catholics to advance pro-life positions within their family, church, and community, as well as within their professional organizations. We ask Catholic health care professionals and medical researchers to continue to be vigilant guardians of every human life. At every level—national, regional, state, diocesan, and parish—it is important to seek the support of individuals and organizations involved in other ministries and, in turn, to be supportive of their work on behalf of human life as well. Together we are involved in God's work in promoting the dignity of the human person. Key to the success of this pastoral plan is the work of informed and committed lay people throughout the nation. We are reminded by Pope John Paul II in The Church in America that "the presence and mission of the Church in the world is realized in a special way in the variety of charisms and ministries which belong to the laity" (no. 44, quoting Synod for America, proposition 55). In addition, efforts of the laity, especially at the parish level, deserve and require the encouragement and support of priests, deacons, and
religious. I - Public Information and Education To deepen respect for human life and heighten public opposition to abortion and euthanasia, a twofold educational effort is necessary: one directed specifically to the Catholic community, the other directed to the general public. The Catholic Community An ongoing, long-range, and intensive educational effort in the Catholic community can provide an understanding of the issues and lead people to conviction and commitment. Such efforts should utilize the best medical, sociological, and legal information available. This should include the most recent advances in medical technology that demonstrate the continuity of human development from conception onwards. Ultimately, however, moral and theological arguments present the central issue of respect for human life in its most intellectually compelling terms. We are grateful to those who participate in the Church's teaching ministry for all they have done and continue to do on behalf of human life. We invite them in a special way to be leaders in this campaign to build a culture of life. We note especially lay persons and volunteers, who through their charisms and unique responsibilities impact individuals and the broader community in a profound way when they assume roles of leadership in their parishes and in society. Priests, deacons, and religious, who exercise their responsibility to preach the word "in season and out of season" (cf. 2 Tm 4:2) in the pulpit, in other teaching roles, through parish programs, or through public support for pro-life projects all church-sponsored or identifiably Catholic organizations involved in adult education and sacramental preparation, whether national, regional, diocesan, or parish-based teachers in schools, religious education programs, campus ministries, and churchsponsored educational agencies who provide factual information, moral teaching, and motivation to young people seminaries and houses of religious formation through their academic and pastoral ministry programs. Catholic social service and health care agencies through their educational seminars and other appropriate programs, including efforts to publicize programs and services providing alternatives to abortion, post-abortion reconciliation and healing, and care for those who are terminally ill or disabled. Catholic health care professionals through their provision of prenatal and postnatal care, genetic counseling, and other services in ways that witness to the sanctity of each human life. Catholic publications and periodicals through their articles, editorials, and advertising space promoting the Gospel of Life parents who, through discussion of critical life issues within the family and by their example and guidance, teach and help to mold their children in faith and respect for all human life from conception to natural death. Especially welcome in this effort is the participation of persons with disabilities and their families, who are not only recipients of care but active and valued members of the faith
community. By their example and testimony they can play an indispensable role in witnessing to the inherent dignity of each human life. Education programs should include the following, as appropriate: biblical and theological foundations that attest to the sanctity and dignity of human life; scientific information concerning the humanity of unborn children, especially that made available by modern genetic science and technology; American founding principles, as articulated in the Declaration of Independence, that reflect unchanging truths about the human person; society's responsibility to safeguard every human life, to defend life by non-violent means wherever possible, and never purposely to destroy innocent human life; discussion of effective and compassionate care for those who are terminally ill and for persons with disabilities; education on Catholic teaching regarding end-of-life decision making; and information about effective, compassionate, and morally acceptable solutions to the very real and difficult problems that can exist for a woman during and after pregnancy, as well as help for those who suffer from the consequences of abortion. The most comprehensive overview of the Church's teaching in regard to the sanctity and dignity of human life is found in Pope John Paul II's encyclical letter The Gospel of Life. This inspiring document applies the teaching in many areas and provides strong and powerful motivation to Catholics to proclaim the Gospel of life. Living the Gospel of Life, a statement adopted by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 1998, applies this teaching to our particular situation in the United States. The annual Respect Life Program sponsored by our episcopal conference provides information on critical issues of the day and relates those issues to the Church's teaching. This nationwide program sets abortion and euthanasia in the context of other issues involving threats to human life and human dignity—for example, capital punishment, war, poverty, population control, child abuse and abandonment, false views of human sexuality, human cloning, and research that destroys human embryos—and calls attention to the way in which each touches on the sanctity and dignity of human life. The General Public The primary purpose of an educational effort directed to the general public is the development of pro-life attitudes and the rejection of abortion and euthanasia. Even today, there remains a need for accurate information about these threats to life. A public information program creates awareness of the threats to human life and human dignity inherent in abortion, research that destroys human embryos, euthanasia, assisted suicide, infanticide, and capital punishment. It allows people to see more readily the need to correct the situation by establishing legal safeguards for the right to life. It gives the issues visibility and prompts those who are uncommitted to reach a firm conviction. It helps to inform the public discussion, and it witnesses to the Church's commitment to a long-range pro-life effort. Such a program can also bring to light information about abortion's negative and often long-lasting impact on many women and others.
Any program that takes place in the public square should affirm the value of human life in the manner of its expression as well as the content, seeking to explain and persuade, while showing respect to all who disagree. It will take a variety of forms: for example, public statements and press releases; accurate reporting of newsworthy events and speaking with media representatives when such events occur; conferences and seminars on pro-life issues; development and distribution of educational materials; public relations and advertising campaigns; newspaper advertising; posters in local stores and community centers.
II - Pastoral Care Pastoral care encompasses a broad range of services provided with competence, compassion, and dignity. It includes spiritual assistance and essential material help, and may include supplementary services beyond those available in the community. Providing pastoral care to those in need is a primary way that the Church expresses its love for all God's children. Pregnancy Services Respect for human life compels us to reach out to those with special needs. With the support of the faith community, Catholic organizations and agencies provide pastoral services and care for pregnant women, especially those who are vulnerable to abortion and who would otherwise find it difficult or impossible to obtain high-quality medical care. Ideally such programs include factual and educational information on alternatives to abortion. Nutritional, prenatal, childbirth, and postnatal care for the mother, including information about the latest developments in prenatal and neonatal medicine, nutritional and pediatric care for the child. Agency-sponsored adoption and foster care services to all who want them, as well as an educational effort presenting adoption in a positive light counseling and spiritual assistance that supports those facing difficulties related to pregnancy and parenting, including engaged or married couples who may have concerns about the health of their future offspring. Opportunities for teen and college-age parents to continue their education during pregnancy and after childbirth, including school policies that encourage and enable them to complete their high school education, and counseling and assistance encouraging continued undergraduate or graduate studies. Compassionate understanding, encouragement, and support for victims of rape and other forms of abuse and violence. Education in the virtue of chastity, as well as education in fertility awareness for young men and women, enabling them to take responsibility for their power to generate life. Expansion of natural family planning programs and education in their mission as responsible parents for married and engaged couples Many of these services involve the dedicated efforts of both professionals and volunteers. Such services have been and will continue to be provided by church-sponsored health care and social service agencies. Collaboration with other private and public agencies and
with volunteer groups and local communities, as well as efforts to obtain government assistance, are necessary extensions of the long-range effort. Parishes are also increasingly providing pregnancy assistance. Such services are sometimes available within the parish; at other times, the parish program links those needing help to local services. Even when pregnancies do not involve particular challenges, encouragement and support should be given to couples who have conceived a child. In a culture that often gives negative messages regarding parenthood, it is important that our parishes celebrate the gift of new life. Post-Abortion Healing and Reconciliation For many women and men, grief and anguish follow an abortion experience, which often last for many years. Women today talk about post-abortion stress and reveal a pattern of common grief in "chat rooms," through published books, and in support groups. The Church offers reconciliation as well as spiritual and psychological care for those suffering from abortion's aftermath primarily through diocesan-based programs, most often called Project Rachel. Such programs utilize specially trained priests and professional counselors who provide one-on-one care. Other post-abortion ministries that involve support groups and retreats are also available in many areas. Every church-sponsored program and identifiably Catholic organization and agency should know where to refer those in need of post-abortion healing. Special resources to assist priests in this ministry are available from the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities and from many diocesan pro-life offices. Care for Those Who Are Chronically Ill, Disabled, or Dying Euthanasia and assisted suicide can appear a reasonable and even compassionate solution to the suffering of individuals and families struggling with illness or the dying process. Yet these are not real solutions—they do not solve human problems, but only take the lives of those most in need of unconditional love. As Christians, we are called to help build a civilization of life and of love, in which seriously ill persons and their families are never abandoned, but are supported with services, friendship, and love. In order to do so, we should reach out to those in the parish family or broader community who are dying, particularly those who are at risk of dying alone, and keep company with them; provide support to the family, especially with difficult end-of-life decisions; encourage people to volunteer or provide other assistance to the local hospice program. Encourage physicians and other health professionals to provide appropriate palliative care foster prayers, at Mass and in homes, for those who are dying and their families to receive the respect and care they need and to be comforted by the peace of Christ.
Develop and support programs of respite care for families caring for seriously ill members at home, programs of visitation to nursing homes, or perhaps even parish nurse programs. Foster efforts to fully welcome persons with disabilities into the Church community. Care for Prisoners, Those on Death Row, and Victims of Violent Crime When violent crime impacts a community there is a temptation to respond with anger and vengeance. But the Gospel calls for rehabilitation, reconciliation, and restoration and teaches us to respect the dignity of all human beings, even those guilty of committing horrendous crimes. To promote these ends, we should encourage outreach to prisoners through programs of visitation or letter-writing. Ensure that the spiritual needs of prisoners are met and that they can receive the sacraments. Foster pastoral outreach to victims of violent crime. Offer emotional and material support to the family members of prisoners, especially children, and to pregnant women and new mothers in prison
III - Public Policy Program Protecting and promoting the inviolable rights of persons is the most solemn responsibility of civil authority. As Americans and as religious leaders we are committed to governance by a system of law that protects human rights and maintains the common good. We are reminded that "the Church must be committed to the task of educating and supporting lay people involved in law-making, government and the administration of justice, so that legislation will always reflect those principles and moral values which are in conformity with a sound anthropology and advance the common good" (The Church in America, no. 19, quoting Synod for America, proposition 72). The Declaration of Independence, written more than two hundred years ago, speaks of the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" before making this historic assertion: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Today we see the tensions increasing between these founding principles and political reality. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the continuing effort to ignore the right to life of unborn children, as well as in efforts to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a "Gospel of life." It invites all persons to a new life lived abundantly in respect for human dignity. We believe that this Gospel is not only a complement to American . . . principles, but also the cure for the spiritual sickness now infecting our society. . . . We cannot simultaneously commit ourselves to human rights and progress while eliminating or marginalizing the weakest among us. Nor can we practice the Gospel of life only as a private piety. American Catholics must live it vigorously and publicly, as a matter of national leadership and witness, or we will not live it at all. (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 20)
The law is not the only means of protecting life, but it plays a key and often decisive role in affecting both human behavior and thinking. Those called to civil leadership, as Pope John Paul II reminds us, "have a duty to make courageous choices in support of life, especially through legislative measures." This is a responsibility that cannot be put aside, "especially when he or she has a legislative or decision-making mandate, which calls that person to answer to God, to his or her own conscience and to the whole of society for choices which may be contrary to the common good" (The Gospel of Life, no. 90). Public officials are privileged in a special way to apply their moral convictions to the policy arena. We hold in high esteem those who, through such positions and authority, promote respect for all human life. Catholic civil leaders who reject or ignore the Church's teaching on the sanctity of human life do so at risk to their own spiritual wellbeing. "No public official, especially one claiming to be a faithful and serious Catholic, can responsibly advocate for or actively support direct attacks on innocent human life" (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 32). It is imperative to restore legal protection to the lives of unborn children and to ensure that the lives of others, especially those who are disabled, elderly, or dying, are not further jeopardized. A comprehensive public policy program should include the following long- and shortterm goals: • passage of a constitutional amendment that will protect unborn children's right to life to the maximum degree possible, and pursuit of appropriate strategies to attain this goal. • federal and state laws and administrative policies that restrict the practice of abortion as much as possible and that prohibit government support of abortion, human cloning, and research that destroys human embryos. • continual challenging of the scope of and ultimate reversing of the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts denying the right to life. • support for legislation that provides morally acceptable alternatives to abortion, including funding to expand education, health, nutrition, and other services for disadvantaged parents and their children. • support for federal and state legislation that promotes effective palliative care for those who are chronically ill or dying. • support for efforts to prevent legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide by legislation or referendum. • support for efforts to end the death penalty. • A public policy program requires well-planned and coordinated advocacy by citizens at the national, state, and local levels. Such activity is not solely the responsibility of Catholics but instead requires widespread cooperation and collaboration on the part of groups large and small, religious and secular. As U.S. citizens and religious leaders, we see a critical moral imperative for public policy efforts to ensure the protection of human life. We urge our fellow citizens to see the justice of this cause and to work with us to achieve these objectives.
Laws Less Than Perfect While at times human law may not fully articulate the moral imperative—full protection for the right to life—our legal system can and must be continually reformed so that it will increasingly fulfill its proper task of protecting the weak and preserving the right to life of every human being, born and unborn. In The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II explains that one may support "imperfect" legislation—legislation that, for example, does not ban all abortions but puts some control on a current more permissive law by aiming to limit the number of abortions—if that is the best that can be achieved at a particular time. In doing so one seeks to limit the harm done by the present law: "This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects" (no. 73).
IV - Prayer and Worship A great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world. Through special initiatives and in daily prayer, may an impassioned plea rise to God. . . . Let us therefore discover anew the humility and the courage to pray and fast so that the power from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit: the walls which conceal from the sight of so many . . . the evil of practices and laws which are hostile to life. —Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, no. 100 Participation in the sacramental life of the Church sustains each of us. We encourage dioceses and parishes to sponsor programs of prayer and fasting as well as paraliturgical programs and to encourage Catholics to adopt programs of private prayer. We ask priests and deacons to preach the truth about the dignity of all human life, born and unborn, and about the moral evil of the purposeful destruction of innocent human life, including abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and infanticide. We urge them to encourage parishioners and others to treat with compassion those who find themselves in stressful situations, and to offer practical assistance to help them to make life-affirming decisions. Parishes should give special pastoral attention and offer special prayers for those who have suffered the loss of an unborn child due to miscarriage, abortion, or other cause. The readings of the Church's liturgy give ample opportunity to proclaim respect for the dignity of human life throughout the year. The Liturgy of the Hours as well as paraliturgical services also offer opportunities for the celebration of life and instruction in the moral teaching of the Church. Parishes should include in the petitions at every Mass a prayer that ours will become a nation that respects and protects all human life, born and unborn, reflecting a true culture of life. Each year, in conjunction with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade (January 22), a National Prayer Vigil for Life is held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Thousands travel from all corners of the country to take
part in the opening liturgy and all-night prayer vigil. Dioceses and parishes might conduct similar prayer vigils so that those unable to travel might participate in this prayer occasion. This date is also designated as a particular day of penance in the Roman Missal. Prayer is the foundation of all that we do in defense of human life. Our efforts—whether educational, pastoral, or legislative—will be less than fully fruitful if we do not change hearts and if we do not ourselves overcome our own spiritual blindness. Only with prayer—prayer that storms the heavens for justice and mercy, prayer that cleanses our hearts and our souls—will the culture of death that surrounds us today be replaced with a culture of life.
Implementing the Program Restoring respect for human life in our society is an essential task of the Church that extends through all its institutions, agencies, and organizations and embraces diverse tasks and goals. The following schema suggests a model for organizing and allocating the Church's resources of people, services, institutions, and finances at various levels to help restore and advance protection in law for unborn children's right to life and to foster a true culture of life. We ask that the Committee for Pro-Life Activities periodically inform the full body of bishops on the status of the implementation of this pastoral plan. State Coordinating Committee The state Catholic conference or its equivalent should provide overall coordination in each state on matters concerning public policy. The state coordinating committee may comprise the state Catholic conference director and the pro-life directors from each diocese. At least several committee members should have experience in legislative activity. The primary purposes of the state coordinating committee are to monitor social, legislative, and political trends, especially those in the state, and their implications for the pro-life effort. Coordinate the efforts of the dioceses in the state in regard to public policy, and evaluate progress. Although grassroots efforts are often undertaken in dioceses and parishes, the state coordinating committee can encourage the dioceses to undertake a particular project simultaneously for maximum impact. Analyze relationships within the various political parties and coalitions at the state level as they affect local implementation efforts. Encourage cooperation among pro-life groups in the state.
Diocesan Pro-Life Committee The diocesan pro-life committee coordinates activities of the pastoral plan within the diocese. The committee, through the diocesan pro-life director, will receive information and guidance from the national episcopal conference's Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities and from the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment. The diocesan committee is headed by the diocesan pro-life director, a person appointed by and responsible to the diocesan bishop. Its membership, in addition to the diocesan pro-life director, may include the following: the diocesan respect life coordinator (if a separate post); representatives of diocesan agencies (e.g., family life, education, youth ministry, post-abortion ministry, diocesan newspaper, liturgy, health apostolate, social services, etc.); representatives of lay organizations (e.g., Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Daughters of Isabella, Council of Catholic Women, Holy Name Society, etc.); medical, legal, public affairs, and financial advisors; representatives of local pro-life groups (e.g., state Right to Life organization, pregnancy aid center); and representatives of parish pro-life/respect life committees. The diocesan pro-life committee's objectives are to: • • • • • • • • • • • • Direct and coordinate the diocesan and parish pro-life information and educational program, providing appropriate resources as necessary. Provide educational opportunities and time for sharing program information among members of parish pro-life committees. Support local programs that counsel and assist women with problems related to pregnancy; promote establishment of new programs where needed. Encourage and support a diocese-wide post-abortion ministry. Encourage and support local programs that provide care for the dying. Encourage and coordinate programs of prayer and worship that focus on the sanctity of all human life. Maintain working relationships with local pro-life groups and encourage the development of local pro-life lobbying networks. Maintain a local public information program that monitors print and broadcast media's treatment of pro-life issues, and prepare appropriate responses. Undertake, depending on financial resources, appropriate public advertising campaigns Develop responsible and effective communications with each elected representative: getting to know them personally through one-on-one visits, telephone calls, letters, and e-mail. Maintain communications with the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities and with the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment. Report periodically to the diocesan bishop on the status of implementation of the pastoral plan.
Parish Pro-Life Committee Actively promoting a renewed respect for human life is the responsibility of every Catholic. The parish pro-life committee assists in a special way by helping to make the parish a center of life, a place where parishioners understand the issues and the importance of meeting the needs of those who are most vulnerable—especially mothers and their unborn children, and those who are seriously ill or dying and their families. It may be a distinct committee, or it might be a subcommittee of another parish organization. Whatever its structure, its membership should include representatives of both adult and youth parish groups, members of organizations that represent persons with disabilities, persons of minority cultures, and those responsible for education and pastoral care. The chairperson of the parish committee is appointed by the pastor, and it is important that the two be able to work well together. The chair recruits volunteers to help meet the needs the committee serves. Parish committees should be mindful of the need for renewal from time to time in regard to membership, talents, and interests. The parish committee relies on the diocesan pro-life director for information and guidance. The committee should play a vital role in parish life and enjoy the strong support of priests and other key personnel. The committee should also dovetail its efforts from time to time with other programs of the parish. For example, in many parts of the country, parishes conduct programs where parishioners study and discuss the teachings of the faith. Members of the pro-life committee should take part in such programs and invite other program leaders to take part in pro-life initiatives. The objectives of the parish pro-life committee are to: • Coordinate parish implementation of the annual Respect Life Program, promoting it to agencies and organizations in the parishes, especially schools and religious education programs; and encourage parish discussion groups to use the program as a basis for their discussions. Promote and assist pregnancy counseling and comprehensive maternity support services, as well as post-abortion counseling and reconciliation programs, and make these well known in the parish and local community. Develop or adopt, where feasible, a parish-based ministry to pregnant women and their children. Encourage and support parishioners' involvement in services to help those who are chronically ill, disabled, or dying and their families. Sponsor programs of prayer in the parish to pray for mothers and their unborn children, for those who are dying, for those who are disabled, for prisoners on death row and those they have harmed, and indeed for all who are in need, that the culture of death that surrounds us may be replaced by a culture of life. Foster awareness of the need to restore legal protection to the lives of unborn children to the maximum degree possible and to safeguard in law the lives of those who are chronically ill, disabled, or dying.
• • • •
Keep parishioners informed of upcoming important legislation; and, at the direction of the diocesan pro-life director, organize letter-writing, postcard campaigns, or similar appropriate activities when important votes are expected.
The Public Policy Effort at the Local Level To secure federal pro-life legislation or to pass a constitutional amendment requires the support of members of Congress. Efforts to persuade members to vote for such measures are part of the democratic process and are most effective when carried out locally. This can be done through activities organized on a congressional district basis (sometimes called a "congressional district action committee") comprising citizens within a particular congressional district (involves people of different faiths or none), or it can be accomplished through effective parish efforts. Regardless of how it is carried out, its purpose is to organize people to persuade their elected representatives to support pro-life legislation. The following program objectives can be met effectively by a small group of politically aware and dedicated people: • • • Educating parishioners and others about the destructiveness of abortion to unborn children, to women and their families, and to society, and about the need for prolife legislation and a constitutional amendment. Enabling parishioners and others to organize effectively so that their views will be heard and taken into account by elected representatives and political parties. Building effective mechanisms for lobbying elected officials and candidates for public office to support effective legal protection of human life from conception to natural death. These mechanisms might be telephone trees, postcard campaigns, fax and e-mail systems, letter-writing programs in the parish, etc. Collaborative work with other churches is highly encouraged. In this regard it should be noted that the Church does not engage in partisan politics. Rather, it fosters the responsibility of every Catholic to exercise his or her citizenship faithfully by being well informed on issues, and it recognizes the right to vote as a privilege and a civic responsibility.
Conclusion It has been more than a quarter-century since the Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities was first issued and Catholics responded to the call to help restore respect for human life in our society. Through their hard work, prayers, and generosity, especially on the part of those in parishes across the nation, much has been accomplished: • The numbers and rates of abortions steadily declined in the 1990s. More Americans identified themselves as pro-life, while the number of those who said they are "pro-choice" declined; polls showed that Americans are far more opposed to abortion than our law reflects.
• • • • • •
Despite opposition from powerful and well-funded sources, the pro-life movement continues to be one of the largest and most effective grassroots movements in the nation. The moral argument concerning the humanity of the unborn and the sanctity of all human life was advanced, and even those who advocate abortion had to acknowledge that it destroys a human life. Services for those facing difficult pregnancies, as well as services for women and men suffering because of abortion, were established and expanded, aiding many thousands in need of help. Most state legislatures enacted measures to restrict abortion and reduce its incidence. Assisted suicide initiatives were defeated time and again in many states; some adopted new laws against assisted suicide. Medical societies, hospice groups, and other organizations worked with Catholic health professionals to provide the best care to those who are terminally ill and to oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Yet the federal law on abortion has changed very little. Roe v. Wade continues to make impossible any meaningful protection for the lives of human beings from the time they are conceived until after they are fully born. The abortion decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court must be reversed. For it is impossible, as our Holy Father reminds us, to further the common good "without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop" (The Gospel of Life, no. 101). Our own commitment will not waver. Our efforts will not cease. We will speak out on behalf of the sanctity of life wherever and whenever it is threatened. We hold in high esteem all who proclaim and serve the Gospel of life. Through their peaceful activism, education, prayer, and service, they witness to God's truth and embody our Lord's command to love one another as he loves us. We assure them of our continuing prayers. And we renew our appeal to all in the Catholic community to join with them and with us in building a "culture of life." May the "people of life" constantly grow in number and may a new culture of love and solidarity develop for the true good of the whole of human society. – Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, no. 101
Copyright © 2001, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc., Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. This text may be reproduced in whole or in part without alteration or change by Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools, organizations, and newspapers without further permission, provided such reprints include the following notice: "Reprinted [excerpted] from Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: A Campaign in Support of Life.
Saint Gerard Majella 1725 - 1755 Patron Saint of Unborn Children and the Pro-Life Movement
Son of a tailor who died when the boy was 12, leaving the family in poverty. Gerard tried to join the Capuchins, but his health prevented it He was accepted as a Redemptorist lay brother serving his congregation as sacristan, gardener, porter, infirmarian, and tailor. Miracle worker. When falsely accused by a pregnant woman of being the father of her child, he retreated to silence; she later recanted and cleared him, and thus began his association as patron of all aspects of pregnancy. Reputed to bilocate and read consciences. His last will consisted of the following small note on the door of his cell: “Here the will of God is done, as God wills, and as long as God wills.”
Conscience and the Catholic Voter
by Most Reverend William E. Lori
As this election year proceeds, politics bombards us from all sides. The 24-hour news cycle and the Internet tend to produce an information overload. If we wish, we can know every campaign tactic and antic instantaneously. Yet the issues facing our nation and world go far beyond campaign theatrics. That is why it is especially important for us to be informed about the issues which confront us in national, state, and local elections. Not everyone is an expert in law and government policy. But all of us have a duty to understand, as best we can, how the issues of the day pertain to the common good and to the human dignity of each person. To do so, we must focus our attention beyond narrow self interest or party affiliation. In other words, a well-formed conscience is “standard operating equipment” for participating well in the political process. This is the main point of the U.S. bishops’ document on political responsibility issued in November 2007, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. This statement is posted on the USCCB website, and we invite all to read and reflect on it. We’ve all heard the saying, “let your conscience be your guide.” This is true, as far as it goes. We are obliged to follow our conscience. Yet, as Faithful Citizenship makes clear, “conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere ‘feeling’ about what we should or should not do” (no. 17). Instead, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us, conscience is “a judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act” (CCC, no. 1796). The Church also reminds us that “man has in his heart a law inscribed by God.... His conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary.” In short, the human conscience does not create right and wrong but rather perceives it. Conscience has to be properly formed. What forms the conscience? Is it mere opinion or preference? Is it civil law? Is it peer pressure or what’s advocated in the media? We can’t deny that these things influence our consciences to some extent. Yet what really forms our consciences is truth—above all, the truth about the human person of whom, by whom, and for whom governments exist and function. This kind of truth rises above ordinary political discourse, especially the images and sound bites of the campaign trail. Furthermore, it requires us to confront a fundamental question so that we can deal adequately with the many important issues about which “we, the people” must decide. That fundamental question is whether or not it is possible for us, as individual citizens and as a nation, to attain the truth about the human person. In our contemporary world, many doubt all truth claims—whether they arise from faith or reason. In our very practical world, it is know-how and tangible results that seem to count most. Searching for “truth” seems very abstract and far removed from the rough and tumble world of politics. Yet, in the absence of shared truth and values, the views of prominent opinion leaders and trend setters dominate our society, often at the expense of the vulnerable. If
no one has the truth, politics becomes a matter of who has the most power. Power politics devoid of truth—“the dictatorship of relativism,” in the words of Pope Benedict XVI— cannot unify the nation or protect the common good. History offers us many examples of its failures. Truth has consequences, and so does its absence. And truth is available to people of faith and good will. It’s interesting that the Church, by holding fast to her doctrine, has become the great defender of human reason and its capacity for knowing truth. Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson recently wrote: “despite charges of dogmatism, the church is the main defender of reason in the modern world. It teaches the possibility that moral truth can be known through reflection and argument.” The Church holds that, despite human weakness and sinfulness, the law of God is written on the human heart. It is possible for human beings to reason toward moral truth. Far from impeding this process, the light of faith helps to clarify moral reasoning. As Pope Benedict put it during his recent visit to the United States: “I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible, and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.” In this same address, Pope Benedict XVI also reminded us that “America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator.” This conviction is at the heart of our democracy. It allows us to recognize the self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal. It also allows us to recognize that the source of our human rights is not the government but rather the Creator. The Declaration of Independence famously sketches these rights as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In another time and context, the range of human freedom was summed up as freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship God, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. At the heart of these declarations of freedom is the human person, created in the image of God and endowed with inviolable dignity. Morality—the moral order—protects and fosters human dignity. In turn, human freedom is given us so we may choose what is true and good. The Church’s teaching on faith and morals sheds great light on the moral order established by the Creator. Thus Faithful Citizenship teaches that “Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church” (no. 17). To fulfill this obligation, one must have a desire to seek what is true and good, coupled with a willingness to study Scripture and the teachings of the Church from an authentic source, such as The Catechism of the Catholic Church. One must also acknowledge and accept the God given authority of what the Church believes and teaches. All of this aids the process of moral reasoning as we study the issues of the day, party platforms, proposed legislation, and government policy. Conscience is formed by truth as it is ascertained by reason enlightened by faith. Conscience then judges the moral quality of our actions. In the area of political responsibility, it judges what we as citizens do or fail to do to help create a more
just and humane society. So while it is important for us to seek the truth for the sake of truth, in the political process we should be seeking the truth for the sake of protecting human dignity and the common good of all in society. Our consciences are aided in this task by the virtue of prudence. In common parlance, “prudence” is thought to mean “caution.” In fact, however, “prudence enables us ‘to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it’” (CCC, no. 1806; Faithful Citizenship, no. 19). As we make moral decisions, this virtue helps us to analyze the possible courses of action open to us in a specific situation and to choose the one that best corresponds to what is true and good. Prudence never takes the moral shortcut of condoning immoral measures on the pretext that they will bring about good results. We are obliged always to seek what is good in morally sound ways. We also need to draw upon the virtue of courage, so we may have the strength of character to act on the good choices we have made. Enlightened by faith and bolstered by prudence and courage, our conscience can see more clearly the task that lies before us. It is not simply to make the best of flawed choices. Pope Benedict has called upon us to be “a leaven of evangelical hope in American society, to point the way to that vast horizon of hope which God is opening up to the Church and indeed to all humanity: the vision of a world renewed and reconciled in Christ Jesus our Savior.” We are seeking to build what John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have called “a civilization of love,” a civilization where the rights and dignity of each person— especially those who are most vulnerable, the unborn and the frail elderly—are respected from the moment of conception until natural death; where the family, based on the love of husband and wife, welcomes children into the world and imparts to them the truths and values that make good citizens; where the hungry and homeless are assisted, the immigrant welcomed, the environment protected, and all legitimate paths to peace are pursued. It is in light of that task of ours, as believers and citizens, that we evaluate the moral quality of what is proposed to the electorate by candidates and public officials, and work proactively for the ongoing transformation of our society. Inspired by the task that is before us, we can see all the more clearly that “there are some things we can never do or cooperate with because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called ‘intrinsically evil’ actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned” (Faithful Citizenship, no. 22). In our nation, abortion is at the forefront of these intrinsically evil actions and it is deeply embedded in laws, court decisions and government policies. Since 1973, the year abortion was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, it is estimated that nearly 49 million innocent human lives have been taken. The annual number of abortions recently has decreased, yet some 1.2 million babies were aborted in 2005, the last year for which statistics are available. Abortion has helped create what Pope John Paul II called “a culture of death” in which human life is cheapened. We can see this in legislation that provides public funding for destructive embryonic stem cell research and in efforts to legalize euthanasia.
It is sometimes alleged that the Church is only concerned about abortion. Nothing could be further from the truth. No other nongovernmental institution provides more educational, charitable, and social services— including relief services—than the Church. We should add to this the immense range of pastoral services provided on a daily basis. Because of direct service in untold proportions to those in need, the Church sees even more clearly that “the right to life implies and is linked to other human rights—to the basic goods that every human person needs to live and thrive” (Faithful Citizenship, no. 25). She sees how diminishing respect for the lives of the vulnerable threatens all life. As Pope John Paul II said so clearly: “the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination” (Christifideles Laici, no. 38, quoted by Faithful Citizenship, no. 26). It is because faith and reason lead us to respect human life at all its stages that we seek to address in morally sound and effective ways other serious threats to human life and dignity. Faithful Citizenship cites racism, use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, failure to help those suffering from hunger, homelessness, or lack of health care, as well as unjust immigration policies. These are serious matters, and if we are serious about building a civilization of love we will address them. It would be refreshing if we could find candidates whose records, party platforms, and personal commitments embody the full range of the Church’s social teaching, reasonable as that teaching is. Unfortunately that seldom happens. That is why we must have a wellformed conscience capable of giving each issue its proper moral weight and making other important distinctions and judgments. For example, a Catholic may never vote for candidates precisely because they advocate and advance intrinsic moral evils like abortion; to do so is to cooperate formally (intentionally) with a grave evil. And while Faithful Citizenship acknowledges that one may vote for a politician who supports proabortion policies “only for truly grave moral reasons,” a conscientious voter must question what grave moral issue rises to the level of nearly 49 million lives lost to the evil of abortion. On the other hand, a politician who opposes abortion should not go unchallenged if he or she adopts positions that undermine human dignity in other ways. Sometimes voters face two “anti-life” candidates and find they are unable to vote for either. Or after careful reflection, a voter may decide to vote for the candidate less likely to pursue a morally flawed position and more likely to advance other authentic human goods (Faithful Citizenship, no. 36). When he visited us, Pope Benedict praised Americans for their generosity and optimism and for the role which religion continues to play in our society. He called us to be true to our founding ideals and principles and to maintain the truths and values that flow from faith and reason into the public square. Now is the time to respond to his challenge. Bishop Lori is Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport (Connecticut) and Chair of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine.
The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship
Issued by USCCB, November 14, 2007 Copyright © 2007, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved.
This brief document is a summary of the United States bishops’ reflection Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (www.faithfulcitizenship.org). It complements the teaching of bishops in dioceses and states. Our nation faces political challenges that demand urgent moral choices. We are a nation at war, with all of its human costs; a country often divided by race and ethnicity; a nation of immigrants struggling with immigration. We are an affluent society where too many live in poverty; part of a global community confronting terrorism and facing urgent threats to our environment; a culture built on families, where some now question the value of marriage and family life. We pride ourselves on supporting human rights, but we fail even to protect the fundamental right to life, especially for unborn children. We bishops seek to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with the truth, so they can make sound moral choices in addressing these challenges. We do not tell Catholics how to vote. The responsibility to make political choices rests with each person and his or her properly formed conscience.
Why does the Church teach about issues affecting public policy? The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith, a part of the mission given to us by Jesus Christ. Faith helps us see more clearly the truth about human life and dignity that we also understand through human reason. As people of both faith and reason, Catholics are called to bring truth to political life and to practice Christ’s commandment to “love one another” (Jn 13:34). According to Pope Benedict XVI, “charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as ‘social charity’” (Deus Caritas Est, no. 29). The United States Constitution protects the right of individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference, favoritism, or discrimination. Civil law should recognize and protect the Church’s right and responsibility to participate in society without abandoning our central moral convictions. Our nation’s tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups and people of faith bring their convictions into public life. The Catholic community brings to the political dialogue a consistent moral framework and broad experience serving those in need.
Who in the Church should participate in political life? In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation. As Catholics, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. In today’s environment, Catholics may feel politically disenfranchised, sensing that no party and few candidates fully share our comprehensive commitment to human life and dignity. Catholic lay women and men need to act on the Church’s moral principles and become more involved: running for office, working within political parties, and communicating concerns to elected officials. Even those who cannot vote should raise their voices on matters that affect their lives and the common good.
How does the Church help Catholics to address political and social questions?
A Well-Formed Conscience The Church equips her members to address political questions by helping them develop well-formed consciences. “Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act. . . . [Every person] is obliged to follow faithfully what he [or she] knows to be just and right” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1778). We Catholics have a lifelong obligation to form our consciences in accord with human reason, enlightened by the teaching of Christ as it comes to us through the Church.
The Virtue of Prudence The Church also encourages Catholics to develop the virtue of prudence, which enables us “to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1806). Prudence shapes and informs our ability to deliberate over available alternatives, to determine what is most fitting to a specific context, and to act. Prudence must be accompanied by courage which calls us to act. As Catholics seek to advance the common good, we must carefully discern which public policies are morally sound. A good end does not justify an immoral means. At times Catholics may choose different ways to respond to social problems, but we cannot differ on our obligation to protect human life and dignity and help build through moral means a more just and peaceful world.
Doing Good and Avoiding Evil There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. These intrinsically evil acts must always be rejected and never supported. A preeminent example is the intentional taking of human life through abortion. It is always morally wrong to destroy innocent human beings. A legal system that allows the right to life to be violated on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed. Similarly, direct threats to the dignity of human life such as euthanasia, human cloning, and destructive research on human embryos are also intrinsically evil and must be opposed. Other assaults on human life and dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified. Disrespect for any human life diminishes respect for all human life. As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support. Opposition to intrinsically evil acts also prompts us to recognize our positive duty to contribute to the common good and act in solidarity with those in need. Both opposing evil and doing good are essential. As Pope John Paul II said, “the fact that only the negative commandments oblige always and under all circumstances does not mean that in the moral life prohibitions are more important than the obligation to do good indicated by the positive commandment” (Veritatis Splendor, no. 52). The basic right to life implies and is linked to other human rights to the goods that every person needs to live and thrive—including food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work. The use of the death penalty, hunger, lack of health care or housing, human trafficking, the human and moral costs of war, and unjust immigration policies are some of the serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act.
For more on the moral challenge of voting, see Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, nos. 34-39. Visit www.faithfulcitizenship.org.
Making Moral Choices Difficult political decisions require the exercise of a well-formed conscience aided by prudence. This exercise of conscience begins with always opposing policies that violate human life or weaken its protection. “Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good” (Catholics in Political Life, 2004).
When morally flawed laws already exist, prudential judgment is needed to determine how to do what is possible to restore justice—even if partially or gradually—without ever abandoning a moral commitment to full protection for all human life from conception to natural death (see Evangelium Vitae, no. 73). Prudential judgment is also needed to determine the best way to promote the common good in areas such as housing, health care, and immigration. When Church leaders make judgments about how to apply Catholic teaching to specific policies, this may not carry the same binding authority as universal moral principles but cannot be dismissed as one political opinion among others. These moral applications should inform the consciences and guide the actions of Catholics.
What does the Church say about Catholic social teaching in the public square? – Seven key themes A consistent ethic of life should guide all Catholic engagement in political life. This Catholic ethic neither treats all issues as morally equivalent nor reduces Catholic teaching to one or two issues. It anchors the Catholic commitment to defend human life and other human rights, from conception until natural death, in the fundamental obligation to respect the dignity of every human being as a child of God. Catholic voters should use Catholic teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues and should consider candidates’ integrity, philosophy, and performance. It is important for all citizens “to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere selfinterest” (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 33). The following themes of Catholic social teaching provide a moral framework for decisions in public life. The Right to Life and the Dignity of the Human Person Human life is sacred. Direct attacks on innocent human beings are never morally acceptable. Within our society, life is under direct attack from abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, and destruction of human embryos for research. These intrinsic evils must always be opposed. This teaching also compels us as Catholics to oppose genocide, torture, unjust war, and the use of the death penalty, as well as to pursue peace and help overcome poverty, racism, and other conditions that demean human life.
These themes are drawn from a rich tradition more fully described in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005). For more information on these seven themes, see www.faithfulcitizenship.org. For information on how we bishops of the United States have applied Catholic social teaching to policy issues, see www.faithfulcitizenship.org.
Call to Family, Community, and Participation The family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, is the fundamental unit of society. This sanctuary for the creation and nurturing of children must not be redefined, undermined, or neglected. Supporting families should be a priority for economic and social policies. How our society is organized—in economics and politics, in law and public policy—affects the well-being of individuals and of society. Every person and association has a right and a duty to participate in shaping society to promote the wellbeing of individuals and the common good. Rights and Responsibilities Every human being has a right to life, the fundamental right that makes all other rights possible. Each of us has a right to religious freedom, which enables us to live and act in accord with our God-given dignity, as well as a right to access to those things required for human decency—food and shelter, education and employment, health care and housing. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities—to one another, to our families, and to the larger society. Option for the Poor and Vulnerable While the common good embraces all, those who are in greatest need deserve preferential concern. A moral test for society is how we treat the weakest among us—the unborn, those dealing with disabilities or terminal illness, the poor and marginalized. Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Economic justice calls for decent work at fair, living wages, opportunities for legal status for immigrant workers, and the opportunity for all people to work together for the common good through their work, ownership, enterprise, investment, participation in unions, and other forms of economic activity. Solidarity We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. Our Catholic commitment to solidarity requires that we pursue justice, eliminate racism, end human trafficking, protect human rights, seek peace, and avoid the use of force except as a necessary last resort. Caring for God’s Creation Care for the earth is a duty of our Catholic faith. We all are called to be careful stewards of God’s creation and to ensure a safe and hospitable environment for vulnerable human beings now and in the future.
Conclusion In light of Catholic teaching, as bishops we vigorously repeat our call for a renewed politics that focuses on moral principles, the defense of life, the needs of the weak, and the pursuit of the common good. This kind of political participation reflects the social teaching of our Church and the best traditions of our nation.
Copyright © 2007, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe 1894 - 1941 Patron Saint of Pro-Life Movement
Arrested with several of his brothers on 19 September 1939 following the Nazi invasion of Poland. Others at the monastery were briefly exiled, but the prisoners were released on 8 December 1939, and the men returned to their work. Back at Niepokalanow he continued his priestly ministry, The brothers housed 3,000 Polish refugees, two-thirds of whom were Jewish, and continued their publication work, including materials considered anti-Nazi. For this work the presses were shut down, the congregation suppressed, the brothers dispersed, and Maximilian was imprisoned in Pawiak prison, Warsaw, Poland on 17 February 1941. On 28 May 1941 he was transferred to Auschwitz and branded as prisoner 16670. He was assigned to a special work group staffed by priests and supervised by especially vicious and abusive guards. His calm dedication to the faith brought him the worst jobs available, and more beatings than anyone else. At one point he was beaten, lashed, and left for dead. The prisoners managed to smuggle him into the camp hospital where he spent his recovery time hearing confessions. When he returned to the camp, Maximilian ministered to other prisoners, including conducting Mass and delivering communion using smuggled bread and wine. In July 1941 there was an escape from the camp. Camp protocol, designed to make the prisoners guard each other, required that ten men be slaughtered in retribution for each escaped prisoner. Francis Gajowniczek, a married man with young children was chosen to die for the escape. Maximilian volunteered to take his place, and died as he had always wished - in service.
Saint Mary Church Website: http://stmarysridgefield.org/ Knights of Columbus - Marquette Council #245 -Saint Mary Parish: http://www.kofc245.org/ Saint Mary Men's Ministry: http://www.stmmm.org/ Saint Mary Church Life Teen http://www.smrlifeteen.com/ Connecticut for Women http://ct4women.com/ Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference http://ctcatholic.org/ Birthright International of Danbury: http://www.birthright.org/htmpages/index.htm Priests for Life: http://www.priestsforlife.org/ The Faithful Citizen Website: http://www.faithfulcitizenship.org/ USCCB Pro-Life Home: http://www.usccb.org/prolife/index.shtml Respect Life Program: http://www.usccb.org/prolife/programs/rlp/index.shtml Media Campaigns: http://www.usccb.org/prolife/media/index.shtml Life Issues Forum: http://www.usccb.org/prolife/publicat/lifeissues/index.shtml Life Insight Newsletter: http://www.usccb.org/prolife/publicat/lifeinsight/index.shtml
Liturgical Resources: http://www.usccb.org/prolife/liturgy/wolarchive.shtml Diocesan Pro-Life Offices: http://www.usccb.org/prolife/getinvolved.shtml Church Teaching: http://www.usccb.org/prolife/tdocs/index.shtml Prime resource for Bishops' policy and teaching statements on pro-life issues: www.usccb.org/prolife/index.shtml Organizational and contact information about the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment: www.nchla.org Site of Do No Harm: The Coalition for Americans for Research Ethics: www.stemcellresearch.org, Information about abortion's aftermath and Project Rachel: www.hopeafterabortion.org Factual information about the drug RU-486: www.ru486facts.org Basic facts and figures about abortion based on Second Look Project advertising: www.secondlookproject.org
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