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Building a Culture of Life via The Gabriel Project

April 7, 2012

by Fredi D’Alessio – Gabriel Project Coordinator, Archdiocese of San Francisco

 With the vast amount of attention that I have given to the issue of abortion over the past decade plus, I have never come across a ministry having anywhere’s near the potential of building a culture of life as does The Gabriel Project.

The very reason I became interested in The Gabriel Project was the fact that there was not (in my area) sufficient help for pregnant mothers. This observation goes back to Feb of 2003, when I began to reach out to pregnant mothers outside abortion facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area. I had done research as to where I could refer them to obtain the assistance they needed. Certainly, I found organizations (few and far between) that would guide them to choose birth for their child rather than abortion, and over these many years, I had attempted to refer thousands of abortion minded mothers to those organizations.

But I knew that many mothers needed more help than what was available and that a Gabriel Project, which was modeled after those founded in Texas in 1990/91, could provide that necessary extended help.

Now that we have such a model functioning within the Archdiocese of San Francisco, The Gabriel Project has become my first resort when recommending help to abortion minded mothers.

It is most important for you to realize that the works of The Gabriel Project are not reserved for abortion minded mothers. The truth is, that over time, this parish-based ministry has the potential (and I believe, the promise) to build a culture of life and, in so doing, dramatically reduce the number of abortion minded mothers and fathers year after year.

A culture of life is not going to materialize if we focus exclusively or primarily on helping abortion minded parents. Everything we do for them is essential, but will not reduce the numbers of those who follow in their footsteps, unless we are also helping non-abortion minded parents.

I must also point out that non-abortion minded parents are not necessarily parents who will not abort a future unborn child. This is crucial to understand. While it may be difficult to understand, it must be accepted as fact; it’s simply the truth. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to help all pregnant mothers in need and, one by one person and family at time, build a culture of life. While at the same time, build a culture of life within our parish and extended communities. Shouldn’t that be a goal for each and every one of us?

The presence of this ministry in a parish informs potential mothers of the help that will be available to them should they need it if one day they conceive a child – in some cases several years beforehand. The mind of a child reared in such a parish is formed to recognize the sanctity of the lives of other children still developing in the protection of their mothers’ wombs. What a wonderful gift for our children, especially considering the past decades of the culture of death.

We also serve any pregnant mother in need because we are Christians. The works of The Gabriel Project are as much pro-justice as they are pro-life.

Many pregnant mothers not only carry the blessing of new life, but also the burden of poverty.

The CCC states the following:

[2447] The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.242 Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.243 Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God:244

So I pose the question: Is God calling you to serve Him by serving your neighbor? Obviously, for authentic Christians, there is only one answer to that question.

In the Pope Benedict’s book, “Jesus of Nazareth”, the Holy Father offers an exposition of the parable of The Good Samaritan. He says “The concrete question is who is meant by “neighbor”.

[Quote – emphasis mine]

And now the Samaritan enters the stage. What will he do? He does not ask how far his obligations of solidarity extend. Nor does he ask about merits required for eternal life. Something else happens: His heart is wrenched open. The Gospel uses the word that in Hebrew had originally referred to the mother’s womb and maternal care. Seeing this man in such a state is a blow that strikes him “viscerally”, touching his soul. “He had compassion” – that is how we translate the text today, diminishing its original vitality. Struck in his soul by the lightning flash of mercy, he himself now becomes a neighbor, heedless of any question or danger. The burden of the question thus shifts here. The issue is no longer which other person is a neighbor to me or not. The question is about me. I have to become the neighbor, and when I do, the other person counts for me “as myself”.

If the question had been “Is the Samaritan my neighbor, too?” the answer would have been a pretty clear-cut no given the situation at the time. But Jesus now turns the matter on its head: The Samaritan, the foreigner, makes himself the neighbor and shows me that I have to learn to be a neighbor deep within and that I already have the answer in myself. I have to become like someone in love, someone whose heart is open to being shaken up by another’s need. Then I find my neighbor. Or –better- then I am found by him.

[End quote]

So I pose another question: are you “a neighbor”?

Further on in his exposition the Holy Father says “Everyone is also called to become a Samaritan – to follow Christ and become like him. When we do that, we live rightly. We love rightly when we become like him, who loved all of us first.”

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Holy Bible RSV-CE Luke 10:29-37:

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, `Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

CLICK HERE TO LEARN HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN THE GABRIEL PROJECT.

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Parish ‘angels’ embrace struggling pregnant mom

October 10, 2011

By Lidia Wasowicz – Catholic San Francisco

On a cloudless Saturday afternoon, a host of “angels” at St. Hilary Church in Tiburon flutters around the hall, checking every detail on the balloon-festooned tables laden with savory sandwiches, salads and sweets and piled with festively wrapped baby gifts.

They want to ensure perfection at their first shower for their first “client” since last October’s launch of the parish’s Gabriel Project, which serves and supports the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of moms-to-be in distress.

When she finally appears, a half- hour late due to heavy East Bay traffic, they hover over her with hugs and hellos.

Overwhelmed by the attention and affection, the attractive and very pregnant young woman has no doubt her newfound mentors are heaven-sent.

“I don’t like to ask for help, but I didn’t even have to ask to get this blessing from God,” said a tearful and thankful Elizabeth Ver, 22.

Click here to continue reading and view photos.

Understanding The Gabriel Project

October 9, 2011

by Fredi D’Alessio – Gabriel Project Coordinator, Archdiocese of San Francisco

Those who think of The Gabriel Project only as a means of sparing already conceived children and their parents the horrors of abortion fail to fully understand this ministry.

An important attribute of this ministry is its significant potential to build the culture of life.  We must embrace ways of being proactive rather than only reactive and The Gabriel Project offers us a most marvelous way. The presence of this ministry in a parish informs potential mothers of the help that will be available to them should they need it if one day they conceive a child – in some cases several years beforehand. The mind of a child reared in such a parish is formed to recognize the sanctity of the lives of other children still developing in the protection of their mothers’ wombs.  What a wonderful gift for our children, especially considering the past 38 years of the culture of death.

This ministry gives us the opportunity not only to “be there” for pregnant mothers who are considering aborting their child, but also for pregnant mothers who never had the slightest temptation to consider such a horror – some of them because of their awareness of The Gabriel Project. And the more of the latter as years go by, the less there will be of the former. What good we can do if we choose to.

So let’s team up not only to help pregnant mothers who carry the blessing of new life and also, for many, the burden of poverty, but also to save our children. They are being bombarded by the false teachings of those who embrace the culture of death. They are being taught by their government, teachers and the likes of Planned Parenthood that the killing of innocent children in their mothers’ wombs is legal and a right. They have had, tens of millions (in America  alone) of their generation, along with their parents, suffer the horrors of abortion.

Isn’t it time for our community to adequately educate our children? Isn’t it time  for us to present – as clearly as possible – another message to our children? Isn’t it time for us to be emphatic and demonstrative about what we believe?

A Person From Conception – Pope Benedict XVI on the embryo in the womb

October 8, 2011

With regard to the embryo in the womb, science itself highlights its autonomy capable of interaction with the mother, the coordination of biological processes, the continuity of development, the growing complexity of the organism. This is not an accumulation of biological material, but a new living being, dynamic and wonderfully ordered, a new unique human being. So was Jesus in Mary’s womb, so it was for all of us in our mother’s womb. With the ancient Christian writer Tertullian we can say: ” he who will be a man is already one” (Apologeticum IX, 8), there is no reason not to consider him a person from conception. [Pope Benedict XVI]

Protect, Love and Serve Life! Pope’s Homily at Vigil of Prayer for All Nascent Human Life

by Deacon Keith Fournier (Catholic Online)

The Vigil of Advent 2010 began in St. Peter’s Basilica with Pope Benedict XVI leading what was called a “Vigil of Prayer for All Nascent Human Life”. Catholics throughout the world gathered in their local Churches, as well as in homes, monasteries and religious houses all over the world. The global Vigil was requested by Pope Benedict XVI. It underscores the unqualified and unequivocal committment of the Catholic Church to the defense of every human life, from conception, throughout every age and stage, up to and including a natural death.

In his homily, Pope Benedict called the faithful to defend all human life, including embryonic human life. In fact,a human embryo is a human being, in development as we all are. The Pope noted that “there are cultural tendencies that seek to anesthetize consciences with misleading motivations. With regard to the embryo in the womb, science itself highlights its autonomy capable of interaction with the mother, the coordination of biological processes, the continuity of development, the growing complexity of the organism. This is not an accumulation of biological material, but a new living being, dynamic and wonderfully ordered, a new unique human being”.

He cautioned against the growing “darkening of consciences” and proclaimed with clarity and conviction to the whole world that the child in the first home of the whole human race, his or her mothers womb, “has the right not to be treated as an object of possession or something to manipulate at will, not to be reduced to a mere instrument for the benefit of others and their interests. The human person is a good in and of himself and his integral development should always be sought”.

The fathers of the Church referred to the Christian faith, and the sacraments of the church, as “the mysteries”. They are beyond words, inexhaustible in their depth of meaning, like a rich feast that never ends and a deep ocean of wonder into which we are invited to wade. We can never touch the bottom. The Incarnation is the very heart of the Mystery of the entire Christian Faith. The God, who made the whole universe and created man out of the dust of the earth, took on our humanity. He lived in the first home of every human person, His mothers womb.

Those first nine months of His life made every human pregnancy even more profoundly a “mystery”. There was a Redeemer in the womb of Mary! God was an embryonic human person, a “fetus”, and a child in the womb. In the light of this “mystery” every human pregnancy, every womb, every child in the womb, was forever elevated beyond the dignity it already possessed. Also, the extreme evil of abortion is made even more obvious and profane.This Redeemer in the womb, Jesus, began His saving work “in utero” and He identifies with every child in the womb.

We have a great theologian and man of deep faith in the Chair of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI. We offer his entire homily for our global readers as we begin the first full week of Advent, preparing for the Nativity of the Lord. It is well worth prayerfully reflecting upon so that we can enter more fully into the mission of the Church, the defender of every human life.

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Homily of Pope Benedict XVI on the Vigil of Prayer for Nascent Human Life, Advent 2010

Dear brothers and sisters,

With this evening’s celebration, the Lord gives us the grace and joy of opening the new liturgical year beginning with its first stage: Advent, the period that commemorates the coming of God among us. Every beginning brings a special grace, because it is blessed by the Lord. In this Advent period we will once again experience the closeness of the One who created the world, who guides history and cared for us to the point of becoming a man.

This great and fascinating mystery of God with us, moreover of God who becomes one of us, is what we celebrate in the coming weeks journeying towards holy Christmas. During the season of Advent we feel the Church that takes us by the hand and – in the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary – expresses her motherhood allowing us to experience the joyful expectation of the coming of the Lord, who embraces us all in his love that saves and consoles.

While our hearts reach out towards the annual celebration of the birth of Christ, the Church’s liturgy directs our gaze to the final goal: our encounter with the Lord in the splendour of glory. This is why we, in every Eucharist, “announce his death, proclaim his resurrection until he comes again” we hold vigil in prayer. The liturgy does not cease to encourage and support us, putting on our lips, in the days of Advent, the cry with which the whole Bible concludes, the last page of the Revelation of Saint John: “Come, Lord Jesus “(22:20).

Dear brothers and sisters, our coming together this evening to begin the Advent journey is enriched by another important reason: with the entire Church, we want to solemnly celebrate a prayer vigil for unborn life. I wish to express my thanks to all who have taken up this invitation and those who are specifically dedicated to welcoming and safeguarding human life in different situations of fragility, especially in its early days and in its early stages.

The beginning of the liturgical year helps us to relive the expectation of God made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, God who makes himself small, He becomes a child, it speaks to us of the coming of a God who is near, who wanted to experience the life of man, from the very beginning, to save it completely, fully. And so the mystery of the Incarnation of the Lord and the beginning of human life are intimately connected and in harmony with each other within the one saving plan of God, the Lord of life of each and every one of us. The Incarnation reveals to us, with intense light and in an amazing way, that every human life has an incomparable, a most elevated dignity.

Man has an unmistakable originality compared to all other living beings that inhabit the earth. He presents himself as a unique and singular entity, endowed with intelligence and free will, as well as being composed of a material reality. He lives simultaneously and inseparably in the spiritual dimension and the corporal dimension. This is also suggested in the text of the First letter to the Thessalonians which was just proclaimed: “May the God of peace himself – St. Paul writes – “make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ “(5:23).

Therefore, we are spirit, soul and body. We are part of this world, tied to the possibilities and limits of our material condition, at the same time we are open to an infinite horizon, able to converse with God and to welcome Him in us. We operate in earthly realities and through them we can perceive the presence of God and seek Him, truth, goodness and absolute beauty. We savour fragments of life and happiness and we long for total fulfilment.

God loves us so deeply, totally, without distinction, He calls us to friendship with him, He makes us part of a reality beyond all imagination, thought and word; His own divine life. With emotion and gratitude we acknowledge the value of the incomparable dignity of every human person and the great responsibility we have toward all. ” Christ, the final Adam, – says the Second Vatican Council – by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear…. by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. “(Gaudium et Spes, 22).

Believing in Jesus Christ also means having a new outlook on man, a look of trust and hope. Moreover, experience itself and reason show that the human being is a subject capable of discernment, self-conscious and free, unique and irreplaceable, the summit of all earthly things, that must be recognized in his innate value and always accepted with respect and love. He has the right not to be treated as an object of possession or something to manipulate at will, not to be reduced to a mere instrument for the benefit of others and their interests.

The human person is a good in and of himself and his integral development should always be sought. Love for all, if it is sincere, naturally tends to become a preferential attention to the weakest and poorest. In this vein we find the Church’s concern for the unborn, the most fragile, the most threatened by the selfishness of adults and the darkening of consciences. The Church continually reiterates what was declared by the Second Vatican Council against abortion and all violations of unborn life: “from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care ” (ibid., n. 51).

There are cultural tendencies that seek to anesthetize consciences with misleading motivations. With regard to the embryo in the womb, science itself highlights its autonomy capable of interaction with the mother, the coordination of biological processes, the continuity of development, the growing complexity of the organism. This is not an accumulation of biological material, but a new living being, dynamic and wonderfully ordered, a new unique human being. So was Jesus in Mary’s womb, so it was for all of us in our mother’s womb. With the ancient Christian writer Tertullian we can say: ” he who will be a man is already one” (Apologeticum IX, 8), there is no reason not to consider him a person from conception.

Unfortunately, even after birth, the lives of children continue to be exposed to abandonment, hunger, poverty, disease, abuse, violence or exploitation. The many violations of their rights that are committed in the world sorely hurt the conscience of every man of good will. Before the sad landscape of the injustices committed against human life, before and after birth, I make mine Pope John Paul II’s passionate appeal to the responsibility of each and every individual:

“respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness!”(Encyclical Evangelium vitae, 5). I urge the protagonists of politics, economic and social communications to do everything in their power to promote a culture which respects human life, to provide favorable conditions and support networks for the reception and development of life.

To the Virgin Mary, who welcomed the Son of God made man with faith, with her maternal womb, with loving care, with nurturing support and vibrant with love, we entrust our commitment and prayer in favour of unborn life . We do in the liturgy – which is the place where we live the truth and where truth lives with us – worshiping the divine Eucharist, we contemplate Christ’s body, that body who took flesh from Mary by the Holy Spirit, and from her was born in Bethlehem for our salvation. Ave, verum Corpus, natum de Maria Virgine!

RELATED: A human embryo is a human person

A very special ministry

October 7, 2011

by Fredi D’Alessio – Gabriel Project Coordinator, Archdiocese of San Francisco

There are a number of reasons why I consider The Gabriel Project to be a very special ministry. Answering the call of our bishops to establish a parish-based ministry to assist pregnant mothers in need and the fact that there is no substitute for this ministry are among them. Others include the special attention given to pregnant mothers seeking our assistance and how they are affected by our volunteers’ acts of love and kindness. Then there are those special persons, our volunteers, who have responded to the call of Christ Jesus to love and serve. I don’t mean to imply that they are extraordinary persons, because nothing extraordinary is required of them. What makes them special is their willingness to put Christ’s call to love into action.

When I introduce the ministry to interested parishioners, I point out Blessed Mother Mary’s exemplary example of Christian Discipleship – even before Christ Jesus was born: When Mary set out to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was in her sixth month with child, she had just learned that she herself would soon give birth to the Son of God. Out of charity, without concern for the difficulties she might face, Mary put her self-interest aside and hastened to the aid of her cousin who was elderly and fragile. Mary remained at Elizabeth’s side for three months.

I then pose the question: How often do we put our personal interests aside and reprioritize our obligations and responsibilities so that we can go to the aid of others?

Of course we know that Mary was an extraordinary person, but we also know that ordinary persons can treat others as being special to them and in turn reveal how special they are themselves.

We are called to be Disciples of Christ and if we are authentic Catholic Christians, we are special persons. All we need do is to treat others likewise.

The Gabriel Project isn’t a ministry for the extraordinary among us. It is a ministry for ordinary persons representing the supernatural presence of Christ Jesus among us.

Human Lives, Human Rights

October 5, 2011

by Archbishop John J. O’Connor
October 15, 1984

“…we affirm as an incontestable and sacred principle, respect for every form of human life, life that is awakening, life that asks only to develop, life that is drawing to a close; life especially that is weak, unprovided for, defenseless, at the mercy of others.”

Following is the prepared text of Archbishop John J. O’Connor’s October 15 address, sponsored by the Institute on Human Values in Medical Ethics of New York Medical College with Flower Hospital, at Cathedral High School in Manhattan.

A Nation’s Enduring Heartache

Let me start by telling you the story of the man who puzzled his daughter when he told her that the day he had his heart attack was the happiest day of his life. Then he explained why.

“It is very simple, my child,” he said. “I have witnessed so much death and suffering and survived it all. At times I wondered if I had a heart at all. This heart attack reassured me that I indeed have one. For how can a man without a heart have a heart attack?”

The story is my favorite among the Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust told by Professor Yaffa Eliach of the Department of Judaic Studies at Brooklyn College.

The pain of the heart attack was reassuring to the man because it proved to him that he had not been hardened to human suffering by the experiences he had survived. He still had a heart!

There is a great deal of pain in our country today. I am not happy about it, but I am encouraged by it. I am encouraged to believe that there is deep pain throughout the land in respect to a number of crucial problems. I believe, further, that this profound and pervasive anxiety is rooted in the reality that as a people we do have a heart–an enormous heart, a warm and generous heart, a heart that is experiencing a gnawing pain, an enduring heartache, if not an outright spiritual and emotional heart attack.

Our Unease Over Injustices

We know that we are doing so many things right as a nation, but we know, too, or we feel, a vague uneasiness and, at times an acute anxiety, that we are doing some things wrong — terribly wrong.

We know there is something wrong as we pass the bag ladies, the bagmen in the streets. We know there is something wrong about gentrification that flushes lonely, elderly people out of homes and apartments with absolutely no place to go. We know there is something wrong when drugs control and destroy our neighborhoods, when we can’t build prisons fast enough to meet the demand. We know there is something wrong when the most incredible pornography is defended as freedom of speech, when child abuse reaches horrifying proportions, when people are disenfranchised or exploited because of where they were born, or their sex, or the color of their skin. We know there is in the sexual exploitation and violence that Father Bruce Ritter deals with every day right here in Manhattan, and in the hopelessness of the burned-out buildings in cities all over the country. We know there is something wrong in Central America, in the Middle East, in the north of Ireland, in Cambodia and in Poland, in much of the vast continent of Africa, and elsewhere in the world. We know there is something wrong, something terrifyingly wrong, about the arms race, and about the horrifying potential of nuclear weapons.

And all of this knowledge and more pains us, because we are basically a good people, a good and kind and merciful people. And the pain comes in knowing that we are doing some things terribly wrong and in either not truly wanting to right them, or in not seeming to know how to right them. So, many of us — a great many of us — do what is very understandable: we try to forget the problems, to busy ourselves with a thousand legitimate preoccupations, to hope that someone else will solve the problems, or that they will simply go away. Like the bag people. We didn’t put them on the streets. We don’t want them on the streets. We can’t understand why they are on the streets, we disbelieve how many are on the streets, we wish they would go away, or someone would take them away. But in the meanwhile, particularly as we hustle to our own homes on bitter winter nights, we, pass them by, and we know they are there, and the knowing pains us, because we know simultaneously that somehow, there has to be a better way.

National Anxiety Over Abortion

I am deeply concerned that it is this kind of uneasiness, this same kind of anxiety, this same kind of pain that we feel as a nation, knowing that we lose 4,000 lives every day through abortion. And that’s a large part of the answer to the question people ask me all the time: Why is this front-page news all over the country? Why are people talking about it all over the world? No single statement by any one bishop–no series of statements by all the bishops combined — could have created the depth and the breadth and the intensity of feeling about this if it hadn’t been there all along, stirring down inside us, gnawing at our hearts. You can’t make an issue out of a non-issue. This one was there, long before a single bishop said a single word.

We know, somehow, whatever our religious persuasion, that there is something wrong when one and a half million unborn human lives are taken every year in our beloved country. We know that, whatever the reason, there must be a better way. We know that this magnificent country, with its incredible resources, its ability to put a man on the moon, the skill to transplant hearts, the heart to give our lives for the oppressed all over the world — this marvelous country must surely have a better answer to the violence of poverty, than to inflict the violence of death on the innocent; it must surely have a better answer for the lonely, confused, frightened young woman, the teenager, the 10- or 11- or 12-year-old pregnant girl, than to destroy the new life within her. Our nation must surely have more to offer a bewildered family than the money to help pay for a daughter’s abortion. Our society must, surely must, have more support for the woman torn with conflict over a pregnancy than to point her toward an abortion clinic.

Is this simply a religious perspective? Is my grief over abortion born merely of what I have been taught as a Catholic? I can’t believe that. I know that millions of Jews, Protestants, Orthodox, Muslims, people of many other religious persuasions and people who profess no religion at all, grieve as I do over this destruction of life.

Abortion: The Destruction of Life

Or is abortion not the destruction of life? Are we, in fact, not putting babies to death?

If we are not destroying human life, of course, then our concern, our anxiety, our pain over abortion virtually disappears. There is a dramatic difference between removing 4,000 pieces of tissue each day from the bodies of 4,000 women and taking the lives of 4,000 babies.

Human Life Before Birth: Medical Evidence

What is abortion, then? Can we face that question honestly? Can we raise it without rancor, without accusation, without judgment or condemnation of anyone? Surely it is a crucial question. Surely it deserves an answer. One of the very reasons I wanted to give this talk to an audience composed largely of medical people, is that I believe that you, in particular, must ask and answer this question honestly. I turn to you and to your medical colleagues for what you and they have to say. I do not ask you or them to speak from religious beliefs. I do not ask you or them to determine at what point the unborn becomes a human person. I ask you and them to speak from your common sense experience of human life and from the scientific evidence you observe.

I turn, for example, to Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the well-known Jewish obstetrician-gynecologist who identifies himself as an atheist. Doctor Nathanson’s background is fascinating. By his own admission, he presided over 60,000 abortions in the first and largest abortion clinic in the Western world, the clinic he directed. He now calls those abortions 60,000 deaths. Here are his own words:

Some time ago — after a tenure of a year and a half I resigned as director of the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health. The Center had performed 60,000 abortions. . . . I am deeply troubled by my own increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths.

There is no longer serious doubt in my mind that human life exists within the womb from the very onset of pregnancy, despite the fact that the nature of the intrauterine life has been the subject of considerable dispute in the past.

Electrocardiographic evidence of heart function has been established in embryos as early as six weeks. Electroencephalographic recordings of human brain activity have been noted in embryos at eight weeks. Our capacity to measure signs of life is daily becoming more sophisticated, and as time goes by, we will doubtless be able to isolate life signs at earlier stages in fetal development.

Doctor Nathanson now spends a large part of his life pleading against abortion, not because of a religious conversion, but because of the evidence yielded by ultrasound scanning, intra-uterine surgery, in vitro fertilization and other advances in science and technology. Dr. Nathanson previously used the impersonal term “alpha” to describe what he now calls “the person in the womb.” Scientific findings have convinced him beyond a shadow of a doubt that “prenatality is just another passage in our lives — lives which commence with fertilization and end with death.”

Dr. Nathanson is far from alone. Indeed, the American Medical Association itself urged strict laws against abortion more than a century ago, simply because the scientific evidence said that human life begins at conception. In 1871, the AMA told its members that a fetus becomes animated long before quickening. Quoting from Archbold’s Criminal Practice and Pleadings, it said this: “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.” No statement by the AMA in more recent times has contradicted the position it took then.
In our own day, miracles of modern science confirm what we have known all along — that life exists in the womb. Reporting on an article by Dr. Mitchell S. Golbus called “Healing the Unborn,” the 1983 Medical and Health Annual of the Encyclopedia Britannica says: “Prenatal medicine is now beginning to he able to intervene, before birth, to alleviate, and even cure conditions that previously would have severely compromised the fetus. This promises survival for thousands of threatened lives…. The concept that the fetus is a patient, an individual whose disorders are a proper subject for medical therapy, has been established.”
But sadly, all of our new knowledge seems to have taught us very little. A famous article in the journal called California Medicine, written in 1970, concedes that life is present before birth, but warns physicians that if they want people to think that abortion is morally acceptable, they’ll have to come up with a brand new language. Semantic gymnastics, they call it.

This was surely the attitude Sir William Liley had in mind when he lamented the direction that too many in the medical world and society in general have taken. Sir William, of the faculty of the Postgraduate School of Obstetrics and Gynecology of the University of Auckland, listed a series of developments that gave us new insights into the miracle of life before birth, and then continued:

For a generation which reputedly prefers scientific fact to barren philosophy, we might have thought this new information would engender a new respect for the welfare and appreciation of the importance of intra-uterine life.

Human Life Before Birth: Everyday Evidence

Some evidence, however, does seem to make a profound impression on many medical and lay people as well. That’s what happened when Congressman Lawrence J. Hogan saw some startling pictures, as he told a congressional subcommittee on constitutional amendments:

Until a few years ago, I did not think much about abortion. It did not mean very much to me. I somehow equated it with birth control.

My brother, Doctor William Hogan, who. . . is with me today, and is an obstetrician, had been trying to discuss abortion with me, but I kept putting him off saying that it was not a popular political issue.

Finally, one day he came to my house and showed me some color pictures of what unborn babies look like. I saw what some people call a chemical reaction, sucking a thumb. I saw perfectly formed human babies just a few weeks from conception. I saw the pictures of the 21 week old fetus, a little girl, who survived out of the womb. I saw other little babies who did not survive. Some were scalded red from saline solution which flushed them from the womb. I saw others torn apart from the machine. I could see a little foot and a little hand. I was stunned. I was shocked. And I was bitterly ashamed.

I did not know what I really thought abortion was. I just did not think very much about it. But, certainly I did not think we were killing babies. How could I have been so stupid?

It’ we are not killing babies in abortion, what are we doing?

When discarded fetuses are found in the trash, why are we horrified? Why do we rebel when our highest court tells us that the matter of when life begins is constitutionally irrelevant? In the light of all that, we know, and in the name of sheer common sense, is it not because we are profoundly convinced that the unborn child is human? What can we possibly say except that we are putting to death 4,000 human beings every day – one and a half million every year.

Isn’t there something wrong with this? Where does it all stop?

The Agony of Decision

I know there are those who sincerely believe that abortion is an evil, but that not to have an abortion might be even worse. I know it, and my heart goes out to them. I know there are women and parents and young girls who are frantic about a pregnancy. They don’t know which way to turn or what to do. They’re under enormous pressure. Who can condemn them? Who can fail to understand all they’re going through? Their abortions are still tragic; their babies are still put to death. But they think they’re doing the right thing. Do I condemn them for feeling that way? No, never. I would do anything I could to help them pick up the pieces of their lives after an abortion.

The same is true of families, of parents who might abhor the idea of abortion, but when their own daughter is pregnant, believe that unless she has an abortion her life will be ruined. There can be no question of the grief they feel, the conflict that rips at their very hearts, the deep suffering they endure in coming to a decision that an abortion is the only way.

But is it? Is it the only way? Is it the best answer we can come up with after these many centuries of civilization? What does it do to the woman herself, the young girl, the family?

I wish there were time to read to you some of the letters I have received from women who have had abortions, or from families that encouraged or urged or even pressured them to do so. I am speaking of women and of families of all religious persuasions and of none. Many suffer for years. My own heart aches for them. I try to respond to the best of my ability, to offer them whatever help I possibly can. But in some cases, I fear, the wound never seems to heal. In my view, the tragedy in every such case is at least doubled: an innocent baby has been deprived of life, a woman has been deprived of peace of mind and heart, sometimes for the rest of her life. Indeed, in every such case there are at least two victims, the baby and the woman herself. In many cases, the fathers of the baby aborted, the families involved, suffer terribly as well.

It is inevitably the woman, however, who is confronted most immediately and intimately with the terrible conflicts that can accompany a pregnancy and with the anguish of decision. We have no sympathy with the man who judges a woman’s dilemma glibly, or who detaches himself from the reality of the conflict and the suffering involved. Nor can we respect the man who walks callously away from his own obligations when confronted with a woman’s unplanned pregnancy. Such, of course, is not always the case. It can happen that the father of an unborn baby who is deliberately aborted can suffer deeply.

One of the most poignant stories I have ever read was by a former CBS correspondent. Writing in the Los Angeles Times in March of 1976, he describes his joy when his wife told him she was pregnant, and his shock and fury when she told him she had already talked with several friends, had a doctor’s name and intended to have an abortion. Shouting and pleading followed, with his wife insisting it was her body and should be her decision alone. Finally be drove her to the doctor’s office and waited in the car.

He tells the story 20 years later. Why? Because suddenly and unexpectedly he passed the corner of the doctor’s office, and it all came flooding back, and he found himself wondering over and over what might have been. By the time he arrived at his meeting, the tears were flowing and wouldn’t stop.

“Whatever sort of person the lost one might have been,” he writes, “I feel even now that we had no right to take his/her life.”

“Religion has nothing to do with my feelings. It is a gut response — still so strong that it overwhelmed me” some 20 years later.

Even now I find myself wondering about my first child that never was and I wonder, too, about others in my shoes. How many men share my haunted feelings about children who might have been, but were denied. Why are we, the fathers who never were, so reluctant to talk about such feelings? If it all so painful for us, how much worse must it be for the women who nurture and then give up the very fact of life itself?

A sad story? Of course it is, and there are countless stories like it. I know that your hearts go out, just as mine does, to all those whose lives have been so tragically touched. I do not repeat the story to reawaken bitter memories or to revive buried guilt. On the contrary, I believe as profoundly as I believe anything in this world, that God wants nothing more than to forgive whatever mistakes we have made, and pleads with us to let Him do so.

A Plea to the Medical Profession

But what of the future? Can we do more? Of course we can, all of us. And here I appeal particularly to you in the medical profession. I ask boldly that you help in at least three ways.

First, very simply, I ask you to think about the Hippocratic Oath. Ask yourself with absolute honesty what abortion really is. Test what is done to the unborn against the Hippocratic Oath many of you once took. You remember how it used to go: “I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give a pessary to a woman to produce an abortion.” And you know that the words about abortion are now so frequently omitted. Why? Why?

Secondly, teach us what we must learn about taking care of the whole person–the entire family, physically and emotionally. Teach us far, far more than we have been willing to learn to date about the critical importance of decent housing, of security in our streets, of the destructiveness of drugs. Teach us that good medicine requires that people need jobs, and meaningful jobs, to be able to hold their heads high, to feed, to clothe, to educate their children. Teach us that poverty is dangerous to our health, that malnutrition in mothers breeds disabilities in children. Plead for daycare centers, increased numbers of facilities for the handicapped. Raise your voices precisely as medical professionals to plead for a just social order indispensable to effective medicine. Teach that abortion is what it is, without pretense, but help bring about circumstances which will help a pregnant woman recognize that there is a better way for her than to have her own child destroyed.

Teach us above all, however, that you of the medical profession recognize the absolutely crucial role you play in regard to the entire issue of abortion. The overwhelming number of the 4,000 abortions carried out every day are carried out by members of the medical profession. What enormous power is yours, what leadership for life you could provide! Do you consider abortion your responsibility, whether or not you personally have ever been involved in or would be involved in an abortion? As the Holy Father reminded us recently when he spoke to a group of anesthesiologists, the responsibility extends to everyone in the medical field. For whatever my personal opinion is worth, I am convinced that the medical profession could change the entire picture of abortion in America and the world. Such is your influence, your prestige. Such is our dependence on you as nurturers and guardians of human life.

And thirdly, here is a request as direct as I can make it; if it’s needed to save the life of an unborn child, give your medical services without cost. I do not know how many abortions are performed free of charge, but I would like to believe that you and your colleagues would be willing to deliver live – and free of charge, where necessary – every baby that would otherwise be aborted. I am certain that many of you do this already, but I urge you to make it widely known that you want to go out of your way to help, at no cost to the pregnant girl or woman in need.

And I appeal to you, our hospital administrators, boards and staff to provide free of charge, when necessary, all the medical care required for both mother and child.

My appeal is extended to those in the legal profession, as well, to assist women and families without charge, when necessary, to learn what federal or state or city funding may be available to them, and to help them in adoption processes, should they choose this route.

The Commitment of the Archdiocese

I can assure all of you, as I appeal to you, and can assure every single or married woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, that the Archdiocese of New York will give you free, confidential help of highest quality. Here are just some of the services the Archdiocese will provide, whatever your religious affiliation. It makes no difference whether you are Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim or any other religion, or of no religion at all, or single or married–and your confidentiality will be completely respected.

You will get help with medical care and you do not have to worry about the bills. If you have medical insurance, you may be able to use this. If you choose adoption, the adopting family is responsible for your medical bills. If you wish to keep your baby, your social worker will help you get Medicaid. There is no fee for our services to you.

Our social workers will make arrangements to meet you close to your home. They travel widely throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. If you live in another state, we will help you get service from another agency or arrange for you to come to New York whenever possible.

If you cannot live at home during your pregnancy, other living arrangements can be made for you. The social worker we will provide you will suggest to you a variety of arrangements. You can choose the one best for you.

If you decide to keep your baby, your social worker will locate medical services, community resources, financial aid and support services to help you.

If you choose adoption, you will have a choice about the family with whom your baby is placed. Your social worker will give you profiles of approved couples on the waiting list. She will discuss these with you, but you make the selection. Let me say it simply and straightforwardly. The Archdiocese of New York is prepared to do everything in its power to help you and your unborn baby, to make absolutely certain that you need never feel that you must have an abortion.

A Plea to Those in Public Service

I have appealed to you members of the medical professions, to those of you in the legal profession and to those of you who may personally experience an unplanned pregnancy. May I now address all who hold or who seek public office, and ask this: Commit yourself unconditionally to a just social order for all–to decent housing, to jobs, to the end of all discrimination, to the ultimate ending of the arms race. Do these things not for political gain, but out of respect for all human life. I’ve heard it said that those who plead for protection for the unborn are obsessed with a single issue. But what is that issue other than life itself? No one in public life would dare admit to being a racist or a warmonger. But suppose someone did? Would we be accused of obsession with a single issue if we challenged that position? And is any value that is threatened anywhere greater than life itself?

Advocates for Change

Why, then, is it argued that questioning a candidate about abortion is somehow unfair or unethical? Must a candidate or in office holder explicitly support abortion? Of course no! He or she is free to tell the world: “I am not only personally opposed to abortion, but I intend to do everything I can within the law to bring about a change in the law. I do not believe that the right to privacy overrides the right to life of an unborn child.” There’s nothing constitutional about that. You have to uphold the law, the Constitution says. It does not say that you must agree with the law, or that you cannot work to change the law.

What do we ask of a candidate or someone already in office? Nothing more than this: a statement opposing abortion on demand, and a commitment to work for a modification of the permissive interpretations issued on the subject by the United States Supreme Court. It will simply not do to argue that “laws” won’t work, or that “we can’t legislate morality.” Nor will it do to argue, “I won’t impose my morality on others.” There is nothing personal or private in the morality that teaches that the taking of unborn life is wrong.

Abortion: Beyond Politics

And so I plead with you above all for the most innocent, those who have no voice of their own to cry out for your protection. Your personal belief is not an issue with me, nor are your politics. Whether you hold political office or aspire to such, whatever your party, my appeal is precisely the same. I speak to elect no candidate, to reject no candidate. There are critical needs in our society. All must be addressed on a continuing basis. None will go away overnight regardless of who holds public office, at whatever level. Some needs are so crucial that they require absolutely the best leadership this country can provide. It is neither my prerogative nor my desire to determine who those leaders are to be. But I am passionately convinced that no need is more crucial than to protect the rights of the unborn. I can but pray that those who are chosen to lead us will do everything possible to protect those rights, for such, in my judgment, is the indispensable step in protecting the rights of all who cannot protect themselves–and one day that can be any one of us.

In a speech last April at Mount Saint Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland, Speaker of the House Thomas P. O’Neill quoted the truly noble words of Senator Hubert Humphrey that could be read as an ominous warning as well: “The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and handicapped.”

Abortion and the Law

Since 1973 some of the finest scholars in the United States have argued that the Supreme Court decisions were not solidly based on the Constitution, and one Supreme Court Justice who dissented, from the majority called the abortion decision an act of “raw, judicial power.” In other words, the will of seven justices was imposed on an entire nation.

A Decree Against the Consensus

Given this reality, when charges are so loosely made that those who plead for a recovery of legal protection for the unborn are trying to impose their will on the majority, it is apparently forgotten that virtually every state in the union had some kind of protective law which was swept away by the Supreme Court. If we are going to argue that law must reflect a consensus, we must admit that there was a strong, national consensus against abortion on demand before the Supreme Court issued its decree that the unborn is “not a person whose life state law could legally protect.”

There are those who argue that we cannot legislate morality, and that the answer to abortion does not lie in the law. The reality is that we do legislate behavior every day. Our entire society is structured by law. We legislate against going through red lights, selling heroin, committing murder, burning down other peoples’ houses, stealing, child abuse, slavery and a thousand other acts that would deprive other people of their rights. And this is precisely the key: law is intended to protect us from one another of private and personal moral or religious beliefs. The law does not ask me if I personally believe stealing to be moral or immoral. The law does not ask me if my religion encourages me to burn down houses. As far as the law is concerned, the distinction between private and public morality is quite clear. Basically, when I violate other peoples’ rights, I am involved in a matter of public morality, subject to penalty under law.

Is it outlandish to think that laws against abortions might have some protective effect? It is obvious that law is not the entire answer to abortion. Nor is it the entire answer to theft, arson, child abuse, or shooting police officers. Everybody knows that. But who would suggest that we repeal the laws against such crimes because the laws are so often broken?

Teaching Function of Law

Of course we need far more education, and speaking in this high school auditorium I call upon our school administrators and teachers to carry out this responsibility. Of course we need far more love and respect and reverence for human life. Of course those churches that believe abortion to be sinful have the obligation to teach their adherents. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops testified before the Senate in 1981: “. . . we have no intention of asking the government to take over our own task of teaching moral principles and forming consciences.” The testimony went on to argue, however, that the law has a critical teaching function. On this basis, too, we would appeal to those in public life who could do so much to help achieve modifications in the current laws.

Every American is brought up, ideally, to respect the law. We know that some individual laws are good, some bad, some just, some unjust, but it’s the concept of law that we respect. We know laws are necessary because we are all weak human beings, and while we may chafe under laws that are personally inconvenient to us, we know we must have laws or have chaos. It is one of our proudest traditions that bad laws can be changed. There is no better example than the Slave Laws. And while many blacks still suffer in our country, and are still far from enjoying all the human and civil rights due them by both moral and civil law, the reality is that if the 1857 Supreme Court decision in the famous Dred Scott case had been allowed to stand, they would still be legally slaves, non-citizens, forever unable to become citizens. In 1857, it was not enough for people of good will to call slavery wrong; it was absolutely essential that they call the law wrong, and worked to change it.

Consequences of Abortion Mentality

We need only look at the mentality that has developed under current laws in recent years. An assistant district attorney argues in the case of the smothering of a newborn by her grandmother: “This is what you might call a two-minute abortion because the baby was unwanted.” A Nobel Prize winner has suggested that parents should be given a period of three days after the birth of a baby to determine whether the baby should live or die. Physicians are asked to determine by amniocentesis and other means the sex of the unborn so that an abortion can be performed if the sex is not acceptable to the parents. We hear of trafficking in fetuses which are sold nationally and internationally for commercial purposes such as the manufacture of cosmetics. The judicial trend since 1973 has even allowed a court’s ordering abortion for a mentally retarded or incompetent woman.

Why maintain laws against child abuse when abortion–the most violent form of child abuse in society–is protected as a right? Why have laws against racism when–as the ten black Roman Catholic bishops of the United States recently charged — liberal abortion policies amount to another form of subjugation of poor black people.

Deeply as we feel the pain of the individual, and aware as we are that many, many women have abortions because that seems to them their only choice, we cannot, we must not treat abortion as though it were a matter of concern only to an individual woman or man or family. We are already seeing cruel signs of what an abortion mentality can mean for all society.

Again we ask how safe will the retarded be, the handicapped, the aged, the wheelchaired, the incurably ill, when the so-called “quality of life” becomes the determinant of who is to live and who is to die? Who is to determine which life is “meaningful,” which life is not? Who is to have a right to the world’s resources, to food, to housing, to medical care? The prospects are frightening and far too realistic to be brushed aside as “scare tactics.”

Father Hesburgh of Notre Dame phrases the issue well. “It is difficult to explain how a moral America, so brilliantly successful in confronting racial injustice in the ’60s, has the most permissive abortion law of any Western country, recognizing virtually no protection for unborn human beings. . . .”

A Call for Change

So we must change the laws. This is one reason why I am encouraged by Governor Cuomo’s calling for a task force to “take our highest aspirations and most notable pronouncements about life and seek to convert them into working laws and policies.” I applaud such an objective vigorously as long as it, is indeed pointed toward changing the current laws, as long as we forthrightly recognize that a task force, can but recommend. We continue to look to our highest elected officials for leadership in bringing about those changes in current laws and policies so critically needed to protect every human life at every stage of its existence.

False Charges of Abortion Advocates: A Response

There is strong resistance by some to any change in the laws to make them less permissive or to reduce the possibility of “abortion-on-demand” (for that is the real issue). Some costly advertising campaigns are designed to discredit the “pro-life” movement.

Some pro-abortionists convey the impression that “masses” of women would die undergoing “back-alley” abortions if abortions were illegal. We are informed that this is not supported by figures issued by the United States Government before 1973 nor following the 1979 cutoff of Medicaid funds for abortion.

Certainly rape is always a frightening possibility and a crime to be abhorred in every way. It is understandable that many would feel that an abortion should be justifiable if a woman or a young girl becomes pregnant through rape. We in no way minimize the horror and trauma of rape. Obviously, whether we are speaking of a thousand cases or one case, a woman’s life, a family’s future, can be virtually destroyed. But as we have asked before, will violence against an unborn child compensate for the violence against the woman raped, or will it, in many cases, simply increase her suffering? Is it at least possible that bearing a child, however conceived, and either rearing it or offering it for adoption to the hundreds of thousands of couples pleading to adopt, might bring, even out of the tragedy or rape, a rich fulfillment?

Permit me to read you just one of the letters I have received from women who have been raped.

Twenty-two years ago I was raped. I had no home at this time. Some sisters took me in when I became ill.

I could not give my daughter what she needed when my own life was so hard, so I let her go (for adoption).

Sixteen years later – without even knowing her name I found my daughter. My daughter and I are close friends. She is now married.

I tell you all of this because no matter how life was conceived, we are to stand firm in being thankful for the gift of life no matter what tragedy is connected with it.

Yes, it was a horrible experience to be raped. Yes, it was I who felt like the bad person. Yes, there was worry if my child would be healthy. Yes, I had no idea how I could take care of my baby. Yes, I was ashamed to be seen – so young and not married.

Still, I suffered through this nightmare that deeply affected me rather than have an abortion because of my deep reverence for all living creatures created by God. I wasn’t a Catholic at the time and yet I knew what the truth was, and still is. I had taken, my child’s life before she was born, there wouldn’t be a daughter telling her friends that she is proud of me for being just me.

The charge that the “pro-life” movement considers abortion a political decision, rather than personal and medical, is equally misleading. Certainly the lives of its future citizens are of concern to the “body politic.” Appropriate political activity is both a right and duty for every citizen. It is precisely concern for the personal that prompts us to exercise our right and duty to use the political process to try to bring about legislation that protects the right of every person, including the unborn. This is a far cry from asking our politicians to tell us what is morally good for us. We have no more desire to see politicians determine what is moral and immoral than we have to see such abortion decisions forced upon medical doctors.

There is also the implication that the “pro-life” movement sees “birth control” and abortion as equal evils. These are, of course, grossly untrue. Abortion destroys life already conceived.

Again, while anything is possible, and therefore some groups or individuals somewhere may be attempting to have all contraception declared illegal, this is not the intention of the “pro-life” movement, whatever may be proposed by individuals within the movement. And it is certainly not an intention approved by the bishops.

Nor is the “pro-life” movement dedicated, as some critics imply, to a world without sex and the legitimate, joys it can bring to those who engage in sexual activity responsibly in marriage. The Church teaches very explicitly that married couples need not intend to conceive a child to enjoy the sexual relations of marriage, and those of our acquaintance in the “pro-life” movement share this belief. They see the sexual as beautiful, sacred, meaningful, joyous. They would add what some others might deny – that it must also and always be responsible.

Much of the argument of pro-abortionists is based on the assumption that the right to be born is dependent on being wanted. How many unplanned children have been born to parents whose attitudes changed completely to total acceptance and love? How many unwanted children have made enormous contributions to the world, as musicians, writers, doctors, entertainers, teachers, parents, or in other capacities?

But beyond such questions lies an even more basic one: Who can claim the right to be wanted? Does the Constitution guarantee such a right? Could the Congress legislate that babies are to be wanted by parents, or that a husband is to be wanted by his wife, a wife by her husband? When we speak of Equal Employment Opportunity we don’t argue that employers must personally want to hire given individuals. The law requires only that individuals not be refused employment because of a characteristic unrelated to the nature of the job, such as color. Is anyone arguing seriously today that an employee has a right to be wanted? Hardly. But certainly an employee has a right to life!

Is an unborn baby to be denied such a right? Is an unborn baby to be denied even the opportunity to have someone plead with a mother to let the baby live, wanted or not? Is the unwanted baby to be denied the opportunity given to millions of refugees who have been admitted into the United States?

Finally, we deeply regret any allegations that in arguing for the protection of the unborn, or in questioning the positions held by others, any of our bishops have encouraged violence in any form, or have invited attacks on property. First, such charges take the spotlight off the basic violence of the deaths of 4,000 unborn every day. Secondly, in any movement involving millions of people, the possibilities of reprehensible activity on the part of a minority–particularly a very small minority–are obvious. Such activity is to be abhorred. It has no place in a true “pro-life” movement. We reject it completely. Violence is not the answer to violence.

Responsibility of Catholic Bishops

I come finally to the questions that have been raised about the involvement of the bishops of the United States in the matters at hand and the allegations of undue intervention in the political process, including even the charge that in a programmed and conspiratorial fashion, the bishops, or some of us, are trying to destroy the so-called wall between Church and State; that the bishops are “perilously close” to threatening the tax-exempt status of their churches, or even more crudely, that the bishops are simply lusting for power.

Long and Consistent Tradition of Addressing Social Issues

What is actually going on? The bishops have been saying substantially the same thing about abortion for years. Likewise, for years the bishops have been challenging the state on a broad spectrum of laws and policies, economic, racial, social, military. Most recently the challenge was addressed to issues of war and peace, with the widely publicized formulation of the pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response. While much was made in that letter of nuclear war, even more was made–and has been little noted–of the causes of war, injustice, oppression, economic and other forms of violence and exploitation and indignities against the human person. It was not by accident that the bishops included in that document on war and peace the following:

No society can live in peace with itself or with the world without a full awareness of the worth and dignity of every human person, and of the sacredness of all human life. When we accept violence in any form as commonplace, our sensitivities become dulled… Abortion in particular blunts a sense of the sacredness of all human life. In a society where the innocent unborn are killed wantonly, how can we expect people to feel righteous revulsion at the act or threat of killing noncombatants in war?…

What would those who criticize our speaking out during an election campaign have us do? Were those holding or seeking public office expressing explicit support for racism, for drug abuse, for pornography, for rape, for nuclear war, would we be expected to remain silent? Or would we be damned for doing so? Obviously, no one in or seeking office is calling for any of these. Are we to remain silent, then, on the question of abortion, if we are convinced that it is the taking of human life? Why would we be free to indict racism – indeed, be generally applauded for doing so – but damned for indicting abortion? Why would we not be “imposing our morality” on others if we opposed rape, but “imposing our morality” on others when we oppose abortion? What a strange democracy it would be that would encourage bishops to cry out their convictions as long as these were popular, but to remain mute when so ordered!

Welcome in the Marketplace: Right and Duty of Bishops to Speak

In his speech previously mentioned, Speaker O’Neill referred to the letter on national economic policy being drafted by the Catholic bishops of the United States, predicting that it will have “a dramatic impact on public debate in our country,” He cited critics who “say the Church should stay out of economic issues … argue that religious concerns have no place in the market place … that the only thing that matters in the business world is personal drive and ambition; that the only thing that matters in the affairs of man is force of arms,” and he replied: “I believe that we who share Christian values have a responsibility to put those values into action–whether those values are popular or not, whether they are fashionable or not, whether they are high in the polls or not.”

As one who argued strongly on Labor Day of this year that the bishops have a long tradition of addressing economic issues and the right and the obligation to do so, I am personally grateful to Speaker O’Neill for his statement and applauding efforts to put values into action, whether or not they are popular, fashionable or high in the polls. In the same address, he stated that “We must protect those people who cannot, protect themselves.” I must assume that the Speaker would want to include all people, certainly those least able to protect themselves, the unborn, and would want to welcome the bishops into today’s debate on this issue of critical public policy, as well.

I am grateful, too, for a letter from Governor Cuomo to the President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1983, in which he praised the bishops’ pastoral letter on war and peace. As a member of the committee of bishops that formulated the pastoral I am proud of the Governor’s words:

It would have been easy to compromise your position so as to offend no one. You chose instead to tend to your duties as shepherds, to teach the moral law as best you can. You can do no more.

Our Church has sometimes been accused of not having spoken out when it might have. Now you, our bishops, show the courage and moral judgment to meet this issue of nuclear holocaust with a collective expression of where the Church in America stands.

The pastoral letter on war and peace, of course, made much of a fundamental principle of moral law that we can never, under any circumstances for any reason, deliberately and intentionally attack the innocent. Since the pastoral explicitly referred both to innocent civilians who must be protected in war, and to the innocent unborn who must be protected in their mothers’ wombs, I must assume, also, that the governor would have intended to include our protection of the unborn in his praise of the pastoral letter. I know, of course, that the governor welcomes the bishops into the debate on the subject. He has said so, loudly and clearly.

My Obligation to Speak

I feel an obligation as a citizen to address issues of critical moral import whenever opportunity is given me to do so within the framework of our political system I have another obligation, however, that I can delegate to no one. The primary teacher of Catholic doctrine in any diocese is the bishop. As Archbishop of New York I have the responsibility of spelling out for our Catholic people with accuracy and clarity what the Church officially teaches about all human life, the life of the unborn, and abortion. I have simultaneously the obligation to try to dispel confusion about such teaching wherever it exists, however it has been generated, regardless of who may have generated it. It is easy to dismiss a bishop as narrow, rigid, ultraconservative, unfeeling, lacking in theological training or understanding, anti-feminist, or guilty of a thousand other alleged charges for presenting this teaching exactly as it is, rather than as some might like it to be.

Church Divided?

But let no one be mistaken about the unanimity of this teaching on the part of the bishops. Those who would seek divisiveness between or among bishops do not understand the principles on which we stand. Those who would seem to suggest, for example, that the “consistent ethic of life” approach so well articulated by my good and valued friend, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Archbishop of Chicago, differs in what it has to say about abortion from what some others of us are saying, including myself, simply do not understand Cardinal Bernardin, or me, or our mutual unconditional commitment to the life of the unborn and to life at every stage of its existence.

Those who would try to derive comfort from the “consistent ethic of life” approach, by interpreting it to suggest that an office holder’s or a candidate’s position on abortion does not matter, so long as positions on other life issues are acceptable, miss the point of Cardinal Bernardin’s argument altogether. Indeed, they distort the very essence of his argument.

Teaching Clear and Unequivocal

So what does the Church really teach? Catholics the world over recognize the authority of the Second Vatican Council. Its teaching is as clear and unambiguous as anything could possibly be. “God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to human beings the noble mission of safeguarding life, and they must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.”

Pope Paul VI left no doubt. In his words: “To attack human life under any pretext whatsoever and under whatever form … is to repudiate one of the essential values of our civilization. In the very depths of our consciences–as each one of us experiences–we affirm as an incontestable and sacred principle respect for every form of human life, life that is awakening, life that asks only to develop, life that is drawing to a close; life especially that is weak, unprovided for, defenseless, at the mercy of others.”

The bishops of the United States have been equally clear and unequivocal. In 1970 they stated: “Our defense of human life is rooted in the biblical prohibition, ‘Thou shall not kill’… The life of the unborn child is a human life. The destruction of any human life is not a private matter, but the concern of every responsible citizen.”

Pope John Paul II has stated forcefully: “It is the task of the Church to reaffirm that abortion is death, it is the killing of an innocent creature. Consequently, the Church considers all legislation in favor of abortion as a very serious offense against primary human rights and the Divine Commandment, ‘You shall not kill.'”

The Declaration on Abortion issued by the, Vatican’s Sacred Congregation of the Faith and promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1974, declared: “It must be clearly understood that whatever may be laid down by civil law in this matter (of abortion), one can never obey a law which is in itself immoral, and such is the case of a law which would admit in principle the liceity of abortion. Nor can one take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it. Moreover, one may not collaborate in its application.”

Who Speaks for the Church?

So speaks the Church. What do I mean here by “the Church”? I mean what the average individual means when he or she asks: “What does the Catholic Church teach?” Such a question is not intended to ask what occasional theologians may speculate, or what any group of individuals who form organizations have to say, or what one finds in letters to the editor or on Op/Ed pages. Indeed, it is sometimes these speculations and accusations and claims that lead people to ask: “What does the Catholic Church really teach?”

It has ever been the belief of the Church and is no less so today, that we must turn to the bishops, the teachers of the Church, when we seek to discern the truths of our Faith. The Second Vatican Council stated it simply and clearly: “By virtue of the Holy Spirit who has been given to them, bishops have been constituted true and authentic teachers of the faith. . .”

‘Church teaching on abortion is quite clear, regardless of allegations that it has changed through the years. Speculations on such questions as when the soul enters the body have changed, as scientific knowledge has accrued. Church penalties for abortion have changed. The teaching about the grave immorality of abortion itself has never changed.

We hear a great deal about opinion polls and are frequently told that Catholics seem to approve of abortion in about the same percentages that other people do. There are several things wrong with such statements. Polling results depend in part on the knowledge of the persons polled; ignorance concerning the real nature of abortion and many of the so-called facts surrounding abortion is appalling. Unfortunately, some ignorance and confusion even seem to be provoked. The main issue, however, is that polling results depend primarily on the way the questions are asked. Who would be prepared to ask, for example, “Under what circumstances would you feet justified in putting your unborn baby to death?” The fact is, that in poll after poll, only 25 percent of those polled support abortion on demand. Much abortion advertising would have us believe that an overwhelming majority would favor it. Even were such the case, however, Catholic teaching on morality is simply not determined on the basis of polls.

I recognize the dilemma confronted by some Catholics in political life. I cannot resolve that dilemma for them. As I see it, their disagreement, if they do disagree, is not with me; it is with the teaching of the Catholic Church.

CONCLUSION

A Plea to Those of Good Will

I beg leave to add one further plea–that all women and men of good will try to open their minds and hearts to at least the possibility that we are unjustifiably taking 4,000 innocent human lives each day, regardless of whatever conclusions they may hold to the contrary. I plead for the understanding that it is not the national effort to protect the unborn that is divisive; it is the destruction of the unborn that is divisive. And I plead for honest and open dialogue toward the goal of saving human lives. As Father Hesburgh of Notre Dame has observed: tragically, in essence, we may never come again to an agreement in our land that all abortion should be declared illegal, and some may passionately believe that exception should be made in cases of rape, of incest, or truly grave threat to the actual physical survival of the mother. Whatever we may believe about such exceptions, however, we know that they constitute a fraction of the abortions taking place, so that at the very least we can come to grips with what is the real and the frightening issue of the day: abortion on demand.

The Power of Love

And so I come to the end of this long address this personal–pilgrimage, if you will–fearing I have said so little of what must yet be said, and that I have said virtually nothing of what, in the final analysis, alone makes everything understandable–the indispensable power of love. Before leaving a recent visit to Flower Hospital, now the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center, I told the director of the hospital that I really need not give a speech at all. I need but ask the world to visit that hospital, to see, not merely what doctors and nurses and staff are doing for their helpless patients, but what the helpless patients are doing for the doctors, the nurses and the staff.

The love those helpless ones generate in those who serve as their arms and legs and eyes and ears and tongues is more beautiful to behold than the most magnificent work of art in our own Metropolitan Museum. Except that such love is not a museum piece. It is vibrantly alive, pulsating through the corridors of that hospital and through the very being of those medical professionals and staff, women and men, literally giving their own lives every day, that the least of God’s little ones may not only live, but that in the depths of their beings, far removed from our sight and unfathomable by the most sophisticated techniques that science can devise, they, the helpless, may, in turn, love and teach us to love, who need so desperately to learn how.

And thus it can happen through the creative power of God’s own mysterious love for each one of us, of whatever color, or creed, or background, or sex, or personal beliefs–thus the miracle can happen in the strange design of that God who writes straight with crooked lines–that every child in this world, born or unborn, wanted or unwanted, with or without limbs or hearing or sight, nurtured lovingly, or horrifyingly battered, abused and neglected, becomes not only what Mother Teresa of Calcutta calls something beautiful for God, but someone extraordinarily beautiful for every one of us, their brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Abortion and a Failure of Community

October 4, 2011

A 1996 pastoral letter by Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I write to you today with concern and hope. My concern is for the many women in our community who do not find the support they need for their health, safety and well-being during pregnancy or after their children are born. My hope is for you and me to respond as the people of Jesus Christ.

I want our local church to say loudly and clearly: “No woman should feel so alone that abortion seems her only alternative. No man need feel so trapped or fearful that he believes there is no other answer.” I want us to be able to say to any woman: “Come to any Catholic parish in this archdiocese and you will find help.” I am asking you, the Catholic people of this archdiocese, to make this promise a reality. I make this request in the belief that to keep this promise to a pregnant woman is a way to demonstrate in action the reality of God’s love.

In a recent pastoral letter, the United States bishops called on the Catholic community to confront the culture of violence that permeates our nation. This call was vigorously supported by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae). The Holy Father described abortion as one form of violence and appealed to each of US to “respect, protect, love, and serve life, every human life” (Section #5). We are members of a Church which has always believed that the life of every child is God’s gift, which society must nurture and must protect with its laws and statutes.

Our archdiocese has developed programs to assist women and their families during pregnancy. Catholic Charities’ Seton Services offers medical, social, and adoption services throughout pregnancy, birth, and afterward. The Respect Life Office provides emergency financial assistance through the LIFE FUND, helps with housing through the Share-A-Life Program, and in the Marian Project reaches out to women and men hurting after an abortion.

But programs of assistance only begin to address the needs of those for whom pregnancy becomes a time of crisis. We recognize the many pressures that may lead a woman to consider abortion, or may prompt those close to her to encourage one. She may face physical stress and financial hardship. Both she and the baby’s father may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of being parents. They may have trouble continuing their education, finding a job, health insurance, or housing. A woman may fear how her loved ones will respond when they learn she is pregnant. She may be afraid she will be abandoned by the child’s father or even by her own family. Alone, faced with such obstacles and unaware of the support and help available, she may believe abortion is her only choice.

As a church we can do more to be there for her. St. Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians, our God “encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

If we ask a pregnant woman to “respect, protect and love” the life of her child, let us demand of ourselves at least a small share of the heroism we ask of her. Then we will recognize that pregnancy is not just a “women’s issue” but should be the joy and responsibility of the mother, the father, and the entire community. To our formal programs of assistance, we will add a welcoming spirit of hospitality and acceptance. We will proclaim the Gospel through our actions, by giving of ourselves, just as Joseph stood by Mary throughout her pregnancy.

Let us start as close to home as possible-in our families and our parishes. I ask you today to commit yourselves, your parish and your archdiocese to join with me in offering care and support to women and men who need our community to stand with them. I am asking that you gather in your parishes to listen to women in your community describe their experiences and needs during pregnancy and the raising of their children. I ask your parish to reach out and respond to those needs with tenderness. The formal pro-life programs are already in place. Now let us join together in becoming the kind of community that makes clear by our own lives that no one need be alone in a difficult pregnancy. Let us become ever more deeply a people of compassion and justice, a community caring for life!

Most Reverend Harry J. Flynn
Archbishop

Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis