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From Time to Time 2004

Article in the Catholic Review

Questions are being raised about offering the Eucharist to certain Catholic politicians whose records indicate their support for abortion. Let no one be confused about the fundamental importance of the human life issue in our ongoing public policy debate.

In homilies given over the years and published in the Catholic Review I have said the following:

January 21, 1990:

"Today people are bombarded, almost without realizing it, by messages which distort reality and sway feelings to sell a vision of life in which the lives of others -- the unborn, the severely handicapped, the seriously ill -- are placed in peril. If these lives are judged 'inconvenient,' they can be regarded as disposable, to be thrown away like used and crumpled tissue.

Thus, in the abortion debate, the unborn child is described with the medical term 'fetus.' What has begun at conception to develop marvelously, with the genetic qualities of a new and unique human being, different from those of both mother and father, is dismissed as a 'cluster of cells.'

Yet within 21 days of conception, scientists tell us, the tiny heart begins to beat. About three weeks later, every internal organ the child will ever have has begun to form and, before another week is up, brain waves can be detected.

"Some expectant mothers can now see through sonograms this wonderful continuum of life. Some have had their pre-born children helped by surgery employed or treatment given to the little one within the womb.

"But for others have come new pressures from the society in which we live: to pursue a career, to finish an education, to accommodate another's wish or counsel. Each such pressure seeks to overcome the quiet, inner voice of a mother's conscience, urging, 'Life is the natural choice. Give it a chance!'

Some indeed speak of a right to choose, but this approach denies any choice but death to the voiceless one in the womb. It is a sad and scandalous choice in a land where hundreds of thousands of childless couples are looking to adopt a child.

"In our defense of human life, we are participating, we know, as American citizens in a civil rights movement of the highest order.

"Emotions run deep, as they ran deep in the days before the Civil War, when the Untied States Supreme Court, in the Dred Scott Decision, denied American citizenship, in effect, personhood in the law, to those held by the slave States not to be persons before the law. In the halls of Congress, some politicians sought by speech and compromise to halt the spread of slavery while others strove to maintain it as a way of life.

"The movement to abolish slavery was a civil rights movement, but many of its leaders and members -- probably most of them -- acted out of religious conviction and motivation. They were profoundly religious men and women of faith, in seeking to secure dignity and freedom for those brothers and sisters they believed made in the image and likeness of a loving Creator.

"Today we stand together for another human right, the right to life. It is a secular cause, as Doctor Bernard Nathanson, the former abortionist, and Nat Hentoff, the civil libertarian, repeatedly remind us. Yet we, like those who fought slavery, like those who, with the Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., fought discrimination, we too are inspired to push ahead by our faith.

"Science, common sense, even the Hippocratic Oath, all speak of innocent human life as sacred and not to be destroyed. In our free, pluralistic society no one individual, no one group can impose its moral vision on another. But each citizen has a right and an obligation to contribute his or her moral vision for the common good. This is a major thrust of the Bill of Rights of our Constitution.

"As followers of Jesus we have special motivation to defend life we believe to be sacred because it is also of God's making. Many other Christians give us fresh heart by the public stands they take on behalf of human life.

"Evangelical Christians have become vocal and committed leaders in this cause. In many mainline Protestant churches individuals have banded together in denominational pro-life organizations.

"Our own Catholic Church has stressed the human life issue. As the Second Vatican Council, has taught, 'From the moment of conception life must be guarded with greatest care; abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes.' (Constitution on the Church in Today's World, No. 51)

"In our pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace (1983), we bishops of the United States put the issue in the context of justice and peace concerns:

'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 (Jas. 4:1-1). When we accept violence in any form as commonplace, our sensitivities become dulled. When we accept violence, war itself can be taken for granted. Violence has many faces: oppression of the poor, deprivation of basic human rights, economic exploitation, sexual exploitation and pornography, neglect or abuse of the aged and the helpless, and innumerable other acts of inhumanity. Abortion in particular blunts a sense of the sacredness of 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 non-combatants in war?

Nothing, can justify direct attack on innocent human life, in or out of warfare. Abortion is precisely such an attack.' (Numbers 285-286)

"Writing to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul urged that, in all things, followers of Christ act with that charity which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. (cf. I Cor. 13: 1-7; See also Rom. 8: 11-36)

This expresses itself in the tenacious and tender love for the little pre-born ones, whose lives are threatened in their mothers' wombs.

This is the sensitive and sympathetic love for the troubled mother, often confused by propaganda and pressures, often unaware of the help at hand from many sources.

This is a love for confused neighbors, together with the gift to teach clearly the facts which will dissipate the mist of misinformation.

This is a love for God, giver and upholder of life and judge of how we live it.

"In that love we should see and affirm the differing contributions each can make to the effort:

  • The clarity and the patience of those who teach about respect for God's gift of life in classrooms, in churches, and through the media. We shall never know how many lives their teaching saves.
  • The sense of human justice and perseverance of spirit of those who serve in public office and work valiantly in defense of human life in the great American civil rights tradition.
  • The generosity, diligence, and professional skills of those working with Birthright, Catholic Charities, and the numerous pro-life Pregnancy Centers throughout Maryland, and other counseling and support services which provide expectant mothers faced with the temptation of abortion the special assistance they need in order to choose life for the little ones beneath their hearts.
  • The sensitivity and compassion of those who through Project Rachel bring Christ's forgiveness and healing to women who have had abortions, their partners, families and friends. The wounded become in turn healers and they themselves help to save lives.
  • The courage and commitment of those bringing a new emphasis to the pro-life movement, drawing inspiration from earlier non-violent efforts on behalf of justice. Peaceful picketing and the annual March for Life speak of a love for the many who may have forgotten that abortion kills -- these also save lives.

"As the pro-life movement takes stock of itself here in Maryland, may we be blessed by God's Spirit with the love which gives strength in the face of weariness. May we gain fresh hope in the presence of frustration. May we receive that peace which comes with faith in Jesus' words: "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt. 15:12)

January 23, 2000:

"In St. Louis a year ago this week, Pope John Paul II had this to say: "The new evangelization must also bring out the truth that 'the Gospel of God's love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel' (Evangelium Vitae, 2). As believers, how can we fail to see that abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are a terrible rejection of God's gift of life and love? And as believers, how can we fail to feel the duty to surround the sick and those in distress with the warmth of our affection and the support that will help them always to embrace life?

"In the same address the Holy Father made this point: 'The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: Who will proclaim, celebrate, and serve the Gospel of Life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 27). I renew [my] appeal . . . for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary. May God grant us the conviction and the courage to walk with our Holy Father as, in the name of the Gospel of Life, he leads world opposition to capital punishment.'

January 21, 2004:

"Since we met here a year ago, the forces of the culture of death have done more damage to the culture of life in America. But the year has brought new encouragement as well. The passage of the national Partial-Birth Abortion Ban was a victory for decency in itself, and a first step toward an America in which every child is welcomed in life . . . and protected in law. No less an opponent of our cause than the New York Times was compelled to report in its Sunday pages some few months ago that young people across America are less tolerant than their elders of the terrible personal and social consequences of abortion. In ultrasound pictures they see that the conceived child has tiny, moving hands and feet, and a little heart that beats beneath its mother's heart. And increasingly, they wonder why abortion has become so common. In increasing numbers, they understand that abortion is not the key to the limitless personal freedom that others have advertised it to be.

"A year ago, on the thirtieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we could see in this capital city the dramatic difference between the forces who celebrate Roe and those of us who are determined to repair the damage Roe has done to the moral fabric of our nation, conceived as it was "in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all . . . are created equal." Roe supporters have become the forces of reaction and entrenched interests; as we see here again tonight, the pro-life movement has become the younger, more vibrant force in this great struggle. You, our wonderful young people, . . . you have taken to heart the words of the Holy Father, 'Be not afraid.'

"This past year has also made us even more aware of the radical conversion to which we must call those of our Catholic sisters and brothers who have failed to take seriously the great cause of the sanctity of life. The Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith has made clear that, when the Church calls all people of good will to provide effective legal protection for the inalienable right to life from conception until natural death, she is not 'imposing' a sectarian view on a 'pluralistic' society. Rather, in speaking out of principled conviction, she is defending an elementary principle of justice, a principle easily discernable to anyone willing to think the matter through. This is why it is so important that our Catholic people fully understand the magnitude of this issue. This is why it is so important that our Catholic people express themselves in the matter to elected officials and legislators, especially those who say their constituents' demands are more important that their own moral compasses. Each of us, in our own way, must make the effort to convince other Catholics who are mistaken about the human life issue that they are on the wrong side of the truly great civil rights issue of our day."

At Denver in 1993, Doctor Navarro-Valls, the press officer of the Holy See, was asked whether Pope John Paul II was going to excommunicate pro-abortion politicians. He responded that the Holy Father preferred communication to excommunication. In our letter, Living the Gospel of Life, we bishops have said together that our principal role is to teach clearly what the Church teaches.

In various ways we seek to underscore our teaching. When a Catholic legislator votes for an anti-life measure, I write a letter to the lawmaker on behalf of life and publish it later in The Catholic Review. We do not honor publicly one who habitually takes anti-life positions, but try to dialogue quietly about the issues, praying that the Lord will illumine and guide such a person to a conversion of spirit.

For a more extensive treatment of this issue, I invite you to read what our U. S. Bishops have written on the matter: Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to U. S. Catholics available at