The bishops issued another “Faithful Citizenship” document this morning. I was present at their assembly in Baltimore for the discussion and vote, and I think the document is certainly an improvement over past such statements. (These are issued every four years in the year prior to a Presidential election.) The improvement is that there is more clarity about the fact that not all the issues are equal. It makes it clear that abortion is not just one issue among many. See my further commentary on the statement by clicking here.
On other matters, speaking of clarity, I occasionally have conversations with people who are not clear about the purpose of Priests for Life. Specifically, some within the diocesan structures of the Church want to know whether we are going to ask people to do things in the pro-life arena different from what the diocese is asking them to do.
First of all, what holds us together as a Church is the person of Jesus Christ. He has articulated a clear Gospel to which we all adhere – in fact, he is the Gospel, and we are united in him as members of his body. Within that body of Christ, then, there are no “outside groups” or “third parties.” By baptism and Confirmation, and by our ongoing sharing in the Eucharist, we are all made part of one another. In every Mass the priest prays not only that the bread and wine will become the body of Christ, but that the people gathered there may receive the same Holy Spirit and become unified as his Body.
Any discussion of unity, therefore, begins with these truths and recognizes that we are already one.
Second, there are different parts of the Body, with different roles. The role of Priests for Life is distinct from that of the hierarchy or the official structure of a diocese. Priests for Life is a movement. More specifically, it is a movement within a movement, a particular charism within the pro-life movement, motivating, encouraging, informing and equipping the faithful to carry out the work of defending life.
As such, Priests for Life does not seek to set policy for a parish or a diocese. The role of deciding official policy belongs to the diocesan bishop and those to whom he entrusts particular responsibilities.
Priests for Life, on the other hand, is a resource of expertise, information, networking, and pastoral experience on various dimensions of the pro-life effort. Many dioceses use our information in forming and implementing their policies. We gladly share the insight and resources we have. And we expect to be part of the conversation in which we are all engaged as we try, together as one Church, to chart the best course and find the most effective means of building a culture of life.
Let us therefore proceed with strong unity with the bishops, and with the humility and readiness to listen to and learn from one another, rejoicing in the diversity of the many roles in the Body of Christ and in the pro-life movement.