A Statement of Bishop Anthony Pilla, NCCB/USCC President,
Issued with the Concurrence of the U.S. Bishops
Just over a year ago, Pope John Paul II urged Catholics and all people of goodwill to stand up for human life. With an unmistakable note of urgency, he spoke of a growing "culture of death." This culture, he warned, claims to advance human freedom but "ends up by becoming the freedom of ‘the strong’ against the weak, who have no choice but to submit."
Was the pope unduly pessimistic in assessing our society at the end of the twentieth century? On the contrary, events of the past few months have shown how accurate he was.
Two federal courts ruled this year to exclude seriously ill people from the protection of laws against assisted suicide. Such people, the courts said, have a "right" to receive lethal drugs from their physicians so they can kill themselves. Such rulings devalue the lives of people most in need of compassion and care. We must do all we can to help bring about their reversal.
During this same period, the President of the United States has acted to extend the logic of our Supreme Court’s gravely erroneous abortion decisions. He contends that the U.S. Constitution forbids any meaningful legal protection for children who are almost completely born alive and indeed that it should forbid such protection. The president is defending partial-birth abortion, a particularly heinous and violent way of killing an infant during the process of birth.
Congress voted to stop this shameful practice. However, because the president vetoed the bill, partial-birth abortion—more truly seen as a form of infanticide—continues in our country. We urge the Congress of the United States to override the president’s veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.
Catholic parishes across the nation have begun to provide parishioners with information about partial-birth abortion. We will encourage Catholics and other people of goodwill to urge their senators and representatives to override the president’s veto.
On July 11, Churches nationwide will conduct a day of prayer and fasting for life. We will pray that our country rejects partial-birth abortion. We will pray that the lives of all may be respected, protected, and nurtured—including the lives of innocent unborn children and those now threatened in the final stages of life. It will be our prayer that the culture of death be transformed by a culture of life, by a civilization of love.
We are not unaware of or indifferent to the serious challenges that confront women with difficult pregnancies. Although we can never experience firsthand the hardships and pressures they may face, we hold out our hands and our hearts—with the support of the spiritual, social, medical, legal, and financial resources available to us—to help women facing a crisis due to pregnancy.
To those who have had abortions, we say with Pope John Paul: We are "aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision" and do not doubt that it may have been "painful and even shattering." Without ever condoning abortion, which remains terribly wrong, we encourage women and men who have been involved in abortion not to give up hope. The Church continues to offer her healing ministry, which has helped many thousands of women, men, and families to deal with the aftermath of abortion.
We also admire and support the many women who, facing what may seem insurmountable difficulties, nonetheless decide to give their children the one gift no one else can give—the gift of life.
We urge Catholics and others to study and discuss these pressing issues of life and death, and to stand up for life. At the same time, we know that the final outcome of this struggle lies in the hands of an infinitely loving God. As Pope John Paul II reminds us: "There is certainly an enormous disparity between the powerful resources available to the forces promoting the ‘culture of death’ and the means at the disposal of those working for a ‘culture of life and love.’ But we know that we can rely on the help of God, for whom nothing is impossible."(1)
1. John Paul II, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1995), no. 100.
Source: Origins 26:5 (June 20, 1996): 78-79.