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The Florida Catholic • Oct. 19, 2000

Respect Life deserves more than lip service

Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell

Bishop of Palm Beach

Can you believe that there are some people - even some Catholics - who cringe when they hear the words Respect Life? How could that be?

This month of October is dedicated to enhancing our appreciation of this great and basic gift of life. It is called Respect Life Month.

For us Catholics, there is no question that this includes all life, and most especially all human life from its first moment of existence to the moment of natural death. We acknowledge that God is the author of life and is the only one who has total dominion over it.

This means for us that we have the utmost respect for the life of the unborn in the womb and that we do all we can to promote that respect. It means that we respect the life of the physically or mentally disabled, the aged, the terminally ill, those in prison - including those on death row.

Nobody has done more to nudge us Catholics into adopting this consistent ethic of life than Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II himself. He really has left us with no wiggle space. We just cannot afford to pick and choose. ALL life is sacred, sacred to God, and we are not God.

Not all Catholics are supportive of the Holy Father's teaching - some differ with him on abortion, others on the imposition of the death penalty. But they are wrong. Life at all stages is sacred. There are helpful theological principles to guide us in the care of the sick, principles which govern the kinds of means to be used or which need not necessarily be used particularly in the case of the terminally ill. Even in these situations, we approach such questions with utmost respect for human life.

Most dioceses have a diocesan coordinator of Respect Life ministry, which we do have. The prime responsibility of such an office is to see to it that there is a Respect Life ministry in every parish. This does not call for a huge or expensive bureaucracy, but it does mean that there will be a small group of people in every parish who will keep this Respect Life ministry before every parish organization. This is where the most successful action occurs.

Some ask for mention to be made in homilies from time to time during the year. I agree that there are many occasions when the Sunday readings do permit an application to this particular cause - and that can be helpful.

But we need to do more than pay lip service to this cause from the pulpit or engage in some activity around the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the U. S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand.

I believe that a parish organization that gives regular, ongoing prominence to promoting respect for all human life; that promotes prayer for a change in the national climate; that promotes education on a too-often misunderstood aspect of church teaching; that distributes and promotes the materials made available by our National Conference of Catholic Bishops, by the Florida Catholic Conference and by The Florida Catholic newspaper to help guide our electorate would surely produce better and faster results.

I would like to see such a parish organization in each of our 52 parishes by this time next year.

Priests for Life
PO Box 236695 • Cocoa, FL 32923
Tel. 321-500-1000, Toll Free 888-735-3448 •