I recently had the honor of addressing the Pennsylvania State Convention of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. This gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own Irish heritage and its connection to my pro-life convictions. My family has roots in Pennsylvania coal country. I have ancestors by the name of Curran who came from County Kilkenny and settled in the Pottsville area in the early nineteenth century. My grandmother’s name was Moore. She moved from Pennsylvania to the Bronx in the early twentieth century. My mother’s maiden name is Boyle. She was born in Scotland, but the family’s roots are in Counties Cavan and Donegal. My family on my mother’s side settled in West Orange, New Jersey.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians was founded to defend the Catholic Church and her priests from attacks by British invaders. The Hibernians are called to renew that vision of faith today - to defend the faith and build a culture of life and civilization of love, where each and every human life will be welcomed, protected, nurtured and loved from moment of conception to the moment of natural death.
St. Patrick came to bring the Catholic Christian Faith to the people of Ireland. This faith supplanted paganism and taught respect for human life, family, marriage and the value of sacrifice over selfish pursuit of pleasure. The vision of St. Patrick renewed all of Europe in the midst of the Dark Ages. Irish monks helped to spread learning and culture all over Europe.
Today there are many pressures on Ireland to become like the rest of Europe and adopt practices alien to its culture and faith. The Treaty of Nice would have taken control away from Ireland in such key issues as to whether or not they could protect the lives of pre-born children. Europe needs to follow the vision of Ireland and not the other way around. International Planned Parenthood Federation, based in London, promotes contraception, sterilization and abortion around the world. Some consider this a form of contraceptive imperialism and resent this intrusion into their native cultures and religions. Planned Parenthood views the Catholic Church as their chief obstacle in promoting their anti-life agenda.
Irish Catholics have a duty to resist the encroaching culture of death and build a culture of life. The pro-life movement in Ireland is alive and well. Leading the way are the Irish youth. The Pro-Life Campaign is the largest pro-life group in Ireland. It is led by young people in their twenties and thirties. The pro-life movement in Ireland is also mostly a woman’s movement.
Irish-Catholics in the United States can also make our greatest contribution to United States by remaining true to our faith and our Irish-Catholic heritage. Since the earliest days of United States history the Irish have contributed to the success of the United States in every field of endeavor. We’ve been involved in all the professions and fought in all of America’s wars. The pro-life movement and America need more Irish-Catholic Americans to be actively involved in aiding pre-born children and women with unplanned pregnancies. There is already an enormous Irish-Catholic presence in the pro-life movement in the United States. That includes Priests For Life with the involvement of Fathers Quinn, Wilde, Hogan and myself.
Just before the Pope left the United States in 1987 he said the following at Detroit Airport:
"Every human no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped, or sick no matter how useful or productive for society is a being of inestimable worth created in the image of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival yes, the ultimate test of her greatness; to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn."
This includes even the tiniest of human beings. Dr. Albert Schweitzer once said " Whenever there is lost consciousness of the fact that every man is an object of concern for us just because he is a man, civilization and morals are shaken, and the advance to fully developed inhumanity is only a matter of time."
This is why we must be opposed to the destruction of human embryos for the purpose of research, no matter what benefit that science promises us. The fact that life begins at conception is a truth of biology and not simply a religious belief that we seek to impose upon others. We do not oppose research. We oppose killing human beings. Unfortunately, the attention focused on research which relies on killing has diverted attention away from adult stem cell research. This type of research has none of the ethical problems associated with the destruction of human embryos. Wonderful advances have occurred in research on spinal cord and corneal injuries, cancer, diabetes and other illnesses using adult stem cells from umbilical cords, bone marrow, and even fat cells, among other sources.
We do not question the idea that the Church and State must be distinct entities. The First Amendment forbids the establishment of a state religion whether it be the Church of England, Roman Catholic Church or any other faith, but the Founding Fathers did not intend a separation of law and morality. When this happens, a society descends into chaos.
We must oppose so-called "pro-choice" politicians of any party. Our duty to uphold the right to life must not be superseded by any party loyalty or any other sectarian interest. You can’t be Catholic and be "pro-choice" on the issue of abortion. This would be like someone asserting "I believe slavery is wrong, I would never own a slave but I’m "pro-choice". I don’t want to impose my morality on anyone. Other people should have the right to own slaves." No one has a right to choose to own a slave since all human beings have equal dignity and worth no matter what their race or religion. So also no one has a right to choose to kill a child developing in her mother’s womb. All human beings have equal dignity and worth no matter what their size, stage of development or where they live.
Our vision of the sanctity of human life is not just a religious doctrine. It is one of the founding principles of our nation and part of our global ethical heritage. The American Bishops say "Real pluralism depends on people of conviction struggling vigorously to advance their beliefs by every ethical and legal means at their disposal."
We Irish have always been a welcoming and generous people. We know what it’s like to be an underdog and to be treated as outcasts. Today’s greatest underdogs and outcasts are pre-born children in danger of abortion. They are deprived of personhood, due process and the right to life. It’s legal to kill them and even to experiment on them
Of course, abortion is not the only issue we should be concerned about. We need to care about a whole range of issues that effect the dignity of our fellow human beings, but without right to life all other rights are simply meaningless. Neglect of this fundamental issue would be like trying to build a house on sand.
I ask you to raise your voices on behalf of the unborn. They have no other voice but yours. Priests For Life wants to assist you in your efforts. It is our mission to assist the Church, especially priests, to more effectively proclaim the Gospel of Life. While our primary mission is to assist priests, we also reach out to all people of good will who are interested in bringing an end to the tragedy of abortion. Please call us at 1(888)PFL-3448 or send me an email at FrWest@priestsforlife.org and we’ll send you our pamphlet "You Can Save Someone’s Life Today" which will give you 56 practical suggestions of things that you can do to stop abortion. It includes 800 numbers you can use to help women in crisis pregnancies find assistance. It also has information on post-abortion healing and reconciliation. It is not our intention to condemn women. Instead we want to help women who have had abortions to find pardon and peace.
We know that we face many obstacles in ending abortion and that the struggle will take courage and determination, but these are qualities the Irish have in abundance. Just as the Irish people are fighting a winnable battle for peace and justice in Ireland, so also the peaceful struggle to protect pre-born children is a winnable battle. The number of abortions is declining. Polls show Americans are becoming increasingly more pro-life.
Please get involved. Remember that while no one can do everything, everyone can do something to end the culture of death and build a culture of life. This is the foundation of our Catholic faith and our Irish heritage and is consistent with our rights and duties as Americans.