In November 2001, the Catholic bishops of the United States renewed their call to Catholics – individuals, parishes, organizations, schools and colleges, religious orders – to join in an unparalleled effort to protect human life.
In the Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: A Campaign in Support of Life, the bishops invite all to help "restore respect and legal protection for every human life." "It is our hope," they explain, "that in focusing on the need to respect and protect the lives of the innocent unborn and those who are disabled, ill, or dying, we will help to deepen respect for the life of every human being."
Following are key excerpts from the bishops' Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities. The full text is available electronically at www.usccb.org/prolife and in print (see Resources below). We encourage all to read this important document in its entirety.
"We issue this Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: A Campaign in Support of Life to put forth 'a precise and vigorous reaffirmation of the value of human life and its inviolability, and at the same time a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person, in the
name of God: respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life' (The Gospel of Life, no. 5)."
A Wide Spectrum of Issues
"A wide spectrum of issues touches on the protection of human life and the promotion of human dignity. As Pope John Paul II has reminded us: 'Where life is involved, the service of charity must be profoundly consistent.'" (The Gospel of Life, no. 87).
"Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing and health care' (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 23). We pray that Catholics will be advocates for the weak and the marginalized in all these areas. 'But being "right" in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the "rightness" of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community' (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 23)."
"Where does one begin? Today, when human rights are proudly proclaimed and the value of life itself given public affirmation, the most basic of all human rights, 'the very right to life,' 'is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death' (The Gospel of Life, no. 18)."
"The question 'Where does one begin?' is easy to answer: 'We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing of any innocent human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem' (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 21)... [Some] behaviors are always wrong, always incompatible with our love of God and the dignity of the human person. Abortion, the direct taking of innocent human life prior to birth, is always morally wrong, as is the deliberate destruction of human embryos for any reason. Assisted suicide and euthanasia are not acts of mercy but acts that are never morally acceptable. Direct attacks on innocent civilians during war and terrorist acts targeting noncombatants must always be condemned.
"... 'Precisely because all issues involving human life are interdependent, a society which destroys human life by abortion under the mantle of law unavoidably undermines respect for life in all other contexts. Likewise, protection in law and practice of unborn human life will benefit all life, not only the lives of the unborn.'... This is why we focus here on the pervasive threat to human life arising from the widespread recourse to abortion, from public policies that allow, encourage, and even fund abortion, and from a growing effort to promote the taking of human life through euthanasia."
The U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions "effectively removed every legal protection from human beings prior to birth. The legacy of Roe is virtually incalculable. In its wake it has left death and sorrow and turmoil: the deaths of millions, ... countless women traumatized, ... men who grieve, ... a society increasingly coarsened by toleration and acceptance of acts that purposely destroy human life.
"These attacks on human life are carried out within the family and with the active involvement of those in the healing profession – institutions that traditionally have protected the weak and the vulnerable. Often they are carried out at the urging of fathers who, rather than protecting their child, believe their only responsibility is to help pay for an abortion. And today, those who support and provide abortion freely acknowledge that killing is involved, and choices once treated as criminal and rejected by the common moral sense have become socially acceptable.
"In 1992, the Supreme Court [in Planned Parenthood v. Casey] reaffirmed Roe v. Wade – in large part, it said, because admitting error and reversing a prior decision would undermine the Court's authority... ."
"In 2000, in Stenberg v. Carhart, the Court expanded the abortion liberty beyond killing in utero; it now wrapped in the mantle of the U.S. Constitution the practice of killing during the process of birth. Abortion has come to be seen by many not only as a 'right' to end a pregnancy prior to birth, but as a guarantee that a child aborted will not survive."
"Our goal is to eliminate violence against unborn children, their mothers, and those who are dying. We unalterably oppose the use of violence in any form to achieve this objective, and we condemn the actions of those few who advocate otherwise."
"Tragically, our society has fallen into a mentality that views children as a burden and invites many to consider abortion as a 'backup' to contraceptive failure. This is most obvious in efforts to promote as 'emergency contraception' drugs that really act as early abortifacients.
"... An end to abortion will not come from contraceptive campaigns but from a deeper understanding of our human sexuality, and of human life, as sacred gifts deserving our careful stewardship."
The Death Penalty
"The United States is the only Western industrialized nation today that utilizes capital punishment... . There are compelling reasons for opposing capital punishment–its sheer inhumanity and its absolute finality, as well as concern about its inequitable use and an imperfect legal system that has sentenced innocent people to death.
" ... State-sanctioned killing affects us all because it diminishes the value we place on all human life. Capital punishment also cuts short the guilty person's opportunity for spiritual conversion and repentance."
"This Pastoral Plan calls upon all the resources of the Church – its people, services, and institutions – to pursue this effort with renewed energy and commitment in four
- Public Information and Education "to deepen respect for human life and heighten public opposition to abortion and euthanasia, a twofold educational effort is necessary: one directed specifically to the Catholic community, the other directed to the general public."
- Pastoral Care "Pastoral care encompasses a broad range of services provided with competence, compassion and dignity." The bishops highlight the following services: pregnancy services, post-abortion healing and reconciliation, care for those who are chronically ill, disabled or dying, care for prisoners, those on death row, and victims of violent crime.
- Public Policy "It is imperative to restore legal protection to the lives of unborn children and to ensure that the lives of others, especially those who are disabled, elderly, or dying, are not further jeopardized."
- Prayer and Worship "We encourage dioceses and parishes to sponsor programs of prayer and fasting as well as paraliturgical programs and to encourage Catholics to adopt programs of private prayer." "Only with prayer ... will the culture of death that surrounds us today be replaced with a culture of life."
"Key to the success of this pastoral plan is the work of informed and committed lay people throughout the nation...[Efforts] of the laity, especially at the parish level, deserve and require the encouragement and support of priests, deacons, and religious."
The bishops provide a suggested "model for organizing and allocating the Church's resources of people, services, institutions, and finances at various levels to help restore and advance protection in law for unborn children's right to life and to foster a true culture of life." The model includes a State Coordinating Committee and Diocesan Pro-Life Committee, as well as Parish Pro-Life Committees. The following section focuses on the parish component.
The Parish Committee
"The parish pro-life committee assists in a special way by helping to make the parish a center of life, a place where parishioners understand the issues and the importance of meeting the needs of those who are most vulnerable – especially mothers and their unborn children, and those who are seriously ill or dying and their families... . [Ideally] its membership should include representatives of both adult and youth parish groups, members of organizations that represent persons with disabilities, persons of minority cultures, and those responsible for education and pastoral care.
"The chairperson of the parish committee is appointed by the pastor, and it is important that the two be able to work well together. The chair recruits volunteers to help meet the needs the committee serves. Parish committees should be mindful of the need for renewal from time to time in regard to membership, talents, and interests.
"The parish committee relies on the diocesan pro-life director for information and guidance. The committee should play a vital role in parish life and enjoy the strong support of priests and other key personnel. The committee should also dovetail its efforts from time to time with other programs of the parish. For example, in many parts of the country, parishes conduct programs where parishioners study and discuss the teachings of the faith. Members of the pro-life committee should take part in such programs and invite other program leaders to take part in pro-life initiatives.
"The objectives of the parish pro-life committee are to
- coordinate parish implementation of the annual Respect Life Program, promoting it to agencies and organizations in the parishes, especially schools and religious education programs; and encourage parish discussion groups to use the program as a basis for their discussions
- promote and assist pregnancy counseling and comprehensive maternity support services, as well as post-abortion counseling and reconciliation programs, and make these well known in the parish and local community
- develop or adopt, where feasible, a parish-based ministry to pregnant women and their children
- encourage and support parishioners' involvement in services to help those who are chronically ill, disabled, or dying and their families
- sponsor programs of prayer in the parish to pray for mothers and their unborn children, for those who are dying, for those who are disabled, for prisoners on death row and those they have harmed, and indeed for all who are in need, that the culture of death that surrounds us may be replaced by a culture of life
- foster awareness of the need to restore legal protection to the lives of unborn children to the maximum degree possible and to safeguard in law the lives of those who are chronically ill, disabled or dying
- keep parishioners informed of upcoming important legislation; and, at the direction of the diocesan pro-life director, organize letter-writing, postcard campaigns, or similar appropriate activities when important votes are expected."
Ultimately, a parish committee will want to sponsor programs in all four key categories: Education, Pastoral Care, Public Policy, and Prayer. Start where you can and build. If you are going to begin with one area, choose education because it is foundational. Following are some practical suggestions you might adopt or adapt.
Highlight Roe Anniversary
Each year, plan a parish Prayer Vigil for Life in conjunction with the anniversary of Roe; the evening of January 21 is a good time (leaving parishioners free to take part in marches and rallies the following day). The Respect Life Program 2002 Liturgy Guide includes suggested Vigils for Life. January 22, 2003 will mark the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Many parishioners have grown to adulthood knowing no other policy than the one dictated by these Supreme Court decisions. To mark the event:
- display "Second Look Project" posters in the Church vestibule and other appropriate places (see www.secondlookproject.org)
- post information about the parish Prayer Vigil for Life
- talk with representatives of other faith communities in the area who may want to participate
- arrange to include an appropriate informational brochure in the bulletin on the Sunday preceding the Prayer Vigil
- approach neighboring parishes, and together plan a conference focusing on Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton: what those decisions actually said, their impact on society, negative impact on women, etc. Encourage participants to work toward reversal of these decisions. Invite the diocesan bishop or auxiliary bishop to give a keynote address.
Be a Catalyst for Those in Need of Pastoral Care
- Develop a list of parishioners who are chronically ill or disabled, who would benefit from help with chores, a daily phone call, shopping, transportation to doctors, or just a few new friends.
- Encourage parishioners to volunteer with the local program to assist those who are dying and their families.
- Begin a parish-based ministry to pregnant women and their children. The Gabriel Project, developed in the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, is excellent and is spreading across the nation. Volunteers in the parish are trained to help a woman through her pregnancy – with practical assistance, spiritual and emotional guidance, and help in accessing needed services. For information on The Gabriel Project contact Dr. Marcella Colbert, Diocese of Galveston-Houston, at 713-741-8728.
- Many in need of pregnancy services, or post-abortion healing and reconciliation, do not know where to turn, yet programs to help abound in most areas of the country. Compile information about good local programs – names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. – and post where it can be located easily, e.g., on bulletin boards in church vestibules, ads, or periodic "information items" in the parish bulletin. Put the information on card-size paper that can be kept near every phone in the rectory and parish offices. Encourage parishioners to volunteer to help such organizations. For those who want to help but have no time, financial assistance is always most welcome.
- In several dioceses (e.g., Venice, Palm Beach, Peoria), parishes help to raise "Pennies for Babies"– funds for women in financial need during their pregnancies. Baby bottles are distributed to serve as mini-banks for the donations. In Peoria, parishioners are asked to donate a penny for each year of a parishioner's life. Schools can also participate successfully in such an effort. In Palm Beach, almost $14,000 was collected for women in need in a month-long campaign.
In the Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, the bishops recommend that "Parishes should include in the petitions at every Mass a prayer that ours will become a nation that respect and protects all human life, born and unborn... ." Work with the parish Liturgy Committee to accomplish this.
- As important public policy issues arise – at the federal, state or local level – keep parishioners up-to-date on what is happening, and let them know how they can help, e.g., by writing letters to legislators, or "letters to the editor" to local newspapers, calling in to radio talk shows, etc.
- Develop a network of parishioners who are willing, when asked, to send letters to Congress or the state legislature on critical legislation. The Diocesan Pro-Life Director will alert you when immediate help is needed.
- In conjunction with the Respect Life Program, sponsor an art or essay contest for children in the parish, working with the parish school and/or those in religious education ministry. Or expand this as a joint program in which several schools participate. Hold a parent-child dinner where the contest winners receive awards, winning art works are displayed, and students read their winning essays.
- Sponsor an adult education/discussion series on The Gospel of Life. You do not need nationally-known speakers – just people knowledgeable about the issue, with an ability and willingness to speak publicly. Or sponsor an educational series on the topics in this year's Respect Life Program.
- Periodically arrange to print key website addresses in the parish bulletin, so parishioners will know where they can find reliable and up-to-date information about important pro-life issues and events. For a start, the web addresses at the end of this article should be included.
- Don't forget the book/magazine rack in the back of your parish church. Ask if you can keep this stocked with appropriate pro-life materials that will be of interest to parishioners.
In the Diocese of Youngstown, Bishop Thomas Tobin instituted a "Human Life Guild," inviting all to participate. It is an organization of members willing to accept Pope John Paul II's invitation to be a People of Life. Guild members have no obligation other than to promote and defend human life at every stage and in every circumstance in thought, word, deed and prayer. Start a Human Life Guild in your parish, periodically sending members current pro-life information. This is ideal for parishioners who want to help, but have little or no time to volunteer.
Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: A Campaign in Support of Life, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2001. Comprehensive four-prong program on behalf of human life. From:
USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, No. 0111 (Eng.), No. 0112 (Span.) $1.95.
A People of Life, USCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities, 2001. Attractive 8-panel color brochure on how to get involved in building a culture of life. From: USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, No. 0113 (Eng.), No. 0114 (Span.), $10.00/package of 50.
A Prayer for Life (prayer card). From: USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. No. 0115 (Eng.), No. 0116 (Span.), $10.00 / package of 100.
The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II, 1995. Encyclical letter on the inherent dignity of human life. Pinpoints how various people – e.g., priests, teachers, parents, legislators, etc.– can help build a culture of life. From: USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. No. 9540 (Eng.), No. 9541 (Span.), $7.95.
Faithful for Life: A Moral Reflection, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1995. From: USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. No. 9550 (Eng.), No. 9551 (Span.), $3.95.
Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, NCCB, 1998. From: USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. No. 9825 (Eng. and Span.), $2.95.
Catholic Update, October 2002 issue. Features the Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities:
A Campaign in Support of Life. From: St. Anthony Messenger Press. $12.00 for an annual subscription of 12 issues; single copy "back" issue, $.50 each. To order, call (513) 241-5615 or visit http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU.asp.
Second Look Project posters. Two separate, very attractive posters; can be viewed at www.secondlookproject.org/posters. 11" x 17", English only. Cost: $.75 each. Ideal for college campuses. Quantity discounts.
Life Insight. Excellent newsletter on abortion and related issues; 6 times a year; free, but donations are gratefully accepted. From: USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.
Life at Risk. Acclaimed newsletter on euthanasia/ assisted suicide trends; 6 times a year; free, but donations are gratefully accepted. From: USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.
Celebrating Life 1972-2002. CD-ROM with all Respect Life Program articles from 1972–2002. Indexed for easy reference. From: USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. No. 0212, $9.95. Available Fall 2002.
The Way of the Cross for Families, Pontifical Council for the Family, 2001. From: Priests for Life. Call 888-PFL-3448.
Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:
National Committee for a Human Life Amendment (public policy and grassroots mobilization experts): www.nchla.org.
Knights of Columbus. Catholic Information Service (CIS). See on-line booklet #28, "The Sacredness of Life" at www.kofc.org/faith/cis/028/sacredlife.cfm.
The Holy See: www.vatican.va.
Zenit International News Agency: www.zenit.org/english. Daily email news and statements from the Holy See.
Abortion Aftermath – supports the Church's outreach to women and men suffering from an
abortion, contact information for Project Rachel offices nationwide, professional articles on abortion aftermath, and women's personal stories: www.hopeafterabortion.org.
Human cloning – Cuts past euphemisms to expose the facts about what some call "therapeutic cloning." From Americans to Ban Cloning: www.cloninginformation.org.
RU-486 – factual medical and other information about the abortion drug:
Second Look Project – brief and factual – asks those who consider themselves "pro-choice" to
rethink the issue: www.secondlookproject.org.
Stem cell research – information about the debate on embryonic stem cell research and promising, morally acceptable alternatives, from Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics: www.stemcellresearch.org.
Note: Check your own diocesan website. If your parish has a website, be sure to ask to include pro-life news and events.