by Gail Quinn
November 23, 2001
Meeting in our nation's capital on November 14, the Catholic bishops of the United States voted to adopt an important document called the Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: A Campaign in Support of Life. This is a document that reaches out to everyone in the Church--lay, religious, clergy, both as individuals and groups--inviting them to "unite in an unprecedented effort to restore respect and legal protection for every human life--to be what the Holy Father asks us to be: a people of life and a people for life."
For their own part, the bishops pledge that their commitment "will not waver." Nor will their efforts cease. They will continue to speak out about the sanctity and dignity of human life, the bishops tell us, "wherever and whenever it is threatened."
It is the bishops' hope and expectation that in turning focused attention on the need to respect and protect the lives of those who are dying, those waiting to be born, and those who are disabled, "we will help to deepen respect for the life of every human being."
The Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities was first adopted by the bishops in 1975, under the guidance of Cardinal Terence Cooke, Archbishop of New York and Chairman of the bishops' Pro-Life Committee, with the assistance and vision of then Msgr. James T. McHugh. It was the first major opportunity the bishops had to put into place a comprehensive plan that would over time help to undo Roe v. Wade. Ten years later it was revised and reaffirmed.
The Pastoral Plan is a rather extraordinary document. For more than a quarter century it has served as a template which dioceses across the country have modeled structures to advance the cause of life. It was updated this year in order to address the many life issues in the context of today's legal and social realities, and to adjust some of the practical recommendations it makes based on the experiences of dioceses and parishes.
When initially adopted more than a quarter of a century ago, none of us could have foreseen what would confront us in the years ahead. Could partial-birth abortion have even been imagined? The relentless push to legalize assisted suicide? Research that depends on destroying human embryos? And yet we face these challenges today.
To address the critical issues of the day, the bishops recommend a four-prong program that involves (1) education--in the Church community and in the public square; (2) pastoral services in local communities; (3) pursuit of public policies that protect and promote human life and human dignity; and (4) programs of prayer--for individuals and assemblies--to pray that our culture will be transformed into a culture of life and love in which every human life is protected, nurtured and sustained.
The Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities can be found at www.usccb.org/prolife (then look for Pastoral Plan).
Gail Quinn is Executive Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C.