by Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua
September 27, 2002
On Sunday October 6, the Catholic Church inaugurates its Respect Life Program, an annual education effort focusing on the sanctity of human life.
We unveil this year's program aware that our world has become a more dangerous place. The events of September 11, 2001 force us to acknowledge that some of our fellow human beings see no intrinsic value in human life. They believe that innocent lives are dispensable in the quest to attain political or ideological goals. As Pope John Paul II reminds us, "terrorism is built on contempt for human life" (Message for the 2002 World Day of Peace, no. 4).
It would be a mistake, however, to think that contempt for life exists only in certain parts of the world, among certain peoples. In The Gulag Archipelago Alexander Solzhenitsyn describes his gradual realization that "the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts." The roots of contempt for life can sprout in our own hearts when we forget the God-given dignity of every human being, a dignity inherent in all from conception to natural death.
Contempt for human life can take many forms. In our technically advanced society, we are tempted to treat life as dispensable when it seems to stand in the way of individual freedom or technical "progress."
Abortion is advanced in the name of freedom, but it undermines freedom by demeaning life itself. No society can be truly free if its most vulnerable members can lose their very lives at the hands of others. And far from giving greater freedom to women, abortion leaves many women feeling trapped in a deep well of sorrow and remorse.
Ironically, the campaign for "freedom" on abortion has increasingly taken on a coercive cast. Abortion advocates support China's coercive abortion program; here at home, they try to force conscientiously opposed health care providers to be involved in abortion.
Destructive embryo research and human cloning are promoted in the name of progress. Yet they mark a regress in researchers' respect for ethical limits. They also divert resources away from morally acceptable research avenues that are at least as promising. Such abuses do not bode well for our ability to use the newfound powers of biotechnology to serve and not demean humanity.
Ignoring the real threat to human dignity posed by human cloning, some have proposed cloning "bans" that are nothing of the sort. Rather, such proposals would allow unlimited cloning of human embryos for destructive research, while banning any effort to bring these embryos to live birth. In effect, the evil of cloning would be compounded by the evil of government-mandated killing.
These and other challenges to life are addressed in this year's Respect Life Program materials, which I encourage all Catholics to read and discuss. We must inform ourselves about these issues, understand them in light of the Gospel, and respond to them with firm commitment and healing compassion.
The Respect Life Program aims "to bring the Gospel of life to the heart of every man and woman and to make it penetrate every part of society" (The Gospel of Life, no. 80). Let us all take an active role in this urgent endeavor, helping to turn others' hearts toward a renewed reverence for human life at every stage and condition.
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua is chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops