October 8, 2018
A part of my sadness regarding the current cloud of scandal over the Catholic Church has to do with a concern that the voice of the Church in the public square may not be heard or respected on important matters affecting the common good. For decades we have been able to count on the witness of both the lay faithful and the clergy in support of human life and dignity. During this month of October, designated as Respect Life Month, we can renew our resolve to offer the Gospel of Life as a gift in our communities.
In this country, the pro-life movement has been primarily an effort of the laity. Bishops and priests have given guidance and spiritual support, but powerful social and political action has been driven primarily by women and men who take seriously the exhortation of Jesus to be salt and light in the world. The current scandal has focused on the misconduct of some bishops and the failure of some bishops to protect vulnerable young people from harm inflicted by predators. This failure, even if years ago, has damaged the credibility of bishops and has made the pro-life teaching of bishops less compelling within the Church and the community. So the continued commitment of the laity to proclaim the Gospel of Life is crucial at this time.
The attack on innocent life in the womb and the exploitation or abuse of vulnerable young persons are two different sins. Yet we must oppose and try to prevent them both based on our understanding of a foundational principal of Catholic teaching. Each human person possesses a God-given dignity that does not depend on the estimation of others. It is the responsibility of individuals and the community at large not only to respect human life and dignity but also to act to protect it when it is threatened.
The most basic God-given right ascribed to each person is the right to life itself. God’s revelation and prudent human reflection lead us to see that it is wrong to attack and kill an innocent human life. Any discussion of other human rights quickly becomes subject to fads or social pressure when the right to life itself is not respected. It is essential that those who know God’s plan always refrain from obtaining an abortion. It is also expected that all of us will do what we can to protect the lives of vulnerable children in the womb. Through prayer, teaching and persuasion we work to create a growing societal consensus in favor of life, as well as the laws that protect life and restrain those who would attack an innocent life.
We should never accept an equivalence between a direct attack on human life, such as an abortion, and lesser, though serious, violations of human dignity. At the same time, we know that the Gospel of Life binds us to respect human persons at all times and to protect the vulnerable who may be at risk of harm. Even those of us who have not been directly involved in the sin of abortion feel the weight of this sin on our community, and we beg God for the mercy and healing needed as a result of such harmful choices. In a similar way, we are experiencing the hurt and the weight of the abuse of vulnerable young people in the Church and in the community.
We can rightly make a resolution during Respect Life Month to pray and fast in reparation for sins against human life and dignity. In a particular way, we grieve for our brothers and sisters who have been killed in the womb. And we know our belief in God-given human dignity must lead us to care as best we can for all the vulnerable in our midst.
We must also speak out to defend life. While we acknowledge the sins of the past and await the healing that we know God will provide, we should not hesitate to give clear witness to what is true. Each person created by God is worthy of respect and protection from the moment of conception.
Archbishop George J. Lucas | Archdiocese of Omaha