I have just returned from the fall assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore and the most important topic discussed there was the Church’s pro-life stance, particularly in light of the recent election.
There were several discussions in our regional meetings and when we gathered as bishops in our executive sessions.
Many ideas were proposed. Out of those, Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago and the president of the conference, distilled a very good statement that reflects a strong and unified sentiment of the Catholic bishops of the United States.
Therefore, I have asked that the statement be read or distributed at all the parishes at Sunday Masses.
Of course, we are eager to work with the incoming president and cooperate with the government on the good works that the Church has been involved in historically, such as serving the poor, in social services, education and working for peace and reconciliation.
But, we want to make it very clear that as Catholics we are committed to work to establish just laws that will protect human life, which is the most basic of all rights.
We realize there are many threats on the horizon, particularly the so-called “Freedom of Choice Act.” The intent of FOCA is to make abortion much more common and to have these abortions funded by the people’s tax dollars. It would also remove any possibility of parental oversight. FOCA would be a radical and disastrous legislation that we need to make people aware of.
We also want to point out that the outcome of the presidential election was in great part a result of the economic crisis and our global involvement in the war on terrorism, particularly in Iraq. It was not a mandate for a liberalization of laws concerning abortion or marriage. In fact, some of the states that voted for President-elect Obama also passed referendums defending traditional marriage.
The pro-life cause will always be at the center of the Catholic social teaching.
There is not some “new way” of being pro-life by saying, “I am going to work for economic justice” and that, somehow, is going to substitute for trying to put guarantees in the laws that will protect human life from the first moment of conception.
Traditionally, the Church has worked for a more just social order and to provide services and help to women in difficult straits. But, we must not lose sight of the serious obligation that we have to work for just legislation.
Cardinal George expresses those themes very eloquently in his statement drafted on behalf of the bishops conference that I am sharing with you today:
STATEMENT of the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
"If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil." (Psalm 127, vs. 1)
The Bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States welcome this moment of historic transition and look forward to working with President-elect Obama and the members of the new Congress for the common good of all. Because of the Church’s history and the scope of her ministries in this country, we want to continue our work for economic justice and opportunity for all; our efforts to reform laws around immigration and the situation of the undocumented; our provision of better education and adequate health care for all, especially for women and children; our desire to safeguard religious freedom and foster peace at home and abroad. The Church is intent on doing good and will continue to cooperate gladly with the government and all others working for these goods.
The fundamental good is life itself, a gift from God and our parents. A good state protects the lives of all. Legal protection for those members of the human family waiting to be born in this country was removed when the Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade in 1973. This was bad law. The danger the Bishops see at this moment is that a bad court decision will be enshrined in bad legislation that is more radical than the 1973 Supreme Court decision itself.
In the last Congress, a Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) was introduced that would, if brought forward in the same form today, outlaw any "interference" in providing abortion at will. It would deprive the American people in all fifty states of the freedom they now have to enact modest restraints and regulations on the abortion industry. FOCA would coerce all Americans into subsidizing and promoting abortion with their tax dollars. It would counteract any and all sincere efforts by government and others of good will to reduce the number of abortions in our country.
Parental notification and informed consent precautions would be outlawed, as would be laws banning procedures such as partial-birth abortion and protecting infants born alive after a failed abortion. Abortion clinics would be deregulated. The Hyde Amendment restricting the federal funding of abortions would be abrogated. FOCA would have lethal consequences for prenatal human life.
FOCA would have an equally destructive effect on the freedom of conscience of doctors, nurses and health care workers whose personal convictions do not permit them to cooperate in the private killing of unborn children. It would threaten Catholic health care institutions and Catholic Charities. It would be an evil law that would further divide our country, and the Church should be intent on opposing evil.
On this issue, the legal protection of the unborn, the bishops are of one mind with Catholics and others of good will. They are also pastors who have listened to women whose lives have been diminished because they believed they had no choice but to abort a baby. Abortion is a medical procedure that kills, and the psychological and spiritual consequences are written in the sorrow and depression of many women and men. The bishops are single-minded because they are, first of all, single-hearted.
The recent election was principally decided out of concern for the economy, for the loss of jobs and homes and financial security for families, here and around the world. If the election is misinterpreted ideologically as a referendum on abortion, the unity desired by President-elect Obama and all Americans at this moment of crisis will be impossible to achieve. Abortion kills not only unborn children; it destroys constitutional order and the common good, which is assured only when the life of every human being is legally protected. Aggressively pro-abortion policies, legislation and executive orders will permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans, and would be seen by many as an attack on the free exercise of their religion.
This statement is written at the request and direction of all the Bishops, who also want to thank all those in politics who work with good will to protect the lives of the most vulnerable among us. Those in public life do so, sometimes, at the cost of great sacrifice to themselves and their families; and we are grateful. We express again our great desire to work with all those who cherish the common good of our nation. The common good is not the sum total of individual desires and interests; it is achieved in the working out of a common life based upon good reason and good will for all.
Our prayers accompany President-elect Obama and his family and those who are cooperating with him to assure a smooth transition in government. Many issues demand immediate attention on the part of our elected "watchman." (Psalm 127) May God bless him and our country.
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The assembly with the bishops in Baltimore was very productive. Our plenary session began Monday morning, but we have always added committee meetings before and after our general session. This saves time and money on travel because we are already together.
Also on Saturday and Sunday, I participated with the committees on Latin America, Africa, Immigration and pro-life activities. Sunday, I also attended the board meeting for the National Shrine.
It was a busy weekend, and so much of the business of the bishops conference is done in the committee meetings, where we have participation from bishops, priests, religious and the laity.
One of the highlights of the trip was the dinner hosted by the Military Archdiocese on Nov. 11, Veterans Day. Three of our priests who are working with the military attended with me, Coast Guard Chief of Chaplains Father Bill Cuddy, Father Paul Hurley and Father John McLaughlin. Father McLaughlin is on loan to the Military Archdiocese to support and increase vocations to the military chaplain corps.
At the dinner, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the ordinary of the Military Archdiocese, gave a talk about the heroic work of military chaplains and how important they are. He expressed his gratitude to the dioceses that are sending chaplains.
There is a terrible shortage of chaplains. It is my hope that more bishops will see their way to share their clergy with the Military Archdiocese. It is an important way to reach young people at a time in their lives when the most need the Church to be present.
I took some photos of the gathering with my cell-phone camera
The entertainment for the dinner was provided by the Army Chorus, which gave us a great performance
At the dinner, there was a chaplain recruiting poster whose message struck me: “Taking God to Soldiers and Taking Soldiers to God.” I hope you can make it out
We were very happy to have Catholic TV at the fall assembly with us and they interviewed a number of the bishops. Many of the bishops thanked me for the wonderful mission and services of our Catholic Television.
One of the presentations given before the meeting began was on the importance of new technology. They talked about blogs and other ways to use the Internet to spread the Word. Of course, with all the committee meetings I could not attend, but I really felt re-affirmed in my own blog.
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Friday, we had our annual gathering of the alumni at St. John’s Seminary. Over 140 priests came for the Holy Hour and we all had dinner together. For some of the priests, it was their first time back in the seminary in years.
Many of them were impressed to see how beautifully the chapel has been refurbished. We were also encouraged by the increased number of seminarians, who joined us.
The alumni night was an opportunity for the priests to see their classmates—especially those who are serving in other dioceses and join them at the celebration.
Of course, we are very grateful to Father Arthur Kennedy, the rector, and the rest of the seminary community for hosting what is always a fine event.
Until next time, blessings to you all!