When Pope John Paul II asked families, educators and the
media to help transform our culture into one that supports
life on all levels, we at St. Anthony Messenger were
listening. One of our responses to his 1995 encyclical,
Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), is this special
issue. Three of its feature articles and several columns
deal with abortion, at least indirectly. But we also recognize
that being pro-life is more than being against abortion.
The pope recalls the broad strokes of respect for life
that Vatican II's pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes
(The Church in the Modern World, #27) had sketched:
"Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of
murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction,
whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such
as mutilations..., whatever insults human dignity, such
as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation,
slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children,
as well as disgraceful working conditions...are infamies
Within that wide framework, however, the pope saves his
most eloquent words for respect for the life of unborn children.
No one "more absolutely innocent" than an unborn child can
be imagined. No reason, however serious or tragic, can ever
justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being
Why U.S. Plan Was Updated
In November the U.S. bishops passed a new Pastoral Plan
for Pro-life Activities: A Campaign in Support of Life.
They say: "Among important issues involving the dignity
of human life..., abortion necessarily plays a central role.
Abortion, the direct killing of an innocent human being,
is always gravely im-moral (The Gospel of Life, #57);
its victims are the most vulnerable and defenseless members
of the human family. It is imperative that those who are
called to serve the least among us give urgent attention
and priority to this issue of justice."
This plan is the U.S. bishops' third comprehensive plan
since Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the 1973
U.S. Su-preme Court decisions which legalized abortion nationwide.
Two major things have changed:
First, this new plan takes into account emerging threats
to human life such as the deliberate destruction of human
embryos in some stem-cell research (see article on page
Second, the bishops also condemn those who use violence
to promote life. "During this past decade, several persons
involved in the practice of abortion have been killed, and
others have been harmed, by tragically misguided individuals
claiming to be pro-life. Such violence against human beings
is indefensible....We abhor and condemn such violence unequivocally."
Pro-lifers who shoot abortionists will find no sympathetic
Seamless Garment Holds
What has not changed in this new plan is the "seamless
garment" approach to pro-life. All life issues are linked.
Abortion and contraception are integrally connected to euthanasia
and capital punishment. So are war and peace, just wages
and respect for those with disabilities, to mention just
a few issues.
Some observers thought the bishops might be backing off
from this seamless approach, fearing it dilutes the anti-abortion
effort. Last June, in working on the American appendix to
the new Roman Missal, the bishops vigorously debated a prayer
for January 22 (the Roe v. Wade anniversary), now
an official day of penance in the U.S. Church calendar.
In a 145-66 vote, they decided to limit the prayer to the
victims of abortion and not those of euthanasia or capital
But the bishops have not strayed from the broad view, as
they reveal in this new plan: "A consistent ethic of life,
which explains the Church's teaching at the level of moral
principlefar from diminishing concern for abortion
and euthanasia or equating all issues touching on the dignity
of human liferecognizes instead the distinctive character
of each issue while giving each its proper place within
a coherent moral vision."
Accomplishments and Aims
The new pastoral plan has four arms: public information
and education; pastoral care (pregnancy services, post-abortion
healing, care for disabled and dying people, and care for
prisoners); public policy programs; and prayer and worship.
The plan also applauds accomplishments of the pro-life
movement in the past quarter century: fewer abortions in
the 1990s; more Americans defining themselves as pro-life;
expanding services for those facing difficult pregnancies;
some state restrictions on abortion; defeat of several suicide
initiatives in many states.
Yet, as the bishops point out, the fed-eral law on abortion
has changed very little. "The abortion decisions of the
U.S. Supreme Court must be reversed.... Our own commitment
will not waver. Our efforts will not cease. We will speak
out on the sanctity of life wherever and whenever it is
So will we at St. Anthony Messenger. We pledge ourselves
to speak out wherever and whenever life is threatened. We
ask that all our readers vow the same. B.B.
The print edition of the bishops' new Pastoral Plan
for Pro-life Activities: A Campaign in Support of Life
(Publication 5-463) is available from the U.S. Conference
of Catholic Bishops (phone 800-235-8722).