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Office of the Bishop

Diocese of Rockville Centre

50 North Park Avenue

Rockville Centre, NY 11570-4184

Respect Life ~~ 2000

October 4, 2000

Dear Friends in Christ,

This past Sunday Churches throughout the United States launched the Respect Life Program for the Jubilee Year. Initiated in 1972 at the urging of Cardinal Terence Cooke, then Chair of the NCCB Pro-Life Committee, the program materials have been circulated to almost every parish in the country to educate Catholics on the many dimensions of the pro-life effort. The themes change somewhat each year, but always to show that respect for human life from conception to natural death is an overarching commitment of the Catholic Church and that protection of the unborn child, the sick, elderly and dying are fundamental to our beliefs in the dignity of the human person and protection of the common good.
There are those, especially in an election year, who try to separate the various concerns in an effort to play up gun control, capital punishment, welfare reform, universal health care and economic reforms. But there is no reason to trust anyone who will promote and facilitate destroying the life of the unborn child on the grounds that they are protecting a woman’s choice to kill the child.
We have had some dramatic examples this past week or so. After U.S. Senate candidates Rick Lazio and Hillary Clinton reached agreement on forgoing the use of soft-money donations for their campaigns, the National Abortion Rights Action League said it would not abide by the agreement because it had to run ads to explain Mrs. Clinton’s strong pro-abortion position. How explain absolute freedom to destroy unborn human life?
Then, at week’s close, the FDA gave permission for the production and sale of RU-486, the so-called “early option” pill that is supposed to allow a woman to take her child’s life in the privacy of her home. Immediately pro-abortion groups rose in bombastic exultation and the media treated it as one of the most significant medical advances of the century. The New York Times ran it as a front page story two days in a row, with the usual approving editorial. Only the new drug doesn’t work as easily or “privately” as forecast. A woman must obtain the first pill from an approved doctor, that is, from a doctor registered to dispense it, then return two days later for a second pill to bring on contractions and complete the abortion. She should then return ten days to two weeks later to ensure that the abortion was complete. Meanwhile she can expect to experience severe cramps and heavy bleeding.
Over the years Planned Parenthood has built a network of abortion clinics across the country. Hopeful of increased federal funding (beyond Medicaid payments), they have always put an emphasis on providing abortion, sterilization and birth control for the poor and minorities. Of course, this population is also most deficient in terms of pre-natal care, good nutrition, and freedom from the work schedule to make three trips to the clinic for an abortion. Many are also opposed to abortion under any circumstances.
My point is that in a pro-abortion environment, and an electoral season when two leading candidates, Vice President Gore and Hillary Clinton, continually proclaim their pro-abortion commitments, more than ever we need to emphasize respect for human life, especially that of the unborn child, as the fundamental moral issue facing American society today. 
This year’s program materials include an essay by Cardinal John O’Connor on building a culture of life. In my visits with the Cardinal before his death, he constantly spoke of the pro-life effort and was frustrated that his illness prevented him from taking a more active role. He tells us that “we in the pro-life community know ours is a lonely work. It is the loneliness of the long-distance runner. We are a community bound together with love for life and with love for one another. But even we can be tempted by the noon-day devil of discouragement.” Our only antidote to this discouragement is our faith in God, the Lord of Life, who is close to us, who calls us to profound communion with himself and who awakens in us the certain hope of eternal life.
The 2000 Respect Life Program also includes material on the family and society, embryo research and assisted suicide, capital punishment, God’s mercy for the woman who had an abortion and civic responsibility for all Catholics in bringing the pro-life message and agenda into the public debates, especially in this election year. David Walsh, author of the civil responsibility article, cites Pope John Paul II’s Gospel of Life and the American bishops’ two statements, Living the Gospel of Life and Political Responsibility for a New Millennium in weaving a platform for American Catholics, indeed for all Americans. He notes that “those who claim to be neutral on abortion have an emptiness in their understanding of public responsibility. The mentality of the constitutional order is not a total neutrality in regard to all values. It cannot countenance positions that run directly contrary to the very principles on which an order of rights is constituted. Just as our nation does not permit people to make up their own minds about the permissibility of slavery, so it should not regard the protection of life as a matter of purely private choice. The illusion of neutrality implied in the exercise of choice is false. Choice is itself an expression of permissibility and therefore a legal endorsement of the acceptability of killing.”
The themes of Respect Life 2000 should reverberate throughout the year. They should be preached from the pulpit, before and after the elections. They are the bases of a position on social issues that is based on the principles of moral integrity. We cannot avoid these issues and we dare not remain silent out of fear, embarrassment or ignorance. Together we must proclaim the Gospel of Life, which is at the heart of Jesus's message and which, in John Paul II's words, is "...a precise and vigorous reaffirmation of the value of human life and its inviolability, and at the same time a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person, in the name of God: respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness."

Faithfully yours in Christ,

James T. McHugh

Most Reverend James T. McHugh, S.T.D.

Bishop of Rockville Centre