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Catholics and Political Responsibility

Roe anniversary a day of penance and prayer

Most Rev. Ronald W. Gainer
Bishop of Lexington

Anniversaries usually give us cause to celebrate but not this one. January 22 will be he 31st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade. It is a decision that, on both moral and legal grounds, is one of the worst in Supreme Court history and has resulted in well over 40 million deaths of defenseless unborn. This is an anniversary that demands mourning for this illogical unjust, and immoral decisions. In fact, by particular law for United States Catholics, January 22 is a day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life. This anniversary demands this kind of observance.

Women pay the highest price for motherhood, and they pay an even higher price for its destruction. The emotional and psychological wounds may take decades to emerge, but they do surface and often with punishing force. No one should doubt either abortion has also led to our culture's callousness toward human life: an increasing sympathy and support for assisted suicide for the ill and the elderly; experimentation on living human embryos; stem cell research; increasing abuse of women, children, and the elderly; unbridled sexual license; the weakening of family life; and further victimization of the poor, to whom our legal system is willing to extend "abortion rights" in place of real justice.

In the face of all this, we need to remember our convictions and obligations as members of the Catholic Church. Our church is a pro-life church, in word and in deed. We do not stand alone in our pro-life views, but we often do stand in opposition to powerful, elite forces in our society. Some of our fellow Catholics question whether it is necessary or even right for their Church to be so vocally and visibly pro-life. It is necessary and it is right. The Gospel obliges us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus who spoke and acted compassionately in favor of the most despised and vulnerable persons in society. At the heart of Catholic social teaching is firm conviction that all human life is sacred, created in the image and likeness of God. We Catholics have a responsibility to defend human life from conception to natural death.

A cause of particular sadness and concern are those in public service who claim to be serious Catholics and advocate for or actively support direct attacks on innocent human life. These individuals have fallen victim to thinking that there can be a dichotomy between personal conscience and public practice. That is false. I am certainly grateful for those Catholics in public life (and all politicians) who work diligently to promote the Gospel of Life. I take this opportunity to warn Catholic politicians within this diocese who in their public careers choose to depart from Church teaching regarding the inviolability of all human life. They need to consider the consequences of their position for their own spiritual well being, as well as the scandal they cause by leading others into serious moral danger. I urge all Catholics who hold public office to examine your consciences in light of the Gospel duty to protect all human life. Hear this as the Lord Himself calling you to do your part.

I urge all the Catholic faithful in the diocese to observe January 22 as a day of penance and prayer. As members of the Body of Christ, we are all called to do our part--one woman, one man, one child, one family at a time--to work to create a culture generous to life and laws that are just, moral, and life giving.

Reprinted with permission from Lexington diocesan newspaper, Crossroads, January 18, 2004, p 14.

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