Rededication to the Cause of Life
In this Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities: A Campaign in Support of Life we renew our call for individual Catholics and the many institutions and organizations of the Church to unite in an unprecedented effort to restore respect and legal protection for every human life—to be what the Holy Father asks us to be: a people of life and a people for life (The Gospel of Life, no. 78). It is our hope and expectation that in focusing on the need to respect and protect the lives of the innocent unborn and those who are disabled, ill, or dying, we will help to deepen respect for the life of every human being.
This pastoral plan calls upon all the resources of the Church—its people, services, and institutions—to pursue this effort with renewed energy and commitment in four major areas.
1. Public Information and Education to deepen understanding of the sanctity of human life and the humanity of unborn children, the moral evil of intentionally killing innocent human beings—whether at the beginning of life or at its end—and the mission of the Church to witness to and serve all human life.
2. Pastoral Care for women with problems related to pregnancy; for all who have been involved in abortion; for those who are disabled, sick, and dying, and their families and caregivers; for those who have lost loved ones to violent crime; and for those in prison sentenced to death.
3. Public Policy efforts directed to restoring legal protection to the lives of unborn children and those vulnerable to pressures to end their lives by assisted suicide, and to providing morally acceptable alternatives to abortion and assisted suicide.
Prayer and Worship directed to participation in the sacramental life of the Church and in programs of communal and individual prayer, that the culture of death that surrounds us today will be replaced by a culture of life and love.
4. This plan foresees dialogue and cooperation between the national episcopal conference and priests, deacons, religious, and lay persons, individually and collectively. We seek the collaboration of every Catholic organization in this effort.
Dialogue among churches and religious groups is also essential. We encourage continued interreligious consultation and dialogue on these important issues, as well as dialogue among ethicists.
We urge Catholics to advance pro-life positions within their family, church, and community, as well as within their professional organizations. We ask Catholic health care professionals and medical researchers to continue to be vigilant guardians of every human life.
At every level—national, regional, state, diocesan, and parish—it is important to seek the support of individuals and organizations involved in other ministries and, in turn, to be supportive of their work on behalf of human life as well. Together we are involved in God's work in promoting the dignity of the human person.
Key to the success of this pastoral plan is the work of informed and committed lay people throughout the nation. We are reminded by Pope John Paul II in The Church in America that "the presence and mission of the Church in the world is realized in a special way in the variety of charisms and ministries which belong to the laity" (no. 44, quoting Synod for America, proposition 55). In addition, efforts of the laity, especially at the parish level, deserve and require the encouragement and support of priests, deacons, and religious.
1. Public Information and Education
To deepen respect for human life and heighten public opposition to abortion and euthanasia, a twofold educational effort is necessary: one directed specifically to the Catholic community, the other directed to the general public.
ongoing, long-range, and intensive educational effort in the Catholic community can provide an
understanding of the issues and lead people to conviction and commitment. Such efforts should
utilize the best medical, sociological, and legal information available. This should include the
most recent advances in medical technology that demonstrate the continuity of human development from
conception onwards. Ultimately, however, moral and theological arguments present the central issue
of respect for human life in its most intellectually compelling terms.
We are grateful to those who participate in the Church's teaching ministry for all they have done and continue to do on behalf of human life. We invite them in a special way to be leaders in this campaign to build a culture of life. We note especially
Especially welcome in this effort is the participation of persons with disabilities and their families, who are not only recipients of care but active and valued members of the faith community. By their example and testimony they can play an indispensable role in witnessing to the inherent dignity of each human life.
Education programs should include the following, as
appropriate: biblical and theological foundations that attest to the sanctity and dignity of human
life; scientific information concerning the humanity of unborn children, especially that made
available by modern genetic science and technology; American founding principles, as articulated in
the Declaration of Independence, that reflect unchanging truths about the human person; society's
responsibility to safeguard every human life, to defend life by non-violent means wherever possible,
and never purposely to destroy innocent human life; discussion of effective and compassionate care
for those who are terminally ill and for persons with disabilities; education on Catholic teaching
regarding end-of-life decision making; and information about effective, compassionate, and morally
acceptable solutions to the very real and difficult problems that can exist for a woman during and
after pregnancy, as well as help for those who suffer from the consequences of
The most comprehensive overview of the Church's teaching in regard to the sanctity and dignity of human life is found in Pope John Paul II's encyclical letter The Gospel of Life. This inspiring document applies the teaching in many areas and provides strong and powerful motivation to Catholics to proclaim the Gospel of life. Living the Gospel of Life, a statement adopted by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 1998, applies this teaching to our particular situation in the United States.
The annual Respect Life Program sponsored by our episcopal conference provides information on critical issues of the day and relates those issues to the Church's teaching. This nationwide program sets abortion and euthanasia in the context of other issues involving threats to human life and human dignity—for example, capital punishment, war, poverty, population control, child abuse and abandonment, false views of human sexuality, human cloning, and research that destroys human embryos—and calls attention to the way in which each touches on the sanctity and dignity of human life.
The General Public
The primary purpose of an educational effort directed to the general public is the development of pro-life attitudes and the rejection of abortion and euthanasia. Even today, there remains a need for accurate information about these threats to life.
A public information program creates awareness of the threats to human life and human dignity inherent in abortion, research that destroys human embryos, euthanasia, assisted suicide, infanticide, and capital punishment. It allows people to see more readily the need to correct the situation by establishing legal safeguards for the right to life. It gives the issues visibility and prompts those who are uncommitted to reach a firm conviction. It helps to inform the public discussion, and it witnesses to the Church's commitment to a long-range pro-life effort. Such a program can also bring to light information about abortion's negative and often long-lasting impact on many women and others.
Any program that takes place in the public square should affirm the value of human life in the manner of its expression as well as the content, seeking to explain and persuade, while showing respect to all who disagree. It will take a variety of forms: for example, public statements and press releases; accurate reporting of newsworthy events and speaking with media representatives when such events occur; conferences and seminars on pro-life issues; development and distribution of educational materials; public relations and advertising campaigns; newspaper advertising; posters in local stores and community centers.
2. Pastoral Care
Pastoral care encompasses a broad range of services provided with competence, compassion, and dignity. It includes spiritual assistance and essential material help, and may include supplementary services beyond those available in the community. Providing pastoral care to those in need is a primary way that the Church expresses its love for all God's children.
Respect for human life compels us to reach out to those with special needs. With the support of the faith community, Catholic organizations and agencies provide pastoral services and care for pregnant women, especially those who are vulnerable to abortion and who would otherwise find it difficult or impossible to obtain high-quality medical care. Ideally such programs include
Many of these services involve the dedicated efforts of both
professionals and volunteers. Such services have been and will continue to be provided by
church-sponsored health care and social service agencies. Collaboration with other private and
public agencies and with volunteer groups and local communities, as well as efforts to obtain
government assistance, are necessary extensions of the long-range effort. Parishes are also
increasingly providing pregnancy assistance. Such services are sometimes available within the
parish; at other times, the parish program links those needing help to local
Even when pregnancies do not involve particular challenges, encouragement and support should be given to couples who have conceived a child. In a culture that often gives negative messages regarding parenthood, it is important that our parishes celebrate the gift of new life.
Post-Abortion Healing and Reconciliation
For many women and men, grief and anguish follow an abortion experience, which often last for many years. Women today talk about post-abortion stress and reveal a pattern of common grief in "chat rooms," through published books, and in support groups.
The Church offers reconciliation as well as spiritual and psychological care for those suffering from abortion's aftermath primarily through diocesan-based programs, most often called Project Rachel. Such programs utilize specially trained priests and professional counselors who provide one-on-one care. Other post-abortion ministries that involve support groups and retreats are also available in many areas.
Every church-sponsored program and identifiably Catholic organization and agency should know where to refer those in need of post-abortion healing. Special resources to assist priests in this ministry are available from the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities and from many diocesan pro-life offices.
Care for Those Who Are Chronically Ill, Disabled, or Dying
Euthanasia and assisted suicide can appear a reasonable and even compassionate solution to the suffering of individuals and families struggling with illness or the dying process. Yet these are not real solutions—they do not solve human problems, but only take the lives of those most in need of unconditional love.
As Christians, we are called to help build a civilization of life and of love, in which seriously ill persons and their families are never abandoned, but are supported with services, friendship, and love. In order to do so, we should
reach out to those in the parish family or broader community who are dying, particularly those who are at risk of dying alone, and keep company with them; provide support to the family, especially with difficult end-of-life decisions; encourage people to volunteer or provide other assistance to the local hospice program
encourage physicians and other health professionals to provide appropriate palliative care
foster prayers, at Mass and in homes, for those who are dying and their families to receive the respect and care they need and to be comforted by the peace of Christ
develop and support programs of respite care for families caring for seriously ill members at home, programs of visitation to nursing homes, or perhaps even parish nurse programs
foster efforts to fully welcome persons with disabilities into the Church community
Care for Prisoners, Those on Death Row, and Victims of Violent
When violent crime impacts a community there is a temptation to respond with anger and vengeance. But the Gospel calls for rehabilitation, reconciliation, and restoration and teaches us to respect the dignity of all human beings, even those guilty of committing horrendous crimes. To promote these ends, we should
Encourage outreach to prisoners through programs of visitation or letter-writing
Ensure that the spiritual needs of prisoners are met and that they can receive the sacraments
Foster pastoral outreach to victims of violent crime
Offer emotional and material support to the family members of prisoners, especially children, and to pregnant women and new mothers in prison
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