Bishop Joseph F. Martino of the Diocese of Scranton has directed a pastoral letter on pro-life matters to be read at all weekend Masses of the upcoming Respect Life Weekend, saying Catholic efforts on such issues have “more significance than ever.” Discussing the societal breakdown in the wake of the sexual revolution, Bishop Martino explains Catholic teaching, and pledges “vigilance” in correcting Catholic pro-abortion rights public figures.
The pastoral letter, which is also to be circulated with all parish bulletins this weekend, could have political ramifications for the Catholic vote in Pennsylvania, a key swing state in the 2008 presidential election.
In his letter Bishop Martino explained the origin of Respect Life Sunday in 1972, saying Catholics continue to observe the date with devotions and pro-life activities “in order to advance the culture of life.”
“Never have we seen such abusive criticism directed toward those who believe that life begins at conception and ends at natural death,” he remarked.
Noting Pope Paul VI’s 1968 predictions that widespread use of contraceptives would lead to increased marital infidelity, lessened regard for women, and a general lowering of moral standards especially among the young, he said the Pope’s teaching has proved accurate.
“As if following some bizarre script, the sexual revolution has produced widespread marital breakdown, weakened family ties, legalized abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, pornography, same-sex unions, euthanasia, destruction of human embryos for research purposes and a host of other ills,” Bishop Martino wrote.
Turning to abortion, he said laws that protect abortion “constitute injustice of the worst kind.” Saying science confirms that human life begins at conception, he denounced “several false claims” that the beginning of life is uncertain.
Because of abortion, the bishop wrote, “the weakest and most vulnerable are denied, because of their age, the most basic protection that we demand for ourselves. This is discrimination at its worst, and no person of conscience should support it.”
Noting that there are other important areas of political consideration, such as health care, education, economic security, immigration, and taxes, he stated “the solutions to problems in these areas do not usually involve a rejection of the sanctity of human life in the way that abortion does.” Being correct on other issues “fails to make up for the error of disregarding the value of a human life.”
“The finest health and education systems, the fairest immigration laws, and the soundest economy do nothing for the child who never sees the light of day,” Bishop Martino commented. “It is a tragic irony that ‘pro-choice’ candidates have come to support homicide – the gravest injustice a society can tolerate – in the name of ‘social justice’.”
“National Right to Life reports that 48.5 million abortions have been performed since 1973,” he continued. “One would be too many. No war, no natural disaster, no illness or disability has claimed so great a price.”
Bishop Martino explained that though the Church assists the State in promoting justice, her primary concern is to assist men and women in achieving salvation.
“For this reason, it is incumbent upon bishops to correct Catholics who are in error regarding these matters. Furthermore, public officials who are Catholic and who persist in public support for abortion and other intrinsic evils should not partake in or be admitted to the sacrament of Holy Communion,” he said, adding that he will be “vigilant” on this subject.
Bishop Martino characterized the Church’s role as that of a “prophet in our own country” reminding Americans of the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that all men are “created equal” with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
“The Church’s teaching that all life from conception to natural death should be protected by law is founded on religious belief to be sure, but it is also a profoundly American principle founded on reason,” he continued. “Whenever a society asks its citizens to violate its own foundational principles – as well as their moral consciences – citizens have a right, indeed an obligation, to refuse.”
As an example of moral conscience, the bishop cited Bishop of Munster Gustave von Galen’s delivery of a 1941 homily condemning the Nazis’ murder of the mentally ill by euthanasia.
“My dear friends, I beg you not to be misled by confusion and lies,” Bishop Martino added. “Our Lord, Jesus Christ, does not ask us to follow him to Calvary only for us to be afraid of contradicting a few bystanders along the way. He does not ask us to take up his Cross only to have us leave it at the voting booth door.”
Noting Pope Benedict XVI’s comments that “God is so humble that he uses us to spread his Word,” the bishop said that Catholics are privileged to proclaim the “gospel of Life” which “resonates in the heart of every person – believer and non-believer – because it fulfills the heart’s most profound desire.”
“Let us with one voice continue to speak the language of love and affirm the right of every human being to have the value of his or her life, from conception to natural death, respected to the highest degree,” Bishop Martino concluded, exhorting his flock to pray the Rosary for “the strength and fortitude to uphold the truths of our faith and the requirements of our law to all who deny them.”