Church leaders in the United States offered prayers for the late Nelson Mandela, remembering both his courageous anti-apartheid leadership and his promotion of one of the world’s most liberal abortion laws.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, called Mandela “a hero to the world.”
“His bravery in defending human rights against the great evil of apartheid made him a symbol of courage and dignity, as well as an inspiration to people everywhere.”
He noted that Bl. John Paul II, in his visit to South Africa, called Mandela “a silent and suffering ‘witness’” of his people’s “yearning for true liberation.” The Pope had said Mandela had to “shoulder the burden of inspiring and challenging everyone to succeed in the task of national reconciliation and reconstruction.”
Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services, said the U.S.-based international relief agency mourns Mandela’s passing, calling him “a champion in the struggle for justice and equality for all.”
“His life inspires all of us to re-dedicate ourselves to helping the oppressed find their voice and their way to lives of meaning and dignity. His personal example of forgiveness and non-violence will challenge us to work for peace and reconciliation even in the midst of deep conflict.”
Mandela, who served as South Africa’s president from 1994 to 1999, died Dec. 5 at the age of 95 of a lung infection. The former prisoner won world recognition for opposing the oppressive racial segregation of the South African government’s apartheid policy.
Mandela had been a campaigner against apartheid since 1952, when he organized protests across South Africa against the policy. He was arrested on treason charges in 1956, and acquitted after a five-year trial. He then secretly sought help from other African nations and in England.
After the South African government banned the party in 1960, the movement against apartheid became an armed struggle led by Mandela. In 1962 he was sentenced to five years in jail for inciting a strike and for leaving the country without a passport. Additional charges of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government in 1964 led to a sentence of 27 years behind bars.
Mandela’s then-wife Winnie and other campaigners worked to end apartheid and secure his freedom, helping transform him into an icon of human rights. He was released in 1990. In 1993, he won the Nobel Peace Prize with white South African president F. W. De Klerk, who also worked to end apartheid.
Political violence killed over 4,000 people ahead of the country’s first post-apartheid elections in 1994, when South Africa’s black population voted overwhelmingly for Mandela. Upon his election as president, Mandela worked to help reconcile white and black South Africans.
However, pro-life advocates also noted a dark side to Mandela’s legacy, observing the key role he played in pushing for abortion in the country.
“In 1996, Mandela signed into law the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Bill, which permits abortion on demand,” John Smeaton, director of Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, noted in a Dec. 6 post.
He warned against the temptation to become “swept away by personality cults,” saying that Catholics must “stand up to public figures with anti-life and anti-family records,” to defend these fundamental and foundational rights.
Mandela signed the 1996 Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Bill, which the New York Times said at the time “replace(d) one of the world's toughest abortion laws with one of the most liberal.” The law granted state-financed abortion on demand up to the 12th week; abortion on demand to the 20th week; and abortion for “serious medical reasons” until birth.
The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion group, wrote in 2000 that in South Africa, “the liberalization of abortion became possible only after the 1994 elections” which made Mandela president and ended apartheid.
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