Little Rock, Ark., Jan 18, 2018 / 16:00 pm
Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock has said he will not attend the local March for Life because its keynote speaker opposed Catholic appeals for clemency for prisoners on death row.
The march's keynote speaker Attorney General Leslie Rutledge "has good anti-abortion credentials but otherwise is decidedly not an appropriate pro-life speaker," said Bishop Taylor's Jan. 17 letter, addressed to the people of the diocese. The bishop charged that Rutledge "worked tirelessly to secure the execution of four criminals who posed no further threat to society."
"You will recall that the Diocese of Little Rock was very vocal in appealing for clemency for these four men, but we were opposed at every turn by Attorney General Rutledge," the bishop continued. "For this reason, I asked Arkansas Right to Life to choose a more appropriate keynote speaker, indicating that I could not participate in what was supposed to be a pro-life event otherwise. But Arkansas Right to Life has refused to do so."
Bishop Taylor encouraged Catholics to attend one two Masses for Life to be held Jan. 21 at the Little Rock Cathedral.
Catholic bishops have always taken part in the march and have led prayers, though the event is organized by Arkansas Right to Life. Bishop Andrew J. McDonald of Little Rock, who retired in 2000 and passed away in 2014, supported the establishment of the local March for Life 40 years ago, the diocesan newspaper Arkansas Catholic reports.
Arkansas Right to Life sent CNA a Jan. 17 statement saying the march would go on as planned.
"Arkansas Right to Life is a single-issue organization dedicated to seeking protection for the lives of innocent unborn children," it said, voicing hope that everyone who shares its views will "support and attend the march, regardless of their views on other issues in which Arkansas Right to Life does not take a stand."
Bishop Taylor's letter said he looked forward to seeing as many people possible at the cathedral "as we pray for an end to abortion in this country and that all human life may be protected from the first moment of conception to natural death."
He said the Church teaches "a consistent ethic of life in which human life and human dignity must be protected from the first moment of conception to natural death and every stage in between."
"This means, among other things, that all lives have inherent God-given dignity. Even people who have been sentenced to death possess this dignity, which is why capital punishment must be abolished," he said.
At Little Rock's 2017 Mass for Life, Taylor wrote that "it is important for us to remember on this right to life weekend that the right to life is a seamless garment encompassing all of life, from the first moment of conception to natural death, and that any violation of human life and human dignity is contrary to our faith and must be actively opposed."
In 2013, he testified against the death penalty before Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee, saying "no one will be fully secure until we reject everything that threatens human life or degrades human dignity. Jesus' teaching about the sanctity of life is a seamless garment."
The term "seamless garment" was popularized by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, who advocated that abortion be treated as one issue among others which threaten the dignity of human life, including the treatment of immigrants and the elderly, the death penalty and nuclear proliferation.
Bernadin's view has sometimes been criticized for appearing to diverge from the teachings of Pope St. John Paul II, who said in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae that "among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable."
The state of Arkansas had initially planned to execute eight inmates before the end of April 2017. Three of the prisoners received stays of execution from the Arkansas Supreme Court, while one received a preliminary injunction from federal district court, the Death Penalty Information Center says.
In a March 1, 2017 letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Bishop Taylor had asked the governor to commute eight death sentences to life without parole.
"Though guilty of heinous crimes, these men nevertheless retain the God-given dignity of any human life, which must be respected and defended from conception to natural death," the bishop said.