Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2020 / 09:01 am
The "preeminence" of the right to life is the teaching of the Church, the U.S. bishops' pro-life chair stated ahead of October's observance as Respect Life Month.
"This past January, I shared with Pope Francis that the bishops of the United States had been criticized by some for identifying the protection of the unborn as a preeminent priority," Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas stated Sept. 24, as chair of the pro-life committee of the U.S. bishops' conference.
"The Holy Father expressed his support for our efforts observing that if we fail to protect life, no other rights matter," Archbishop Naumann said. "Pope Francis also said that abortion is not primarily a Catholic or even a religious issue, it is first and foremost a human rights issue.
October is observed as Respect Life Month by the USCCB, with Oct. 4 being "Respect Life Sunday." The initiative emphasizes "building a culture that cherishes every human life."
The USCCB is also inviting parishes to join the "Walking With Moms in Need" initiative to help pregnant women facing difficult or unexpected pregnancies.
At their fall 2019 meeting, the U.S. bishops approved a draft letter stating that the issue of abortion is "our preeminent priority"; the letter accompanies their voting document "Faithful Citizenship" ahead of the 2020 elections.
The issue is "preeminent," the USCCB said, "because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed."
This stance does not minimize other issues such as racism or protecting the environment, Naumann said, citing the letter, but rather is a stand "to protect the most fundamental of all human rights – the right to live."
The bishops' approval of the draft letter was not without controversy, as Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego intervened in the discussion preceding the vote; he challenged the use of the word "preeminent" to describe the concern of abortion, saying that "it is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world."
Archbishop Charles Chaput, now the archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia, stated his opposition to that line of thinking, saying that it "sets up an artificial battle between the bishops' conference of the United States and the Holy Father, which isn't true."
In January 2020, Archbishop Naumann told Catholic News Service that he discussed the importance of the issue with Pope Francis during his ad limina visit, and that Pope Francis agreed that the issue was a preeminent one and a human rights concern.
Naumann also noted in his statement that this year marks the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium vitae, on the value and inviolability of human life.
The encyclical was a "masterfully articulated defense of the right to life for children in their mothers' wombs, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and the marginalized," he said, and it "provides a blueprint for building a culture of life and civilization of love."
He called on Catholics to take to heart the teachings of the Gospel and put them into action during Respect Life Month.
"The important work of transforming our culture begins by allowing the Gospel of Christ to touch and transform our own hearts and the decisions we make," he said. "Through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, may Our Lord grant us the grace to live courageously and faithfully his Gospel of life."