The Church in the US observes October as Respect Life Month, highlighting the teaching of St. John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical on the value and inviolability of human life, Evangelium vitae.
Bishop Hanefeldt offered his statement “regarding this challenge to live the Gospel of Life” because of “the great unrest in our society in these days.”
“There are many challenges to the dignity of the human person in our society today … Violence seems to be the common answer for everything: the violence of abortion, the violence of human trafficking, violence against immigrants, the violence of racism, the violence of suicide and assisted suicide, the violence of rioting and the destruction of property, the violence of Planned Parenthood selling aborted fetal body parts for profit, violence from those who will not tolerate the freedom of religion. Living the Gospel of Life challenges us to present a different way of living to our violent, broken world.”
To live consistently the gospel of life “requires a deeper conversion, beginning within our own hearts. We must repent of any disregard we may have had for the dignity of others. We must adhere to the gospel of life at all times,” he emphasized.
“We must advocate for the dignity of the human person in the culture in which we live, whenever it is violated. This advocacy takes place when we get involved. It happens when we step up to offer our own talents and resources for the poor, the homeless, the marginalized, the immigrant, the weak and defenseless, and the unborn. This advocacy fosters the good ordering of society,” he taught.
While “no violation of human dignity can be disregarded … Catholics must know that not all issues are weighted equally,” he said.
One must follow one's conscience, “but our consciences must be properly formed. Setting aside the wisdom of the Church’s teachings cannot simply be claimed as a matter of personal conscience.”
The bishop noted that he and his fellows in the American episcopate wrote in their new introductory letter to Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship that “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed. At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”
He said that “Recently, there has been some objection to this language that 'abortion remains our preeminent priority,' arguing that it places too much emphasis on this one particular issue. My response to this objection is this: While Catholics debate where abortion should be ranked in the hierarchy of issues, there is NO dispute among those who oppose God’s design for marriage and family life. Abortion is THE preeminent non-negotiable issue for those in this country who are attacking traditional family values. If you do not think it should be the Church’s preeminent priority, watch what proponents of abortion on demand will do to ensure that this evil never goes away!”
The legalization of abortion is “an unspeakable offense against the 'Lord and giver of life,' yet we have grown numb to the magnitude of this evil,” Bishop Hanefeldt lamented.
He added that “abortion is so essential to the agenda of those who oppose traditional family values that they force taxpayers to pay for this evil act, which is an affront to their religious liberty. This is anything but the just ordering of society!”
The bishop affirmed that “Our world is suffering from so many evils. Our salvation is in Jesus Christ and not in politics, yet as citizens we must participate in the political process.”
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“Forces in opposition to traditional family values have one unrelenting goal that will not be compromised. Legalized abortion is bringing about the fall of this nation! Far from being ‘one nation under God,’ we have become a nation in chaos. In this time of chastisement, let us live the gospel of life by entering into fasting and prayer, doing penance for God’s mercy upon this land!”
Bishop Hanefeldt concluded: “If you are tired of the abortion debate, its supporters are not! Evil triumphs while we argue about moral exigency.”
“Turn off the blogs, the social media, the news and Twitter,” he exhorted. “Instead, as a Church and as a nation, let us get on our knees and pray for God’s mercy to save our souls, guilty of the tragic disregard for his sovereignty and the sanctity of human life, made in his image and likeness!”
Bishop Hanefeldt has company among the US bishops in emphasizing the preeminence of the right to life in recent weeks.
Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chair of the US bishops’ pro-life committee, made the same observation last month, and Bishop Alfred Schlert of Allentown wrote in a Sept. 9 pastoral letter that “a Catholic voter is to approach the ballot box with the defense of innocent human life uppermost in his/her mind and conscience,” and that Catholic voters should consider whether their vote would constitute cooperation “with a candidate’s promotion of the grave sins of abortion and euthanasia.”