Pro-Life Leaders Meet in Washington
By Sherry Tyree
An extraordinary convocation of 400-plus American pro-life leaders was held at the Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law, Washington, DC, March 3-5, 1999.
The event, titled "In God's Image: Called to Build a Culture of Life", was convened by Cardinal John O'Connor of New York and Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Committee for Pro-Life Activities of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), and the Columbus School of Law.
Among the delegates from leading pro-life organizations were two Women for Faith and Family representatives, vice-president, Sherry Tyree, and Pat Feighan, president of WFF's Cleveland chapter.
Cardinal O'Connor remarked that he had "never experienced an event of this sort" -- and it was unusual. But those who attend Women for Faith & Family's annual conferences would have been gratified to recognize 10 former WFF conference speakers at this convocation, either as speakers (Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Archbishop Elden Curtiss, of Omaha, Mary Meaney Haynes, and Rita Marker); or as delegates (Mary Ellen Bork, Dolores Grier, Gerri Laird, Mary Shivanandan, Michael Schwartz and Kenneth Whitehead).
Several other prelates addressed the gathering: Cardinal James Hickey of Washington, DC, Cardinal William Keeler, Baltimore, current chairman of the NCCB's Committee for Pro-Life Activities; Cardinal Francis George, Chicago; and Bishop James T. McHugh, coadjutor bishop of Rockville Centre.
Opening the three-day event, Gail Quinn, executive director of the NCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities welcomed the participants, as did Bernard Dobranski, dean of the Columbus School of Law, and Father David M. O'Connell, CM, president of the Catholic University of America.
Greetings from His Holiness John Paul II were read by Cardinal Keeler and later made available to participants.
Cardinal Lopez Trujillo was presented the CUA "President's Medal" by Father O'Connell.
Building a Culture of Life
Cardinal O'Connor gave the keynote address, "Building a Culture of Life". Speaking about the loneliness of pro-life work and the temptations to discouragement, Cardinal O'Connor told his listeners that some years ago, when he was most discouraged, he established the Sisters of Life religious community, which is devoted to helping women and their children. Since that time in 1984, many thousands have been served through the actions and prayers of these nuns. The order has grown to about 47 today.
"Get the TV Out"
Film critic Michael Medved made an impassioned plea for less television in people's lives. Remarking that the average American will spend more time in front of the TV than working, Medved declared that TV is dangerous, subversive and anti-family in three principle ways: It influences people to be impatient, superficial and pessimistic.
Medved explained that the constant images, plus the multiplicity of channels now available has created an audience, adults and children both, unwilling to be bored. TV can influence people to be content with superficiality, and content with the distractions of "fun". The passive habit of watching can leave us feeling shallow and, in the end, unhappy, Medved said.
A creeping pessimism is created, Medved commented, by the"whining" on television political shows, and the conflict and dysfunction inherent in soap opera drama, as well as the "bad news" news.
His advice: get the television set out of everyone's bedrooms, and decide in advance which shows and how much television the family will watch each week in order to cut back. (Mr. Medved's book Saving Childhood: The National Assault on Innocence contains even more information on this subject.)
Feminism Demands Abortion-on-Demand
"Abortion, Women and the Women's Movement" was the title of the talk given by Emory University humanities professor, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, a former feminist activist and recent convert to Catholicism. She told of a colleague who expressed sorrow for an abortion she'd had years before. A non-believer, the woman found that abortion "had violated an essential aspect of her own being", and credited feminism with providing a blueprint for a life that failed.
Professsor Fox-Genovese, who founded the Institute for Women's Studies at Emory, observed that "like the stone crosses that once stood at crossroads, abortion marks the convergence of the most portentious social, political, and moral questions of our time.... Just as the questions converge in abortion, the answers to them diverge, leading respectively, in the words of the Holy Father, to the culture of life or the culture of death."
The women's movement defends abortion on demand as the cornerstone of women's freedom and equality and rejects any limitation of it as an abridgement of women's rights.... Abortion ranks as the movement's one non-negotiable demand.
Recent polls, she said, offer hope "that young women are beginning to rethink the feminist commitment to sexual equality." They are realizing that "abortion makes a mockery of personhood by licensing one person to dispose of another." One of "the great challenges", she said, is "to meet the needs of single mothers without encouraging the further erosion of marriage."
Sex and Youth
Patricia Funderburk Ware addressed "The Sexual Revolution: Its Impact on Today's Youth". An expert in teen sexuality, pregnancy and HIV/AIDS prevention, Mrs. Ware showed statistics of health risks in both the black and white populations, and said that when teens are asked why they abstain from sex, 44% responded "religious and moral beliefs" -- far outnumbering other reasons given, such ask not having met the right person, and wanting to avoid sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy.
The best abstinence program, in Mrs. Ware's opinion is "Best Friends", originated by Elaine Bennett. The teens are asked to become role models (including those who have made mistakes), and they are offered something else they can say 'yes' to."
Panel on International Family Planning
Four people who have been providing the truth about world population demographics presented their findings at a panel discussion.
Jean le, who served as director of the Population Research Council (1989-1995), has done extensive research, writing and speaking on issues related to UN conferences from 1992 to the present.
She spoke about the official U.S. stance on world population issues and the work of the Rockefeller and Ford foundations. She stressed the unanimity of those who are aggressively working to control global population growth to attempt to change the laws and constitutions of nations by using misleading information.
Stephen Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, became in 1979 the first American social scientist to live in rural China. His firsthand reports and then his best selling book, A Mother's Ordeal: One Woman's Fight Against China's One-Child Policy brought China's coercive population policy to world attention .
Mosher said that the world is not overpopulated, that the world is facing a problem with under-population and that it is necessary and possible to change international UN legislation to reflect the truth. He called on Catholics to be proud of the Church's teachings on human sexuality. "It is", he said, "a teaching which works on all levels."
Mary Meaney Haynes recounted an experience, when she was in Africa, of finding a sick woman by the side of the road whom she took to a nearby town for help. The local doctor was drunk and the pharmacy was empty - except for 75,000 condoms provided by USAID.
Mrs. Haynes, who addressed a WFF conference in 1997, was a press representative at both the 1995 UN Conference on Women in Beijing and the UN Conference on Habitats in Istanbul, and attended the recent conference at the Hague. She stressed the manipulation of the truth and the anti-Catholic bias at these UN meetings. When third-world delegates join forces with representatives of pro-life NGOs on common concerns, the animosity of the population control advocates increases, she said.
Dr. Robert Walley, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Memorial University at Newfoundland, spoke of MaterCare International, an organization of obstetricians, gynecologists, general practitioners and midwives dedicated to improving worldwide maternal mortality rates that he founded in 1995. He pointed out that the shocking maternal morbidity rates in the developing world are not a political priority of either the first or third world governments, and accused the West of "culpable neglect".
Dr. Walley, who spends much of his time in Africa training medical personnel, hopes that MaterCare will be organized in the U.S. as it has been in the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland and Ghana.
Life and Death Issues
In his address,"Death and Dying: the Catholic Vision", Cardinal Law, former chairman of the NCCB Pro-Life Committee, introduced the topics of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Because of Christ, he said, death has a positive meaning. The Christian has already "died" at baptism and risen to live in Christ. Death, then is not the ultimate evil. Sickness, suffering and death have meaning because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Cardinal Law stressed the importance of morally sound treatment of pain, adequate funding for nursing homes, home-health and hospice care so that the seriously ill can receive compassionate support. Parish communities should help patients deal with fears of death and dying. The grace of confession can help alleviate anxieties, he said.
Rita Marker, executive director of the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force and author of Deadly Compassion (1993) explained the laws of several countries in giving an overview of the past 50 years of euthanasia advocacy.
Mrs. Marker, a practicing attorney, said that to date there is only one place in the world where assisted suicide is legal: Oregon. There, it is now considered to be a medical prescription: "Take all pills with alcohol and light snack to induce death". All this is paid for by the Oregon Medicaid Program, under the ghoulish term "comfort care". There are no penalties for a physician who does not report "assisting" a suicide, she said. She predicted that the smaller New England states and Hawaii may be next to legalize assisted suicide.
Dr. Eric Chevlen, a specialist in oncology/pain management, has publicly opposed euthanasia for over a decade. He was an expert witness for the prosecution in the People vs. Kevorkian in 1996.
Dr. Chevlen pointed out that the ethical responsibility of the physician is to recognize the intrinsic dignity of the patient. When the doctor gives in to demands for ending patient's lives he loses sight of that intrinsic dignity and corrupts himself in the process.
Dr. Walter Hunter, an expert on palliative care and physician assisted suicide [PAS], gave a brief history of hospice care and the different sorts of pain -- psychological-emotional, social and spiritual as well as physical. He explained that inadequate pain management (one of the reasons people become desperate enough to consider suicide) is often due to fears of addiction, respiratory depression, loss of effectiveness and regulatory hassles. He said that the patient who needs alleviation of psycho-social problems, control of his pain symptoms and consultation with appropriate experts needs not just sympathy, but empathy.
Dr. Hunter is a member of the Project Life organization in the Archdiocese of Detroit, and the associate national medical director and director of education and professional development for Vista Care.
Family Planning Crisis: A Catholic Response
A panel discussion on reproductive technologies was moderated by Bishop McHugh. Dr. Hanna Klaus, author of Fertility Crisis: Causes and Responses, and Father Kevin Fitzgerald, SJ, author of The Brave New World of Reproductive Technologies, were presenters.
Dr. Klaus, a Medical Missions sister (Sister Miriam Paul), said that 8% of couples per year worldwide see doctors about infertility. Avoidable causes of infertility include multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted diseases, endometriosis, and aging of the cervix accelerated by use of contraceptive hormones, as well as "lifestyle" choices which include smoking, alcohol and previous septic abortions. Technological solutions to infertility are immensely costly and not very effective.
Dr. Klaus said that natural family planning (NFP) offers women an understanding of their own fertility cycle. "Both current types of natural family planning (sympto-thermal, and the ovulation methods) are effective", she said, and as good as any technological method available today.
Father Fitzgerald highlighted how reproductive technologies challenge Catholics, and how Catholics can challenge our culture to deal with the ethics of these technological changes.
These reproductive technologies include sperm selection, which is being misused for purposes like sex-selection of children; somatic cell transfer, which takes the nucleus of one individual cell and puts its contents into another emptied of its own nucleus, and cloning. In his opinion, valid use of this type of genetic engineering would be to cure certain diseases. He believes there are morally acceptable technologies that can be applied to hard-case infertility problems.
John Grabowski, associate professor of moral theology at The Catholic University of America, addressed ethical issues in technology to treat infertility from a Catholic perspective. He explained the Catholic moral underpinnings that guide such decisions. Echoing the words of the Holy Father, he reminded the audience that procreation is a form of co-creating, a renewal of the creation of the world.
He said that what Humanae Vitae didn't fully explain, Pope John Paul II's "theology of the body" does. An act that negates either the "procreative" or the "unitive" meaning of the sexual act negates both. The moral understanding that fertility is part of the existential, fundamental core of a person -- not simply another of his biological entities -- provides the basis for seeking answers to questions about infertility technology. Is the procedure an affront to the child conceived? Does it undermine the dignity of the persons involved?
Professor Grabowski stressed that it is necessary to have respect for the conjugal act as well as the understanding that children are a gift, not an entitlement, when one is considering the problems of infertiity.
"There are some things we can live without", said Grabowski, "if in the seizing of them we disfigure ourselves".
"The Tale of Three Encyclicals"
Dominican theologian, Father Augustine Di Noia, executive director of the NCCB Secretariats for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices, addressed the group on "Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics or The Tale of Three Encyclicals".
Father DiNoia wove together three recent encyclicals, Evangelium Vitae, Veritatis Splendor, and Fides et Ratio with three sacred events: the Annunciation, the Transfiguration and the Triumph of the Cross.
When Mary was told she had been chosen to be the Mother of God, she said, "I'm not ready." (We are never ready for the gifts of God!) God said, "I'll prepare you," and Mary said, "Yes." But some, he said, see God and man in competition. Modernity's argument is that the autonomous self has eclipsed God. Evangelium Vitae [The Gospel of Life], Father DiNoia said, teaches that the eclipse of God puts humanity in peril.
The second encyclical, Veritatis Splendor [The Splendor of Truth], which addressed core teachings of the Church most challenged by contemporary theologians, was signed on the Feast of the Transfiguration. Christ tells us that unless we become like Him, we will never find our true selves. Only the Son of God can say that. The less we are like Him, the less "ourselves" we will be.
The most recent of the three encyclicals, Fides et Ratio [Faith and Reason], develops themes in Veritatis Splendor, and bears upon public policy issues, as does the triumph of the Cross. Reason by itself never finds all there is to find. The mind rising to its highest level -- reason -- will meet faith.
Said Father DiNoia, "The culture of death feeds on the erosion of the consensus about moral truth -- the undifferentiated pluralism that has come along with democracy."
Father DiNoia noted that the Holy Father has lived under totalitarianism, so knows from personal experience that if truth doesn't undergird society, power will. Freedom must be connected to truth or it will be unintelligible. Unless we can persuade people to accept the Gospel of Life, the future will be controlled by power, not truth.
People of Life
Chicago's Cardinal George gave the closing address: "People of Life: Entering the New Millennium". He began by reminding us that disaster creates common bonds. We don't have to wish for disasters; they will find us because of the nature and intransigency of human sinfulness.
Our common bond, a solidarity in reaction to the Culture of Death, presupposes three bases, the Cardinal said: 1) living forever with God who is Love, a common destiny where we all will be asked if we betrayed life; 2) understanding our common nature, our ability to know the truth, an awareness of our capability to behave in a free manner, a willing of the good; 3) giving of ourselves to the common good of others.
We are to use our faith to work and change our culture, acknowledging that it is now the law that keeps our culture together. The law -- not the family, the schools or parents -- is currently the carrier of culture.
"Bear in mind," the cardinal said, "that a world culture is coming." When that happens the great religious faiths will carry the culture. So, we have to call ourselves -- and others -- to conversion. First by listening, second by speaking in the public forum and third by speaking in private, to our neighbor, all the while listening to the Holy Spirit.
Two fears inhibit us from this witness, he said. First, the notion that it is not polite to impose ourselves on others in public. But we need brave Catholics, he said, like the pastor of Saint Hedwig in Berlin, a priest who died in a cattle car on the way to Dachau because he spoke out against the Nazis.
The second fear is of being asked questions we cannot answer. We need to speak from the heart, he advised, with confidence that the Holy Spirit will prompt us. Pray and we will find the words to say.
Sherry Tyree is vice-president of Women for Faith & Family.
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