January 22, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

Respect for human dignity requires legal protection for the unborn

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

The publication date for this column is Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. In our country, the Church observes this date as a time when we offer special prayers for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life and of penance for violence committed against unborn children through abortion. In addition to prayer and penance, this day serves as a reminder that each of us has a responsibility to advocate for an end to permissive legislation here in Indiana and throughout our country.

Legal protection for all human life is essential to a just and free society. Without it, chaos reigns and no one is protected against acts of lawless violence. This principle includes abolition of the death penalty, protection for migrants and displaced (or homeless) persons, respect for the rights of minorities, and safeguarding the human rights of all persons, including those with whom we disagree.

Catholics join with other religious traditions, and with others who share our commitment to the fundamental value of human dignity, in placing particular emphasis on legal protection for the unborn.

Each child is made in God’s image and is loved by all who understand and respect the dignity of human life. A child in his or her mother’s womb is completely defenseless, requiring maximum protection and care.

Society has an obligation to safeguard unborn human beings, and to provide women who are in difficult pregnancies with alternatives that respect their rights and dignity without violating each child’s right to life.

In recent years, we have witnessed a disturbing increase in incidents of hatred and violence against members of our own communities. The social unrest and economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have aggravated this trend, but as Pope Francis has observed, these sinful tendencies are not new to us. The pandemic has accelerated the growth and intensity of many social sins (including racism and other forms of bigotry and intolerance), but these evils are always present in human society.

That’s why it so important to be vigilant in prayer and personal conversion. It’s also why we must advocate for, and work to achieve, legal protection for all human persons, especially the most vulnerable.

In “We Are One in Christ: A Pastoral Letter on Fundamentals of Christian Anthropology,” published on Feb. 14, 2018, I wrote: “No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies.” Such behavior will cease only through the virtues of justice and charity that find in every human being—regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, social or economic status, or sexual orientation—a neighbor, a sister or brother in Christ.

On this special day of prayer for the legal protection of our unborn, we apply the most fundamental principles of justice and charity to the most vulnerable members of our Church and our society. We extend the tender love and compassion of God to all women who have had abortions in the past, and we solemnly promise to do everything in our power to help those who may be considering abortion in the future.

Pope Francis has proclaimed 2021 as the Year of St. Joseph. This great saint, the guardian of our Redeemer, should inspire all of us to work for the protection and care of all children, born and unborn.

As Pope Francis writes in his apostolic letter, “Patris Corde” (“With a father’s heart”), “Joseph is certainly not passively resigned, but courageously and firmly proactive. In our own lives, acceptance and welcome can be an expression of the Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude. Only the Lord can give us the strength needed to accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations and disappointments” (#4).

Working for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life for all unborn children requires the courage of our convictions. It also demands that we seek and accept the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is absolutely necessary if we hope to resist the powerful cultural influences that support and defend the status quo.

Let’s turn to St. Joseph to guide us in the protection and care of all our children. Let’s ask him to help us open our minds and hearts to the wisdom and strength of the Holy Spirit and, so become courageous and outspoken advocates for the legal protection of our most vulnerable sisters and brothers. And let’s pray, in the words of Pope Francis:

Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father 
and guide us in the path of life. 
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage, 
and defend us from every evil. Amen.

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