“Before I Formed You In The Womb I Knew You”...

Archbishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone

These words from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah speak profoundly and movingly to the great love and purpose for which God brings each one of us into the world from the first moment of our existence. Sadly, though, in today’s “throw-away culture”?—??as Pope Francis so vividly refers to it?—?the dignity of each and every human person is not accorded the value inherent to it. In a culture that values profit, power, prestige, and pleasure over all else, many people end up being victims of this throw-away culture, from struggling immigrants and working poor to the elderly and physically challenged. This throw-away mindset also fuels the serious damage inflicted on the environment, which especially adversely impacts the poor. But when it is an innocent human being’s very existence?—?a moral absolute?—?that is thrown away, it is a sign that a society has truly become severely disordered. Such is the plight of the unborn and the state of our society.

In 2023 our nation will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the infamous Roe decision. Generations of Americans have now grown up not knowing what it is like to live in a country that values and protects the lives of the smallest, most defenseless and vulnerable members of its society. Fifty years, over 60,000,000 deaths, and many more millions of scarred lives later, it is time for a frank and honest reassessment. Abortion not only kills the child, it deeply wounds the woman. How could it not? The maternal instinct is very powerful: a mother will go to great lengths to protect her child. Indeed, how often have those of us in Church ministry heard the lament from post-abortive women, “I didn’t want to go through with it, but I felt like I had no choice”? This lament exposes the lie of the “pro-choice” slogan.

This is especially a time for us Catholics, whose faith calls us to advocate for the universal good of a consistent ethic of life, in every stage and in every condition, to call our country back to respect for human life. And this is especially so for Catholics who are prominent in all walks of public life?—?entertainment, media, politics, education, the corporate world, and so forth?—?as they have such a powerful influence on shaping the attitudes and practices of people in our nation.

Abortion is the axe laid to the roots of the tree of human rights: when our culture encourages the violation of life at its youngest and most vulnerable condition, other ethical norms cannot stand for long. In this pastoral letter, then, I would like to address four topics: the necessity for Catholics and all people of good will to understand how gravely evil abortion is; how to avoid sinful cooperation in this evil; how these principles apply to the question of Catholics and the reception of Holy Communion; and the special responsibility that Catholics prominent in public life have with regard to the common good. The letter is thus structured in four sections, corresponding to each of these four considerations. I begin with principles of law and science because abortion is not a “Christian” or “Catholic” issue: the dignity of the human person is a value that is, or should be, affirmed by us all.

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