DENVER — On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver said his exposure to abortion as a hospital orderly still haunts him and prompts him to urge penitence and pro-life action.
“Today is a day to repent,” Archbishop Aquila said in his Jan. 22 letter “40 Years of the Culture of Death.”
He said that the 40 years since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide have “given the culture of death a firm footing and foundation in our nation.”
“The 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade is a day to commit to a culture of life,” he urged. “Today the Lord is calling us to stand up.”
Archbishop Aquila’s letter began with a grim story of his experiences with two abortions.
“I witnessed the death of two small people who never had the chance to take a breath. I can never forget that,” he said. “I learned what human dignity was when I saw it callously disregarded. I know, without a doubt, that abortion is a violent act of murder and exploitation. And I know that our responsibility is to work and pray without ceasing for its end.”
The archbishop said he had arrived at college in 1968 intending to become a doctor at a time when he was not consistently practicing his faith. He spent his first three summers of college as a hospital orderly in California, where laws had begun to protect abortion.
His first encounter with the procedure was in an outer room of a hospital’s surgical unit, where he was “stunned” when he found in the sink the body of “a small unborn child who had been aborted.”
His second exposure to abortion, however, was “more shocking.”
He recalled how a young woman came into the emergency room screaming, saying she had had an abortion already and the doctor had told her she would pass the remains naturally. She was bleeding, and the medical staff, including the future Archbishop Aquila, put her on the table.
“I held a basin as the doctor retrieved a tiny arm, a tiny leg and then the rest of the broken body of a tiny unborn child,” Archbishop Aquila said. “I was shocked. I was saddened for the mother and child, for the doctor and the nurse.”
“I witnessed a tiny human being destroyed by violence,” he said. The experience made him pro-life, and he eventually returned to his Catholic faith.
Need for Repentance
In his pastoral letter, Archbishop Aquila reflected on sin and repentance. He asked for forgiveness for the doctors, nurses, politicians and others who “ardently” support abortion, urging that Catholics pray for their conversion.
“We must also recognize our sinfulness,” he said. “When we survey the damage abortion has caused in our culture, we must repent for our sins of omission.”
He said some Christians have supported pro-choice politicians or have failed to “change minds or win hearts.”
“In the prospect of unspeakable evil, we’ve done too little, for too long, with tragic results,” he said.
“Today many Catholics seem to believe that, while abortion is unfortunate, it is not always a moral evil. Secular arguments to justify abortion abound,” he lamented.
“Catholic political leaders who claim that they can separate the truths of faith from their political lives are choosing to separate themselves from truth, from Christ and from the communion of the Catholic Church,” he added.
In contrast, he praised Catholic political leaders who try to develop “new and creative ways to end the legal protection for abortion.”
Energy Toward a Culture of Life
“All of us must put our energy and effort into ending the legal protection for abortion. It is, and must be, the primary political objective of American Catholics. It is difficult to imagine any political issue with the same significance as the sanctioned killing of children,” he said.
The archbishop acknowledged the difficulties of pregnancy, saying the Church should respond to women who have had abortions with “compassion, solidarity and mercy.”
“The fathers and mothers of aborted children are beloved by God and in need of the mercy and healing of Jesus Christ,” he said.
He nonetheless emphasized that the right to life is “inviolable” and taught in Scripture, sacred Tradition and the natural moral law.
“The Church believes that life is a God-given right and a gift. Our very being is an expression of the love God has for us — the Lord literally loves us into existence, and his love speaks to the worth of the human person. We take the gift of life seriously because each human being is a unique creation of God the Father.”
This gift of life is enriched because Jesus Christ “chose to live among us as a human being.”
Archbishop Aquila called for the creation of a “culture of life” that “celebrates the Divine gift of life” to the disabled, the unborn and the aged. This culture must start with charity, beginning in the family, but also advancing through works of mercy and social justice.
“A true culture of life is infectious,” he said. “The joy which comes from living in gratitude for the gift of life — and treating all life as gift — effects change. When Christians begin to live with real regard for human dignity, our nation will awaken to the tragedy of abortion, and she will begin to change.”
The archbishop also reminded Catholics of the power of prayer and sacrifice, saying this will “transform hearts and renew minds.”
“In prayer, we entrust our nation to Jesus Christ,” he said. “In doing so, we can be assured of his victory.”