National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Cardinal O’Connor: Proud to Be a ‘Single Issue’ Bishop

BY Joseph Esposito

May 3-9, 1998 Issue | Posted 5/3/98 at 1:00 PM

 

Prelate and others herald efforts of A Woman's Choice

FALLS CHURCH, Va.—Referring to his strong pro—life advocacy, Cardinal John O‘Connor of New York told an audience here April 22: “I have been called a single issue bishop. I accept the accusation and am happy to do so.”

Despite the great importance of social justice, education, and health, he added, “I proudly call that single issue, human life.”

The cardinal joined Sen. Robert Smith (RN.H.) and Mary Ellen Bork in addressing 450 supporters of A Woman's Choice, a non—profit crisis pregnancy center. The center serves a diverse northern Virginia community with pregnancy testing, counseling, and material assistance. More than 10,000 women have been helped since the center opened in 1986.

“I am tremendously busy. I have a big, complex archdiocese and can't comment on the number of invitations I receive. But when I received this invitation from AWoman's Choice, I considered it a privilege to come,” Cardinal O‘Connor told the Register. “I canceled things to come. As far as I am concerned, what this organization does is infinitely more important than what speeches we make. God alone knows how many lives they have saved and the courage they have given to young people.”

In his speech he emphasized the valuable work being done in such centers around the country. “You are saving the very notion of life itself. You remind people of the very meaning of life,” he said.

He also emphasized the ripple effect of saving unborn children. “You save one human life,” he stressed, “and God knows what impact that might have.”

Although much of his talk focused on the work of the center and its volunteers, he also asked pointed questions about modern American society.

“What is this fierce hostility to human life which has developed in our land? Attorney General Janet Reno has said, 'The whole purpose of the law is to value human life.’ In this culture of death are we actualizing those words?” he asked.

Pro—life activities have been a cornerstone of his episcopacy. He cited two initiatives he has undertaken to strengthen the pro—life movement. One is a campaign he launched in 1984 in which the Archdiocese of New York supports—without reservation—any pregnant woman who needs medical, legal, or financial assistance to have a child. The program, known as the Catholic Home Bureau, has helped thousands, according to the cardinal.

He also mentioned the Sisters of Life, a contemplative and apostolic religious order, with three convents in New York. The cardinal added that the Sisters of Life are praying for unborn children, their mothers, and for those volunteers who are on the front line of the battle for human life. Praying for those in the pro—life movement is important because “you have to wonder at times if anyone is listening, if anyone cares,” he said.

The cardinal also spoke movingly about his work with handicapped children, including those with Down's syndrome. Drawing a parallel with an old woman considered expendable in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, he expressed concern about how “all become vulnerable in a culture of death.”

Smith, who has a perfect pro—life voting record during his entire 13 years in Congress, extolled the crowd for “doing work which you wouldn't have to do if those of us in government were doing the work we should be doing and reversing Roe v. Wade. He expressed disappointment over the lack of interest in the pro—life issue among many of his colleagues. Referring to the Republican party, he said, “If you have a pro—life plank, then support it, don't walk away from it.”

He urged the audience to put pressure on their senators to secure the remaining three Senate votes needed to override President Clinton's veto of the partial birth abortion bill. He expressed confidence that the override will eventually occur and added, “I swear to you we will one day overturn Roe v. Wade.”

And, he stressed, the reason is simple: “When issues like this are not dealt with at the political level, it will be dealt with at the people level.”

Smith, who has been traveling widely around the country carrying a pro—life message, has been mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2000. He introduced legislation in 1995 to ban partial—birth abortions. He also played a key role in efforts to stop federal funding of human embryo research and led the successful fight to end federal funding of abortions by preserving the Hyde Amendment from attack by pro—abortion forces.

Bork, a lecturer, writer, and Register columnist, is well known and respected in the Washington, D.C. area, where she resides. In her remarks she commended the volunteers who counsel women at the center and who “make a difference every day.” Bork echoed Cardinal O‘Connor's comments in emphasizing the importance of helping women in crisis as well as unborn babies.

This dinner was the first major fundraising effort for the center. Although the Knights of Columbus in northern Virginia took a lead role in organizing the dinner, 16 other local organizations and individuals sponsored it. It was well attended by priests from the Diocese of Arlington, and a closing prayer was given by Archbishop Edwin O‘Brien of the Military Services archdiocese.

A Woman's Choice provides free assistance to about 850 women a year. More than two—thirds of those are unmarried and most are in their 20s. According to Executive Director Edel Finnegan, more than 45% of those who seek the center's assistance have been referred by previous clients. In addition to helping with the costs of pregnancy and child care, the center also encourages chastity among unmarried couples.

Joseph Esposito writes from Springfield, Virginia.