National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

New Washington Foundation Works to Promote Culture of Life

Founder says multi-faceted Web site 'fills void'in life debate

BY Joseph Esposito

August 16-22, 1998 Issue | Posted 8/16/98 at 1:00 PM

 

WASHINGTON—In the heart of the nation's capital, a new organization is emerging as an important catalyst for the pro-life movement. Appropriately named The Culture of Life Foundation, this nonprofit is quietly, but forcefully, disseminating information on all aspects of pro-life activity.

According to its mission statement, the foundation will “provide leadership, factual research, and financial resources to promote a universal commitment to protect and nurture all human life from conception until natural death.”

Although established last year, the Foundation only began functioning in early 1998. Since then it has collected various studies on life-related issues, cosponsored a conference in Rome, and initiated a well-received internet Web site. Much of the distribution of information will be through one of its projects, The Culture of Life Research and Communications Institute.

The Web site was inaugurated in June, but already it has become one of the most popular on the Alta Vista search engine. Accordingly to Robert Best, the foundation's cofounder and president, the Web page was the 42nd most active site less than two weeks after its launch.

The Web site was inaugurated in June, but already it has become one of the most popular on the Alta Vista search engine.

This type of early success is exactly what Best had hoped to achieve. The Web site, he says, “was established to ‘fill a void’ in the life issues debate” with solid scientific and medical data. He believes that by distributing this information, the foundation can make an important contribution to the pro-life movement.

“We want to be a humble service organization. We want to be a catalyst to bring people the truth about human life. Through collaboration, we hope to be a unifying force,” he said.

At the heart of the effort, he stresses, is this commitment to the truth. Best, a devout Catholic, has taken his guidance from Pope John Paul II's call for a deeper love for human life. The foundation also has placed considerable emphasis on Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's landmark 1968 encyclical on human life.

Keith Fournier, president of the Catholic Alliance and one of the foundation's board members, told the Register, “I believe the Culture of Life Foundation is a direct result of the call from the Holy Father for the New Evangelization.

“It's also a great example for all of us who seek to be faithful to the Church and to use fully the resources of the current age to promote the ‘Springtime’ which the Pope has proclaimed,” he added.

Still, the organization is not designed to solely benefit Catholics. The Web site, for instance, contains statements from the Lutherans for Life on abortion, Presbyterians Pro-Life on sexuality, and comments from other religious groups.

The organization works in a Judeo-Christian framework, and Best notes that it “seeks to collaborate with all people who affirm the sacredness of truth.”

These people of faith have the opportunity to read Web site studies, essays, speeches, and books, reviews related to 16 different areas. They are abortion, abortion alternatives, cloning, contraception, culture of death, culture of life, euthanasia, fetal experimentation, homosexuality, infertility, natural family planning, natural law, population, religion and health, sterilization, and sex education.

Most of the categories are preceded by a helpful listing of bullet points, known as “principal findings,” which highlight the issues involved. Other offerings in each category then provide discussions relating to various aspects of the topic.

On fetal experimentation, for example, noted scholar Dr. William May of the John Paul II Institute, Washington, D.C., has two essays. One is a discussion of the 1987 papal document Donum Vitae and its teaching on recent in vitro fertilization. The other is an overview treatment of medical technology, law, and ethics. Also included in this grouping is a lengthy excerpt from a Tennessee court case which deals with when life begins.

The section on sex education includes the “Statement to Youth on School-Based Clinics,” issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in March 1998. Also presented is the July 22 pastoral letter on Humanae Vitae from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver.

Homosexuality is discussed in 17 articles and essays. Another important area, human cloning, is addressed by a statement from Paul Bryne, president of the Catholic Medical Association.

One of the foundation's scientific and medical advisory committee members, Dr. William Hogan, is especially interested in the work disseminated on contraceptives. “I believe the subsoil of abortion is contraception,” he said, and argues that the more people know about the deleterious effects of contraceptives, the more they will help themselves.

Such information includes studies on the link between contraceptives and breast cancer, and the lower divorce rates and stronger families among those who shun contraceptives. One study he cited shows that married couples who do not use artificial contraception have only a 2% divorce rate.

As Hogan's comments indicate, some of the issues tackled by the foundation involve scientific, medical, economic, and sociological issues. One impressive example of a study which is more related to social science themes is “Why Religion Matters: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability” by Patrick Fagan of The Heritage Foundation.

Although not a scientific or medical discussion, this study contains a typical ingredient of these Web site entries. It weaves together solid research and commentary to give readers an opportunity to broaden their knowledge of specific problems.

In his conclusion, Fagan notes, “The available evidence clearly demonstrates that religions practice is both an individual and social good. It is a powerful answer to many of our most significant social problems, some of which, including out of wedlock births, have reached catastrophic proportions. Furthermore, it is available to all, and at no cost.”

Fagan is a member of the foundation's social science advisory board. He told the Register he believed the Culture of Life Foundation was “harnessing the good and bringing it together,” precisely what Best has envisioned. While acting “almost like a broker, pulling information together,” Fagan noted that this growing body of data could be especially valuable to students and university professors.

While the Web site is the current focal point of the foundation, other activities also figure prominently in the organization's ambitious plan. Working with the Pontifical Athenaeum of the Holy Cross, they cosponsored a “Communicating the Culture of Life Conference” in Rome in April. Among the participants were Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, the archbishop of Paris, and representatives from the United States, Poland, Norway, and Italy.

The foundation expects to hold other conferences, including a worldwide gathering of physicians, pro-life activists, and political leaders in Rome in 2000. In addition to expanding the Web site, they also are initiating a newsletter, Horizons, and looking at ways to even more broadly disseminate the information they are gathering.

Best, who is a former staff director of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, hopes to influence public policy makers. By changing the mindset of those who have supported the culture of death — even unwittingly — he hopes that the Pope's call to for a “civilization of love” will he realized.

The Culture of Life Foundation's work continues to involve ways to help reform the entire culture. This means giving the tools — studies, facts, and Church teachings — to leaders as well as ordinary citizens.

One strategy of the foundation targets the role of men and women of faith in overcoming a death-obsessed culture. It states: “We hope to engage the culture; we hope to capture the minds of others and show them the importance of decisions made daily — both in the short term and long term. We hope to show them how to support life through their living.”

Joseph Esposito writes from Springfield, Virginia.

(The Cultural of Life Foundation's Web site can be reached at http://www.culture-of-life.org)

A Personal Call to Holiness

The following is an excerpt on the meaning of the culture of life, given by Mary Cunningham Agee at The Culture of Life Foundation's conference in Rome in April 1998. The title of her speech was “A Personal Call to Holiness.” Agee is executive director and founder of the Nurturing Network and vice chairman of the Culture of Life Foundation.

“What do we mean when we refer to a ‘culture of life’ and what is really entailed when we speak of trying to ‘communicate’ it? The best answer can be found in the writings of the person who first introduced this now common phase.

“Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has expressed in numerous encyclicals both the singular importance and true meaning of the words, ‘culture of life.’ the fact that he refers to a ‘culture of life’ almost interchangeably with a ‘civilization of love’ should point us in the direction of the reality he seeks to convey.”

“Since both ‘life’ and ‘love’ find their fullest meaning and most essential expression in the person and teachings of Jesus Christ, this phrase prompts us to evaluate all of the institutions and influences that shape our culture against the ultimate standard of our Lord's example and ministry.”