Leadership on Life

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: Nearly a year after Roe v. Wade was overturned, the laity are eager for Church leaders to offer a bold and unapologetic defense of human life and dignity.

Pope Francis kisses a baby during his weekly General Audience May 10, 2023.
Pope Francis kisses a baby during his weekly General Audience May 10, 2023. (photo: Daniel Ibanez/CNA / EWTN)

In June, we’ll celebrate a very happy anniversary — it will be one year since the Supreme Court decided Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe v. Wade.

When the Supreme Court allowed abortion effectively without restrictions in 1973, that was supposed to be the end of the conversation. Abortion was being legalized across the world. Contraception was becoming the norm. There was a great panic over the supposedly growing global population and high birth rates. During this time, human life began to be viewed less as a gift and more as a threat.

That was the message being sent, at least. But Catholics in America and around the globe decided not to go along with this false idea of “progress.” Even as many Protestant denominations stayed quiet or embraced radically changing understandings of life and human sexuality, the Church didn’t budge on the truth. Catholics founded and cultivated a pro-life movement that altered the course of history.

Laypeople organized marches for life and founded crisis-pregnancy centers. Prophetic prelates — like Pope St. Paul VI, who wrote Humanae Vitae in 1968 — boldly upheld Church teachings on procreation, sexuality and contraception. Church leaders and the faithful alike have led the charge against euthanasia and remain the most prominent defenders of human life from conception to natural death.

We can see the results of our efforts. Abortion was supposed to be here to stay. Now, thanks in large part to Catholic leadership, Roe v. Wade is overturned, and important pro-life laws have gone into effect in many states.

This is the power of faithful, public Christian witness — and Church leaders can take heart.

Now more than ever, we need the Pope, cardinals, bishops and all leaders in the Church to be even more vigorous in their defense of the family and the dignity of human life — not only here in America, but around the world.

Thankfully, we’ve heard some very strong statements in recent days. Earlier this month, Pope Francis told a story at a conference in Rome: At a recent audience, he greeted a roughly 50-year-old woman who asked him to bless her dog, calling the pet “my baby.” 

“I had no patience and scolded the lady,” Pope Francis said. At the conference, Pope Francis sent a strong message that cultures should not place pets before human children and that the declining number of births in certain societies “reveals a great concern for tomorrow.”

Pope Francis’ story about the dog made headlines, but the setting of the event where he spoke was notable, as well. 

First, he attended a conference entitled “The General State of the Birth Rate.” Pope Francis’ mere presence at this event — as well as his decision to send a message to be read at the same conference in 2022 — is symbolically important. It’s a sign that the highest levels of the Church recognize that the problem isn’t that people are having too many kids, but rather that we aren’t welcoming children enough.

“The birth of children, in fact, is the main indicator for measuring the hope of a people,” Pope Francis said at the conference. “If few are born, it means there is little hope. And this not only has repercussions from an economic and social point of view, but also undermines confidence in the future.”

As Pope Francis has made clear, being pro-life is about more than stopping the deaths of innocents in abortion. It’s also about creating a future of hope and potential. We want people to have the fullness of Jesus’ promise in John 10:10, to “have life and have it abundantly.”

Perhaps most interesting about the Pope’s presence at this conference was his sharing the stage with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Pope Francis and Prime Minister Meloni vehemently disagree on issues like immigration and economic policy, to put it mildly. Yet despite their differences, they stood together to bring attention to rising childlessness and to emphasize the family as the center of society. With words and actions, the Pope gave a powerful testimony for life.

That wasn’t the only good news coming from Rome. Roughly a week later, Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave compelling opening remarks at a congress on Humanae Vitae. “The truth expressed in humanity does not change; even more precisely in light of new scientific discoveries, its doctrine becomes more current,” Cardinal Ladaria said. He continued, “We, too, in the midst of our world, are called to be a sign of contradiction, proclaiming with unity and firmness the truth of the human being, of love, of sexuality, and of life.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to the issue of life, we can’t pretend Church leaders all speak with the same boldness. The president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, has unfortunately often offered more confusion than clarity. On the subject of euthanasia, Archbishop Paglia recently called a law decriminalizing so-called assisted suicide “feasible,” adding that “legal mediation may be the greatest common good concretely possible under the conditions we find ourselves in.” And while Archbishop Paglia indicated in a recent Vatican News interview that he was “in agreement with every provision of Humanae Vitae,” he previously called Italy’s abortion law a “pillar” of society, and under his leadership, the Pontifical Academy for Life has proposed that Catholics may be allowed to use contraceptives under certain circumstances, contradicting the clear teachings of the magisterium.

Catholics desire — and deserve — a less ambiguous proclamation of what the Church proclaims about the sanctity of all human life. When Church authorities do offer strong pro-life leadership, they should know that faithful Catholics are firmly united behind them. Our leaders need only look to the streets of Rome to know this is true.

In the same period this month when Pope Francis defended the family and Cardinal Ladaria reaffirmed Humanae Vitae, thousands joyfully marched through the heart of the Eternal City in a “Demonstration for Life” from the Piazza della Repubblica to St. John Lateran. Those thousands were joined in spirit by hundreds of millions of sons and daughters of the Church worldwide who celebrate life.

The message from the marchers and from all faithful Catholics is clear: Church leaders must be bold! We yearn for a heroic defense of the truth from our leaders, inspired by the unchanging teachings of the Church.

God bless you!