January celebrations unite to uphold the sanctity of life


Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Bishop Joseph F. Naumann

Each year, on the third Monday in January, our nation observes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, commemorating the life and legacy of a great American hero.

Dr. King is recognized as the leader of the civil rights movement in the United States of the 1950s and 1960s who successfully fought the evil of racism and worked specifically to end laws and public policies that allowed, encouraged and often imposed racial segregation.

January 22 is the anniversary of the twin 1973 United States Supreme Court decisions (Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton) that struck down all state laws restricting abortion. Therefore, for nearly 50 years, abortion has been legal in the United States during all nine months of pregnancy for virtually any reason.

Every year on this anniversary, the National March for Life takes place in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of thousands of pro-life Americans gather each year in Washington as well as in state capitals to advocate for the legal protection of children and women against human life. abortion tragedy.

For the first time in 49 years, there is grounded hope that the United States Supreme Court in 2022 will grant states greater authority to determine policies regulating abortion and protecting the lives of unborn children.

These two annual national events are occasions when many are inspired to advocate for the defense of some of the most basic human rights.

Martin Luther King Day celebrates the right of every American to equal protection under the law, regardless of race or ethnicity. The March for Life recalls that every human life is sacred, regardless of age or stage of development. Without the right to life, no other right matters.

While the moral teachings of our Catholic faith provide clear guidance for shaping our consciences on both racism and abortion, neither racial discrimination nor legalized abortion are primarily religious issues, but rather basic human rights.

The evil nature of institutionalized racism and legalized abortion is available to all through reason alone and does not depend on the moral teaching of any particular religion.

One of the great flaws in the founding of our nation was the continued acceptance of slavery. While many of our founders opposed slavery, they felt that an attempt to abolish slavery at the time of our nation’s founding would shatter the fragile coalition of former British colonies seeking independence and would thus jeopardize the success of the American Revolution.

Unfortunately, this failure of the founders to address the human rights abuses of slavery postponed an inevitable conflict within our nation that ultimately resulted in a bloody civil war. Tragically, for nearly a century after the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves, Congress, state legislatures, and the courts allowed racial discrimination in our laws and public policies.

The courage and determination of Dr. King and many other civil rights leaders in the 1950s and 1960s resulted in victories in the courts, Congress, and state legislatures. Fortunately, today an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose racism. Consequently, expressions of racial bigotry have become culturally unacceptable.

Nevertheless, the remnants of past institutional bigotry, as evidenced by the explosion of racial tensions over the past 18 months in so many urban areas, reveal that the wounds inflicted by racism have not yet healed. Failure to address violations of basic human rights not only results in great harm to its victims, but also undermines the moral and legal authority of the government.

The pre-Civil War failure of a unified condemnation of slavery by Catholic bishops in the United States remains a disgrace and embarrassment to our church. The lack of united and energetic efforts by Catholic bishops in the United States for decades after the Civil War to address racial injustice remains a grave failure of leadership.

In our November 2018 “Open Our Hearts – A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops acknowledged and asked for forgiveness for our past failures.

“Therefore, we, the Catholic Bishops of the United States, recognize the many times the Church has failed to live as Christ taught – to love our brothers and sisters. Acts of racism have been committed by leaders and members of the Catholic Church – by bishops, clergy, religious and laity – and its institutions. We express to them our deep sadness and regret. We also acknowledge those instances where we have not done enough or remained silent when serious acts of injustice were committed.

“We ask forgiveness to all who have been hurt by these sins committed in the past or in the present.”

At the same time, our church can be proud of many American Catholics who stood up for the victims of racism and fought vigorously against racial injustice, for example, Father Augustus Tolton—the first African-American Catholic priest; Sister Katharine Drexel; Sister Thea Bowman; and a host of lay leaders. Having grown up in St. Louis, I am proud of Cardinal Joseph Ritter’s decision to desegregate Catholic schools in St. Louis in the late 1940s.

Similar to proponents of slavery who predicted economic and social disaster for our nation if slavery were outlawed, proponents of legalized abortion today make dire predictions of a negative impact on women if the Supreme Court of the United States grants states greater latitude to regulate, let alone prohibit, abortion.

Abortion advocates pit women’s well-being against the lives of their children. In truth, once a child is conceived in a woman’s womb, the welfare and best interests of mother and child are intertwined.

The Catholics of the United States can be justly proud that their Church has for the past 50 years been a leader in efforts to protect both mother and child from the corporate ‘abortion.

At the same time, the Catholic community has also been a leader in developing practical resources to help and support women with difficult or premature pregnancies.

The sanctity of every human life and the dignity of every human person are fundamental truths. It is not necessary to have a religious affiliation to recognize that no one has the right to destroy another human life or to discriminate against another member of the human community because of their race and ethnicity.

These two great human rights movements – the protection of the right to life of the innocent unborn child and the defense of the civil rights and innate dignity of every human being, regardless of race or ethnicity – are naturally and deeply linked.

For 10 years of my priesthood, I have had the privilege of serving as a leader in our church’s pro-life efforts as well as serving as a pastor in predominantly African American communities.

Reason alone sheds light on both the dignity of every human being, regardless of race or ethnicity, as well as the right to life of every human being, regardless of age or stage of development.

Our Christian faith adds to what reason reveals. Christians believe that every human being is created in the divine image and that every human life is so valuable to God that Jesus gave his life at Calvary for each of us.

Martin Luther King Day and the March for Life celebrate equally obvious truths: 1) the sanctity of every human life, regardless of age or stage of development; and 2) the dignity of every human person, regardless of race or ethnic origin.

These annual January celebrations remind us of certain inalienable rights that are not conferred by government, but that our laws and public policies are obligated to protect.

Previous Article by a professor of religion published in 'Theology Today' |
Next PLYS, LÔ & MOHAMED - Sino-African relations: cooperation or new imperialism?