Evangelium Vitae and the Pro-Life Movement

Author: Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo


Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo

President of the Pontifical Council for the Family

Saturday, March 23 1996, Westminster Central Hall, London

The Cardinal spent the first day of the visit with the NACF where he offered his encouragement and support to our families. His second and third days were spent in a major pro-life conference organized by SPUC.

Your Excellency,

Archbishop Barbarito, my Lord Bishop, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great joy for me to be here with you in London.

Mister Chairman, the Reverend Ian Brown, through you, I thank the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, for inviting me to address you today and I thank His Eminence Cardinal Basil Hume, for his most encouraging message, presented by Bishop Vincent Nichols.

Before I commence this paper, I wish to pay tribute to the untiring work of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, and especially to the courageous leadership of the Society's founder and Director, Mrs. Phyllis Bowman.

Last October, Mrs. Bowman was with us at the third World Congress for pro-life Movements, when a multitude of pro-life leaders from every continent gathered in Rome. This congress was convened by the pontifical Council for the Family, because the family and human life are the two great hinges of work entrusted to us by Pope John Paul II. As we have already heard this afternoon, you cannot separate family life and pro-family action from the pro-life movement.

The United Kingdom provides a good example of concerted ecumenical pro-life activities, at all levels: political action, education, witness, prayer, and the compassionate pastoral care of women and their babies. The Pro-Life Movement can be proud of its achievements.

This week I was pleased to meet your pro-life politicians and leaders. I find that there is growing co-operation between the pro-life organizations based on recognizing different approaches and different gifts. You are working together in a common cause; maintain your unity, respect differences and continue to collaborate.

I must also emphasize how essential is the example and inspiration of pro-life, pro-family, religious leaders. Bishops, priests, ministers and pastors, religious leaders of the Islamic and Sikh communities, your public and active commitment is building up a wider and more spiritual Pro-Life Movement. Our shared faith in God, the Lord of Life, the Author and Giver of Life, brings us together in a common cause, on which all human rights depend, the cause of defending the right to life itself.

That collaboration was evident at the United Nations Conferences of Cairo, Copenhagen and Beijing. In this regard we must recognize the supportive work of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, especially to Mr. John Smeaton, Mr. Paul Tully and Dr. Majid Katme in England, and Mr. Peter Smith in Scotland. Ecumenical and inter-religious collaboration and co-operation, must continue to grow.

This explains why we are gathered to celebrate the first anniversary of Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae. The Latin title means 'the Gospel of Life', which is precisely what the pro-life movement is offering the world, the good news of life. So the Holy Father's letter is not addressed only to Catholics. It is a message of encouragement and guidance for all people, especially members of the pro-life movement. Let me reflect with you on the message it sends to the pro-life movement.

Facing the Culture of Death

In virtually thirty years, Europe has seen the phenomenon of the transition from recognizing a crime to its legitimization. In Italian, they say "il delitto convertito in diritto": the crime turned into a right. Here is the radical change in mentality which has led to the world slaughter of 50 million abortions a year. It represents what the Holy Father repeatedly calls the culture of death. We must resist its hideous strength with all our might.

Rivers of money flow into this anti-life culture, thus the budget of its various institutions comes to more than 13 billion dollars a year. There are several major components in this culture of death.

Abortion has now become an industry, well set up and over the past thirty years it has even assumed a protective mantle of legality and supposed 'respectability'. Today it is joined by the euthanasia lobby. Once respect for the life of unborn children vanishes, euthanasia is not far away.

In Evangelium Vitae 17, the Holy Father says. 'We are in fact faced by a 'conspiracy against life', involving even international institutions engaged in encouraging and carrying out actual campaigns to make contraception, sterilization and abortion widely available.'

What is most serious is the distorted anthropological concept. The dignity of man and woman is forgotten in the name of freedom. In this perspective, the Malthusian doctrine of limiting population was promoted at the United Nations Conferences at Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Copenhagen and Beijing, and it will emerge again at the Habitat Conference in Istanbul.

However, a very different picture arose at the international meeting on the family and economy which the Pontifical Council for the Family recently convened. Leading economists took part, such as the Nobel Prize-winner, Professor Gary Becker of the University of Chicago, together with such experts in social science as Professor Richard Whitfield from your own nation. There was a strong consensus among the experts that Malthus was wrong, that limiting population growth is a mistaken policy which harms the family and the economy. I would add that population control leads to policies that treat people merely as 'mouths to feed' rather than hearts to love.

However, we must ask, what is the goal of this culture of death? Is it to create a new society? This is certainly part of the project. We see it in the attempts to change legislation, to manipulate public opinion and erode the consciences of men and women, especially through the mass media. But these techniques are directed towards something much more serious—and blasphemous—an attempt to make a new kind of human person.

That is a sin against truth. In the legend of Faust, even the devil was scandalized when he discovered a man in a laboratory trying to create a new kind of man.

Therefore, the challenges we face call the pro-life movement to reaffirm the truth, which I will outline at four levels: the truth of the person, the truth of morality, the truth of the law and the truth of sexuality.

I. The Truth of the Person

I first invite you to reflect deeply on a true anthropology, which is at the heart of Evangelium Vitae. By 'anthropology' I do not mean scientific study of how people live in various cultures. I refer to something deeper, more philosophical and ethical, what the Pope calls the 'truth of the person'. This truth is the answer to the perennial questions: Who am I? What is my origin and my destiny? Do I really have value and worth?

These are always critical questions. How you understand the human person determines how you treat yourself and other people. In Evangelium Vitae 18-20, the Holy Father shows that selfish subjectivism and individualism, a false idea of freedom and a loss of respect for others cause of this loss of a sense of the person. But he goes further, speaking in section 21 of the 'eclipse of the sense of God and of man'.

The great religions represented in this hall today all share the faith that God created the human person 'in his own image and likeness' (Genesis 1:27). Here we can see that one of the greatest gifts the Pope offers the pro-life movement in Evangelium Vitae is the truth of the person as a unique being living in relationship with God. He argues that if you lose the sense of God you also lose the sense of the human person.

Today, the truth about man is imprisoned or suffocated, as Saint Paul would put it (cf. Romans 1: 18-22). The unborn child is thus treated like a thing. But the unborn child is someone, not something! If he or she has no voice, we must become the voice of these little ones, as the Holy Father says in Evangelium Vitae 5. They are the persecuted class of our times. This is why the Holy Father compares Evangelium Vitae to the prophetic word of Pope Leo XIII in the great social encyclical, Rerum Novarum, which affirmed that working people are not instruments to be used, but persons, whose rights and innate dignity must be respected.

However, the unborn, the aged, the disabled, all have become instruments in the social Darwinism of the culture of death. According to social Darwinism, only the strongest survive. But we must defend the weak, and today there are new categories of the weakest persons—unborn infants, the sick and the aged. But Darwin's theory of evolution became an ideology, evolutionism, which released some of the most destructive anti-life forces in history.

Today a new evolutionism emerges, from the same roots which fed the Nazi ideology. Eugenics has returned. Now Western secular individualism and a warped idea of freedom decide who is 'fit' or 'unfit' to live. Here we face what the Pope calls, 'an eclipse of the human conscience'. This involved forgetting that all men and women are human persons and should be treated as such from conception. All are made in the image of God and all are brothers and sisters!

In Evangelium Vitae 10, the Holy Father takes up God's terrible challenge to the first murderer, Cain: 'What have you done?' (Genesis 4.10). That is our challenge to all the people in the culture of death: 'What have you done?'

We also ask them another question: What kind of man or woman do you really want for the future? The culture of death turns the weakest ones into things, into instruments or means to an end. This also true of the poor, subjected to the pressures of population control! This leads me directly to the truth of morality.

II. The Truth of Morality

The Moral Law is another theme developed throughout chapter 3 of Evangelium Vitae. It is most important for all working in the pro-life movement to be clear about ethics and morality.

In the context of morality, I recall the Nuremberg Trials that dealt with the well-known Nazi war criminals, exactly fifty years ago. That was not only a historical event but also an important moment in the development of international law. But so far, there seems to be a strange silence about this anniversary. Why?

I would suggest that this jubilee has been conveniently 'forgotten' because the Nuremberg Trials are very embarrassing for those who want to legalize killing the unborn, the aged, the sick and the disabled. Let me explain.

The jurisprudence of the Nuremberg Trials rested on two moral assumptions: that it is always morally wrong to kill innocent people and hence that killing people because of their race, their mental or physical disability, their health, or their social worth is always wrong. The Natural Moral Law and a sound anthropology was taken for granted at the Nuremberg Trials—and that is why this is the forgotten anniversary.

The Nuremberg Trials are also particularly embarrassing for those wanting to legalize euthanasia. Already this challenge of the culture of death confronts pro-life movements in the Netherlands, the State of Oregon in the United States and the Northern Territory of Australia.

There is a certain mentality hiding behind the words 'quality of life'. It is not true 'compassion' but discrimination. It is not 'dying with dignity' but killing with impunity. It is not 'choosing to leave this life freely' but being persuaded that you are a burden to others and that it is time to jump overboard—or allow someone to push you overboard!

The sick, including the terminally ill, are human persons made in the image of God with all their human rights. They have the right to our care, our help, our support, to our love! They are the ones who are in the greatest need of love and compassion.

In Evangelium Vitae 64, Pope John Paul II says: 'Here we are faced with one of the more alarming symptoms of the 'culture of death', which is advancing above all in prosperous societies, marked by an excessive preoccupation with efficiency and which sees the growing number of elderly and disabled people as intolerable and too burdensome.'

Therefore, I appeal to elderly and disabled people: respect your dignity, defend your rights. Never imagine you are a burden. Do not listen to the lies of the culture death. You have a right to live and your existence is a call to others to love and care for you.

The elderly, in fact so necessary for society with their experience, have the right to our gratitude. In Africa they say that when an old person dies, it is like the burning of a library.

Another moral question which euthanasia and abortion raise is the right to conscientious objection on the part of medical personnel. This is set out in Evangelium Vitae 74. It is a problem which the pro-life movement must monitor carefully and follow up through legal and educational means.

However, morality goes much further than right and wrong. God calls us to be virtuous, to live justly. This is the goal of all morality. In Evangelium Vitae 77, the pro-life movement is encouraged by these words: 'We are asked to love and honour the life of every man and woman and to work with perseverance and courage so that our time, marked by all too many signs of death, may at last witness the establishment of a new culture of life, the fruit of the culture of truth and love.'

Let me give an encouraging example. In Rio de Janeiro, in 1994, our Pontifical Council held an international meeting on street children. One aspect of the meeting has never left me. The generous men and women who work with these little ones told us that the children do not fear a violent death, which, as you know, often threatens them. They are hunted down and murdered by brutal adults who regard them as subhuman vermin. These street children feel they are expendable, of no value, excess baggage in society. They despise themselves to the extent that they are despised.

However, this sense of worthlessness can be changed. Once they are accepted by others, in a family or a good institution, once they feel loved, then these children feel like persons. This is their awakening to the miracle of love. Of course, love is the ultimate answer to euthanasia, abortion, and all the unnecessary killing of innocent people promoted by a false understanding of the person.

Here in Britain, the pro-life movement awakens others to that kind of love. The vocation of the human person to love and to be loved is promoted by groups who care for women in need: LIFE, Christians for Caring, Lifeline and, in Scotland, the Innocents.

This work includes post-abortion counselling, carried out by the previously named groups and by British Victims of Abortion, a body sponsored by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. In 1993, together with Cardinal Hickey and Cardinal Keeler, I took part in a fascinating meeting of experts, held in Washington, on the question of post-abortion aftermath. The experts concluded that, even if there seem to be many reactions, abortion has deep and tragic effects in a woman's life, sometimes effects which are delayed for many years. No woman should be condemned to such suffering.

In so many cases, women who have abortions are also the victims of a society which does not help them, victims of the irresponsibility of men—and they are, as it were, driven to this crime.

In Evangelium Vitae, 99, the Holy Father speaks gently to women who have had an abortion: 'You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life.'

You care for these women, you counsel them, you place your work in God's hands and marvel at his healing miracle of love. I only wish that those who caricature the pro-life movement were able to see what a caring movement it is. Keep up your hidden work of love and expand it, for the need for love is great.

III. The Truth of the Law

One of the other ethical problems of our time was also revealed at the Nuremberg Trials—that making something legal does not make it right. Some of the accused said: 'I am not guilty because I was only obeying orders.' That obedience to immoral laws and corrupt men led to the death of millions.

Nonetheless, if we were to go out into the street of this city and ask people whether abortion was right or wrong, some would reply, 'Well, it's legal, isn't it?' That is the terrible eclipse of conscience. That is the great surrender.

In Evangelium Vitae 73 the Holy Father says: 'Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection.'

Note those last words 'there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection'. We are not merely invited do nothing that might make abortion easier to obtain. We are called to go much further, to do something, to active work in the pro-life movement.

In Evangelium Vitae 90, the Holy Father challenges politicians: '..no-one can ever renounce this responsibility, especially when he or she has a legislative or decision-making mandate, which calls that person to answer to God, to his or her own conscience and to the whole of society for choices which may be contrary to the common good.'

Politicians must not compromise. They have an absolute moral duty to vote against abortion, against abuse of the human embryo and euthanasia. There are situations when pro-life legislators can only limit the harm, as indicated in Evangelium Vitae 73, but the stated goal must always the same—an end to legal abortion and no legalized euthanasia.

However, the future of democracy is at stake. Everyone should read Evangelium Vitae, 20. Here, with relentless logic, the Holy Father warns of the tyrant state, which uses democratic processes to destroy democracy, because it denies the essential democratic human right—the right to life. The Pope concludes: 'This is the death of true freedom.'

IV. The Truth of Human Sexuality

I am pleased that a paper has just been given at this meeting on the recent document published by the pontifical Council for the Family, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education Within the Family. These guidelines help parents to form their children in human sexuality, in the home, the normal and natural place for education they can control. In Evangelium Vitae, 97, the Holy Father calls for 'an authentic education in sexuality and love, an education which involves training in chastity...'

Getting human-sexuality 'right' is one of the great challenges of our time. Meeting this challenge is very much part of the work of the pro-life movement. The mysterious links between sexuality, life and death, are part of our psychology and our experience of life. The anti-life mentality began, not with abortion, but by separating sexuality from the transmission of life in contraception and sterilization. As the Holy Father points out in Evangelium Vitae 13, 'despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected'.

It is no accident that legalized abortion and the increase of abortions occurred in the decades when new technologies made contraception and sterilization easily available. Transmitting human life was cut off from human sexuality and subjected to technological control. An anti-life, anti-child, mentality set in, which even some of those who tolerate contraception recognize and regret.

I invite everyone here to think seriously about the roots of the anti-life mentality. I urge you never to fall for the shallow argument that providing widespread contraception will reduce the number of abortions.

Today forms of 'contraception' are spreading which are really pharmaceutical methods to procure early abortions. The abortionists blur the distinctions. 'morning-after' pills, contraception or 'contragestion', RU 486 and its variants, not to mention intra-uterine devices and 'vaccines' against pregnancy (which seems to have become a disease!) and other chemical methods which may procure early abortions. The Holy Father refers to abortifacients in Evangelium Vitae 13.

How callous and insensitive the merchants of the culture of death have become. How eagerly they debate among themselves the merits of this method or that method. The pro-life movement must study this trend in the technology of death and be ready to meet its future developments. This trend also raises the moral responsibilities of doctors, medical personnel and pharmacists.

On the positive side, marriage and family life contribute much to the pro-life movement. One of the surest ways of securing pro-life values is by promoting the natural method for regulating fertility. When these methods are used for just reasons, as a truly responsible fatherhood and motherhood, they can cultivate a love for life which permeates the home and is passed on across the generations.

Finally, these questions of sexuality and procreation raise our concern for young people. This concern was summed up in the pointed question Pope John Paul II put to Mrs. Nafis Sadik and government leaders before the Cairo Conference: 'What kind of youth do you want to shape for the future?'

We know the answer to that question. Many fine young people are involved in the pro-life movement. More young people need to be involved, with their energies, their enthusiasm and their imagination. Pro-life education for children and young people must become a priority, as the Holy Father stresses in Evangelium Vitae, 97.

Young people and their energies lead me to conclude with a reflection about a brave young man. Outside my study, in the offices of the Pontifical Council for the Family in the Vatican, I have set up a bronze statuette of the shepherd boy who became King David. He is putting the sword back into its sheath having cut off the head of Goliath the Philistine. The head rests beneath his feet. I deliberately chose that statue to be a sign to all who work in and with our pontifical Council for the Family. The message is clear. In fighting for life, for the family, we face a giant Goliath, that Philistine culture of death, with all its wealthy foundations, its powerful political and business connections and its propaganda agents.

Like David, we have a few small stones and a slingshot, or so our limited resources often seem to us when we face such powerful forces. But we have God with us, the same God who guided David's smooth stone to its mark. Like David the shepherd boy, we are not afraid, because we know that the Lord of Life is with us. We know that we can bring down that evil Goliath! We must bring him down and we will!

What is most important for the pro-life movements is to work for a civilization of life—in the family, in the schools, in the Parliaments. Life, the precious gift of God is a Gospel, good news! There is a unity between the Gospel of Life and the Gospel of the Family.

We must—love life, defend life, proclaim life!

At the heart of this proclamation is the Lord of Life, who died and who now lives and reigns for ever!