Archbishop Aquila on abortion and a culture of life

Kudos to Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, who made public a well-done pastoral letter on abortion yesterday, the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

There’s a lot to like about the letter. He opens by sharing some personal experiences that are startling and real. He acknowledges that we have all been complicit by our complacency, our ineffective action, or, for some, our pro-choice positions. He offers a beautiful quotation from a homily of Pope John Paul II during his 1987 pastoral visit to America that I wasn’t familiar with. He insists that human dignity is central to a healthy culture — and that that means more than just respect for unborn babies:

A culture of life, quite simply, is one which joyfully receives and celebrates the divine gift of life. A culture of life recognizes human dignity not as an academic or theological concept, but as an animating principle—as a measure of the activity of the family and the community. A culture of life supports most especially the life of the family. It supports and celebrates the dignity of the disabled, the unborn, and the aged. A culture of life seeks to live in gratitude for the gift of life God has given us.

If we want to build a culture of life, we need to begin with charity. Social charity, or solidarity, is the hallmark of a culture of life and a civilization of love. It allows us to see one another through the eyes of God, and therefore to see the unique and personal worth of one another. Charity allows us to treat one another with justice not because of our obligations, but because of our desire to love as God loves.

This charity must begin in the family. Our families are the first place where those who are marginalized, and whose dignity is forgotten, can be supported. To build a culture of life we must commit to strengthening our own families, and to supporting the families of our community. Strong families beget the strong ties which allow us to love those most in danger of being lost to the culture of death.

The charity of the culture of life also supports works of mercy, apostolates of social justice and support. Families impacted by the culture of death are often broken. Supporting adoption, marriage, responsible programs of social welfare and healthcare, and responsible immigration policy all speak to a culture which embraces and supports the dignity of life.

I think if I’d been writing the letter, I’d have made sure to acknowledge the very difficult situations in which people find themselves that leads them to contemplate and choose abortion. I’d have noted that there is in our times a moral blind spot that allows many, many good people to miss the reality of the situation. And I’d also have included a strong statement that God’s mercy is always available to those who have been involved in abortion.

I might also hesitate to headline the entire letter with reference to “the culture of death” (the letter is titled, “40 Years of the Culture of Death”), because of the grave moral judgments it suggests against anyone who does not agree with church teaching. With that title, is anyone who does not already agree going to read any further?

But all in all, Archbishop Aquila’s letter makes for worthwhile reading.

Speaking of good reading on this dark anniversary, I’d also point out Simcha Fisher’s column (on the many reasons that using graphic abortion images to protest legal abortion is usually not a good idea) posted yesterday at the National Catholic Register and Charles Camosy’s post (on the inaccuracies of some conventional wisdom on the subject) at the Catholic Moral  Theology blog.

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