Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I write to you today with concern and hope. My concern is for the many women in our community who do not find the support they need for their health, safety and well-being during pregnancy or after their children are born. My hope is for you and me to respond as the people of Jesus Christ.
I want our local church to say loudly and clearly: “No woman should feel so alone that abortion seems her only alternative. No man need feel so trapped or fearful that he believes there is no other answer.” I want us to be able to say to any woman: “Come to any Catholic parish in this archdiocese and you will find help.” I am asking you, the Catholic people of this archdiocese, to make this promise a reality. I make this request in the belief that to keep this promise to a pregnant woman is a way to demonstrate in action the reality of God’s love.
In a recent pastoral letter, the United States bishops called on the Catholic community to confront the culture of violence that permeates our nation. This call was vigorously supported by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae). The Holy Father described abortion as one form of violence and appealed to each of US to “respect, protect, love, and serve life, every human life” (Section #5). We are members of a Church which has always believed that the life of every child is God’s gift, which society must nurture and must protect with its laws and statutes.
Our archdiocese has developed programs to assist women and their families during pregnancy. Catholic Charities’ Seton Services offers medical, social, and adoption services throughout pregnancy, birth, and afterward. The Respect Life Office provides emergency financial assistance through the LIFE FUND, helps with housing through the Share-A-Life Program, and in the Marian Project reaches out to women and men hurting after an abortion.
But programs of assistance only begin to address the needs of those for whom pregnancy becomes a time of crisis. We recognize the many pressures that may lead a woman to consider abortion, or may prompt those close to her to encourage one. She may face physical stress and financial hardship. Both she and the baby’s father may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of being parents. They may have trouble continuing their education, finding a job, health insurance, or housing. A woman may fear how her loved ones will respond when they learn she is pregnant. She may be afraid she will be abandoned by the child’s father or even by her own family. Alone, faced with such obstacles and unaware of the support and help available, she may believe abortion is her only choice.
As a church we can do more to be there for her. St. Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians, our God “encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
If we ask a pregnant woman to “respect, protect and love” the life of her child, let us demand of ourselves at least a small share of the heroism we ask of her. Then we will recognize that pregnancy is not just a “women’s issue” but should be the joy and responsibility of the mother, the father, and the entire community. To our formal programs of assistance, we will add a welcoming spirit of hospitality and acceptance. We will proclaim the Gospel through our actions, by giving of ourselves, just as Joseph stood by Mary throughout her pregnancy.
Let us start as close to home as possible-in our families and our parishes. I ask you today to commit yourselves, your parish and your archdiocese to join with me in offering care and support to women and men who need our community to stand with them. I am asking that you gather in your parishes to listen to women in your community describe their experiences and needs during pregnancy and the raising of their children. I ask your parish to reach out and respond to those needs with tenderness. The formal pro-life programs are already in place. Now let us join together in becoming the kind of community that makes clear by our own lives that no one need be alone in a difficult pregnancy. Let us become ever more deeply a people of compassion and justice, a community caring for life!
Most Reverend Harry J. Flynn
Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis