By PRISCILLA GREEAR,Staff Writer | Published January 26, 2006
At a Mass marking the beginning of a series of events mourning the 33rd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory decried societal complacency about accepting the lowered, changeable standards of morality in this nation that are in direct conflict with God’s perfect, timeless standard of respect for the value of even the weakest human life—and that of the Declaration of Independence in its guarantee of right to life.
The Mass remembering the loss of 46 million unborn babies in the United States to abortion was held Friday, Jan. 20, as part of the Cathedral’s Life Issues Series. The service was followed by a talk by Father Tad Pacholczyk, director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, on the ethical objections to embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, and the scientific problems and limitations with this research, as well as the progress with adult stem cell research and the many diseases it has effectively treated. He concelebrated the Mass, as did Father Richard Tibbetts, pastor of St. Theresa Church, Douglasville, and Father William King, JCD, who serves as judicial vicar for the Metropolitan Tribunal.
Also featured as part of the Life Issues series was Father Larry Niese, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Church, Woodstock, who spoke on human dignity, and Dr. Theresa and Kevin Burke of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries, who spoke on healing and support for loss of life trauma.
The event was followed on Jan. 22 by the “Rise Up For Life” program at the Cathedral where teens from across the archdiocese heard talks by pro-life activist Gianna Jensen and a briefing on pro-life legislation by Georgia Sen. Mitch Seabaugh. They wrote letters to their legislators before spending the night there and rising early to attend the Mass for the Unborn and Georgia Right to Life Memorial on the steps of the Capitol featuring Gov. Sonny Perdue, retired U.S. Sen. Zell Miller and Bishop-emeritus William G. Curlin of the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C.
In a stirring homily at the Friday evening Mass, Archbishop Gregory spoke of how social and public mores are continually changing, regarding everything from laws to computer technology to the latest fashions. But, he asserted, Jesus Christ set a standard for life to endure through the centuries of evolution, change and progress.
“He introduced changes and customs that shocked the people of his time,” said the archbishop. “Moreover he initiated the most enduring changes and standards that anyone of us will ever be asked to accept or follow. We are called to a new standard, a higher standard, a divine standard—and one that will not pass away as ever outmoded or obsolete.”
God’s standard is that there is no such thing as an inconvenient life and no reason so grave as to merit a total disregard for human life. “These are the new standards that are to suggest that we view life and people in a radically different way. These new standards are so revolutionary as to suggest that no life, no person or class of people are beyond our love,” he continued. “The word of God reminds us that it is no longer fashionable to hate, but just like every other measure of living it is difficult to undergo a fashion change in our attitudes towards life.”
He said society has “grown too comfortable” in accepting the law of the land for abortion on demand as morally acceptable. “It is easier to come up with justifications for our old way of doing things exactly as we have done them in the past. It is easier to come up with justifications for our old ways of doing things rather than to change our standards. For 33 years our nation has come up with all kinds of rationalizations for our dreadful practice of killing infant children. Various people call it pro-choice, other have claimed it as not (taking) a life, others have defended it as a personal decision and a few have suggested that it was merely a womanly act of self-determination—anything to keep from accepting God’s standard of respect and love for every human life.”
Archbishop Gregory pointed out that this disrespect for human life has negatively influenced morality standards with regard to medical treatment of the terminally ill and aged and to violent criminals who are incarcerated. “Even this very week the Supreme Court has validated a state law that allows persons to seek medical assistance in taking their own life. We tell ourselves that capital punishment prevents crime, that such horrible criminals deserve to die, even as we continue to learn that some convicted persons have been sentenced to death and later exonerated by DNA tests,” he said. “We continue to pursue human brutality. We look for any grounds to avoid the divine standard of respect for every living person.”
This nation must restore that constant standard of upholding every human life, he said in conclusion. “Standards have changed. Too many of us are hopelessly obsolete in our attitudes toward life itself. At Eucharist this evening let us pray for a widely accepted way of viewing and valuing all human life God’s way. An old-fashioned yet perfectly contemporary way of seeing every life as sacred, holy and inalienable as our old-fashioned Declaration of Independence continues to describe even now. But then that too is an old document—but not quite as old as the Gospels.”
Prayers of intercession were made for medical researchers who, inspired by the beauty of human life, might seek to be coworkers with God in the fulfillment of the divine plan, and for work to end the culture of death through closer union with other churches united in building the gospel of life. “As we observe the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade we pray for our nation that we as a people might reclaim our heritage of morality, the sense of justice and integrity that marks our destiny.”
Cathedral of Christ the King member Gustavo Duran brought his wife and some of his children to the event to learn more about the stem cell issues as part of the pro-life ethic. He believes “an embryo is a human life. It has to be respected. That’s why we don’t agree with embryonic stem cell research” or with abortion.
Norbert Leahy of St. Jude the Apostle Church in Atlanta recalled how after Roe v. Wade was issued many were in shock, while a massive media campaign worked to reshape attitudes about the taking of unborn human life through euphemistic language, to become simply a matter of personal choice and routine medical procedure.
“It was a shock when the Supreme Court decision came down. People who believed in God were shocked and that kept them quiet. Immediately there began a big media campaign,” Leahy said.
But he believes that the pro-life movement has the clear moral edge and will prevail. “The pendulum has swung because the pro-death forces have lost their energy and there’s a big pile-up of human wreckage and I don’t think there’s any avoiding it. Before it was almost easier to defend their decision,” he said, adding that he and his wife Marlene have prayed in a vigil before an abortion facility. “This problem is national and difficult to impact as an individual. Where do you grab it? And it’s an error of the court and it should be reversed pretty soon.”