40 Years of the Culture of Death: A Pastoral Letter on the Occasion of the Anniversary of Roe vs. Wade
By Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
January 22, 2013
Excerpt from sermon:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I went to college in 1968 with the idea of becoming a doctor, like my father. College campuses in the late ‘60’s and throughout the 70’s were places of turmoil. I didn’t practice my faith much in the first three years of college and I certainly never imagined that the Lord would one day make me a bishop.
I spent my first three years of college working as a hospital orderly and assisting in the emergency room, at a university student health center and in a hospital in California during summer break.
When I began the job, I hadn’t thought much about human suffering, or about human dignity.
But during my employment in hospitals, something changed. At that time, some states had approved abortion laws that I wasn’t even aware of. Because of those laws, when I was in college I witnessed the results of two abortions.
The first was in a surgical unit. I walked into an outer room and in the sink, unattended, was the body of small unborn child who had been aborted. I remember being stunned. I remember thinking that I had to baptize that child.
The second abortion was more shocking. A young woman came into the emergency room screaming. She explained that she had had an abortion already. When the doctor sent her home, he told her she would pass the remains naturally. She was bleeding as the doctor, her boyfriend, the nurse and I placed her on a table.
I held a basin as the doctor retrieved a tiny arm, a tiny leg and then the rest of the broken body of a tiny unborn child. I was shocked. I was saddened for the mother and child, for the doctor and the nurse. None of us would have participated in such a thing were it not an emergency. I witnessed a tiny human being destroyed by violence.
The memory haunts me. I will never forget that I stood witness to acts of unspeakable brutality. In the abortions I witnessed, powerful people made decisions that ended the lives of small, powerless, children. Through lies and manipulation, children were seen as objects. Women and families were convinced that ending a life would be painless, and forgettable. Experts made seemingly convincing arguments that the unborn were not people at all, that they could not feel pain, and were better off dead.
I witnessed the death of two small people who never had the chance to take a breath. I can never forget that. And I have never been the same. My faith was weak at the time. But I knew by reason, and by what I saw, that a human life was destroyed. My conscience awakened to the truth of the dignity of the human being from the moment of conception. I became pro-life and eventually returned to my faith.
I learned what human dignity was when I saw it callously disregarded. I know, without a doubt, that abortion is a violent act of murder and exploitation. And I know that our responsibility is to work and pray without ceasing for its end.
Repentance, Prayer, Renewal:
At each Mass, before we receive the Eucharist, the Church instructs us to consider and confess our sinfulness. When we pray the Confiteor at Mass we proclaim the sins of “what I have done, and what I have failed to do.”
We ask the Lord for mercy. We ask one another for prayers.
At the Penitential Act, we recognize the times we have chosen sinfulness, and also the times we have chosen to do nothing in the face of the evil of this world. Our sins of omission permit evil. They permit injustice. At the Penitential Act, I sometimes think about the abortions I witnessed and my heart still experiences sadness. I beg forgiveness for the doctors, nurses, politicians, and others who so ardently support abortion and pray for their conversion.
Today we recognize the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade—we recognize 40 years of sanctioned killing in our nation. Today we recognize the impact of those 40 years. Tolerating abortion for 40 years has coarsened us. We’ve learned to see people as problems and objects. In the four decades since Roe vs. Wade, our nation has found new ways to weaken the family, to marginalize the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill—we’ve found new ways to exploit and abuse.
Today we must recognize that 40 years of sanctioned killing has given the culture of death a firm footing and foundation in our nation.
We must also recognize our sinfulness. When we survey the damage abortion has caused in our culture, we must repent for our sins of omission. We Christians bear some responsibility for our national shame. Some of us have supported pro-choice positions. Many of us have failed to change minds or win hearts. We’ve failed to convince the culture that all life has dignity. In the prospect of unspeakable evil, we’ve done too little, for too long, with tragic results.
Today is a day to repent. But with repentance comes resolve to start anew. The 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade is a day to commit to a culture of life. Today the Lord is calling us to stand up.
When I worked in hospitals in college, I didn’t know or understand what the Church taught about human life. I learned by experience that a human life is destroyed in every abortion. But I was unprepared to defend life—unprepared to even see real human dignity, let alone proclaim it. I pray that none of you, dear brothers and sisters, will ever find yourselves in the position I was in so many years ago. I pray that you are prepared to defend the truth about human life….