Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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Washington’s bishops host state-wide Respect Life conference at Seattle University
by Stephen Kent
(From the July 31, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
Catholic leadership of Washington State organized the first statewide Respect Life conference last month in Seattle. From left: Bishop Skylstad; Bishop Carlos Sevilla SJ of Yakima; Seattle’s Archbishop Alex J. Brunett; Sister Sharon Park, Executive Director of the Washington State Catholic Conference; Bishop George Thomas, Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle; John Carr, director of the Department of Social Development and World Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Donna Hanson, Bishop’s Secretary for Social Ministries of the Diocese of Spokane. (IR photo from the Catholic Northwest Progress)
(From the July 3, 2003 edition of The Catholic Northwest Progress, official publication of the Archdiocese of Seattle.)
Bringing about respect for life requires a cultural counter-revolution which will come about only by the active involvement of committed believers, a statewide respect life conference was told.
“Changing Minds and Hearts,” sponsored by the bishops of Washington State, attracted 170 people from the state’s three dioceses to Seattle University June 27-28.
The effort to re-direct America’s priorities must be done with Christian charity and civility, be political but not partisan, was the theme of talks by the sponsors and speakers. Keynote speakers were Frances X. Hogan and John Carr. Hogan, a Boston attorney, has served as president of the Massachusetts Citizens for Life, president of Women Affirming Life and a consultant to the Pro Life Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Carr is director of the Department of Social Development and World Peace of the USCCB.
Seattle’s Archbishop Alex J. Brunett referred to the conference as a “living sign that we are committed to this theology of life.”
“Respect for life is not just a Catholic doctrine, it is a scientific fact,” he said.
Hogan, in her Friday night keynote, noted that when she attended law school in the early 1970s, women’s liberation was the “old feminism” — looking for simple improvements in education and economic opportunities for women. Then came a cultural revolution, she said, brought about by such things as more mothers in the work force, increased life expectancy, and increased divorce rates.
Hogan said as a young professional woman coming to age at this time, she found organizations such as the bar association, were adopting positions contrary to her beliefs. She resigned membership. In retrospect, she said that was not a good tactic.
“I placed myself outside of the mainstream,” she said. “We were not at the table.
“I encourage people to stay in professional organizations and work from within,” she said.
A dramatic change in her public life came after John Salvi attacked abortion clinics in Boston in 1994, killing two workers and wounding five others. In the aftermath, then-Gov. William Weld and Cardinal Bernard Law said the pro-choice and pro-life groups needed to communicate. This resulted in the Public Conversation Project, joining three pro-life leaders and three-pro choice leaders to talk.
“We were not trying for common ground, but for understanding each other’s positions,” she said.
“The chasm was not as simple as abortion or the rights of women,” she said. “The world views of the two groups were larger than anyone thought.”
In the six years of conversation, Hogan said, “I never respected their position. I did respect them as persons.”
“Even in the culture of death, there is great hope,” Hogan said. There is more public understanding of the meaning of human life.
“We have a place at the table — our voices are being heard,” she said.
Carr, who is involved on behalf of the bishops nationally advocating moral dimensions of public policy issues, spoke Saturday on the mission and the message of respect life.
“It is neither political nor ideological but it is the Word of God,” he said. “This is a time for mission, nor for maintenance or management.”
“We have to be engaged, we have to participate,” he said.
The message, he said, is based on the belief that every person is precious. “The moral measure of any society is if it protects human life and advances human dignity.”
Carr told the conference to face the reality that child sexual abuse scandal suffered by the church is overwhelming but that “we are much more than our mistakes.”
The respect life agenda does not fit well with either major political party, he said.
“Catholics serious about the consistent ethic of life can feel politically homeless,” he said. “But this is no time to retreat,” he said. “This is a time to work for values in public life.”
Our moral principles are our greatest asset, Carr said.
“We don’t re-invent ourselves every four years. The Catholic Church may be many things, but no one has ever criticized it for being trendy,” he said.
“We have a moral framework. It is not just what we believe, but what we do every day.
“The church has been consistent and persistent on all social issues,” he said. “We were faith-based before faith-based was cool.”
In his reflection following Carr’s talk, Bishop Skylstad spoke of connections.
“The most difficult area is: how do we help people connect: with God, with themselves, with the community, with the world?” he said.
The church, with parishes, dioceses and presence in states and countries, fills that role, he said. “There is no other organization around like it,” he said.
“We are in the business of being with everybody,” said Bishop Skylstad, who also serves as vice president of the bishops’ national conference. “We are stewards responsible for one another. Our mission is to take the message of the sacredness of life to the world.
“One way is through advocacy — to be in the mix of society,” he said. “That is our connectedness.”
A panel on “Touching Minds and Hearts” included Carl Middleton, vice president of theology and ethics of Catholic Health Initiatives; Annette Quayle, director of pregnancy support services for Catholic Community Services of Western Washington; and Eileen Geller, parish liaison with Providence Hospice of Seattle.
“There is a sizable population of the working poor whom pregnancy can push over the edge,” Quayle said. “We need to eliminate the root causes of abortion which is the lack of support,” she said, in the areas of health care, child care and child support enforcement.
“Positive support does not mean approval of pre-marital sex,” she said. “The fact is, the baby is here. We are supporting the child, not the conduct,” said Quayle.