Originally posted by the Wall Street Journal here on July 11, 2022.
‘If you are pregnant and in need, come to the Catholic Church.”
The late Cardinal John O’Connor spoke these words more than 30 years ago, when he founded the Sisters of Life, a Catholic pro-life religious order in New York. His remark was a welcoming call to expecting mothers with nowhere to turn and a plea to the American church to act as guardians to all of God’s children. O’Connor’s words rang true then and are perhaps even more important now.
The church in America stands on the precipice of a new beginning. On June 24, the Supreme Court struck down the infamous precedent Roe v. Wade, returning the question of abortion to state governments and to the hearts and minds of all Americans.
Reversing Roe represented a necessary first step to bring about a culture of life, from conception to natural death, and end a culture of abortion and death. The court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will save many lives and help to affirm human dignity at all stages of development. But the demise of Roe is, as Churchill put it, only the end of the beginning.
It also is a reminder of our duty as Catholics. By virtue of our baptism, we are called to see Christ in every human life, and to work and pray for a society in which laws reflect the inherent dignity of the human person. This commitment requires us to create alternatives to abortion and ultimately to make it unthinkable. The end of Roe challenges us anew to open our hearts, and our doors, to mothers and children in need through foster care and adoption—to what Pope Francis called “the highest form of love, and of fatherhood and motherhood.”
A year ago the high court unanimously protected Catholic ministries that serve vulnerable children in need of loving foster and adoptive homes. In Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the justices ensured that Catholic Social Services, serving in the heart of inner-city Philadelphia, can fulfill its foster-care ministry in accordance with the faith that animates its mission. Fulton was a major victory for religious liberty and for people of faith across America. But it was also a clarion call for the church to redouble its millennia-old service to the most vulnerable among us.
Before the decision in Fulton, several Catholic foster-care and adoption ministries in the U.S.—including in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia—closed their doors when local and state governments demanded they endorse same-sex relationships. By ending decades of service to those most in need, they left untold numbers of children without a loving foster home and potentially missing out on the blessing of adoption.
It is time for dioceses across the country to reopen and reinvigorate these life-affirming ministries to serve children in need. It is imperative that we as Catholics answer this call with enthusiasm, not only to ease our nation’s foster-care crisis, but to provide good soil for expecting mothers in a post-Roe America.
For decades, our country has viewed abortion as a solution to a problem, a quick fix for an unwanted burden. Catholics must resolve to undermine this deeply antihuman premise. Words and statements aren’t enough. We must attend to our society’s most vulnerable through our actions and our ministries. We must help mothers and children in need, and we must encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same.
In Fulton, the Supreme Court vindicated the right of Catholic foster and adoption services to continue their ministry in accordance with their faith. It is now time to embrace this freedom with full force. Supporting life-affirming ministries like crisis pregnancy centers and foster and adoption agencies is an excellent start. All Catholics dioceses, churches, schools, families and individuals are essential in this effort.
Working together in faith and confidence, our Catholic communities, in every state in this union, can restore America’s dedication to treasuring the miracle of life.
Archbishop Coakley is archbishop of Oklahoma City and sits on the Ecclesiastical Advisory Board for the Napa Institute.
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