by Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Lack of Respect for Life Leads to Other Problems

You are aware, I trust, that these weeks of October are designated Respect Life Month.

As Pope Francis recently observed, almost all our problems and woes can be traced back to a loss of reverence for the sacredness and dignity of human life.

Think about it: drugs, war, unjust economic systems, crime, violence, oppression of people, family dysfunction, sexual harassment and abuse…all start from a degradation of the innate value of the divine gift of human life.

The Holy Father has been eloquent in weaving all these together, prophetically advocating that a sensitivity towards the tender frailty of human life at all stages, from conception to natural death, from the pre-born baby in the womb to grandma close to death, is essential to a civilized, humane culture.

And, he elaborates, the more vulnerable the life, the more imperative it is for people of decency and virtue to protect and defend it.

We are pro-life, not just pro-birth. As my heroic predecessor, Cardinal Terence Cooke, wrote—as he neared his own painful death from cancer—human life is no less sacred when it is vulnerable, weak, or considered “inconvenient.”

No surprise, then, that Pope Francis has often spoken up for the most defenseless, the civil rights of the baby in the womb. He just recently got headlines for comparing abortion to hiring a “hit man,” a “contract killer” to dispose of a life considered worthless or in-the-way.

It’s complicated for a person motivated not only by civic duty but by faith to figure out how to vote. We’re faced with some candidates who are with us on the sacredness of the human lives of immigrants, the poor, sick, aged, and those on death row, but seem callous in ignoring the tiny life of the baby in the womb. Likewise does it make us cringe when our heroic allies in the defense of the pre-born baby, however extraordinary in this state—seem less than with us in their lack of solicitude for the lives of refugees and immigrants.

I make no apologies for prioritizing solicitude for the unborn. If we get that wrong, we’re hardly credible on the other burning issues. If we allow the helpless life of the baby in the sanctuary of the mother’s womb to be thrown away, it’s tough to defend the lives of others who might be considered inconvenient or expendable.

How clear it is that the Holy Father’s powerful lesson that all human life deserves reverence—at the border, in war, in the structuring of a just society, on death row—is not at the expense of softening our efforts to mute our embrace of the most threatened, marginalized, and vulnerable of them all—the baby in the womb.