The pro-life movement must be prepared for a protracted struggle as consciences become dulled by the “culture of death”, the Bishop of Shrewsbury has said.
In a homily at a Mass for the National Pro-Life Pilgrimage to Walsingham, Norfolk, the Rt Rev. Mark Davies said that the relentless advance of the “culture of death” meant the movement must be ready to respond to many new challenges in the years ahead.
They would include “repeated assaults on both the laws and the social environments of care, which have long protected and cherished the lives of society’s weakest members”, the Bishop said.
Yet he assured pilgrims that the pro-life movement would stand as one of the noblest movements in human history and would emerge victorious even if for long periods it appeared beleaguered.
Bishop Davies told them that “beneath the surface of events we glimpse how the struggle to hold human life sacred is a spiritual battle, part of the dramatic struggle which the Second Vatican Council declared will continue until the end of time”.
He noted that in the past, instead of the swift reversal of the 1967 Abortion Act, which was anticipated when it became apparent that it had opened the door for “the killing of the unborn on an industrial scale”, the pro-life movement found itself battling against further excesses, such as the abortion of disabled babies up to the point of birth.
At the present moment, he said at the Mass on October 23, the voices of such activists as Heidi Crowter, who has Down’s syndrome, are practically ignored while there is also a real danger of assisted suicide becoming law.
Such pressure was being exerted, Bishop Davies said, even in the face of abundant and deeply disturbing evidence of the expansion of the eligibility of criteria in every jurisdiction which has legalised either assisted suicide or euthanasia – including to children and the mentally ill in countries like Belgium and the Netherlands.
Bishop Davies encouraged the pilgrims, however, to see such encroachments as opportunities to preach joyfully the “Gospel of Life”, proclaimed so emphatically by Pope St John Paul II throughout his ministry, and encouraged pilgrims to persevere confident in the ultimate and “total victory of life”.
Bishop Davies said: “The pro-life movement will surely stand as one of the noblest movements in human history and its victory is ultimately assured.
“Yet, the path to that victory of life over death, at times faces many contradictions. How are we to understand that in Britain today, a society that mobilised itself in a pandemic, making many sacrifices to protect the lives of the vulnerable, is now considering assisting the suicide of some the most vulnerable members of society?
“Dismayed by such contradictions, we must never lose the joy and hope that is the hallmark of the cause of life.”
He continued: “I recall almost half a century ago, the founders of the pro-life movement tirelessly travelling to meetings across this land, communicating how the cause of life is the most positive of all causes.
“If we were confident at the time, that a ‘culture of death’ would be quickly overcome; that public opinion would never long tolerate the killing of the unborn on an industrial scale; if we thought that rational argument must surely prevail; and that to move consciences it would be sufficient to expose the cruel reality of abortion, we soon came to see how a culture of death advances remorselessly, precisely by dulling human consciences.
“A process where it becomes possible to propose that pre-born children with disabilities be killed up to the point of birth.”
“We recently heard the brave voice of Heidi Crowter, a woman with Down’s syndrome, say, ‘The law does not respect my life.’ Remarkably, this cry barely elicited a moment of public concern.
“Meanwhile, the euthanasia lobby which has campaigned since the 1930s – a time when unspeakable crimes were being committed in the name of eugenics – brings forward Bill after Bill to break the legal protections surrounding the care of the sick and the dying.
“It advocates opening the way for assisted suicide theoretically, in carefully regulated cases. Yet, experience in other jurisdictions shows that in practice this culture of assisted suicide extends rapidly to include those with mental illnesses and even young children.”
Bishop Davies added: “In this century we can expect a protracted struggle and we must be ready for repeated assaults on both the laws and the social environments of care, which have long protected and cherished the lives of our society’s weakest members. Yet, this struggle is the opportunity to give witness to the value of every human life and to announce once more the Gospel of Life with joy.”
The remarks of the bishop came just a day after the House of Lords spent seven hours debating the Assisted Dying Bill of Baroness Meacher, which seeks to legalise assisted suicide in England and Wales, with more than 60 peers speaking against it.
In accordance with convention, the Bill proceeded from its Second Reading without a division.
Afterwards, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a professor of palliative medicine who spoke in the debate, said: “Nothing in this bill plugs deficits in care – it won’t solve suffering, nor improve care.
“Assisted suicide is not always a quick and easy death. Some reawaken and die of natural causes later – none repeated the experience. This is not a job for doctors already on their knees after the pandemic — this Bill is not safe.”
After the debate, Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster, Lead Bishop for Life Issues for the Bishops’ Conference, thanked Catholics for writing to peers and praying that Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill might be defeated.
“We will continue to scrutinise and challenge this legislation in the months ahead,” he said.
“The Catholic Church is clear that we can never assist in taking the life of another, even if they request it. All life is sacred from conception until natural death, and we reiterate our call for investment in high quality palliative care. Our call is one for assistance in living and not assistance in committing suicide.
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