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Marriage, death penalty among topics at annual pro-life conference

Discussions on the death penalty and same-sex marriage and a tribute to a French geneticist who advocated for unborn children highlight this year’s Bishop’s Pro Life Conference, set for Oct. 30-31 in Lincoln.

Capital punishment and marriage were added this year because of recent historic decisions, said Greg Schleppenbach, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC).

With a repeal of the death penalty in Nebraska apparently moving to the ballot in next year’s general election, Omar Gutierrez, manager of the archdiocese’s Office of Missions and Justice, will speak on the conference’s second day about Catholic teaching on capital punishment.

Archbishop George J. Lucas and Nebraska’s other bishops, James D. Conley of Lincoln and Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island, have highlighted the God-given dignity of all people and said capital punishment is not needed in Nebraska in part because there are other ways to punish criminals and protect society.

Also Oct. 31, Sheri Rickert, policy director and general counsel for the NCC, will provide a legal overview of last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling lifting same-sex marriage bans across the country and what it means for religious liberty.

Participating in a panel discussion about how Catholics should respond to the marriage decision will be William May, founder and president of Catholics for the Common Good Institute, a San Francisco-based lay apostolate for evangelization and faithful citizenship.

The tribute to the French geneticist – Dr. Jerome Lejuene – will be the keynote address for the Oct. 30 banquet, the conference’s kickoff event. The banquet begins with a 5 p.m. social hour that will include the three Nebraska bishops. Dinner is planned for 6 p.m.

Dr. Pilar Calva, who studied under Lejuene, will deliver the keynote and present a video on his life and work. Lejuene discovered the extra chromosome responsible for Down syndrome, and later – fearing that diagnosis could lead to abortions – dedicated his life to defending the unborn, especially those with Down syndrome.

He was ostracized by his peers, and it may have ended Lejeune’s chance at earning a Nobel Prize for his work, Schleppenbach said.

Schleppenbach said he hopes people will be inspired by Lejeune’s willingness to speak the truth at great personal cost, his advocacy for the unborn, including the disabled, and the way he connected faith and reason to his work.

"It is very hard to be counter-cultural," he said. "It takes courage, and our culture needs that courage now more than ever."

Appointed by St. John Paul II as the first president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Lejeune died in 1994. A cause for his canonization was opened in 2007.

Calva, who teaches at Pontifical University of Mexico and the Catholic University of Dallas, also is one of the speakers the second day, presenting a talk on "the miraculous process of human life’s beginning."

With the day starting at an 8 a.m. Mass at St. Mary Church, other activities Oct. 31 include a discussion about doctor-prescribed suicide by Rita Marker, executive director of the Patients Rights Council, an Ohio-based nonprofit addressing end-of-life issues such as assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Keeping people informed about the latest challenges and attacks on life in today’s society is important, Schleppenbach said. But that knowledge also can be overwhelming, and another speaker can help people respond with the courage and confidence of the faith, he said.

Holy Cross Father Hugh Cleary will remind people that the "ultimate victory has already been won by our Lord Jesus Christ," Schleppenbach said. Father Cleary also will discuss prayer as the foundation of all pro-life efforts.

In addition to informative and inspirational talks, spending time with other people at the conference who share a commitment to life can be energizing, especially in today’s culture, where people often can feel alone in their beliefs, Schleppenbach said.

"We all need that shot in the arm," he said.


Cornhusker Hotel, 333 S. 13th St., Lincoln.

$70 for banquet, Saturday sessions and lunch ($55 for priests and religious); $35 Saturday sessions and lunch ($25 for priests and religious); $45 banquet only ($35 for priests and religious); $450 for table of 10 (banquet only).

For more information or to register, go to or call 402-477-7517.


Friday, Oct. 30

5 p.m. – Social hour.

6 p.m. – Banquet featuring keynote address by Dr. Pilar Calva.

Saturday, Oct. 31

8 a.m. – Mass at St. Mary Church, 14th and K streets (coffee and rolls after Mass).

9:30 a.m. – "Is doctor-prescribed suicide gaining momentum?" by Rita Marker.

10:30 a.m. – "Death penalty and Catholic teaching" by Omar Gutierrez.

11:15 a.m. – "The miraculous process of human life’s beginning" by Dr. Pilar Calva.

12:15 p.m. – Lunch.

1:15 p.m. – "Marriage: What the court said, what Catholics should say" by William May and Sheri Rickert.

2:45 p.m. – "Take courage, I have overcome the world" by Holy Cross Father Hugh Cleary.

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