Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, second from right, speaks with Pat Castle, second from left, founder of pro-life group LIFE Runners before the group’s annual fundraiser and dinner Feb. 20 in Omaha. Also pictured are Paula Parmelee, left, from Jefferson, South Dakota, leader of the Sioux City LIFE Runners Chapter, and Castle’s daughter Paige, right. MIKE MAY/STAFF

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Archbishop Naumann underscores supporting expectant mothers

For Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, supporting women who are experiencing unintended or difficult pregnancies is one of the most important things Catholics can do to further a culture of life.

As chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, he is asking individual Catholics and parishes to step up their efforts to accompany such women and help them choose life.

Archbishop Naumann shared his observations and his committee’s goals with more than 150 people attending pro-life group LIFE Runners’ annual fundraiser and dinner Feb. 20 at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Omaha.

He described one such effort, introduced at last November’s USCCB meeting, “Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service,” beginning March 25.

The effort asks dioceses across the country to examine the resources available to pregnant women at risk of abortion, to identify gaps and deficiencies in that support and create opportunities to better coordinate existing resources.

He also described his ad limina visit with Pope Francis in January, where the pope called the protection of human life the preeminent social and political issue of our time.

A native of St. Louis, Archbishop Naumann was ordained a priest in 1975 and was named auxiliary bishop of St. Louis in 1997. In 2005 he became the fourth archbishop and 11th bishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas.

For 36 years, he has been on the front lines of the pro-life movement, beginning in 1984 when then-Archbishop John L. May of St. Louis asked him to become priest coordinator for the archdiocese’s pro-life efforts, an assignment he kept for the next 10 years. In 1997 he was named to the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and was elected chairman in 2017.

Archbishop Naumann spoke with the Catholic Voice about the effects the culture of death is having on our country, signs of hope for the culture of life, and the things ordinary Catholics can do to help.

Q: Standing against abortion and euthanasia are identified as the top priorities for the pro-life committee’s efforts. What other challenges to life and human dignity does your group take up?

In terms of advocacy, those would be the principal ones, although now also infanticide, sadly, is emerging as an issue as well. Although we’re not the principal committee for the advocacy, we also do a lot of educational work on capital punishment. Now that said, the dignity of the human person and the protection of life, it crosses over with many other works in the Conference as well. So we’ll often jointly sign a letter with the Domestic Policy Committee chair as well and other chairs. So wherever the dignity of the human person is being threatened, in a sense that’s a life issue. But I think purposefully we have a committee that really addresses those other issues about human dignity. And so the Conferences had our committee pretty focused at least in the advocacy area specifically on abortion and euthanasia, now infanticide.

Q: As the homilist at the vigil Mass the evening before this year’s March for Life, you spoke about a moral “twilight zone.” What do you mean by that and how do you think we got to this point in our culture?

I used an episode of the old “Twilight Zone” in which, in the twilight zone, what was beautiful was considered ugly and what was ugly was considered beautiful. And I think I see a parallel in our culture today where such things as abortion are exalted as a virtue and noble. I think we see this moral confusion also with regard to gender confusion today, where we don’t know of male or female, this whole terminology of the gender that you were assigned before birth. We’ve become morally confused in terms of what’s right and wrong.

And I think that it goes back in part to a materialism in our culture and society about what really will fulfill our human heart. I think the sexual revolution had a big part in this, … which is premised on a lie that sexual activity is really what we need for human happiness and human flourishing.

If you accept that premise, then you need things like contraception, and if contraception fails, you need abortion to back that up. So I think it’s all kind of entwined with some of these materialistic values that the culture has embraced over time. I think we’ve been conditioned for this through media, through the entertainment industry, to kind of lose our moral bearing. So I think part of the work of the church today is to help our people see through the false goods that the culture holds up. And in the end, I think the truth is irrepressible, that these are lies and those lies, they will collapse, but there can be a lot of damage before that happens.

Q: Would you say this points to a denial of reality and people seeming to become disconnected with what is real in nature and in the world?

Absolutely. I mean we’re really in denial. And it’s really a battle over – I think John Paul saw this clearly, of anthropology – how we see the human person.

Our society’s going in a direction that is, well, I can be whatever I want to be. I can be whatever I imagine myself to be. I can deny the physical reality of my body. And so I think that’s such an obvious falsehood, and yet in this cultural confusion today, people have embraced it under the mantle of inclusion and compassion. And of course we want to be compassionate, we must be compassionate to people that struggle with these issues.

But true compassion always also is anchored in the truth. John Paul would say, we have to speak the truth, but speak it with love.

Q: How is the culture of death numbing people’s consciences and blinding them to the realities of abortion?

I think because, in some ways, it’s easy for us to ignore that abortion is going on. The victims are for the most part hidden from us until it directly impacts our family or someone that we may know. And part of it is, again, this cultural acceptance that we need abortion to be able to back up this sexual license that’s become one of the cultural “virtues.” And so I think many people have kind of been willing to compromise this because, well, it’s necessary if we’re going to have this opportunity to be sexually active in any circumstance that we might like. One of the cultural lies I think is that God made some huge mistake when he linked the most powerful and profound way for a man and a woman to express their love for each other and the ability to give life. And we’ve culturally tried to separate those things out. And what’s happened with it, it’s not only attacked life, but it’s also diminished love.

So we see this today in our young people. They don’t know how to date. They think Facebook friends are friends. And they’re really not. So I think there’s a lot of cultural lies that we’ve imbibed, and there’s serious consequences. One of the most serious is 61 million children dead from abortion. And each one of those has a parent, a mother and a father, that’s been scarred by that experience as well.

Q: Do you see any signs of anything that’s going to start turning this world around in terms of that skewed view of reality?

I think there’s a lot of hope with our young people. And we see this at the March for Life, the overwhelming number of young people. And we see it in the polling data with young people, too.They’ve lived under this cultural lie. Some of their generation has been eliminated by abortion. And they’ve also experienced some of the consequences of the sexual revolution that have been hurtful to marriage and family life. So I think our young people are more open to this.

But that said, they’re being influenced, too, by a lot of the strong cultural teachers, again, the media, the entertainment industry. But I see a lot of hope with the young people. And I think we’ve actually made some progress, as evidenced by the panic on the other side that they’re really afraid that the Supreme Court may, if not overturn Roe v. Wade, may pare it back significantly.

Q: Are there any other key takeaways from your experience with the March for Life?

I think the March for Life is always a moment of renewal for those that come to it, and a renewed commitment. The march this year was particularly focused on pro-life as also pro-women. And I think that has to be the way that we help people understand this issue. The pro-abortion groups have pitted the welfare of women against the welfare of their child. And this is a false conflict because, in reality, the welfare of the mother is linked to the welfare of the child and vice versa. And so I think we need to help people to see this is a false compassion towards women. And we need to surround women that are in a difficult pregnancy and support them with love. But the solution is not for them to – what Pope Francis will say – to hire a hitman to kill your own child. We see in the post-abortion industry, the deep scars that this creates. The women are really the second victims of the abortion.

Q: Are there other ways that you see pro-life efforts succeeding?

Our advocacy efforts, I think, are having an impact with the appointment of judges that really aren’t in the business of inventing rights out of the Constitution, which is I think where we got legally to where we are today. But also there’s been a decrease in the numbers of abortion in the country significantly. I think a lot of that goes to our crisis pregnancy centers. There’s over 2,700 crisis pregnancy centers in the United States today, and they serve over a half a million women each year. I think that’s had a significant impact. I see a lot of hope in some of the much younger people in the pro-life movement who are being pretty bold and trying to raise up the truth, people like David Daleiden and Lila Rose. I think they are really bringing kind of a new energy to the movement using some of the media and social media to bring home these truths.

Q: Can you give me a brief update on some of the recent bills in Congress?

The Dignity of Aborted Children Act was introduced last fall in both houses, but there’s been no action on it to date. This is a bill to try to protect how the remains of aborted children are treated. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act that was introduced in both houses in January 2019 – it’s had no action to date. But the Senate majority leader, Senator (Mitch) McConnell, said that he was going to call for a vote or allow a vote on it this coming week. … We have a majority vote in the Senate, but we don’t have the 60 votes that are needed to overcome a filibuster.

And the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, it’s been introduced in both houses. The Senate actually voted on this bill last year, and I think the vote was 53 to 44. So they didn’t have the 60 (votes) that were needed. In the House, since the Speaker of the House and the leaders up in the House oppose this, the only way to bring a vote to it would be to get a discharge petition, which takes a majority of the House members, 218 I think, in order to force a vote, even when the leadership doesn’t want it. Right now we’ve had 204 reps that have signed that. So we need 14 more to dislodge it … and bring a vote to it.

I do have to say, it’s unlikely that any of these are going to pass, but I think bigger miracles have happened. And I think it’s important to push for votes on these so people know where their senators, where their congressmen stand as well.

Editor’s note: On Feb. 25, the U.S. Senate failed to advance the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, lacking the 60 votes needed to overcome filibusters.

Q: Do you feel that those bills have at least brought a little bit more light onto the issues that they’re addressing?

Abortion kills a child and it kills a child in a very painful way, and especially the timeframe when most abortions happen. So the Pain-Capable Act I think enlightens people; this is not a victimless (action). This whole notion of a woman’s right over her body – well, yes, but there’s two bodies involved here. And so I think it helps to drive that home.

And then it should be an easy vote, this Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, because all it does is say, if a child survives an abortion, and we know that there are more than a hundred of these annually and probably a bigger number than we even know about, that then that child, once it’s born, it has the same rights as every other human being and it needs to be given care. We know that a lot of times these babies are suffocated or they’re just abandoned and left to die in a closet, in a storage room in the hospital.

But there are some survivors out there … Melissa Ogden is one of these survivors. And they’ve become powerful witnesses for life.

Q: In what ways can everyday Catholics be most effective in their support of pro-life efforts?

I think one of the initiatives that as a committee we’re promoting right now, that will begin in March, is this Walking with Moms in Need initiative. And by that, we’re hoping every diocese and every parish in the country really assesses what are the services available to a woman that’s in a difficult pregnancy. And what we want – we don’t see our parishes necessarily providing the direct services – (is) that every parish will be an oasis of mercy where a woman could go, or someone that knows a woman in crisis could go and find out where there are (services), or whatever she needs. And also for us to identify what are the gaps in services in particular areas and to see how we can go about filling those gaps. So people can get involved with their crisis pregnancy centers. They can go to their pastor and say, “I’d like to help with this initiative.” So that’s one concrete way.

Also being informed as voters. And I think living in a republic, a democratic republic, in some sense we get twhe laws that we deserve. So we need to use our vote wisely, and I think to vote according to this, as the bishops have said, which is a preeminent priority. Other issues are important, no doubt. But this issue is particularly significant because it attacks life when it’s most vulnerable, because it happens within the family and destroys the most sacred human bond between a mother and child, and because of the sheer numbers of 61 million abortions. No other issue really comes close to that loss of innocent human life.

In addition to voting, also writing, communicating with their legislators about pro-life bills, either at the federal or the state level, is another important way. Being ready to have a conversation with other people, being knowledgeable ourselves about it. Some of the most important pro-life education happens one-on-one. So conversations with family members, with friends, with people that we work with. …

And then the final thing is to pray, that every Catholic can pray that we as a society and culture will restore protection for human life.

Q: You mentioned supporting crisis pregnancy centers. Are there any other specific, tangible ways that people can directly help a woman who is in a difficult or unintended pregnancy?

I think certainly people within your own network of friends to accompany women at this time. Oftentimes the post-abortive women will say if there was just one person who told me you don’t have to do this, we’ll help you, we’ll support you, that that would make a difference in the decision making that they did. I think the most important pro-life effort really happens one-on-one educationally and pastorally as well. So there’s a program called the Gabriel Project in some parishes across the country, where people volunteer just to be there to accompany the woman, not to provide the services, but to connect them with the services. So that’s another very practical way people can be involved.

Q: Anything else that you would recommend to people, or your hopes for the future regarding this issue?

I think this issue is one that’s critical for our culture and our society today, that a society can’t survive, I think, if we permit the killing of our own children.When we met with Pope Francis about a month ago, one of the things that he said when he talks to people about this issue that don’t necessarily see it the way we do, he says he asks two questions: “Is it ever right to solve a problem by killing a child?” And he said the second question he asks: “Is it ever right to hire somebody to kill a child to solve a problem?”

And he said, “I know that’s kind of blunt,” but that helps people see this is the reality that we’re dealing with. And so I think we need to save the soul of our nation. And part of saving the soul of the nation is to return our country to being a nation that respects the sanctity of all human life.