A Lion for Life in Scranton: Bp. Joseph Martino’s Letter for Respect Life Sunday

This just in from the Most Rev. Joseph Martino of Diocese of Scranton, PA treated with my emphases and comments as usual:

  At the direction of the Most Reverend Bishop, this letter is to be read by the celebrant at all Masses of Obligation on Respect Life Weekend, Saturday, October 4, and Sunday, October 5, at the time of and instead of the homily. 

Moreover, a copy of the letter should be circulated with all parish bulletins on this same weekend.

Respect Life Sunday


My brothers and sisters in Christ,

The American Catholic bishops initiated Respect Life Sunday in 1972, the year before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the United States. Since that time, Catholics across the country observe the month of October with devotions and pro-life activities in order to advance the culture of life. This October, our efforts have more significance than ever. Never have we seen such abusive criticism directed toward those who believe that life begins at conception and ends at natural death[Outta the gate fast!  Good for you, Your Excellency!]

          As Catholics, we should not be surprised by these developments. Forty years ago, Pope Paul VI predicted that widespread use of artificial contraceptives would lead to increased marital infidelity, lessened regard for women, and a general lowering of moral standards especially among the young. Forty years later, social scientists, not necessarily Catholics, attest to the accuracy of his predictions. As if following some bizarre script, [well said] the sexual revolution has produced widespread marital breakdown, weakened family ties, legalized abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, pornography, same-sex unions, euthanasia, destruction of human embryos for research purposes and a host of other ills

          It is impossible for me to answer all of the objections to the Church’s teaching on life that we hear every day in the media. Nevertheless, let me address a few. To begin, laws that protect abortion constitute injustice of the worst kind. They rest on several false claims including that there is no certainty regarding when life begins, that there is no certainty about when a fetus becomes a person, and that some human beings may be killed to advance the interests or convenience of others.[Tell that to Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Biden, along with a whole crowd of Catholic politicians.]  With regard to the first, reason and science have answered the question. The life of a human being begins at conception. The Church has long taught this simple truth, and science confirms it. Biologists can now show you the delicate and beautiful development of the human embryo in its first days of existence. This is simply a fact that reasonable people accept. Regarding the second, the embryo and the fetus have the potential to do all that an adult person does. Finally, the claim that the human fetus may be sacrificed to the interests or convenience of his mother or someone else is grievously wrong. All three claims have the same result: the weakest and most vulnerable are denied, because of their age, the most basic protection that we demand for ourselves. This is discrimination at its worst, and no person of conscience should support it[The great thing about this is that it takes the "abortion rights" question out of the sphere of religion alone.  Catholics don’t have to argue as Catholics, necessarily.  They can argue from the basis of reason and science.]

Another argument goes like this: “As wrong as abortion is, I don’t think it is the only relevant ‘life’ issue that should be considered when deciding for whom to vote.” This reasoning is sound only if other issues carry the same moral weight as abortion does, such as in the case of euthanasia and destruction of embryos for research purposes. Health care, education, economic security, immigration, and taxes are very important concerns. [Excellent.  What he has done is explode that other issues (with those exceptions) have a moral equivalence.  They don’t.  Some issues are more fundamental.]  Neglect of any one of them has dire consequences as the recent financial crisis demonstrates. [He makes it current.] However, the solutions to problems in these areas do not usually involve a rejection of the sanctity of human life in the way that abortion does. Being “right” on taxes, education, health care, immigration, and the economy fails to make up for the error of disregarding the value of a human life. [Precisely!  There is no moral equivalence between these blocks of issues.]  Consider this: the finest health and education systems, the fairest immigration laws, and the soundest economy do nothing for the child who never sees the light of day. It is a tragic irony that “pro-choice” candidates have come to support homicide – the gravest injustice a society can tolerate – in the name of “social justice.”  [And more ironic is the fact that unless you support embryonic research – because of the chimera of thereby curing grama’s Parkinson’s Disease, you are thus somehow against life.]

Even the Church’s just war theory has moral force because it is grounded in the principle that innocent human life must be protected and defended. [Interesting that he brings this in.  The Church does admit that there can be just wars but does not admit that there are just abortions.  There can be just executions, but not just euthanasia.  Somewhere in this is a separate principle.  And we must take into accont the principle of secondary (intended) effects, as well.]  Now, a person may, in good faith, misapply just war criteria leading him to mistakenly believe that an unjust war is just, but he or she still knows that innocent human life may not be harmed on purpose. A person who supports permissive abortion laws, however, rejects the truth that innocent human life may never be destroyed. This profound moral failure runs deeper and is more corrupting of the individual, and of the society, than any error in applying just war criteria to particular cases.   [Good paragraph… he properly disconnects anti-Iraq War sentiment from the abortion issue.]

Furthermore, National Right to Life reports that 48.5 million abortions have been performed since 1973. One would be too many. No war, no natural disaster, no illness or disability has claimed so great a price[So, there is the issue of scale.]

          In saying these things in an election year, I am in very good company. My predecessor, Bishop Timlin, writing his pastoral letter on Respect Life Sunday 2000, stated the case eloquently:  [Continuity with his predecessor….]

Abortion is the issue this year and every year in every campaign. Catholics may not turn away from the moral challenge that abortion poses for those who seek to obey God’s commands. They are wrong when they assert that abortion does not concern them, or that it is only one of a multitude of issues of equal importance. No, the taking of innocent human life is so heinous, so horribly evil, and so absolutely opposite to the law of Almighty God that abortion must take precedence over every other issue. I repeat. It is the single most important issue confronting not only Catholics, but the entire electorate.

My fellow bishops, writing ten years ago, explained why some evils – abortion and euthanasia in particular – take precedence over other forms of violence and abuse. 

The failure to protect life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community. If we understand the human person as ‘the temple of the Holy Spirit’ – the living house of God – then these latter issues fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation . These directly and immediately violate the human person’s most fundamental right – the right to life. Neglect of these issues is the equivalent of building our house on sand. Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, 23.

While the Church assists the State in the promotion of a just society, its primary concern is to assist men and women in achieving salvation[Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  Their sphere’s of interest overlap at places, but are separate in significant ways.] For this reason, it is incumbent upon bishops to correct Catholics who are in error regarding these matters. [YES YES YES!] Furthermore, public officials who are Catholic and who persist in public support for abortion and other intrinsic evils should not partake in or be admitted to the sacrament of Holy Communion. As I have said before, I will be vigilant on this subject[Get that?  "I will be vigilant…"]

It is the Church’s role now to be a prophet in our own country, [It seems to me that this bishops really responded to Pope Benedict’s invitation to bishops made when he visited the USA.]  reminding all citizens of what our founders meant when they said that “. . . all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Church’s teaching that all life from conception to natural death should be protected by law is founded on religious belief to be sure, but it is also a profoundly American principle founded on reason. Whenever a society asks its citizens to violate its own foundational principles – as well as their moral consciences – citizens have a right, indeed an obligation, to refuse.  [Again… when Catholics argue for a life position, they can do so in such a way that they cannot be accused to imposing sectarian views on the majority in the public square.]

In 1941, [Blessed] Bishop Gustave [CLEMENS, no?] von Galen [the Lion of Munster] gave a homily condemning Nazi officials for murdering mentally ill people in his diocese of Muenster, Germany. The bishop said:

“Thou shalt not kill!” God wrote this commandment in the conscience of man long before any penal code laid down the penalty for murder, long before there was any prosecutor or any court to investigate and avenge a murder. Cain, who killed his brother Abel, was a murderer long before there were any states or any courts or law. And he confessed his deed, driven by his accusing conscience: “My punishment is greater than I can bear. . . and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me the murderer shall slay me” (Genesis 4:13-14)”

Should he have opposed the war and remained silent about the murder of the mentally ill? No person of conscience can fail to understand why Bishop von Galen spoke as he did. [And therefore no one can say that a Catholic Bishops in the USA does not have the right and obligation to speak up about the rights of the unborn and those who are targets of euthanasia.]

My dear friends, I beg you not to be misled by confusion and lies. [Redolent of St. Paul, in this Pauline year.] Our Lord, Jesus Christ, does not ask us to follow him to Calvary only for us to be afraid of contradicting a few bystanders along the way. He does not ask us to take up his Cross only to have us leave it at the voting booth door[The money line.] Recently, Pope Benedict XVI said that “God is so humble that he uses us to spread his Word.” The gospel of life, which we have the privilege of proclaiming, resonates in the heart of every person – believer and non-believer – because it fulfills the heart’s most profound desire. Let us with one voice continue to speak the language of love and affirm the right of every human being to have the value of his or her life, from conception to natural death, respected to the highest degree.

October is traditionally the month of the Rosary. [We uses not only arguments but prayer.]  Let us pray the Rosary for the strength and fortitude to uphold the truths of our faith and the requirements of our law to all who deny them. And, let us ask Our Lady to bless our nation and the weakest among us.

          May Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Lord of Life, pray for us.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Joseph F. Martino, D.D., Hist. E.D.
Bishop of Scranton

Three cheers with WDTPRS kudos for Bishop Martino!

It seems to me that as the bishops in the USA, one by one, are coming out with statements, those statements are getting better and better.

It strikes me that the bishops are using each other’s statements, along with the fine book by Archbishop Chaput, to craft ever stronger letters. 

Ever stronger. 

Do you share the impression that the bishops are strengthening each other … after Peter came to the USA to strengthen the brethren?

That is my thought.

On 16 April 2008, His Holiness spoke the assembled bishops of the United States and said:

Clearly, the Church’s influence on public debate takes place on many different levels. In the United States, as elsewhere, there is much current and proposed legislation that gives cause for concern from the point of view of morality, and the Catholic community, under your guidance, needs to offer a clear and united witness on such matters. Even more important, though, is the gradual opening of the minds and hearts of the wider community to moral truth. Here much remains to be done. Crucial in this regard is the role of the lay faithful to act as a "leaven" in society. Yet it cannot be assumed that all Catholic citizens think in harmony with the Church’s teaching on today’s key ethical questions. Once again, it falls to you to ensure that the moral formation provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the Gospel of life.

"it falls to you to ensure that the moral formation provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the Gospel of life".

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Piers-the-Ploughman says:

    a stirring letter. as per his request, a rosary will be said tonight.

  2. Lindsay says:

    I recently heard about “The Lion of Munster” in a homily the Sunday after Biden’s appointment–amazing story that made quite an impression on us. We came close to naming our son “Clemens August” after him, but decided to name our “Exaltation of the Holy Cross” and one year anniversary of Summorum Pontificum baby Victor instead:-).

    Which brings me to my question: I thought his name was Clemens August von Galen–where does Gustave come from (which, incidently, I always thought was a French name rather than German)? Typo? Something else? Just curious…


  3. Maureen says:

    Probably word association or a bad source. There was a German Jesuit known for being anti-Nazi who was named Gustav Gundlach, for example.

  4. Johnny Domer says:

    The same thing happened in Brazil after His Holiness visited there; the bishops started getting really tough against abortion there after Benedict’s visit also.

  5. Paul Murnane says:

    Do you share the impression that the bishops are strengthening each other … after Peter came to the USA to strengthen the brethren?

    Absolutely! It’s so great to see individual bishops step-up and be counted and not wait for the drivel to come out of the USCCB. That being said, there are a whole lot of bishops out there who have yet to stand up and be counted.

  6. Mickey says:

    Deo gratia per virii bonae! (my amateur Latin…how’d I do?)

  7. TJM says:

    This is probably the most magnificent peroration I have heard from an American bishop who once and for all has cut the legs out under the “moral equivalence” argument that somehow abortion must be weighed with regard to other grave matters. Unfortunately Catholics on the left (See story about the “Sisters” of Mercy at Carlow College in Pittsburgh over at American Papist) they simply will not listen nor heed this shepherd’s words. Like Satan, they will say “non serviam.” Tom

    ps: Wasn’t Senator Biden born in the Diocese of Scranton? How ironic.

  8. Stephanie says:

    Dear Father Z., I am a parishioner of the Scranton Diocese, and I can’t tell you hop proud I am of our Bishop. I only request that you, and anyone else who might read this to please keep Bishop Martino in your prayers. He is being constantly attacked by so many liberal minded people, and he suffers greatly. Please keep him in your prayers. Also, if possible, maybe some of you could give his office a call or send him an e-mail of encouragement?

    Thank you, Father Z, for all you do as well. I love your blog!

  9. Louis E. says:

    I remind you again that the contention that science supports Catholic teaching is based on a selective reading of evidence,searching for an interpretation that supports Catholic teaching.It is more accurate to say that science has disproven the assumption that there is a specific moment at which an individual’s life begins.

  10. Neil, Cambridge UK says:

    Fr. Z,

    I agree with your sentiments and analysis. I am glad the American bishops are realising this sort of thing is possible and necessary. This is extraordinarily clear and courageous teaching and exactly what the faithful need to hear in times like these. Not just in America but all over the Western World. Pray that bishops in other English speaking countries, such as England and Wales, will have the vision and courage to speak out like this. The last pastoral letter I remember hearing here was about energy-saving light bulbs.

  11. Jane Fulthorpe says:


    A commenter on Damian Thompson’s current post has rubbished your ‘martial plan’ and I am furious. (The person has obviously not seen ‘The Papacy of Reason.) I’d love to refute this individual myself, but YOU are the best person to do that. For the sake of confidence in Pope Benedict, I’d be so grateful if you’d nip over there and demolish your detractor, which you would be bound to do more cogently and effectively than I could.

    It is profoundly heartening to see the Bishope of the US strengthening each other as you continually report. The sure result will be the beginnings of a true ‘renewal’ of the Faith in your country. One is gratified to see that this renewal is ethically and theologicaly as well as liturgically based. No sign of anything like it in ‘Blighty’ I’m afraid. Would be grateful to hear your ideas about the possible successor in Westminster. If anywhere needs a visit from His Holiness, it is England and Wales. After our history, our Martyrs, the fight for Catholic Emancipation etc. I can’t believe that His Holiness is going to allow us (once again) to sink almost entirely into Protestantism.

    My spirits are low. I desperately need some encouragement.


  12. Jane Fulthorpe says:


    The offending comment is at the bottom of page 2 of current discussion about the Wesminster succession.


  13. Brian Wisconsin says:

    Father, we need the bishop’s comments to be heard far and wide because unfortunately because of charlatans like Doug Kmiec, it will be hard to get the message across. See this (http://www.prolifeproobama.com/plpo_kmiecaudio.htm). It will stun you and cause your jaw to drop. We need to pray and fast between now and election day like never before that our nation is not subjected to the Freedom of Choice Act, which Kmiec is now saying doesn’t say something it clearly says (which is, namely, that all pro-life laws are out the windows, that you can’t have conscience clauses for those who are pro-life, and which will probably result in the closing of any Catholic hospital that has any integrity). God help us all.

  14. mrteachersir says:


    This is the fourth time I’ve read Bishop Martino’s letter. It gets better every time I read it. we must all pray for him, as he is attacked daily in his own city. However, as he once told me, if the media is upset, he must be doing something right!

    Loius E.
    “Methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things the of the faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are” (CCC 159). In otherwords, I’m taking the Church’s stance on this one because as our bishops have said numerous times, reason dictates that a human embryo, even when it is a single cell, is a human. Science can be corrupted by the human will, the Spirit of Truth can never be corrupted.

  15. Phil (NL) says:

    It is great that Bishop Martino mentions Blessed Cardinal von Galen. It’s sad that he gets the name wrong (for the record, none of his baptismal names is Gustav. But regardless of this unfortunate error, the life of cardinal von Galen is worthy of attention.

    Before the war he was one of the driving forces behind ‘Mit brennender Sorge’, Pius IX encycical against the nazis, during the war he literally risked his own life, by preaching and even filing charges of murder in response to the ‘euthanesia’ program. The nazis would have hanged him, were it not for the fact they feared insurrection in the Muenster region if they did it, so they decided to delay his murder till after the victory – which deo gratias never came. (A small aside, in the German WWII context euthanesia had an ever more sinister meaning, as the government decided if the life wasn’t worth living, as opposed to the person making that error himself, as proposed nowadays – not that such a distinction makes it right, of course)

    He was a great shepard for his flock in the darkest of times, as well as during the massive devastation, lawlessness and turmoil in that region just after the defeat of the nazis, but above all else, and example for us all. Nec laubibus, nec timore!

  16. Gerard E. says:

    Magnificent. As fine a statement on human life as these eyes have ever read. A thousand thanks to the Most Excellent Bishop of Scranton for laying down serious smack. May I also remind the brethren that he was born, raised, buttered in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. And that Philly Guys regularly are shipped to other places to do good work. Bravo, Bishop Homie.

  17. M says:

    Father Z.,

    Organizations such as March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society publicly support human embryonic stem cell research, but I often see fundraising for them through Catholic churches. Have Catholic bishops spoken about this in the past? What is your take on this?

    Thank you for a very informative website. Please keep us all in your prayers.

  18. I am also of the Scranton diocese. The Mass celebrant was to read this and I heard it this weekend at the Immaculate Conception parish in Scranton.

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