Bishops Fight for Life
by Christopher Dodson,
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
September 2001

The ordination of Reverend Samuel Aquila as coadjutor bishop for the Diocese of Fargo and the celebration of October as Respect Life Month in the church, gives reason to reflect on the role of the bishop in proclaiming the Gospel of Life.

Pope John Paul II’s extraordinary and prophetic encyclical,
Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life) touched upon how every ministry, every Catholic, and even every person of good will can and should further the cause of protecting and enhancing human life. His message was clear -- everyone has a job to do. It flows from what it means to be a Catholic and what it means to be human.

For the bishops, the Holy Father had a specific message: “We (bishops) are the first ones called to be untiring preachers of the Gospel of life.” Bishop Aquila seemed to take a cue from that call when he started his episcopal ministry. At his ordination, Bishop Aquila stated his desire to further the culture of life in the Diocese of Fargo.

By doing so, Bishop Aquila joined in the efforts of Bishop James Sullivan and Bishop Paul Zipfel in their work for the cause of life. Moreover, he joins the bishops of the United States, the world, and the Holy Father, in their cause for life. It’s good company. Their work is not only guided by the Holy Spirit, but has shown success.

More than a few have observed that the bishops of the United States have kept the pro-life movement alive in the face of great opposition. Their social policies, concern for the woman, and respect for all stages of life have kept the media and death proponents from labelling and marginalizing the pro-life movement as “right-wing extremism.” The bishops’ call for a consistent ethic of life without using the “seamless garment” as an excuse not to prioritize or act on abortion, has given an internal logic to the movement. The bishops and the Holy Father are perhaps most responsible for the changing public opinion on the death penalty in the United States.

As is to be expected, every bishop proclaims the Gospel of life in his own way. Nevertheless, there is remarkable agreement and consistency with which they have approached the culture of death. Some disagree with the bishops’ “incremental approach” to abortion. That approach recognizes that victories may have to come in pieces until total protection of human life can be achieved. However, the bishops -- who are the teaching authorities for the dioceses -- are unanimous in their understanding that the approach is appropriate under
Evangelium Vitae. Moreover, the strategy has worked. Women’s right to know laws, parental consent requirements, waiting periods, and other restrictions on abortion have worked to save lives and gain public support for the cause of life.

The bishops are also prophetic in their recognition that restrictions and abolition alone will not end abortion. Efforts must include addressing the causes of abortion and particularly the needs of women facing crisis pregnancies. Bishop Paul Zipfel and Bishop James Sullivan did just that when they supported an alternative to abortions program during the last legislative session. By doing so, they followed the work of the bishops of Pennsylvania and are now being followed by bishops across the nation.

North Dakota Catholics are privileged to have such great bishops to lead us in the cause for life. We look forward to following Bishop Aquila as he also leads us in the proclaiming and working for the Gospel of life.