Bishop Oscar Cantu, coadjutor bishop of San Jose, California, has assumed pastoral governance of the…
Bishop emeritus shares pastoral letter on race and abortion
Do Black lives matter? Does all human life matter — born and unborn?
“I praise you, for I am wonderfully made … you knit me in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139:14, 13).
As followers of Christ the answer to both questions is a resounding, clear — yes! For us all life unborn and born at every stage of life is sacred and precious. And every person, black, brown, white, of whatever race, creed, social condition or religion, matters greatly because, as we hear in the Bible’s first book, human beings are made in the very image and likeness of God. Scripture also affirms in many other passages that the wonderful divine images begin at conception in a mother’s womb and are true human beings. Then St. Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians stresses the great reverence and respect for each member of the body of Christ, joyfully telling, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit?” (6:19). What an outstanding privilege. The profound words of the Holy Spirit provide us with the greatest inspiration and compelling reason to never hurt the body of a fellow human and to never kill a person. Our belief about the unborn has been confirmed by biology, other science and medical research that human beings begin at the first moment of conception. This human life — each and every person — has then been given greater value as it has been redeemed by the blood of Christ on the cross and his resurrection. Paul again reminds us, “for you have been purchased at a price” (1 Cor 6:20).
The question of whether Black lives matter, and all human life, has been brought to the forefront by the terrible death of the temple of the Holy Spirit George Floyd by police brutality and surfaced the terrible evil of racism, which is still present in our society. The racism that predicated the murder and the resulting hatred and violence are rooted in a distortion of the human person, of the human heart. Black Lives Matter focuses our attention on the sad fact that racism and segregation continues to degrade the God given dignity and respect of each person, of a temple of the Holy Spirit, simply because of being Black. Racism is basically a spiritual issue that touches the depth of the human heart. Sadly, racism is still present in our country, and throughout the world and lurking even in the Church. It is precisely our Christian faith that offers the remedy to sin’s ugly fruits.
While the social, political, economic and other dimensions of racism must be addressed, the starting point is the human heart. The moral evil of racism is rooted in the heart, and Jesus tells us from the heart flows hatred, anger, rash judgements and negative attitudes that affect our lives, prejudices and cruel actions. This is a moment with Christ for each to look into our hearts, to examine honestly and sincerely any areas of our lives afflicted by racial injustice that do not correspond with Christ’s call to love one another as sisters and brothers. For this to happen we urgently need individually and as a community a deep conversion of heart, a spiritual, moral heart transplant that God describes for us in the prophet Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (36:26). This heart Jesus wants to feed and fill with his body and love in the Eucharist. We need to let in the piercing light of the Holy Spirit to see our hearts as God sees them. All change begins in the heart, and then we can truly change all the other evil dimensions of racism and segregation. Our Muslim sisters and brothers in the Quran reminds us that God does not change the condition of a people unless they change the condition that is within their hearts. Any programs or plans to overcome the evil of racism must have a strong spiritual foundation. Healthy, Christ-like heart formation begins in the home, with parents and children, and it continues in our churches and our schools, especially in our Catholic Schools.
This is a moment to establish in our churches and at an ecumenical level — faith sharing and prayer groups based on the word of God — pleading for the light, the love, the wisdom and knowledge of the Holy Spirit to eradicate this destructive evil from our hearts and all areas of our lives. The evil of racism and segregation has been condemned by Pope Francis and all Catholic bishops, and they are calling everyone to respect the divine value of all human life from its very beginning until its natural end as determined by God, reminding us of the divine appreciation of the value and esteem we mere humans of all colors have in the eyes of God. Each is a special temple of the Holy Spirit. This is an important opportunity for all people on planet earth to address the scourge of racism with its many faces and forms, and to also sincerely examine our conscience and to seek God’s forgiveness and mercy where we have let racism into our lives and to challenge and confront any form of bigotry, such as anti-Semitism, and then to promote love and harmony in humankind in the midst of diversity and to love every person as Christ commands us. As followers of Jesus, we recognize that racism is basically an evil of the heart.
This is the time for prayer and dialogue in church and community groups with all people of whatever color, to discuss this basic human issue and create a new appreciation for each one regardless of one’s color, ethnic background or creed. These are challenging times, and the best way to navigate them is with prayer and through real honest conversation. We need to talk through policies, argue about procedures, look at them through the lens of Scripture and the social teaching of our Church. We need to address the root causes of structured racism, including economic inequalities, for African Americans and Hispanic workers, and especially for women, criminal justice reform and environmental justice to dismantle unjust systems and structures. Action is needed by corporations and government to confront racism in an economy that chokes off economic mobility and career opportunities.
With our police officers, we need more national and local official meetings and “neighborhood nights out,” to bring together the law officers for social, community sharing and eating together. These neighborhood gatherings cultivate relationships and deepen trust and affirm that the vast majority of officers are dedicated to serve and seek the common good, and promote justice to bring about peace. This sharing encourages all of us to pray for our law enforcement people, who literally put their lives on the line every day. Also, we need open and sincere community sharing with civil authorities and police to address the issue of force and brutality and to encourage federal and local authorities to better train law enforcement officers in the appropriate use of force, but also against patterns of discrimination and prejudice.
This tragic sorrowful movement in human history is also a divine given moment to use the grace God is offering us, to all humanity, reminding us to respect and work together as we all have the same divine origin and destiny. It is also a spiritual reminder for all of us, of all colors, races and religions, as one human community to also address the marvelous truth that we all have the same heavenly father who has an immense love for each and all, and to join together as sisters and brothers of Christ, on life’s journey with new respect and love to proclaim the sacredness of all human life at every stage of life with its issues, beginning with the precious unborn, and until natural death as determined by God. This should motivate us to love another as brothers and sisters as Christ commands us. With this divine love and inspiration, there is no obstacle we can’t overcome. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that we are in the same boat of life, and there is room for all, especially for the tiny, weak, unborn persons.
Several times in recent weeks, I have written to the leaders Black Lives Matter affirming their efforts to condemn racism, the terrible death of George Floyd and police brutality and their efforts to respect the dignity of Black lives and to remove symbols and signs that promote racism. I have also asked over and over for this movement to include the precious unborn temples of the Holy Spirit, black babies and all unborn little ones by adding to this movement “All Black Lives Matter.” As I mentioned earlier, in God’s eyes and confirmed by our human biology, all the unborn are true human beings. The terrible evil of abortion kills a precious child of God and a tiny person, a temple of the Holy Spirit. As members of the Catholic Church, we may want to cooperate with Black Lives Matter to overcome the terrible evil of racism and segregation. But we point out that there are basic issues in the Black Lives Matter manifesto that clearly stand in opposition to the teaching of our Church. I was discouraged that I never received a reply from Black Lives Matter about these concerns. We strongly state that abortion kills a precious child of God — a tiny person — and we as a Church choose life for both mother and child.
Thankfully, good, courageous and caring Black leaders plead for this movement to include the unborn people, our little sisters and brothers, true images of the divine likeness, and they protest abortion especially by Planned Parenthood, the biggest supplier of abortion in the U.S.A. From these leaders I have learned of the connection of this movement to Planned Parenthood, whose founder, Margaret Sanger, professed Blacks are “inferior in the human race.” Alveda King, the niece of the great civil rights leader, quotes her uncle: “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now” of life. Sadly, in the boat of life, the organization Black Lives Matter does not allow protection for the vulnerable, precious unborn, letting them “drown” in the brutal sea of abortion. In the eyes of our heavenly father and creator, the precious life of each unborn child, a little image of God and temple of the Holy Spirit in the womb torn apart in abortion, has as much eternal value and dignity as the life of the temple of the Holy Spirit of dear George Floyd, who was brutally killed. Alveda in her Fourth of July message asked all Americans, “Can we dare to celebrate the aspirations that as American people we can live together, prosper together, and grow in liberty and justice? Admittedly, those aspirations for our nation have yet to encompass the rights of all American; especially those in the womb, those oppressed by the yolk of racism and other human barriers. However, hope is still alive. We are not colorblind.” Earlier President Donald Trump on July 3 stated, “We believe in equal opportunity, equal justice, and equal treatment for citizens of every race, background, religion and creed. Every child of every color — born and unborn — is made in the holy image of God.”
More recently Alveda affirms, “I am continuing my family legacy of justice, on behalf of the soul of our nation by battling the horrors of abortion.” Alveda continues, “I have teamed with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, Ion Voight, Stacey Dash, Steve Guttenberg, to produce a movie about the real story of Roe v. Wade.” She adds, “abortion in America is true genocide. Since I have announced that I was producing a movie on the history of Roe v. Wade, enemies have done everything possible to block our productions.” She asks all of us for assistance and support. The largest number of killed Black Americans is not by police violence but abortion. Alveda has expressed sorrow at the 61 million unborn babies who have been aborted, including 20 million unborn Black babies since Roe v. Wade in 1973. Alveda continues, “In New York city, more black babies are aborted than born … it is not racist to point out this truth. It is racist to perpetuate this genocide.” Census data indicates that African Americans are about 13% of the U.S. population, but they have nearly 40% of all abortions. And Planned Parenthood abortion business kills 247 Black babies in abortion every day.
Planned Parenthood is not helping Black families but targeting them, and this racist attitude goes back to its founder Margaret Sanger. A well-known eugenist, Sanger wrote and spoke frequently about how she believed certain groups of human beings were less valuable. She targeted Blacks, referring to them as “weeds” who should never be born. She wrote in a letter, “we do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the negro population.” Sanger was invited and spoke at a gathering of the Klu Klux Klan. In view of this, many say the Black Lives Matter movement is hypocritical to say Black lives matter and also support abortion, the major killer of Black unborn persons. Black Lives Matter wants signs and symbols of racism to be removed. They should first insist that the statue of racist Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, be removed from the Smithsonian museum and other places. Recently congressman U.S. Russ Fulcher of Idaho expressed his concern as to why an avid racist and eugenicist is featured so prominently in the museum. And scores of employees of Planned Parenthood in the New York area have accused it of “systematic racism,” abusive behavior and financial malfeasance.
Ryan Bomberger, a Black pro-life speaker and author, and co-founder of the Radiance Foundation tells listeners, about Black Lives Matter: “I see a movement that is not moving us in the right direction … I see it as a destructive secular movement that is hostile to Christianity. … It is about segregation.”
Black pastor Reverend Johnny Hunter, leader at the Life Education and Resource Network, for years has been pleading for the Black community to speak out against the “lynching” of unborn babies in the womb. Hunter said, “Brothers and sisters, it is time for us to go to the streets on this issue. … If we look the other way, while our smallest brothers and sisters are being lynched in the womb, we lose the right to be outraged that we were once lynched by the Klan.”
Black Catholic Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, the Archbishop of Durban South Africa states, Black Lives Matter doesn’t care about Black babies killed in abortion. Cardinal Napier has said the movement has been “hijacked” by radical political groups that do not really care about all Black lives. He wrote, “A brief study of the founding statement of ‘Black Lives Matter’ indicates the movement is being hijacked by the interests and parties committed to dismantling the very values, structure and institutions which have over the centuries undergird the best civilizations and cultures.” The cardinal added, “Another crucial test of the authenticity of the Black Lives Matter movement will be its stance vis-a-vis Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry.” The Black Lives Matter movement began because people believe Black Americans are being unfairly targeted and abused by the police. But today the organization is a radical, pro-abortion political group that pushes anti-life, anti-Black and anti-family policies, including abortion on demand. Today, people are rioting and protesting in the streets to fight racism. But if Black Lives Matter does not include the unborn babies in its movement, it loses its credibility.
The unborn are crying for our attention as we deal with the evil of abortion and pleading with us to save their precious lives made in image and likeness of God, each one a temple of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, some who strongly promote the right to kill unborn babies in the womb want to give this brutal evil constitutional protection. After a recent Supreme Court decision on a special abortion issue, presidential candidate, Joe Biden affirmed his support of abortion “under any circumstances,” and he strongly supports that women have a constitutional right to choose abortion. He has stated that as president he will codify Roe v. Wade, and he will have the public pay for these abortions. Supporting this position, the Speaker of the House lends her support stating it is an “injustice” that Americans are not forced to pay for the killing of unborn children. They classify this massacre of the unborn as “health care.” But Black Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, dissenting from the court decision, strongly holds that abortion “is without a shred of support from the Constitution’s text.” Justice thomas adds, “Our abortion precedents are gravely wrong and should be overruled.”
Pope Francis and the U.S. bishops firmly condemn racism in all its forms and ugly faces, upholding the inviability of human life from conception and support all efforts to eradicate this evil in society, and they clearly remind us that abortion is the preeminent priority of all the many important life issues. This is the right of rights, and without it all other rights collapse. While we promote and defend this first right, yes, we must courageously pray and work to protect all other human rights at every stage of life. In his memorable document Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), Pope St. John Paul II has made the life of the unborn and the evil of abortion a doctrine of our catholic faith. The earliest form of segregation and child abuse is abortion, a heinous crime, an abomination in God’s eyes.
The Holy Spirit in the word of God says about each human person ever made since Adam and Eve: “I praise you, for I am wonderfully made … you knit me in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139:14, 13). “From my mother’s womb he gave me my name” (Is 49:1). “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer 1:5). “On you I have depended since birth; from my mother’s womb you are my strength” (Ps 71:6). “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb … the infant in my womb leaped with joy” (Lk 1:42, 44).
From the moment of conception, unborn babies are unique, living human beings made in the wonderful image and likeness of God — tiny temples of the Holy Spirit. They are children at the earliest stage of development. Abortion does not merely end a pregnancy, it destroys a life — the life of a precious valuable, irreplaceable child. What marvelous, divine gift is every human being and the wonderful privilege given to a mother and father in marriage to cooperate with God to bring a new person, a new temple of the Holy Spirit into our world. Indeed, all human life greatly matters, both the born and unborn.
Fraternally yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Michael Pfeifer, Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate
Bishop Michael Pfeifer is the bishop emeritus of the Diocese of San Angelo, Texas.