Archbishop Samuel Aquila, the new archbishop of Denver, released a pastoral letter today, as the United States marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. In the letter, his first since arriving to Denver, the 62-year-old prelate recalls his own personal experience with abortion.

"I went to college in 1968 with the idea of becoming a doctor, like my father," the archbishop begins.

He recounts how his first three years of college were spent working as a hospital orderly: "At that time, some states had approved abortion laws that I wasn't even aware of. Because of those laws, when I was in college I witnessed the results of two abortions.

"The first was in a surgical unit. I walked into an outer room and in the sink, unattended, was the body of small unborn child who had been aborted. I remember being stunned. I remember thinking that I had to baptize that child.

"The second abortion was more shocking. A young woman came into the emergency room screaming. She explained that she had had an abortion already. When the doctor sent her home, he told her she would pass the remains naturally. She was bleeding as the doctor, her boyfriend, the nurse and I placed her on a table.

"I held a basin as the doctor retrieved a tiny arm, a tiny leg and then the rest of the broken body of a tiny unborn child. I was shocked. I was saddened for the mother and child, for the doctor and the nurse. None of us would have participated in such a thing were it not an emergency. I witnessed a tiny human being destroyed by violence."

Archbishop Aquila said the memories of those events haunt him. "In the abortions I witnessed, powerful people made decisions that ended the lives of small, powerless, children. Through lies and manipulation, children were seen as objects."

"I witnessed the death of two small people who never had the chance to take a breath," the prelate wrote. "I can never forget that. And I have never been the same. My faith was weak at the time. But I knew by reason, and by what I saw, that a human life was destroyed."


The Denver archbishop said there is a responsibility to "work and pray without ceasing" for the end of abortion.

"Tolerating abortion for 40 years has coarsened us," Archbishop Aquila warned. "We've learned to see people as problems and objects. [...] Today we must recognize that 40 years of sanctioned killing has given the culture of death a firm footing and foundation in our nation."

The prelate stated that Christians bear some responsibility for "our national shame," because some have supported pro-choice positions or "failed to change minds or win hearts."

"We've failed to convince the culture that all life has dignity. In the prospect of unspeakable evil, we’ve done too little, for too long, with tragic results," he said. "Today is a day to repent. But with repentance comes resolve to start anew. The 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade is a day to commit to a culture of life. Today the Lord is calling us to stand up."


The letter goes on to explain the Church's teaching on the dignity of human life, as the pastor urges the faithful to be prepared to defend this truth.

"Despite the clear teaching of the Church, many Catholics, and especially Catholic politicians, maintain that their personal opposition to abortion should not affect their participation in civic life. These arguments are unreasonable, and disingenuous. No one, especially a person in public office, is exempt from the duty to defend the common good. And the first and indispensable condition for the common good is respect for the right to life," Archbishop Aquila wrote. 

He said that at the base of arguments that recognize abortion as immoral but support its legal protection is "relativism and cowardice."

"Catholic political leaders who claim that they can separate the truths of faith from their political lives are choosing to separate themselves from truth, from Christ, and from the communion of the Catholic Church," the prelate added. "On the contrary, Catholic political leaders who truly understand the teachings of the Church and who use their creativity and initiative to develop new and creative ways to end the legal protection for abortion deserve the praise and support of the Church, and of the lay faithful. All of us must put our energy and effort into ending the legal protection for abortion. It is, and must be, the primary political objective of American Catholics -- it is difficult to imagine any political issue with the same significance as the sanctioned killing of children."


The prelate said that legal efforts are important but that "law follows culture" and when we live in a culture that "respects the dignity of all human life," laws will follow suit.

"A culture of life, quite simply, is one which joyfully receives and celebrates the divine gift of life. A culture of life recognizes human dignity not as an academic or theological concept, but as an animating principle—as a measure of the activity of the family and the community. A culture of life supports most especially the life of the family. It supports and celebrates the dignity of the disabled, the unborn, and the aged. A culture of life seeks to live in gratitude for the gift of life God has given us," he said.

Particularly, the archbishop called for charity in the family.

"The charity of the culture of life also supports works of mercy, apostolates of social justice and support. Families impacted by the culture of death are often broken. Supporting adoption, marriage, responsible programs of social welfare and healthcare, and responsible immigration policy all speak to a culture which embraces and supports the dignity of life," the letter notes.

Archbishop Aquila observed that "a true culture of life is infectious."

"The joy which comes from living in gratitude for the gift of life -- and treating all life as gift -- effects change," he said. "When Christians begin to live with real regard for human dignity, our nation will awaken to the tragedy of abortion, and she will begin to change."

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