The Catholic Bishops of Nebraska, Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Bishop Fabian
Bruskewitz of Lincoln and Bishop William Dendinger of Grand Island, issued the following
statement regarding Senator Ben Nelson’s acceptance of abortion funding language in the Senate
health care bill:
“We are extremely disappointed in Senator Ben Nelson’s decision to accept language in the Senate
health care bill that would expand the federal government’s role of enabling abortions and force
citizens to pay for others’ abortions. We urge him to reconsider this decision and to insist on
language that mirrors the provisions adopted by the House of Representatives in the Stupak-Pitts
Senator Nelson gave numerous public assurances that he would insist on abortion-funding
language consistent with longstanding federal policies. Unfortunately, the language he accepted
for the so-called manager’s amendment fails to fulfill these assurances.
We remain strong proponents of health care reform that protects human life and conscience rights,
is fair to legal immigrants and improves affordability. However, given its serious problems with
abortion funding, this Senate bill should be opposed.”
…Our actions must show that mental illness does not create insurmountable distances, nor prevent relations of true Christian charity with those who are its victims.
Pope John Paul II “Mentally Ill Are Also Made in God’s Image,” 11/30/03
One of the fundamental truths of Christian belief is that each human being is created in the image and likeness of God. (Genesis 1:26-27). The Catholic Church unconditionally embraces and faithfully proclaims this truth. It is the foundation for human dignity.[i] Our commitment to this truth is measured through actions on behalf of the vulnerable and alienated in society, especially the poor and suffering.
Accordingly, as the Diocesan Bishops, shepherds of the Catholic faithful throughout Nebraska, we join together in issuing this pastoral reflection on upholding and respecting the inherent dignity of the mentally ill and those with substance abuse disorders or other addiction problems living in our midst.
We are not experts on behavioral health.[ii] It is a complex, multidimensional subject, encompassing scientific, spiritual and pastoral dimensions. Here, we seek to share our reflections and perspectives as teachers and pastors, in order to encourage those who are struggling with these burdens in any way and to educate the diverse Catholic community on the importance of looking upon our afflicted brothers and sisters with compassion and care.
As pastors, we realize the impact that mental illness, substance abuse disorders and other addiction problems have on individuals, families, communities and the social order. This impact, whether expressed in terms of treating these conditions or in terms of promoting positive behavioral health practices, gives rise to numerous considerations: mental, emotional, physical, social, moral and spiritual.
There are inevitable relations and interactions among these different areas of functioning. For example, it is certainly plausible that psychological problems may be triggered, exacerbated or maintained by moral and spiritual problems in a person’s life. In this regard, the Church and the profession face an ongoing challenge in considering ways that spiritual and moral guidance may be integrated in the process of healing and recovery. In particular, we are aware of the Church’s potential contributions to the process of healing and recovery through the sacramental, spiritual and moral dimensions of her ministry. Nevertheless, we believe it is never appropriate to assume that mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders or other addiction problems are directly or necessarily related to a person’s moral or spiritual life. Connections of this kind are typically complicated and difficult to discern, even for those with significant training and expertise in these matters.
The Focus of Concern
Those who are by diagnosis “mentally ill” are not the only concern of this statement. We have in mind a broader category of brothers and sisters whose well-being is diminished: adults who suffer from chronic or severe and disabling mental illness, youth with serious emotional disorders, all those with any psychological disorder, and those who are chemically dependent, either separate from or in conjunction with mental illness. We understand that it is not uncommon for substance abuse or addictions to be associated with other forms of mental illness, which is delineated as “dual diagnoses” or “co-occurring illness.”
With regard to mental illness itself, there are commonly identified and discussed disorders, such as severe depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar affective disorder,delusional disorder and obsessive-compulsive behavior. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th edition), regarded as a standard for mental health professionals, contains a catalog of the clinical symptoms for 365 different mental disorders.[iii]
Practically, these disorders are often manifested in behavior regarded in everyday settings as odd, bizarre or nonconforming, including such traits as anger, agitation, anxiety, panic, stress, disorientation, confusion and despair. These behaviors often cause people to feel offended or ill at ease, to say the least, regardless of how involuntary such behavior might be.
It is sad, but true nonetheless, that mental illness, substance abuse disorders and other addiction problems are often stereotyped and stigmatized. This stigma can, and often does, spawn uncharitable, un-Christian attitudes and reactions of indifference, neglect, disdain, exploitation, even abuse and violence. It is as if those who are afflicted are somehow uniquely and solely responsible for their actions and behavior. Each of us, as individuals, citizens, relatives and neighbors, and certainly as believers in Christ’s message, should sincerely reflectupon our own attitudes towards those who are afflicted by any form of mental illness and/or substance abuse disorder
Connection to Crime
The impact of mental illness, substance abuse disorders and other addiction problems is felt in another context: the interrelatedness they have with crime and the criminal justice system. Untreated mentally ill persons comprise a disproportionately large segment of the criminal justice population in the United States.[iv] Nationwide, it is estimated that as many as 200,000 of the two million individuals who are incarcerated at any one time suffer from some form of mental illness.[v] Moreover, those incarcerated also have a very high rate of substance abuse, perhaps as high as 85 percent.[vi]
In November 2000, we joined our brother Bishops throughout the United States, in issuing a well-received pastoral statement entitled, “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice.” In it we stated,
“…Crimes are sometimes committed by individuals suffering from serious mental
illnesses. While government has an obligation to protect the community from those who become aggressive or violent because of mental illness, it also has a responsibility to see that the offenders receive the proper treatment for his or her illness. Far too often mental illness goes undiagnosed, and many in our prison system would do better in other settings more equipped to handle their particular needs.”[vii]
Rights as an Image of God
A Vatican-sponsored international conference in 1996 was devoted to the following theme: “In the Image and Likeness of God: Always? Illness of the Human Mind.” Pope John Paul II addressed this conference and described its theme in these words:
“Whoever suffers from mental illness ‘always’ bears God’s image and likeness in himself, as does every human being. In addition he ‘always’ has the inalienable right not only to be considered as an image of God and therefore as a person, but also to be treated as such…. The Church looks on these persons with special concern, as she looks on any other human being affected by illness.”[viii]
In his address, the Pope set forth guidance that all can take to heart:
“It is everyone’s duty to make an active response: our actions must show that mental illness does not create insurmountable distances, nor prevent relations of true Christian charity with those who are its victims. Indeed, it should inspire a particularly attentive attitude towards these people who are fully entitled to belong to the category of the poor to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs. (cf Mt. 5:3)”[ix]
Nebraska Pursues Major Reforms
It can be reasonably estimated that more than 100,000 Nebraska residents are coping with some form of mental health, substance abuse and/or addiction problem. This estimated number would include nearly 70,000 adults and youth with serious mental illness and serious emotional disorder respectively, as well as nearly 20,000 individuals with substance abuse disorders.[x] These fellow Nebraskans reside throughout the state. Not all live in cities and towns, or east of Highway 81. These human stories are rural realities and concerns as well. In some cases they are experienced in ways related more specifically to rural lifestyles, rural experiences and pressures from uncertainties in agriculture.
Jointly and compassionately, we hereby extend and express our prayers and sincerest wishes for relief to all Nebraskans who are burdened by mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders or other addiction problems, and to their loved ones, who often suffer with them. Our faith leads us to understand that your suffering can be joined in God’s plan to that of Jesus Christ, who, in His human nature, took all human suffering unto himself, whether suffering of body, mind or spirit. Yet, those suffering in this way, to reiterate the Holy Father’s instruction, “always” bear God’s image and likeness.”
As teachers, we emphasize the duty to recognize and respect the worth and dignity of human beings. We challenge the citizenry of Nebraska to embrace this duty by supporting and serving all those who find themselves in a condition of mental illness and/or substance abuse disorder or other addiction problem. This is a task for which science and faith, medicine and pastoral care; professional skill and a sense of common brotherhood (solidarity) must join hands through an investment of adequate human, scientific and socio-economic resources.[xi]
Here in Nebraska, key policy makers from both
governmental and private sectors are currently leading the way toward a major
reform of the state’s behavioral health system. We applaud their endeavors and
extend to them our gratitude, encouragement and best wishes. We joined with
others in our support for the legislation (LB 724, 2003; LB 1083, 2004) that set
A priority goal of Nebraska’s efforts to reform its behavioral health system is to ensure improved access to better behavioral health services and improved outcomes for all Nebraskans whose well being is diminished by mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders or other addiction problems. A foremost approach for pursuing this goal, in addition to maintaining the necessary inpatient services, is investment in statewide development of community-based behavioral health services, including enhanced facilitation of assisted outpatient and assertive community treatment, making it possible for people to be served in their home communities. We endorse this approach. From our perspective, as pastors and teachers, it is consistent with important themes of Catholic social teaching, most notably subsidiarity and the call for solidarity. Accordingly, various Catholic ministries and parish outreach efforts are collaborating in this approach and can improve upon that collaboration as efforts continue to develop.
This increased emphasis on community-based behavioral health care is an important and commendable shift in policy and approach, involving more than the anticipated creativity, flexibility, integration of services and cost effectiveness. It also involves community values and action, including breaking down stereotypes, lessening stigmas, promoting recovery-oriented treatment responses, assisting family cohesiveness, encouraging neighborliness, and enabling more extensive and rapid reintegration of patients as productive citizens.
Policy makers have already made a number of key decisions relating to Nebraska’s behavioral health reform. Many more decisions will have to be made, and additional challenges will be faced as decisions are implemented, linkages established and effects evaluated. Troublesome funding issues will have to be resolved, including integration and allocation of public funding: federal, state and local. Ongoing private-sector involvement, through partnerships with government and philanthropic endeavors, will warrant facilitation and encouragement. Providing for appropriate oversight and accommodating advocacy on the part of stakeholders and other citizens will require attention. Communication and cooperation, including working relationships among law enforcement, medical personnel and various care providers, will have to be initiated and sustained, in order to ensure that necessary reforms are realized and goals achieved. Public officials and community leaders especially will have to be prepared and responsive in order to ensure the safety of all community members.
Reforms Create Opportunities
Despite daunting tasks and challenges for realizing these reforms, perseverance, patience and persistence on the part of policy makers and administrators, those who serve and those who are served, will shape a new environment as a result of the reform efforts. Community-based services will respond to and produce community-based opportunities.
As new approaches are implemented, there will be opportunities to know more; to understand better; to overcome fears, discomforts and prejudices; to reject stereotypes; to reach out to those who are burdened by their illness rather than to ignore or demean them; to be a friend; to be a neighbor. Community-based services can have great success when those who constitute the communities respond, without fear or prejudice, in service and charity. We believe that Christian service, Christian charity, and Christian witness must flow into these opportunities.In his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II writes of the importance and value of “daily gestures of openness, sacrifice and unselfish care.”[xii] Such gestures are reflective of the attitudes we all must have as behavioral health reforms proceed and take hold.
We commit our Catholic community within Nebraska to this cause, encouraging Catholic Nebraskans to put their faith into action as part of the anticipated social transformation.
Moreover, we call upon all Nebraskans of good will to seek and embrace these opportunities, as a realization of the culture of life for all.
Sincerely Yours In Christ,
Most Rev. Elden Francis Curtiss Most Rev. Fabian W. Bruskewitz Most Rev. William J. Dendinger
Archbishop of Omaha Bishop of Lincoln Bishop of Grand Island
Approved for Release by the Nebraska Catholic Conference; Meeting at Lincoln, NE 1/26/05
[i] “The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God.” Paragraph 1700, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition (Washington, D.C., United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2000).
[ii] We recognize that some confusion in discussing these issues stems from the difficulty of deciding upon and using consistently adequate terminology, e.g., “mental illness” and “behavioral health.” Whereas the terms may be used interchangeably, the former essentially describes psychological/psychiatric disorder, while the latter is the prevailing terminology in conjunction with Nebraska’s public-policy initiatives in this context and specifically includes substance abuse disorders as well as other mental illness conditions.
[iii] C.A. Palmer. Encyclopedia of Science, Technology and Ethics. Macmillan, 2004.
[iv] Michele Herman, “Assisted Outpatient Treatment for Mental Illness”, LegisBrief, Vol. 12, No. 40 (Washington, D.C., National Conference of State Legislatures, 2004).
[v] U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Mental Health and Treatment of Inmates and Probationers (Washington, D.C., 1999) as reported in Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2000.
[vi] Division of Planning, Research and Accreditation, Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, December 2004.
[vii] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, (Washington, D.C., 2000).
[viii] Pope John Paul II, Mentally Ill Are Also Made in God’s Image, address to participants in the international conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health-Care Workers, (Vatican City, 11/30/03).
[ix] Pope John Paul II, Mentally Ill Are Also Made in God’s Image, (Vatican City, 11/30/03).
[x] Information extrapolated from Nebraska Mental Health Statistics Improvement Program: Prevalence, Utilization and Penetration, WICHE Mental Health Program, report for Division of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Addiction Services, Nebraska Health and Human Services System, October 30, 2001.
[xi] Pope John Paul II, Mentally Ill Are Also Made in God’s Image, (Vatican City, 11/30/03).
[xii] Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), No. 27, (Vatican City, 1999).
"John Courtney Murray said it best: ‘the whole intent of the First Amendment was to protect, not to injure, the interests of religion in American society.’ If Americans are going to be able to exercise freely the right of religious expression, then the so-called ‘wall of separation’ between church and state is a fictitious barrier. We live with many examples of cooperation already: tax-exemption for churches; military chaplaincies; government aid to religious preschools, colleges and universities. Such cooperation respects an individual citizen’s right to exercise freedom of religion under the First Amendment without resulting in the ‘establishment’ of any religion.
"The ‘American proposition’, as Murray phrased it, does not isolate religious expression in this country, but rather links it to the practice of self-government. We are supposed to enjoy government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Government cannot, without violence, be separated from the people and their interests.
Religion Excluded from Public Life
"There is a determination in secular philosophy and jurisprudence to exclude religion from the public forum in this country. Religion is relegated to private opinion and personal feelings--it, of course, has nothing to do with objective truth about the existence of God or His revelation to human beings. Public officials, on the other hand, must be concerned about guaranteeing the rights of individuals against any intrusion which would limit their freedom under law. The issue becomes the interpretation of the First Amendment.
"John Noonan, a distinguished Federal judge, reminds us that people who push the concept of absolute separation of church and state obscure the linkage which exists for the good of the people. ‘Historically for Americans,’ he writes, ‘no water tight mental compartments exist by which their religious ideas are isolated from their civic responsibilities.’ It is a long established fact that morality and religious values are linked, and a decline in religious values always results in a decline in morality. Secularists do not like to admit this linkage.
The Secular Media Oppose Education Vouchers
"The New York Times (June 12 edition) continues to support a concept of separation of church and state which is total when it comes to any government-sponsored financial relief for education going to families with children attending church -affiliated schools. The newspaper railed against a recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision upholding the use of education vouchers for parents funded by public moneys. If upheld by the United States Supreme Court, the Wisconsin decision could bring about a whole new way of understanding the relationship between church and state when it comes to educating all the children in a state. Besides low-income parents with little if any tax liability, as in the Wisconsin case, all parents with children in church-affiliated schools could seek to use a portion of their own tax payments for the education of their children.
"The New York Times editorial stated that the Wisconsin decision ‘strikes at the very heart of the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.’ It went on to project dire consequences of ‘taxpayer dollars flowing into sectarian institutions in contravention of the First Amendment protection against the establishment of religion.’ The result would be tax funding of ‘religious indoctrination’, a windfall for ‘religious lobbies’ and even the decimation of the public school system. To fend off even the prospect of mixing religion, education and government funding, the Times conjured up the specter of an apocalypse for public schools in this nation, which no one wants to happen.
Parental Rights Promoted
"In reality, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, as the voucher program is called, is no threat either to government neutrality toward religion or to the vitality of public schools. It extends to religious schools a program already in place for nonsectarian private schools (apparently the Times thinks secular subjects can be promoted by public funds only in nonreligious private schools but not in schools which also teach religion). The purpose of the Milwaukee decision is to offer a wider choice for parents and better schooling for about 14,000 of Milwaukee’s poorer children. Funding is available only to the city’s poorest families. The emphasis of the program is funding to parents and families and not to institutions. This serves the State’s interest in educating children and avoids the establishment of religion which is the concern of the First Amendment.
"Public moneys which support better math and science and computer skills should be available to all the children in a state. The State has a vested interest in all children to help them receive the best possible educational opportunities available. Giving parents the help they need to support quality education for their children will in the long run improve education in both private and public schools.
"It is time for Nebraska and all states of our union to support the rights of parents to educate their children in schools of their choice. It is time to provide tax relief for parents who choose church private schools, and to admit that such tax relief is not an establishment of religion. Precedent exists in the allocation of tax moneys to students who choose religiously-affiliated colleges and universities. The purpose of the allocation is to educate people, not to support religion. The churches will continue to teach their children religion with their own funds, without benefit of public funds. We think most people agree that religion programs which support the tenets of one religion should never be supported with public funds.
Tax Savings to State and Local Government
"Statistics from the Nebraska Department of Education for the 1997-98 school year list 39,729 students enrolled in K-12 non-government-sponsored schools in the state. Of these, three-fourths (29,896) were enrolled in Catholic schools.
"In 1997, a bill introduced in the Nebraska Legislature suggested that the cost to state and local government of pro-viding just a core curriculum would be $4,300 per pupil. Using this figure as a low-end per-pupil cost, tax-payers who enroll 40,000 students in non-government schools save the state and local governments at least $172 million a year. Catholic-school families generate savings of at least $129 million for taxpayers in the state for one year.
"So far, the only financial support the State provides for children enrolled in non-government schools is the textbook-loan program, with an appropriation for 1999 totaling $312,525. The State’s total K-12 budget for 1999 is approximately $752 million. This means state spending for the textbook lending program is four-one-hundredths of one percent of state funding for K-12 education in Nebraska. No wonder parents of children in non-government-funded schools are beginning to demand that a higher percentage of their tax payments benefit their children.
"The Congress of the United States indicated its approval of tax relief for funds used for educational purposes in its historic bill, ‘The Education Sport and Excellence Act of 1998’ (also known as the A+ savings account legislation), which passed by a majority vote in the House of Representatives (225-197) and a strong bipartisan vote in then Senate (59-36). The bill would have allowed families to invest $2000 annually in a special savings account and use the principal and tax-free interest for K-12 education expenses. The tax advantage would have benefited K-12 school children whether they attended public, private or home school. This plan involved after-tax dollars and would have taken no money from public-school budgets. Unfortunately, President Clinton vetoed this bill because he considered the legislation ‘vouchers in disguise’, which is fiercely opposed by the strong public school teachers’ union.
"Despite the President’s veto and the organized opposition of the teachers’ union, the time has come for Congress to strengthen parental rights in education. Most parents who have their children in Catholic K-12 schools do not mind paying taxes to support public education, but to be refused tax relief to support the education of their own children is a miscarriage of justice. At least some of the money they save taxpayers by supporting private education should be used to strengthen educational programs for their children. Parents see this need, and gradually our congressional delegations are coming to understand it.
"We urge people in Nebraska to lobby their state legislators regarding tax relief for parents who have their children in private or parochial schools. We urge people in Nebraska to lobby their congressional delegation in support of legislation to authorize tax-free savings accounts for costs of elementary and secondary education, both public and private. It is only by uniting our efforts to inform our legislators about the intent of the First Amendment regarding establishment of religion, which is separate from their obligation to support quality education for all children, that parents will be allowed to choose the education they want for their children. We think education in Nebraska and throughout our nation will be strengthened by this process, both public and private.
"The First Amendment guards our democracy against the establishment of religion by the state. It was never intended to weaken religion or to be used against parents who prefer schools which teach religion in addition to all the other subjects. Secularists who demand a total wall of separation between religion and public life are revisionists who need to be challenged by the facts at every turn."
+ Most Rev. Elden Francis Curtiss Archbishop of Omaha
+ Most Rev. Fabian W. Bruskewitz Bishop of Lincoln
+ Most Rev. Lawrence J. McNamara Bishop of Grand Island
Honorable Chuck Hagel (Identical Letter Sent to Sen. Ben Nelson)
United States Senate
248 Russell SB
Washington, D.C. 20510
RE: S.J. Res. 30 (Federal Marriage Amendment)
Dear Senator Hagel:
We write jointly, and out of shared concern, to urge your support for the proposed amendment to the United States Constitution that would clearly and firmly establish marriage as only the union of a man and a woman.
As teachers and pastors in relationship with 400,000 Catholic Nebraskans, we are steadfast in our belief that marriage between one man and one woman is not only a sacred covenant between those persons, but also the fundamental institution of civil society. Marriage, as naturally and consistently understood, is essential to the continuation of the human race and to the dignity, stability, peace and prosperity of family and society. S.J. Res. 30 provides the opportunity for the American people to affirm and preserve in public policy what has been presumed or taken for granted for generations in all of Western civilization, here in the United States, and in the great state of Nebraska: that marriage is a union of a man and a woman and holds a unique position in our culture and in our laws.
We have become convinced that proposing a federal constitutional amendment for ratification is a matter of significant necessity and increasing urgency. The traditionally understood and heretofore legally honored definition of marriage is now subject to almost certain upheaval as the result of judicial rulings fueled by a growing movement and premised upon federal constitutional law. Here in Nebraska, for example, a marriage amendment that was added to the State Constitution by the affirmative vote of nearly 480,000 citizens, constituting 70 percent of the voters in the 2000 General Election, is in serious jeopardy of being struck down by a federal court. We join the many who say that the American people, not the judiciary, should determine the legal definition of marriage in the United States, and that a proposed constitutional amendment is urgently needed for decision in a truly democratic manner.
Again, Senator, we urge that you support and work for the passage of S.J. Res. 30, in order to uphold, retain and perpetuate the uniqueness of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Also, it is especially important that you support any effort to invoke cloture so that a vote may take place on the merits of this truly significant matter.
Thanking you for your consideration, and with every good wish, we are
E Elden F. Curtiss - Archbishop of Omaha E
E Fabian W. Bruskewitz - Diocese of Lincoln E
E Lawrence J. McNamara - Diocese of Grand Island E
We, the Bishops of Nebraska write this letter to invite those wounded by abortion to seek spiritual and emotional healing through Project Rachel. As our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II said in his encyclical The Gospel of Life, "The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the sacrament of reconciliation."
The Catholic Church's consistent and strong teaching about the gravity of abortion is very well known. However, the Church has another message too—one that those in great pain sometimes fail to hear—and that message is that we are a forgiving Church. Project Rachel is a program of the Church intended to reach out to those hurting psychologically and spiritually after involvement with abortion and to welcome them home to the mercy and love of Christ Jesus.
Project Rachel draws its name from the biblical reference in Jeremiah 31:15-17,"Rachel mourns her children; she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more. Thus says the Lord: Cease your cries of mourning. Wipe the tears from your eyes. The sorrow you have shown shall have its reward. There is hope for your future."
E Elden F. Curtiss - Archbishop of Omaha E
E Fabian W. Bruskewitz - Diocese of Lincoln E
E Lawrence J. McNamara - Diocese of Grand Island E
On the 25th Anniversary Of Roe v. Wade -January 22, 1998
Three years ago, in his encyclical The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II described how our culture is immersed in a conflict between good and evil, between a "culture of life" and a "culture of death." He spoke of various attacks on human life, but called special attention to a particular "category" of attacks: abortion and euthanasia; attacks which strike at life when it is most frail: in its earliest and its final stages; attacks which not only are no longer considered crimes, but are elevated to "rights"; attacks which take place in, and with complicity of, the very sanctuary of life: the family.
Contrary to claims made by its advocates, legalized abortion has not contributed toward a world of equality, reduced poverty, or more "wanted" children. Instead, child abuse has skyrocketed, women and children comprise the largest and fastest growing poverty group in our country, and more of the responsibility for raising children has shifted to women. Moreover, the spiritual and emotional devastation evidenced in the many women and men seeking healing and reconciliation through post-abortion ministries is staggering.
Predictably, abortion’s destructive tentacles have extended deep into our culture, nurturing a degradation of the miracle of human life in the form of increasingly negative attitudes toward parents with larger families; in the numerous cases of young women or couples killing their newborn children; and in the growing acceptance of so-called euthanasia.
One of the most shocking indications of the encroaching abortion culture is the practice of partial-birth abortion--the brutal destruction of a living child in the very process of being born. Congress twice passed a law to ban this inhuman procedure. Twice President Clinton vetoed it. In 1998, Congress will again attempt to override the President’s veto. The bishops of the United States have asked Catholics throughout the country to again make their voices heard on this important issue by taking part in a nationwide postcard campaign on or around January 25, urging their Senators to override the President’s veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.
Here in Nebraska, Senator Hagel voted to ban partial-birth abortion; Senator Kerrey voted to keep this practice legal. The postcards we send to Senator Hagel will thank him for voting to stop partial-birth abortion, and urge him to encourage colleagues to do the same. Postcards to Senator Kerrey will urge him to reconsider, and to help override the President’s veto. We encourage all to participate in this important effort.
As we work to counter the culture of death, it is vital to continually reflect on and promote respect for the incomparable worth and sanctity of every human being. Citing Scripture, Pope John Paul states that each human person "is a manifestation of God in the world, a sign of his presence, a trace of his glory (cf. Gn. 1:26-27; Ps. 8:6)...In man there shines forth a reflection of God himself." (Gospel of Life, no. 34) As Christians, we also know that "By his incarnation, the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every human being. This saving event reveals to humanity not only the boundless love of God, who ‘so loved the world that he gave his only Son’ (Jn. 3:16), but also the incomparable value of every human person." (Gospel of Life no. 2)
Our society’s respect for the sanctity of human life is, of course, inextricably linked to its respect for the sacredness of God’s precious gift of human sexuality. Pope Paul VI correctly predicted in his encyclical Humanae Vitae that the widespread acceptance of contraception would result in numerous calamities, including conjugal infidelity, the rapid rise in abortion, the growing acceptance of so-called euthanasia, and the surge in violence against women.
The Church’s teaching on human sexuality, far from being restrictive and unrealistic, promises true freedom, holiness and peace because it comes from He who knows us best: God--the Author of Life. God’s sublime gift of sexuality gives each person the privilege and its accompanying responsibilities, of cooperating with God in the creation of a human person. But God designed this gift for two necessary and inseparable purposes: to unite in one flesh husband and wife and to be always open to life. We encourage and challenge all Catholics to sincerely accept and live God’s teaching on the truth and meaning of human sexuality.
Our nation stands in judgment now. Are we to be a nation that honors its commitments to the right to life or not? And if not, then for what does our nation stand? Do we want to be a people remembered for our commitment to eliminating people in order to solve our difficult problems, or for our commitment to eliminating difficult problems in order to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters? Do we want to face God on our day of judgment with a record of having been silent when the sacredness of life was attacked or with one of having spoken and acted to defend this precious gift.
As we said in a recent statement with our brother bishops from the United States: "Our condemnation of abortion is accompanied by an unswerving commitment to provide alternative solutions and compassionate care in respect for the dignity of all wounded by its violence." (Light and Shadows: Our Nation 25 Years After Roe v. Wade) In Nebraska, Catholic Social Services, Catholic Charities and 25 other pregnancy-help centers provide material and moral support to mothers and their children, before and after birth. In addition, through the post-abortion ministry of Project Rachel, the Church provides spiritual and emotional hope, healing and reconciliation to anyone affected by abortion. On behalf of the Catholic Church in Nebraska, we offer our strongest support in promoting and enhancing these services.
In the Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul challenges us to "work with perseverance and courage so that our time, marked by all too many signs of death, may at last witness the establishment of a new culture of life." It is our prayer that all of us will rise to the challenge and be what we are meant to be: A People of Life.
E Elden F. Curtiss - Archbishop of Omaha E
E Fabian W. Bruskewitz - Diocese of Lincoln E
E Lawrence J. McNamara - Diocese of Grand Island E
A Joint Statement On Economic Hardships Affecting Rural Life
As Catholic Bishops serving in this state, we hold this tradition in high esteem, and commend Nebraska’s family farmers and ranchers. We respect their unique relationship with God’s creation, the dignity of their labor and their special service, as food producers, to the well-being of society.
We also must express our mutual, deeply-felt concern over the hardships and economic losses being experienced by many family farmers and ranchers in Nebraska. Hard-working, independent producers are often adversely affected by economic forces largely beyond their control. What’s more, there are ominous signs that even more serious difficulties lie ahead.
We are aware of the stresses and pressures which are being felt by many who are involved in family farming and ranching. Our rural pastors have been ministering to expressions of anxiety, distress, desperation and, most commonly, uncertainty about the future and about survival in agriculture. The economic hardships experienced by family farmers and ranchers exact a human toll: on personal relationships, marriages and family life.
Rural communities, and the communities of faith within them, are challenged by the social consequences of these economic hardships and stresses. The loss of family farms and ranches is not the fading of a nostalgic past, as some claim, but occasions of real loss for businesses, schools, churches, community services and a sense of shared responsibility for the community’s well-being.
At Stake: A Way of LifeWe are concerned about the state of production agriculture, but even more we are concerned about the future of a cherished way of life. That is what is at stake in the struggle to save and sustain family-based, owner-operated farms and ranches. These institutions are being severely tested: by the trend toward corporate farming and ranching, which creates excessive concern about efficiency and market control and leaves little room for independent producers; by the shift from small and moderate-sized, family-based production to industrial-scale, "factory-like" production systems; by the increase in concentrated ownership; and by vertical integration of production, processing, marketing and retailing. All of these factors have contributed to a diminishment of open and competitive grain and livestock markets.
Trends in pork production have illustrated dramatically the economic conditions and hardships faced by family-based farmers and livestock producers. Record low prices for hogs, one direct result of concentrated production and private con-tracts that eliminate the open market, have caused severe economic pressure. (n-1)Alarmingly, the trends toward greater concentration of ownership, private contracts and vertical integration are appearing in grain and other livestock production as well. This dictates concern as to the fairness of treatment afforded small and moderate-sized producers.
As pastors and teachers, we endorse and defend family farms and ranches as a viable way of life. We remain steadfast in our belief that small and moderate-sized farms and ranches operated by families on a full-time basis constitute the most sustainable, efficient and morally responsible method for connecting with the land and for providing food for the world.
Application of Catholic Social Teaching
While we do not pretend to have quick and easy solutions for these difficult situations and complex issues, we do propose that Catholic social teaching provides "principles for reflection, criteria for judgment and directives for action." (n-2)
As pastors and teachers, we call upon those involved in production agriculture to seek ways of working together and helping each other to overcome the economic hardships and problems. We believe that a spirit of cooperation will be better able to achieve this than a spirit of competition. In Strangers and Guests, the Bishops of the Heartland emphasized the need to work together and to help each other. (n-7) Cooperation rather than competition also was encouraged by the Pontifical Council in its statement, "World Hunger--A Challenge for All: Development in Solidarity," for the World Food Summit in 1996. (n-8)
A spirit of cooperation can best be attained when the focus is on needs, not wants; when the priority is the common good, not narrow self-interests; when interdependence is sought, not when absolute independence is demanded; when there is a willingness to compromise, not an insistence on "having it my way".
Cooperation also is achieved when those involved in production agriculture come together in faith and prayer, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit in solving problems and resolving differences.
Through cooperation and collaboration, family farmers and ranchers can themselves make many of the needed changes in agriculture. Ongoing dialogue is essential, as is unified, consistent, sustained advocacy for just policies and fairer, competitive markets, but there also must be a collective resourcefulness and a process of thinking in different terms. Greater economic justice for family-based, owner-operated agricultural production will not happen by taking the path of least resistance.
One of the best and most practical ways in which cooperation and collaboration can take a positive direction, both as a matter of addressing the current hardships and as a matter of serving the common good, is the aggressive pursuit of new marketing strategies and processing opportunities for family-based producers. This involves identification, creation and stimulation of approaches through which products can be sold more directly to consumers. Cooperation and collaboration in this context presume imagination and fortitude; a willingness to consider and try alternatives and specialized practices.
The benefits to be realized from working together on processing and direct marketing opportunities include reduced exposure to price manipulation, increased economic power to compete in the marketplace and a fairer economic return.
Those who are not involved in
production agriculture, including urban and suburban residents, should also
participate in practical ways in these cooperative and collaborative efforts: by
buying directly from local farmers and ranchers, by shopping at grocery stores
which carry local products, by encouraging
in other community-supported marketing efforts, and by engaging in advocacy for
public policies that provide family-based owner-operators with access to more
competitive markets and a fairer share of each food dollar.
As part of a more broadly based effort, our Catholic parishes can help to promote and facilitate a greater understanding of, and response to, the issues affecting family-based, owner-operated farming and ranching. It is important and worthwhile for these issues to be included as part of parish-based catechesis and adult-education activities, both in terms of relating them to the Church’s social teaching and also raising awareness on practical topics, such as the elements of the “food chain”, the quality and safety of food products, organic farming practices and public-policy issues, including those pertaining to trade and global food policies. Parish-based meetings to facilitate outside speakers, video presentations and group discussions are to be encouraged.
Rural parishes have a unique role to play in the lives of farm and ranch families. Often, the parish is also a focal point of social and emotional support as well as spirituality. Parishes have a special responsibility for seeing to it that hurting individuals and families are assisted and, when necessary, directed to proper resources, such as the farm-crisis hotline, mental health and financial counseling and food pantries. Also, it is important that these individuals and families are encouraged to stay involved in parish and community life, especially through effective outreach and attention toward affected children and youth.
Importance of Prayer
Prayer brings us into solidarity with one another. Rural residents praying for urban residents and urban residents praying for rural residents unites us all through common concerns. Worship and prayer, both individual and parish-based, should emphasize the value of, and respect due, family farming and rural life. For example, we recommend the special novena in honor of St. Isidore, the Patron of Farmers. Our diocesan rural-life offices will assist in identifying and developing other topical approaches for prayer and worship.
In closing, as pastors and teachers we reiterate our concern for and solidarity with those who are struggling and hurting during these difficult times for family-based, owner-operated agricultural production. It can be overwhelming to attempt to understand and deal with powerful economic forces. There is a great sense of helplessness about one’s ability to withstand and change these forces, many of which are of a global dimension. Nonetheless, we feel it is important for us to let Nebraska’s family farmers and ranchers know that we are aware, at least in part, of the difficulties they face in production agriculture today. We experience with them a sense of helplessness, for we do not have quick and easy answers or solutions. What we do have, however, we offer to Nebraska’s family farmers and ranchers: our confidence in the goodness of God, our hope for the future, and our charitable concern for their well-being. All can and must repeatedly come together as God’s people to be renewed in faith, strengthened in hope and united in charity.
Most Rev. Elden Francis Curtiss - Archbishop of Omaha
Most Rev. Fabian W. Bruskewitz -Bishop of Lincoln
Most Rev. Lawrence J. McNamara - Bishop of Grand Island
confinement pork-production systems also have environmental consequences,
threatening the quality of the air and the ground water in both rural and urban
Photo Credits: Delores Meister
Nebraska Rural Life Directors
December 2, 1999
of Fetal Tissue Derived from Induced Abortions
It is with alarm and a great sense of regret that we look upon the news that the University of Nebraska Medical Center is engaged in biomedical research and experimentation using fetal tissue derived from induced abortions.
We assess this matter on the basis of our role as bishops and teachers, applying moral principles and moral understanding regarding research and experimentation in relation to human life, its beginnings and its sacredness and inherent dignity.
According to what has been acknowledged by UNMC officials, we conclude that this activity at the University of Nebraska Medical Center is immoral and ethically illicit because of the association between UNMC research and deliberately procured and induced abortions. While UNMC may be motivated by praiseworthy objectives, it has deliberately chosen, pursuant to a planned, ongoing arrangement occurring in concrete
situations, to utilize tissue scavenged from the (violent) destruction of innocent human lives. This arrangement, involving the removal, timing, transfer and use of the fetal tissue,
inevitably involves the acquiescent partnership of UNMC in the abortions themselves. The alliance is unmistakable. While UNMC would want everyone to presume and understand
that it does not bear a causative responsibility for the performance of abortions, this does not disengage UNMC from moral complicity in the evil of abortion.
The use of induced abortion as a source of fetal tissue is itself degrading. What’s more, it opens the door to a utilitarian attitude and pragmatism that yield to the inevitable
temptation of commercialization and to the development of an even greater manipulative and exploitative mentality regarding pregnancy and unborn human beings.
The act of using fetal tissue for purposes of research and experimentation is not per se immoral as a violation of the sanctity of human life. Certainly, there can be and are meritorious objectives and benefits of such experimentation and research, including advancements in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, when based upon proper ethical conditions, scientific use of fetal tissue derived from miscarriages can be morally and ethically licit. Nevertheless, under the circumstances as they exist at UNMC, involving an inevitable moral complicity with induced abortions, the benefits, no matter how desirable and significant they are, do not and cannot justify the means, which are intrinsically evil.
We urge the University of Nebraska Board of Regents and the administrators of the Medical Center, to end this specific practice of utilizing human remains from induced abortions for experimentation and research.
Most Rev. Elden Francis Curtiss - Archbishop of Omaha
Most Rev. Fabian W. Bruskewitz -Bishop of Lincoln
Most Rev. Lawrence J. McNamara - Bishop of Grand Island