Letter of Pope John Paul II To All the World's Bishops

On combatting abortion and euthanasia

May 19, 1991 English text as released by the Vatican on June 21, 1991


The recent extraordinary consistory of cardinals, held April 4-7 in

the Vatican, included a broad and detailed discussion on the threat to

human life, and concluded with a unanimous vote: The cardinals asked the

pope to "solemnly reaffirm in a document (the majority of cardinals

proposed an encyclical) the value of human life and its inviolability in

the light of present circumstances and the attacks which threaten it



As you will note from the summary which will be sent to you by the

pro-secretary of state, a striking picture emerged from the reports and

the work of the consistory. In the context of the numerous and violent

attacks against human life today, especially when it is weakest and most

defenseless, statistical data point to a veritable "slaughter of the

innocents" on a worldwide scale. A source of particular concern,

however, is the fact that people's moral conscience appears

frighteningly confused and they find it increasingly difficult to

perceive the clear and definite distinction between good and evil in

matters concerning the fundamental value of human life.


However serious and disturbing the phenomenon of the widespread

destruction of so many human lives, either in the womb or in old age, no

less serious and disturbing is the blunting of the moral sensitivity of

people's consciences. Laws and civil ordinances not only reflect this

confusion but they also contribute to it. When legislative bodies enact

laws that authorize putting innocent people to death and states allow

their resources and structures to be used for these crimes, individual

consciences, oft en poorly formed, are all the more easily led into

error. In order to break this vicious circle, it seems more urgent than

ever that we should forcefully reaffirm our common teaching, based on

sacred Scripture and tradition, with regard to the inviolability of

innocent human life.


The centenary of the encyclical <<Rerum Novarum>> which the church is

celebrating this year suggests an analogy to which I would like to draw

everyone's attention. Just as a century ago it was the working classes

which were oppressed in their fundamental rights, and the church

courageously came to their defense by proclaiming the sacrosanct rights

of that worker as person, so now, when another category of persons is

being oppressed in the fundamental right to life, the church feels in

duty bound to speak out with the same courage on behalf of those who

have no voice. Hers is always the evangelical cry in defense of the

world's poor, those who are threatened and despised and whose human

rights are violated.


The church intends not only to reaffirm the right to life -- the

violation of which is an offense against the human person and against

God the Creator and Father, the loving source of all life -- but she

also intends to devote herself ever more fully to concrete defense and

promotion of this right.


The church feels called to this by her Lord. From Christ she receives

the "Gospel of life" and feels responsible for its proclamation to every

creature. Even at the price of going against the trend, she must

proclaim that Gospel courageously and fearlessly, in word and deed, to

individuals, peoples and states.


It is precisely this fidelity to Christ the Lord which in this area

too is the church's law and her strength. The new evangelization, which

is a fundamental pastoral necessity in today's world, cannot neglect the

proclamation of the inviolable right to life which belongs to every

person from the moment of conception until life's natural end.


At the same time the church also feels called to express, through this

proclamation and active witness, her esteem and love for man. She

addresses herself to the heart of every person -- non-believer as well

as believer -- because she realized that the gift of life is such a

fundamental value that anyone can understand and appreciate its

significance, even in the light of reason alone.


In the recent encyclical <<Centesimus Annus>>, I recalled the church's

esteem for the democratic system, which enables all citizens to

participate in political life, but I also insisted that a true democracy

can only be established on the basis of a consistent recognition of the

rights of each individual (cf. 46-47).


Having meditated and prayed to the Lord, I decided to write to you

personally, my dear brother bishop, in order to share with you the

concern caused by this major problem, and above all in order to ask your

help and cooperation, in a spirit of episcopal collegiality, in facing

the serious challenge constituted by the present threats and attacks

against human life.


All of us, as pastors of the Lord's flock, have a grave responsibility

to promote respect for human life in our dioceses. In addition to

making public declarations at every opportunity, we must exercise

particular vigilance with regard to the teaching being given in our

seminaries and in Catholic schools and universities. As pastors we must

be watchful in ensuring that practices followed in Catholic hospitals

and clinics are fully consonant with the nature of such institutions. As

our means permit, we must also support projects such as those which seek

to offer practical help to women or families experiencing difficulties

or to assist the suffering and especially the dying. Moreover, we must

encourage scientific reflection and legislative or political initiatives

which would counter the prevalent "death mentality."


Through the coordinated action of all the bishops and the renewed

pastoral commitment which will result, the church intends to contribute,

through the civilization of truth and love, to an ever fuller and more

radical establishment of that "culture of life" which constitutes the

essential prerequisite for the humanization of our society.


May the Holy Spirit, "the Lord and giver of life," fill us with his

gifts, and may Mary, the virgin mother who gave birth to the author of

life, be at our side in this responsibility.



The Work of God Apostolate