Letter of Pope John Paul II To All the World's Bishops
On combatting abortion and euthanasia
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