As happens every year on the first Sunday of February, Italy’s National Pro-life Day will be observed this coming Sunday. It was in 1978 when, following the approval of Law 194 on abortion, the Commission for the Family of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), instituted this Day, to show – it stated – that “the Church is not resigned and will never be resigned.”
The one who took up the commitment within the ecclesiastical hierarchies was, undoubtedly, Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life. In years of social debate on topics of Bioethics, he always pronounced the voice of the Church eloquently. Arrayed beside him, on the lay front, was the Italian Pro-Life Movement.
This idyll still continues today. It is attested by the fact that the Founder and for many years President of the Movement, Carlo Casini, entrusted to the Cardinal the Preface of a book of his, which will soon come out published by If Press, entitled “Nascent Life and Mercy.” The nexus suggested by the title of this volume, the history of the Pro-Life Movement, and the nine anthropological questions are subjects that Cardinal Sgreccia addresses in the following interview, which ends with a clear legacy from the Church’s confrontations.
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ZENIT: Your Eminence, what do you remember from the beginnings of the Pro-Life Movement?
Cardinal Sgreccia: I remember having picked up from the beginning two elements, which have characterized the work of the Italian Pro-Life Movement and its Founder, Carlo Casini. First of all, the recognition of the foundational value of the right to life. Without life, all the other rights don’t hold up. This position gave me a game to play during my excursions in <high schools> when asking the students what they thought was the highest ideal. All of them shouted “freedom!” And I answered by praising freedom as a fruit. I said to them: “To be free, it’s necessary to be alive! The tree, even if small, comes before the fruit.” So, this recognition of the foundational value of the right to life gave the Pro-Life Movement a secular, incontrovertible, universal reason – a reason that is reinforced, that is elevated with the Christian message. Evangelium Vitae attested to this when it declared that one cannot speak of the Gospel without speaking of human life, because human life belongs to Christ and man is the object of all truths. The other aspect of the Pro-Life movement that struck me immediately was its not having taken a critical position towards the clergy, as other foreign Movements did, because of the fact that the Pastors did not speak sufficiently of the right to life.
ZENIT: In connection with this aspect, Saint John Paul II described the Church as the principal bulwark of the human person in the whole span of his life from conception. Do you think that over the years the Church has given up this role somewhat?
Cardinal Sgreccia: There has been difficulty in the Church in speaking publicly of certain dictated topics, at least in Italy, from the scalding suffered following the referendums on divorce and on abortion. There was a sort of “Vietnam syndrome,” because of which American soldiers who had experienced defeat in the Asian country did not want to hear any more talk of military missions. Then there was the fear that, speaking too much of Bioethics, faithful not completely convinced of the Church’s morality might move away. Determinant in this case also was Saint John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, which stresses that life, which is the work of God, cannot be expunged from the Gospel. Of course, including it in a message of faith, the defense of life must consist not of antagonism towards someone, but rather in acceptance to universality.
ZENIT: Acceptance is linked to this year’s theme of the National Pro-Life Day: “Mercy Makes Life Flower” …
Cardinal Sgreccia: The nexus between mercy and life is simple. Mercy recalls Christ’s sacrifice for humanity in need of salvation. This demonstrates God’s passionate love for life – any life, from conception to death. We can’t elude this reality; it is only a question of finding the right contents of support. In my opinion, good pastoral care of life accompanies Christians’ whole journey of faith: after the catechesis of initiation, during adolescence, in preparation for marriage and in supporting spouses and parents, in old age including conditions of sickness and in the moment of the call to Eternal Life.
ZENIT: Gender, rented wombs, genetically modified embryos: how are these new anthropological questions inserted in the topic of life?
Cardinal Sgreccia: I will point attention to the subject of gender, which seeks to destroy the fundamental truth of the man-woman difference. Gender leads everything to a cultural option, as if it were not a statute of identity in our person. The suggestion of gender renders marriage insignificant, because it is no longer founded on the sexual difference. But, we know that the man-woman difference is structural, physical, psychological, spiritual, cultural and also supernatural. There is a complementarity that is expressed to make life fuller, making of two one. Man and woman offer themselves to one another, they open to life and involve Christ, who gives Himself to the Church as spouse. Union and procreation are truths inscribed in the sexual difference. When this reality is denied, the way is levelled for all types of heterologous fertilization, which shatters paternity and maternity and deprives the child of the natural right to be brought into the world and educated by the double figure of a father and a mother.
ZENIT: Are the crisis of the family and the emergency linked to the defense of life connected?
Cardinal Sgreccia: In fact they are connected. If a family is in crisis, it can degenerate to betrayal, separation and divorce. And who pays the price of all this? — the littlest ones. But it also wrongs the fullness of the spouses’ life, because division complicates, punishes the life of spouses. It is a proven fact. In some nations an attempt is being made to address this emergency, educating young people, also to prevent sexually transmitted sicknesses, to chastity before marriage and fidelity between the spouses. Life is born from the union between man and woman and expected from this is support. If this support fails, the children are lost. The solidity of the family is indispensable to the salvation of the children.
ZENIT: You have made evident the woes of contemporary culture. However, are there also encouraging elements?
Cardinal Sgreccia: There are several encouraging elements, which are expressed not only with public manifestations, but also through personal witness, which can represent a positive message for society. Verified also is a new sensibility, especially among young people, in favor of life. It is a sensibility that waits only to be supported and cultivated by those that have the duty to do so.[Translation by ZENIT]