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The Culture of Life

The Culture of Life World Youth Day Speech Monday, July 22, 2002 Olympic Island, Toronto, Ontario

In 1996, after having been elected to the United States Senate, partial-birth abortion was being debated on the floor. Partial-Birth Abortion is when a baby late in the pregnancy term, after 22 weeks or 20 weeks, is partially delivered outside of the mother and then killed. Most of these abortions occur when the child is discovered to be abnormal or to have a birth defect. If it has a birth defect, many in society perceive the child to be undesirable and would like to dispose of it. One day, I saw the procedure on television in my office. The baby is brought through the birth canal. Everything but the head is exposed and is outside of the mother. The baby is still alive and a pair of scissors is thrust into the back of the baby’s skull. A vacuum tube is inserted in that hole, and the baby’s brains are sucked out. I was horrified to see this--and stunned to hear a Senator say that this is legal in the United States of America. I couldn’t believe it, but it was true!

Although all of my advisors thought I should not get involved in this issue, I felt compelled to fight against this gruesome procedure. A bill for this was not passed, but it was vetoed by President Clinton. I was determined to lead other senators in the Veto-override. Unfortunately, we lost the override; we were unable to get enough votes over President Clinton’s Veto. At the time of that debate, I spoke about the fact that my wife and I were expecting another child. This child was 20 weeks into the pregnancy. A week later, my wife went in for a routine sonogram and found out that our child had a birth defect and was going to die. I was devastated. I couldn’t understand how God could allow this when I was trying to do his will both in my private life and in my professional career.

We fought for almost two weeks to save his life but failed. Gabriel Michael, whom we named after the two archangels, was born in October of 1996. He lived for two hours in my arms and died. But before he died, I baptized him. This child was blessed because for those two hours he knew only love from his mother and father and had received God’s grace.

The next morning, I got a call from a friend who told me: “You are blessed; you have a son in heaven.” Before that, I never really realized that as a father the most important thing you can do for your children is to help them know, love and serve the Lord—and ultimately, get them to heaven. Now, I have a son in heaven. It was a hard lesson. That lesson has turned into a mission for my life to help others see the sanctity of life and the beauty of God.

My wife wrote a book called Letters to Gabriel. As she always did with all her pregnancies, she spent hours late at night writing letters to our children when they were in the womb. She wrote letters about the difficulties we were experiencing with Gabriel. This book has sold almost 20, 000 copies and has touched many people who are going through the same painful experience. My wife and I have received many letters from people who said they changed their minds about having an abortion after reading her book. God was faithful. He transformed this tragedy into a blessing for others.

This tragic experience also showed me how important it is to integrate your private and public life. I really believe you cannot check your faith at the door like a hat or a coat. This applies if you are a United States Senator or if you are a construction worker. Whatever your profession, your faith has to be an integral part of your life. However, most people embrace politically correct positions in public even if they contradict their personal views and faith. For Catholics, in America, this dates back to 1962, when our first and only Catholic President, John F. Kennedy, gave a long speech in Houston, Texas and talked about how he was not going to submit to the Pope or to his faith in public office. He believed faith is a private matter. Unfortunately, he made it acceptable for Catholics, and for most Christians in America, to separate their private and public lives. This resulted in the legitimization of private morality bereft of any public bearing.

This departure between private and public morality gained ground in the 1960’s. It is important to trace the serious effects of the cultural revolution of the 60s that embraced a private morality separated from public life. This cultural revolution usurped the notion of moral absolutes. They young pioneers of this revolution fought for sexual liberation and for women’s rights. The mantra was: “If it feels good, do it!” They pushed to change laws so that they wouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of their behavior. Without any success, they tried to de-criminalize drug use and alcohol use and lower drinking ages. The result of the sexual revolution and ...

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