By Steve Jalsevac
Photos also by Steve Jalsevac
Washington, D.C., January 31, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) – LifeSiteNews counted 37 Catholic bishops, including four cardinals, participating in the March for Life events Jan. 20-22 in the U.S. capital. Many have been coming to the events for years to express their commitments on the issue.
Strong support from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has been a major factor in the large turnout of bishops and several hundred seminarians, priests and religious brothers and sisters every year. The bishops’ leadership has also encouraged numerous lay diocesan and parish groups from around the nation to make the treck to Washington to express their solidarity with the unborn. Young people have been a very noticeable large component of the groups.
LifeSiteNews met one of the newer bishops, Most Reverend Paul S. Coakley of Salina, soon after we arrived. He was repeatedly encountered at events over the next few days. At the first meeting we interviewed the bishop and and found him to be one more of the growing number of new, upbeat young bishops strongly committed to the faith and by natural extension also to the pro-life cause.
Bishop Coakley met up in Washington with a two bus contingent of 94 parishioners that traveled from his diocese. Those who traveled to Washington by other means were encouraged to join the bishop on the actual March by seeking out and walking behind the the large Salina Diocese banner. For all those who could not make the trip Bishop Coakley encouraged his parishes to conduct special Prayer and Penance services for Life on Jan. 21or 22. Earlier this year the diocese sent out Respect Life packets of materials to every parish which included a special Liturgy Guide, Suggestions for Parish Activitiesas we observe Memorial of Roe Vs Wade and a quiz for parishioners called, Abortion: Test Your Grip on Reality.
A brother Kansas Bishop, the jovial and imposingly tall Archbishop of Kansas City, Joseph F. Naumann, also participated in the March for Life events.
Following is our interview with bishop Coakley:
LifeSiteNews: How many years have you been to the March for Life.
Bishop: This will be my fifth march, I believe.
LifeSiteNews: You have been a bishop for how many years?
Bishop: Two years. In my current diocese of Salina. I was ordained and installed on December 28, 2004, the feast of the Holy Innocents, which I deliberately chose. I came here as a priest before.
LifeSiteNews: So, you are obviously quite committed to the cause.
Bishop: Well, I hope so – yes. I try to be.
LifeSiteNews: That’s good. What do you think is the state of the nation right now on this issue? Do you have a sense of where we are and what should be done?
Bishop: I think we need to make incremental steps and really work on all fronts. Certainly as church leaders, priests, pastors and bishops who are primarily concerned with the conversion of hearts – getting people who embrace the Gospel of Life, but at the same time we have to be actively involved in the public square working on all fronts there as well to enact just laws that favor the cause of life, all life, but especially protecting innocent life has to be a special concern.
LifeSiteNews: Kansas – is that where George Tiller (notorious late-term abortionist) is from - Wichita? How far is that from you?
Bishop: Well, he’s in Wichita which is about 90 miles from Salina where I am bishop. I had been a priest in the Wichita diocese so I am very familiar with him, as a matter of fact.
LifeSiteNews: Do you have any advice on what people might be able to do about the fact that he is still there.
Bishop: I would encourage people to pray for his conversion. I think that is fundamental. I mean, the man has been at it for so long that I fear that perhaps his heart has been so hardened that I think only grace is going to bring about the change that is needed for his conversion and all who are involved in the abortion industry. He certainly is perhaps the most notorious and most well-known.
LifeSiteNews: In Kansas, as a percentage of the population, how many would be Catholics?
Bishop: State-wide, I would have to say around 16%.
LifeSiteNews: It’s part of the US Bible Belt, I presume.
Bishop: It is largely Protestant, yes. We have some pockets of Catholicism where there is a strong, ethnic, Catholic presence. In southwest Kansas, there are a lot of Latinos – not so much in our diocese – well, we have plenty and we try to welcome them. We can gain from them, I think and I honestly have a great deal of hope that some of the parochial values that the Latinos and Hispanics are bringing north with them will be enriching for the United States - the value that they place on family and faith, community and life, so I am hopeful.
LifeSiteNews: Here is a tough question. One of the prominent issues as far as Catholics are concerned – both in Canada and the US - it seems worse in Canada – is Catholic politicians promoting and implementing expanded abortion rights and funding and also the redefinition of marriage. So far they don’t feel there is anything wrong with that because there haven’t been any significant sanctions for their obstinate, public behavior, even after having been advised by their religious leaders and their parish pastor that this is wrong. Should more be done about this?
Bishop: That is a difficult, challenging question. I think you are right. It is a scandal that so many Catholic politicians who have such power to influence our nation for the good are not accepting that responsibility that comes with that power and acting upon it.
Sadly, as you observed, many of our Catholic politicians have been in the forefront in fostering so-called abortion rights. I think many of the bishops are taking this very seriously and working, as we must, to meet privately and work toward educating, informing those individuals and helping them to recognize the consequences of their actions and what that is going to mean for, well, primarily their spiritual well-being, the salvation of their souls but also in terms of their being in full communion with the Church.
Each bishop finds himself in a very challenging position and I certainly would never dare to sit in judgment on any of my brother bishops. I have my own problems in my own backyard but I think we are really trying to take this matter very seriously because it does become a source of scandal.
LifeSiteNews: A few bishops – one in Canada and a few in the US – have said that it has come to a point now where they would deny them Communion because of the severity of the situation and how it hasn’t gotten any better – in fact it seems to have become worse. Also Cardinal Ratzinger, just prior to becoming pope, did make a very definitive statement that, in such cases where it is obstinate and persistent… they must be denied Communion. What is your response to that?
Bishop: I agree. I think, one has to determine yet at what point it can be determined that they have come to that state of obstinate refusal to desist from that condition of manifest, grave sin. I think we have an obligation as bishops, as pastors, to try to work with them to bring them to a change of heart and refusing them Communion would be, not the first, but more than likely, the last stage in a serious of steps.
LifeSiteNews: So, it is not something that you would rule out?
Bishop: Oh, absolutely not. I think it is something that Canon Law sanctions and that I think many bishops find themselves with no other choice but to make that decision. I think in many cases it becomes the right decision and the only choice.