CLIFTON, New Jersey (LifeSiteNews) — Diocese of Paterson Bishop Kevin J. Sweeney commended jailed pro-life advocate Joan Andrews Bell in a moving letter this month honoring the 74-year-old’s “inspiring dedication” to the unborn and her willingness to sacrifice her own freedom to serve God.
In an October 5 letter published on the website of New Jersey’s Diocese of Paterson, Bishop Sweeney said he decided to write about Bell’s “inspiring life” and her “dedication to the pro-life cause” in his weekly column.
Bell was one of eight pro-life advocates convicted of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act and committing conspiracy against rights for blocking access to the Washington Surgi-Clinic in downtown Washington, D.C., in a “traditional rescue” in October 2020. Rescues involve pro-life advocates using physical means in an effort to stop a woman from going through with an abortion.
All of the pro-lifers were convicted and immediately incarcerated in two separate trials held in late August and early September. They have not yet been sentenced but could face up to 11 years behind bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
Bishop Sweeney said that Joan, husband Chris, and their family “have been parishioners in our diocese for many years.”
“When I asked Chris how Joan was doing, here was part of his reply: ‘… She’s been able to call every day. She’s in good spirits. She and I accept this time for her as an opportunity to pray and do reparation for our sins and the sin of abortion,” the letter read.
Chris Bell told LifeSiteNews just after his wife’s conviction and incarceration that Joan views jail time as an “opportunity to pray like a Carmelite cloistered nun” and continue her work as a “silent witness” seeking to “save babies who nobody wants to see or defend.”
Calling for prayers for Bell during her confinement as she awaits sentencing, Bishop Sweeney also said he believes it’s “important that we consider what it is like for someone to be willing to sacrifice so much for a ‘cause,’ for what they believe God is asking them to do as they listen prayerfully to the voice of their conscience.”
Noting that the 74-year-old pro-life advocate “is now facing the possibility of being sentenced to prison for 11 years,” the bishop said Bell has acted upon what she believes God is calling her to do.
“While there are legitimate, different approaches to advocacy (and activism) on behalf of life and against legalized abortion, it is important to emphasize that those like Joan involved in ‘Operation Rescue’ are choosing prayerful, non-violent, civil disobedience because they believe that conscience calls us to oppose an unjust law,” Sweeney said, touching on some of the controversy within the pro-life community surrounding the strategy of breaking the law to protect the unborn.
“We live in a complicated world,” the bishop wrote. “As people of faith, hopefully, we each strive to prayerfully be guided by a well-formed conscience, and (hopefully) we are striving to support one another, especially in moments when we feel called to make great sacrifices.”
He said that Bell’s “voice, example, and witness are worthy of our consideration” and called on Catholics to “reflect on the Third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary, given to us by Pope Saint John Paul II,” which is the “Proclamation of the Kingdom of God.”
“We pray for Joan and all of those who make a sacrificial witness for life,” he said. “Proclaiming the Kingdom is the work of the Church that encourages all living with fear or despair to embrace God’s gift of life with confidence and gratitude.”