Re-Published with permission from St. Louis Review

ST. LOUIS, November 21, 2008 ( – Last week, at the annual fall assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, archdiocesan administrator Bishop Robert J. Hermann stated that for any bishop, it would be a “privilege to die tomorrow to bring about an end to abortion.” His comments were picked up by media outlets across the country and have been touted in the blogosphere as a courageous statement in the defense of unborn human life.

St. Louis Review staff writer Jennifer Brinker recently met with Bishop Hermann for an interview, in which he reflected on his statement and also answered several other questions relating to the issue of abortion, the bishops’ meeting and the recent presidential election.

Q: Let’s delve right into the issue at hand. At the recent bishops’ meeting in Baltimore, you said this:

“We have lost 50 times as many children in the last 35 years as we have lost soldiers in all the wars since the Revolution. I think any bishop here would consider it a privilege to die tomorrow to bring about an end to abortion. If we are willing to die tomorrow, then we should be willing to, until the end of our lives, to take all kinds of criticism for opposing this horrible infanticide.”

Could you explain a little bit more about the point you were trying to get across?

A: I think that the way abortion has been presented over the past 35 years so often is that this is something that’s horrible, and we need to stop it. But it seems to me that people do not realize that it is 50 million children that we have killed. We have campaigned to save the baby whales, and yet we vote in pro-abortion politicians – which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

I feel we need to be in an awareness-raising campaign to open our eyes to really see the destruction that we’ve brought about. There should be 50 more million Americans in our midst, and anyone under 35 can look around and say, ‘Where are they?’ And, ‘I’m very lucky to be alive.’

We are grateful for all the soldiers who have died to defend our freedom. But at the same time, we aren’t making similar efforts to protect the unborn. And so that’s my concern – to raise the consciousness of all people to the atrocities that we’re committing.

Q: What was the reaction of your fellow bishops after you said this?

A: The reaction was one or two bishops started clapping, but then we moved on immediately (to other business). I received numerous comments from other bishops, thanking me for making this courageous statement. I said any bishop there could have and probably would have made the same statement.

After I had finished, Bishop (Robert) Finn and Archbishop (Joseph) Naumann and Bishop (Michael) Sheridan commented. Archbishop (Charles) Chaput sought me out and commented. So numerous bishops had come up to me and thanked me for the comment. I said we’re only doing what we’re supposed to be doing, that’s all.

Q: What was the thought process going through your mind in which you said, ‘Yes, I would do this. I would lay my life on the line.’

A: Very simply: If American youth are willing to go to war and lay their life down to defend our freedoms, then every bishop should be willing to give up his life, if it meant putting an end to abortion. And if we’re willing to do that, then we should be totally fearless of promoting this cause without being concerned about political correctness, without trying to build coalitions with pro-choice people.

Q: Can you tell me about some of the personal criticisms that you might have recently encountered in your role as bishop and your willingness to speak out for a culture of life?

A: First of all, perhaps 95 percent of the responses I have gotten have been very positive, very complimentary and very supportive. 

The few negative responses I have gotten have not bothered me one bit, because I see that we’re products of a secular society. And what I see very clearly is that the underpinning premise of our society – but unspoken – is that God does not exist. And our culture flows from that thinking.

But we on the other hand, we say, ‘Yes God exists, and I believe in God,’ but often we act as if he did not exist. We are acting the way we have been conditioned.

I cannot tell you the number of people who have e-mailed me or told me in person, ‘This is the first time in my life that I voted contrary to strong feelings.’ And there are others asking me how they need to deal with their past voting habits.

I have great empathy and great compassion for people who are influenced by society and are taken in by the big lie that God does not exist. My job is to raise their awareness to, yes He does (exist), and it does make a difference what you believe. It makes a big difference in what you do.

In addition to this premise that God does not exist, we also have to be aware that our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and the powers and the spirits of this world of darkness, as Paul tells us in Ephesians.

Therefore, behind Planned Parenthood, behind the abortion issue, is the evil one. I often see human beings caught up in this as victims of the evil one who need my prayers and who need my compassion and who need my love. We don’t only want to save our children from destruction; we also want to save our adult brothers and sisters from eternal destruction.

Q: Why was it important for the bishops to craft a statement directed toward the administration of President-elect Barack Obama? It heavily addressed perhaps the most pressing issue that currently faces the pro-life movement right now: the Freedom of Choice Act.

A: What makes this so dangerous is that candidate Obama said that one of the first things he would do would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act when he becomes president. And that really frightens us, because it would be undermining all the efforts for the past 35 years of trying to limit the destructive effects of abortion.

The other concern that we have in the next four years is that he may very well have the opportunity to place two more people on the Supreme Court, which could secure the Roe vs. Wade case for many, many years.

Q: During his campaign in Pennsylvania, President-elect Barack Obama said he has taught his daughters with proper morals, on the other hand, “if they make a mistake, I won’t want them punished with a baby.”

What do you think about that statement?

A: I am very horrified that he would make such a statement, which in effect is saying that he would be willing to see his grandchild killed for the convenience of his daughter.

When he promotes abortion, he is, whether he knows it or not, targeting blacks, because they have been targeted by Planned Parenthood with abortion information and facilities in their neighborhoods. So he and Planned Parenthood together are helping to reduce the African- American population in this country.

Q: I think there are many people, some Catholics included, who still don’t understand why Catholic bishops and priests place such importance on abortion over other issues, such as the economy, immigration and the war in Iraq. Could you explain why Church leadership takes this stance that some have called “single-minded?”

A: Pope John Paul has made it very clear that while some people say that the economy, or the war in Iraq or immigration should be of prime consideration. But he said those rights mean nothing if the fundamental right to life is not guaranteed. Before these other rights mean anything, we have to guarantee the fundamental right to life. When someone is denied life, then all the other rights don’t mean anything. That’s the reason the Church places such a high priority on that.

For an individual to have a proportionate reason to vote for a candidate who supports abortion would be very hard to come by. The only way I could see that happening is if we had one candidate who supports abortion and another one who may mandate abortion … as they do in China.

Q: We have noticed in the weeks leading up to the election a surge in the number of priests, particularly our young priests, who have spoken out for a culture of life. Is there anything that you would like to say about the courage these men have shown?

A: I am very edified by the growing number of priests, and in a very special way young clergy, who had the courage to speak out from the pulpit so incisively and effectively against the evils of abortion. I think more and more priests are beginning to realize the seriousness of this cause and also see that taking a strong stance receives such tremendous support from our Catholics.

I encourage all priests to continue to pray about the issue, to study the teachings of Pope John Paul II, and Cardinal (Joseph) Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) on this issue, and then address it with love and patience and courage. We do not condemn proponents of abortion; we condemn their beliefs and their practices. We pray for them, and we want their salvation as we desire our own. When we preach pro-life from the pulpit, we’re doing everyone in the congregation a great favor by presenting the truth of our faith in a very clear, concise and effective manner. The truth shall set you free.

Q: Is there anything that you could offer to our Catholic readers, which would give them hope for the future? What can they do to get involved in better promoting a culture of life, especially during these next four years?

A: I would encourage them to study the Church’s documents – perhaps to start with Pope John Paul’s, “The Gospel of Life,” (“Evangelium Vitae”) and then to follow that up with encyclical, “Humanae Vitae,” (“Of Human Life”) so they can clearly understand the nature of man and woman and the sacredness of God’s calling for man and woman.

The more they study that and begin to live those teachings, the more they’re going to come into freedom to promote the Gospel of Life, first of all, by the witness of their very lives. And secondly, they will be courageous in sharing their witness to others.

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