Alliance Defending Freedom

They Said ‘No!’:  What happened when 12 nurses refused to participate in abortions

Alliance Defending Freedom
By Alliance Defending Freedom
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January 14, 2013 (ADF) - Nurses in a big city hospital never know what a day's shift will bring – straightforward cases or medical miracles, major crises or minor first aid. Whatever her station, whatever the duty of the moment, a nurse tries to ready herself for anything. But some things, you just can't see coming.

It was Beryl Otieno Ngoje's turn to work the desk in the Same Day Surgery Unit at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), in Newark. She was busy with the usual administrative duties – filing charts, handing out forms to the patients, answering visitors' questions – when another nurse hurried up beside her.

"Oh, something just happened, you won't believe it," the woman said, visibly excited. "I have it in my hand." She held up a clenched fist, palm up. "I have it in my hand," she said again.

"What do you have in your hand?" Beryl asked, bemused at the woman's demeanor.

"Do you want to see?"

"Yes," Beryl said – and instantly regretted it.

The other nurse opened her hand to reveal the tiny, tiny form of a baby, just aborted.

"I felt like somebody had just hit me with something in my face," Beryl remembers.

She began to cry, to the consternation of her coworker.

"I'm sorry – I didn't know you were going to react like that," the woman said.

It was a moment that seared Beryl's soul and haunted her memory, and it would come back often, in the days ahead. For the other nurse was not just a co-worker, but her manager... with the power to hold not just an unborn baby, but Beryl's career in the palm of her hand.

The dozen-or-so nurses of the UMDNJ Same Day Surgery Unit – like nurses at any other hospital – are a lively mixture of backgrounds and personalities. Beryl, a native of Kenya, is a quiet ICU specialist who's been with the hospital for over 15 years. Fe Esperanza Racpan Vinoya, a veteran of the ER and ICU, is from the Philippines, and speaks with cheerful delight about her love for music and for her church. Lorna Mendoza has been a nurse for 25 years, at University for more than a dozen, and takes both her work and her Christian faith very seriously.

"We high-five each other," Beryl says, "Most of us are there 12 hours, and that is a good portion of your day. It is important that you get along and feel relaxed and free."

Because: "you get to socialize a lot," Fe says. "You're less busy here than in the ER."

The nurses of Fe's unit are responsible for monitoring, medicating, and placating patients going into and coming out of surgery. That means a lot of bedside comfort, encouragement, and interaction with both patients and their families, so conversations between coworkers tend to be quick exchanges in the hallway or on break. What the nurses share, more than close friendship, is delight in and commitment to a job they love.

"It's a noble job," says Fe. "Very fulfilling... a healing profession. Everything you do for the patient just makes them feel better, and satisfies my entire being, because I've helped someone."

"A lot of people don't realize... we usually see somebody at their worst," Beryl says. "They're not perky, happy – they're ailing and hurting. They just want somebody to be there. I can make a difference. I can help in whatever little way. I find that very gratifying."

All operations on this unit are elective – that is, the patient chooses to have a specific procedure done: a tonsillectomy, a hernia repair, the removal of cataracts. And, sometimes, an abortion.

Not the kind of abortion where the mother's life is in danger, Beryl says. "They just choose to end it. These are people who go to the doctor and say, 'Look, I don't want this pregnancy.' The age range is mostly teenagers – 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds – and a lot of times, they come back."

"To some, it's like contraception," Fe says. "Five or six times, you see them there."

If she ends up talking to those patients, she says, "I always tell them, 'I'll be praying for you, and I hope that this is the last time I'll see you doing this kind of procedure.' I can see in their faces how guilty they feel, the guilt in their hearts." Many say, "Yes, definitely this is my last time."

And yet, so often, they come back.

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Fe knows, all too well, about that guilt in their eyes. Twenty years ago – still new to America, still learning the language and culture, just getting the hang of her first nursing job – she found she was pregnant. But her doctor said the number of rubella antibodies in her blood was too low, and posed far too great a risk for the baby. He urged her to get a therapeutic abortion.

Fe and her husband pressed the doctor repeatedly – was this absolutely necessary? He assured them it was, and, out of their depth in a new country, they didn't realize they had any choice. Fe soon found herself in a clinic, surrounded by half-a-hundred teenagers, all waiting their turn to abbreviate the life in their wombs. Fe sat with her husband and sister.

"We were the only ones crying," she says.

Right up until the moment of the procedure itself, Fe was on the phone with her doctors, trying to get their okay not to end her baby's life. But her pediatrician and the specialist were adamant, and she went through with what they told her to do. The decision has troubled her ever since.

"I wasn't able to sleep for a long time," she says. "It took me years to just feel that, okay, it's done. I asked for forgiveness. The Lord knows my heart, that I didn't want to have that happen."

Within a year, Fe was pregnant again. She is now the mother of three... yet her thoughts linger, sometimes, on the one she lost. The experience makes it that much harder, she says, to watch the young teenagers come through to eliminate a child just because it might complicate their lives. She knows how their hearts will be haunted in ways they can't imagine now.

Which is why she was horrified to learn that she was being ordered to help with their abortions.

The change came in September of 2011, with the news that a peer was being promoted. Though employed in the same unit as Fe, Beryl and the rest, this particular nurse had long been assigned to a special team that carried out the abortions without any involvement or assistance from other nurses on the Same Day Surgery floor. The abortion team had always drawn its staff from nurses who had expressed no qualms about helping end a child's life.

Promoted from that team to a supervisory position over all the nurses, the new assistant manager announced that – since she and others had to help with abortions – she saw no reason why every nurse shouldn't help. Hospital officials agreed, and passed a new, mandatory policy to make it so. The assistant manager quickly set up a training program that would give each nurse on the unit hands-on experience in how to assist with and clean up after abortions.

"As long as you work here," she told the 12 nurses who openly protested, "you're going to have to do it. If you don't, you're going to be fired or transferred out."

"We were all shocked," Fe says. "All these years I've been a nurse, I was never told to help kill children."

But the managers remained adamant. Hospital administrators supported them. When the nurses brought up a long-standing, in-writing agreement exempting them from taking part in abortions apart from a medical emergency, officials told them "an emergency" would hereafter be defined as any situation in which the patient was "bleeding." And every birth involves bleeding.

"I knew we were going to lose our jobs," says Lorna, who, at one point, amid the flurry of discussions with the managers, was asked to provide a patient with a bedpan. Retrieving it, she found an aborted baby inside. Horrified and sobbing, she called for help, telling the manager who responded, "I don't know what to do with this. I can't do this." She soon found herself in the office of the vice president of nursing, where she was accused of refusing to help patients and threatened with termination. She wasn't the only one called in.

"Our jobs were hanging by a string," Beryl says. "We were like, 'All right. If they're going to fire all 12 of us, fine. But this is against what we believe God wants us to do.' We didn't come into this profession to do [abortions]. We told them we weren't comfortable with it and didn't feel they should force us. And if that meant our jobs, well... God was going to provide."

When even their own union declined to help them, Fe wrote a letter to hospital officials saying that she and her coworkers would not participate in abortions. She passed it around for the other nurses; 15 signed it. She gave the letter to her manager, who took it to the director of nursing.. Response was swift. A meeting was called for the next day, with each of the signing nurses, the labor board, a union official, the managers, and "an expert on ethics" scheduled to be on hand.

The day of that announcement, Pastor Terry Smith, of Life Christian Church in West Orange, New Jersey, returned from a trip. A staff member told him that one of his parishioners – Fe – had called, shared what was happening at the hospital, and asked for advice. The pastor immediately phoned Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council.

"I'll be all over this," said Deo, who hung up and called Alliance Defending Freedom. Shortly afterward, staff attorney Matt Bowman was on the phone with a local allied attorney, Demetrios Stratis, enlisting him to help defend the nurses. The two immediately called Fe.

"I remember... I was driving and speaking to them three-way," says Fe, who had just been convincing herself the nurses' case was hopeless. "I didn't know a thing about conscience law – it was very, very new to me." The two told her she had a legitimate case, and offered to defend her. Best of all, Stratis said he could be on hand for her meeting with the managers the next day.

"Is there a catch?" Fe asked. Visions of sky-high attorneys' fees danced in her head.

"No catch," Stratis said. "We're pro bono lawyers." Fe drove home in a daze.

Next morning, she met Stratis at the hospital entrance. She took him upstairs to the Same Day Surgery Unit and introduced him to the nurses on duty and others waiting for the meeting. Twelve of the 15 immediately agreed to have him and Bowman represent them in the case.

"A godsend," Beryl says. "We had no idea which way to go. It was like something from heaven just dropped in our lap at the right time. It boosted our morale a lot." It did considerably less for the morale of the nurse managers and others gathered for the meeting, who had not reckoned with the nurses hiring outside counsel.

"Who are you?" a manager asked Stratis.

"He's our attorney, and he is going to speak on our behalf," replied Fe. Everyone split into huddles – Stratis and the nurses in one room, administrators in another. After a few minutes, the nurse manager came to cancel the meeting, but not before Stratis made it clear that he would be defending "my clients' legal right not to be forced to participate in terminating a pregnancy."

"It was like we had been talking to a brick wall, and that brick wall just got smashed," Fe says. "We were very happy after that. It gave us a sense of hope."

Stratis and Bowman reminded hospital officials – face to face and in writing – that their new policy transgressed both state and federal laws that make it illegal to compel medical professionals to violate their conscience by forcing them to help with a non-emergency abortion. With their actions, the hospital was not only risking a lawsuit, but more than $60 million in federal funding. Still, administrators stubbornly contended that all abortions in the Same Day Surgery area – each scheduled weeks in advance – were "emergencies."

"These surgeries are, by definition, elective, outpatient procedures," Bowman says. "If they weren't, the ER is just 30 seconds away." Plus, he points out, "these are pre- and post-operative nurses. They're not even supposed to be there for a surgery, whether it's abortion or not."

To get around that, he says, the abortion team "would give a woman a pill that induced labor, give it in the pre-op area, and leave her there. After a couple of hours, she'd start going into labor." And now, she was outside the surgical area – in a section for which the 12 pro-life nurses were responsible.

With the hospital unwilling to budge, Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit on behalf of the 12 nurses to defend their legally protected right of conscience. Their managers, meanwhile, insisted on including the 12 in abortion training, which included interactions with abortion patients and handling dead babies. Three were forced to take part before the nurses enlisted Bowman and Stratis. Once hired, though, the two quickly obtained an injunction that prevented other nurses from having to undergo training the following day.

One of the three forced to train did not quite accomplish, perhaps, what her managers had in mind. During her shift, a patient expressed reluctance to go through with the procedure. The nurse talked with her awhile, then – at her request – quietly brought in the woman's husband. After a bit, the woman dressed and they left... having decided not to have the abortion.

For weeks, the 12 nurses worked in a decidedly tense environment. "It was scary," Beryl says. "We prayed a lot. We came into work and stepped off the elevator and said, 'God just let the day go by well, without incident' – because we had our incidents. It was very, very uncomfortable." The 12 drew strength, she says, from each other, from praying friends, and from their faith that, "Our God is greater than this."

As a court date drew nearer, the hospital came up with another threat: if the 12 would not help with abortions, administrators would hire nurses who were willing to do so. Soon, officials intimated, there might not be work enough for everybody... in which cases those nurses willing to do anything might well enjoy greater job security than those only willing to do most things.

Amid all the tension, threats, and growing media coverage, the judge in the case stunned everyone by suddenly announcing, in a preliminary hearing, that a settlement had been reached.

"We had gotten everything [the 12 nurses] requested," Stratis says. "We'd gotten the hospital to agree not to force them to perform these abortions. There would be no retaliatory measures against them, and they could feel free and sleep at night, knowing that the next day they would not have to be trained on the abortion process or help a woman kill an innocent child."

"I was crying – really crying," says Lorna, who heard the news from one of the other nurses. "And very thankful. The next day, I went to work, and all of us were hugging and very happy."

"Before, I used to think that some prayers won't be answered," Fe says. "Sometimes, I'd feel very hopeless. But with this case, I saw how the Lord moves... providing the resources, the people who would help us out. It just strengthened my faith. I really thank God for Alliance Defending Freedom."

"I'm not sure I know where we'd be today if it wasn't for them, really," Beryl says. "We were up against some really big guns, and Alliance Defending Freedom was determined to support us."

"This case took an emotional toll on all of these nurses," Stratis says. "To stand up, to be part of a lawsuit against their employer, is very, very hard to do. There was a lot at stake. Some were the sole breadwinners for their family. Being faced with termination of their job or standing up for their faith... that is a very, very difficult decision, especially in these economic times."

But "I couldn't do what they were asking me to do," Beryl says. "I could not. You go against what you believe, what are you? What's left? Just a shell of what you are."

Spoken like a woman whose conscience is in good hands.

Reprinted with permission from Alliance Defending Freedom.http://www.alliancedefendingfreedom.com

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Dr. Miriam Grossman speaks to large audience in Mississauga, Ontario Steve Jalsevac/LifeSite
Lianne Laurence

VIDEO: How DO you to talk to kids about sex? US sex-ed critic gives practical tips

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

MISSISSAUGA, ON, August 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Talking to their children about sex is “anxiety provoking to say the least,” for parents, says American sex-ed expert, Dr. Miriam Grossman.

“Some people just can’t even do it, and that’s okay,” the New York-based psychiatrist told the crowd of 1,000 who packed a Mississauga conference hall August 18 to hear her critique of the Ontario Liberal government’s controversial sex-ed curriculum.

After Grossman explained how the Liberal sex-ed curriculum is dangerously flawed and ideologically driven, she used the question-and-answer session to give parents much appreciated and sometimes humorous practical advice on how to teach their children about “the birds and the bees.”

“If you feel you can’t do it, maybe there’s someone else in the family or in the constellation of people that you know you can trust that could do it,” said Grossman, author of “You’re teaching my child WHAT?” and an internationally sought-after speaker on sex education.

A child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with 12 years’ clinical experience treating students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) clinic, Grossman said explaining sexuality and procreation to children is “a process,” that “shouldn’t ideally happen all at once. A child is not a miniature adult, and absorbs…new information differently than adults do.”

And parents need to be sure just what their child wants to know.

To illustrate this, Grossman referred to her earlier story about a father who gave his son every detail on human procreation after the boy asked him, “Dad, where do I come from?”

After the father finished, his son replied, “Well, that’s funny, because Johnny told me that he came from Montreal.”

“Try to find out what your child is really getting at, and, don’t give it all at once,” Grossman said. “You start with a little bit at a time…and you know, there’s so many variables here, and people have their own traditions and their own ways of explaining things, and something that might be right for my family might not be right for your family.”

She also advised that, when confronted with a four, five, six or seven-year-old asking about a pregnant woman, or where babies come, a parent can ask, “What a good question that is. What do you think?”

And parents can also legitimately put off the discussion when appropriate, telling the child, “That’s really not something you need to know about right now.”

“Wow, what a novel idea: Telling a child that they could wait until they’re older to discuss that subject,” Grossman said, adding that parents wouldn’t brook a six- or even fifteen-year-old child asking how much money they made or had in the bank. “Excuse me? Not every subject has to be an open book.”

However, the time will come when a child needs to know “about how her body’s going to change, about reproduction, about how a new life is created.”

That time, Grossman advised, is puberty, or “as puberty is beginning,” and this is especially so for girls, who, if unprepared for the surprise onset of menstruation “might think [they’re] dying.”

“The actual nitty-gritty about the birds and the bees and intercourse” can “be told in bits and pieces, or it can be told all at once, if you feel it’s necessary,” she said, adding that it’s beneficial if the parent acknowledges his or her awkwardness, because the child will think: “This must be such an important subject that my mother or my father is sitting there squirming, but he’s doing it anyway. I’m really loved.”

“And the children need to understand that as you grow up, you change a lot, not only physically but emotionally,” Grossman said, “and what may seem odd or disgusting when you’re ten years old, or whatever age, it becomes something very special and beautiful when you’re older and you’ll understand it later. You don’t have to understand it now.”


Know your child and guard your home

But as an essential foundation for this discussion, parents must both know their children and guard their home from the encroachments of a culture that Grossman described as “very, very sexualized” and “really horrible.”

“Children need parents who are loving but are also firm and authoritative,” she asserted.  “They don’t need best friends. They need us to guide them, to know what they’re doing, to be on top of what they’re doing.

So parents need to be aware of whom their child is “hanging around with, and what kind of movies are they watching…what’s going on with your child.”

“You need to know that anyway, even if it’s not about sex education,” she pointed out. “Try and know your child. Every child is different.”

And Grossman emphasized that it is “extremely important to be careful about what your child is exposed to in the home, in terms of television and Internet, obviously.”

Children need to understand that “just like you have garbage you take out of the house, you put it in the garbage bin, it’s dirty, it smells…there are other things that also don’t belong in the house.”

And children learn quickly what is, and is not, permissible inside the home, Grossman said. “Me, I keep kosher…If I go into a store, my kids know from a very young age, we don’t eat that.”

So they are used to the idea of “the world outside and the inside world, of inside your home, and inside your heart as well.”

Parents can also convey this by telling their children that “the world is an upside-down place, and sometimes the most special, holy subjects are…just thrown in the gutter. And that’s a bad thing. In our family, in our tradition, we don’t do that.”

“Sexuality is one of the subjects that in this upside-down world, it is sometimes just in the gutter,” she said. “And so I want you to tell your child to come to me when you have questions, I will give you the straight story about it.”

Grossman herself is “not even sure,” as she stated in her seminar, that sex education should be in the schools: “I believe sex education should be at home for those parents that want to do it.”

She also noted that parents “can make mistakes. We all make lots of mistakes but it’s okay, you can always come back and do it differently,” adding that this is “another wonderful message for your child. You know what, it’s okay to make mistakes, you can always go back and try and fix it.”

Grossman urged parents to visit her Facebook page, website and blog. “I have so much information you can get there that you’ll find useful,” and added that she will be publishing books for children, and has posted her critique of New York City’s sex-ed curriculum, which is similar to Ontario’s.

The parental backlash to that sex-ed curriculum, set to roll out in the province’s publicly funded schools this September, has been “amazing” Grossman noted.

Grossman’s seminar was sponsored by Mississauga-based HOWA Voice of Change along with the Canadian Families Alliance, an umbrella group representing more than 25 associations and 200,000 Ontarians opposed to the curriculum. The report on her devastating critique of the sex-ed curriculum can be found here, and the video here.

Ontario readers may find information and sign up for a September 2 province-wide protests at MPPs offices here. So far, there are protests planned for 92 of Ontario’s 107 constituencies. The parents’ movement seeking removal of the curriculum is urging all concerned citizens to join this special effort to influence individual Ontario legislators.

See related reports:

Ontario’s dangerous sex-ed is indoctrination not science says U.S. psychiatrist to large audience

Videos: US psychiatrist tells parents “stand firm” against dangerous sex-ed

See the LifeSiteNews feature page on the Ontario sex-ed curriculum containing nearly 100 LifeSite articles related to the issue

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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Did the pope just endorse a gay children’s book? Of course not, says Vatican

Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete
By Pete Baklinski

ROME, August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- While mainstream media is gushing with news today that Pope Francis allegedly praised a children’s book that promotes gender theory, the Vatican is decrying what they called the "manipulation" of a cordial letter from an official in the Secretariat of State to suggest that the Vatican is promoting teachings contrary to the Gospel.

Italian children’s author Francesca Pardi was reported by The Guardian to have submitted a parcel of children’s books promoting the acceptance of homosexuality and gender theory to Pope Francis in June after Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro publicly banned the author’s newest book, Piccolo Uovo (Little Egg), from children’s schools. The book was criticized by pro-family leaders for promoting non-natural family structures of two men and two women.

In a letter accompanying the books, Pardi wrote: “Many parishes across the country are in this period sullying our name and telling falsehoods about our work which deeply offends us. We have respect for Catholics. ... A lot of Catholics give back the same respect, why can’t we have the whole hierarchy of the church behind us?”

The Guardian is reporting that Pardi has now “found an unlikely supporter in Pope Francis,” who through his staff has responded to the author and is presented as “praising her work.” It quotes the following from a July 9 letter to Pardi from the Vatican.

“His holiness is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values,” wrote Peter B. Wells, a senior official at the Vatican Secretariat of State, in a the letter The Guardian is reporting it has seen.  

While the letter gently calls the author to use her talents to spread “genuine human and Christian values,” The Guardian takes it as the pope’s endorsement of gender theory.

“Pope Francis sends letter praising gay children's book,” the paper’s headline states. “Italian book that explores different family types including same sex was banned by mayor of Venice, but pontiff becomes unlikely supporter,” reads the subtitle.

In a press release that Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi sent to LifeSiteNews on Friday, the vice speaker of the Vatican, Ciro Benedettini, made clear that the friendly reply letter to the author in no way approves of attitudes or positions that are contrary to Catholic teaching and the Gospels.

The Vatican's statement also says that in the original letter from the secretariat of state Wells merely "acknowledged receipt" of the materials sent by Pardi, and also made clear that the letter was private and not meant for publication. 

"In no way does a letter from the Secretary of State intend to endorse behaviors and teachings not in keeping with the Gospel," says the statement, decrying the "manipulation" of the letter.

Benedettini said the blessing of the pope at the end of the letter was meant to be for the author herself, and not to affirm positions concerning gender theory that are contrary to the Church's teaching. Using the letter to this end is erroneous, he said.

Pope Francis has strongly condemned the notion of “gender theory” on numerous occasions, saying that it is an “error of the human mind that leads to so much confusion.”

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Poll suggests most US Catholics wrongly believe Pope Francis backs gay ‘marriage’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- A considerable majority of U.S. Catholics are in conflict with Church teaching on abortion and marriage, a new study says, and a startling number of those also believe Pope Francis backs homosexual “marriage.”

Despite Church teachings, Catholics in America also closely parallel the general populace in their support for abortion and homosexual “marriage,” falling short in the Biblical call to be “in the world but not of the world.”

The findings suggest what many Catholics have said is a climate of confusion in the midst of the Francis pontificate. Concerns over that confusion prompted a coalition of pro-family groups to respond with an international petition effort asking the pope to reaffirm Church teaching, drawing more than a half-million signatures.

The survey, conducted by Public Religions Research Institute, found that 60 percent of all U.S. Catholics favor legalized homosexual “marriage,” compared to 55 percent of all Americans. Likewise, 51 percent of Catholics think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 53 percent of the general population holding this view.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a sacramental union between one man and one woman, mirroring Christ and the Church respectively as bridegroom and bride.

The Church also teaches that life begins at conception, that each human life possesses dignity as a child of God and is to be afforded protection, making abortion an intrinsic evil.

Catholics, accounting for 22 percent of adults in the U.S. population, have a favorable view of Pope Francis, the study said, but they are very confused about his take on homosexual “marriage.”

Of the Catholics who back homosexual “marriage,” 49-percent also think the leader of the Catholic Church backs it along with them. Fifteen percent of those Catholics who oppose homosexual “marriage” also mistakenly believe Pope Francis supports it.

Pope Francis has made numerous statements in support of life, marriage and family, but the confusion remains.

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"After Ireland and the U.S. Supreme Court both approved same-sex 'marriage,' a strong reaffirmation of Church teaching could save the sacred institution of marriage, strengthen the family and dispel the lies of the homosexual revolution," TFP Student Action Director John Ritchie stated.  "Young Catholics -- even non-Catholics -- look to the Church as a beacon of morality and stability in our Godless culture, but some of our shepherds have issued confusing statements."

TFP Student Action is a part of the lay Catholic organization American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, and is part of the alliance behind the Filial Appeal, the petition asking the Holy Father to reinforce Catholic teaching at the Vatican’s upcoming Synod on the Family in October.

Ritchie explained how the confusion was aiding the Church’s enemies, and warned of the potential consequences.

"This prayerful petition asks Pope Francis to clear up the moral confusion that's been spreading against Natural and Divine Law," he said. "If the enemies of the family continue to chip away at holy matrimony, the future of the family and civilization itself will be in even more serious peril."

At press time more than 500,000 signature had been gathered for the appeal, including five cardinals, 117 bishops and hundreds of well-known civic leaders.

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