My dear brothers and sisters,
I write to you on the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, when we hear in the Gospel the great promise of Our Lord to Simon Peter:
“You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18).
The past century has been marked by the emergence of inhuman ideologies and such unprecedented bloodshed and destruction that it often seemed as if “the gates of hell” had prevailed. However, the Successors of St Peter in the Holy See of Rome have stood at the forefront of the defence of human life, the defence of the value of every human person. They have proclaimed the Gospel of Life in the face of what Saint John Paul II described as, “the culture of death”. Today, that culture of death is manifested in the hidden destruction of the unborn on an industrial scale, and the threat to the sick and the aged of a killing,which its advocates perversely call “mercy.”
Pope Francis continues this unfailing witness in our time, by his words and gestures affirming the eternal value of every human being, especially the weakest and the frailest. In his most recent Exhortation, the Holy Father asks us to be attentive to the new forms of poverty and vulnerability. Pope Francis specifically speaks of those elderly people
“who are increasingly isolated and abandoned” and of the unborn children “the most defenceless and innocent among us” (Evangelii Gaudium n. 210, 213).
I don’t need to remind you of the widespread concern about the ill-treatment of the aged and those at the end of life in some of our care homes and hospitals -and this in spite of the many dedicated people working in these fields of care. It seems all the more incomprehensible, then, that we would be considering a change in the law to diminish the protection given to those most vulnerable.
Next month a Bill to legalize “assisted suicide” for those at the end of life will begin its passage through Parliament. This legislation will be presented as a “compassionate” measure, whose sole aim is to relieve the suffering of the sick and the aged. Yet, it is far from compassionate to remove the legal protections provided for some of the most vulnerable members of society. The proposed change to our laws will license doctors to supply lethal drugs to assist the deaths of those expected to live for six months or less. If Parliament allows exceptions to the laws which protect the very sanctity of human life, it would be impossible to predict where this will end. In 1967, the politicians who legalised the killing of unborn children in limited and exceptional circumstances did not foresee how violating the sanctity of human life would lead to the wanton destruction of millions of lives. It is not surprising that many vulnerable people, including those with disabilities, are today worried by Lord Falconer’s “assisted dying” Bill. It might sound reasonable to speak of “choices at the end of life” – as the campaigners for euthanasia do – but what choice will be left for many?
The recent commemorations of D-day have reminded us of how an earlier generation was ready to face death in the defence of human life and dignity, in what Britain’s war-time Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, described as a battle for the survival of “Christian civilisation” (House of Commons, 18th June 1940). It is the Christian faith which has led us to recognise the sanctity of every human life, the value of every human person. In their quest for the elusive definition of “British values”, our political leaders need look no further for the foundations of our society. And whilst we recall the heroism of generations before us, we must not fail to recognise the great challenge for our own generation. We are now being called upon to defend the sanctity of human life amidst the growing threats against it.
Defending the value of the life and dignity of every human person, from their conception until their natural death, represents the great battle of our life-times, a battle we must fight with the weapons of peace. Together with Pope Francis, the Successor of the Apostle Peter, may you and I be able finally to repeat the words of the Apostle Paul:
“I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith …” (II Tim 4:7).
May it be so, for each one of us.
With my blessing,
Bishop of Shrewsbury
Photo by Simon Caldwell