by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
In September 1984, I was appointed, by Archbishop John May, the priest coordinator of the St. Louis archdiocesan pro-life committee.
I spent a good portion of my first year attempting to make an assessment of what needed to be done to improve the implementation in St. Louis of the Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities that had been promulgated by, what was then, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. I had read in a book on leadership strategies that one should write down a list of necessary goals to reach your desired objectives, even if they seemed extraordinarily ambitious and perhaps unrealistic.
Around this time, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the former New York abortionist who was one of the founders of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), had experienced a pro-life conversion. He had produced a high-quality video, entitled “The Silent Scream,” that depicted a sonogram of a suction abortion. Nathanson was convinced that if the American public saw this video, a sufficient number would be moved to demand a restoration of legal protection for the unborn.
Nathanson initially was confident that he could get “The Silent Scream” telecast by PBS or by one of the major networks. After all, it was a scientific explanation of abortion. Just as now, it was not uncommon to see every type of gory surgery possible shown on television.
However, Nathanson was wrong. The media blackout on accurate information about the reality of abortion was absolute. Though the media felt an obligation to show the terrible consequences of war and every other human tragedy, they had determined Americans should not see the reality of abortion. Accurate images of abortion were considered too upsetting or offensive for viewers who are regularly exposed to the most inhumane violence in so-called television dramas.
With the assistance of local Right to Life groups, movie theaters were rented in many major communities for a public showing of “The Silent Scream” with a lecture by Nathanson explaining the reasons for his own pro-life conversion.
One of the purposes of these public screenings was to create a news story that local television stations would pick up and, in the process, disseminate some of the information contained in “The Silent Scream.” Nathanson’s efforts definitely had an impact, but he was never able, as he had hoped, to reach the vast majority of Americans with his message. One of the officers of our pro-life committee pleaded with me to initiate an effort to raise money to purchase an adequate amount of commercial television time to do effective mass media pro-life education. I knew that he was correct. However, I had no idea how we could possibly raise minimally the hundreds of thousands dollars that would be necessary to finance such an ad campaign, in addition to everything that we were already doing to help fund abortion alternatives, etc.
Nevertheless, I included on my written list of goals (in this case, more accurately, a dream): To create and fund a well-researched and professionally produced pro-life media ad campaign. Periodically, I would look at my list of goals. I was encouraged because I could recognize progress in many areas. In the Archdiocese of St. Louis, we had been able to expand abortion alternatives, begin a Project Rachel postabortion healing and reconciliation ministry, pass state pro-life legislation, start a pro-life youth group, etc.
However, with regard to my educational goal for a pro-life mass media ad campaign, I was completely frustrated. Each passing year, we seemed no closer to achieving this goal than when I first wrote it on my list. I had spoken to Archbishop May about the possibility of trying to raise funds for such a pro-life media effort. With the other archdiocesan fundraising commitments, the archbishop was not supportive of another major initiative. With my current responsibilities, I understand completely why he responded in this way.
I continued to pray, but without much confidence or hope. I prayed: “Lord, if you want this to happen, you are going to have to do something because I have no clue how to advance this goal!” I am sure God was amused by my prayer. The Lord must have particularly smiled at the pride implicit in my prayer, assuming the apparent progress in the other areas of the pro-life apostolate was somehow the result of my efforts.
In the late ’80s, the Missouri Legislature passed a pro-life bill that resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court case. Abortion proponents were frightened by our legislative successes. As a result, they organized a successful campaign to collect a sufficient number of signatures to place on a state ballot a so-called “right of privacy” amendment to the Missouri Constitution.
Our opponents appeared to have unlimited resources to wage a media campaign for the passage of this amendment. If they succeeded, our ability to limit even funding of abortion would be compromised. Moreover, even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion would remain legal in Missouri.
I wondered if God was listening to my prayers. Not only had we made no progress in developing a mass media pro-life education campaign, but now our opponents were poised to do a media blitz promoting legalized abortion under the guise of privacy.
I considered removing the mass media ad campaign goal from my list so as not to be reminded of “my failure.” In the Gospel, Jesus speaks about the necessity of persistence in our prayer. I persisted, but without much hope in my prayer.
Perhaps you can identify with my experience. Maybe there is some good you desire for your spiritual welfare or for the welfare of your family. You have prayed about it for what seems a long time and you wonder if God is truly listening. Stay tuned next week to learn how, I believe, God responded to my weak and frustrated prayer.