Tag Archives: Pope St. John Paul II

Where young doctors can train in good conscience

Pope St. John Paul II’s guidance from the Holy Spirit allowed him to accomplish miraculous feats. His dynamic leadership for life inspired the formation of the amazing St. John Paul II Life Center in Austin, Texas.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the center’s physicians, nurses, sonographers, and staff have been among the “heroes in uniform” across America sacrificing to help expectant mothers receive necessary medical care.

Pope John Paul II said that “freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” At any stage of gestation, an unborn child has his or her own DNA and unique fingerprints; therefore, saving the baby’s life correctly exercises one’s freedom.

Meet Dr. Ashley Stone, a wonderful young woman, intelligent, hard-working, and dedicated to the future she has chosen — to be a physician, an obstetrician. She loves children and wants to help bring babies into the world. She graduated from medical school and was accepted at a matched top choice location for her four-year ob-gyn residency.

Ashley started her second year and was in the family-planning rotation. One morning, she was told by her instructor that she would be going to a Planned Parenthood clinic where they perform abortions. She was fearful because she knew she would never participate in any aspect of abortion, yet she wanted to respect her instructor. She thought maybe she could do some good by going, but it became clear that her participation in their biased counseling and their pre-abortion ultrasounds would leave no opportunity for change. Rather, she would be informally cooperating with abortions. Even though she would not verbally assent, her actions would speak otherwise.

Her heart started to race as questions began flying through her mind. How could she live with herself and her conscience if she did participate? What would happen to her for refusing? Could she be removed from the residency program? What would be her rights as an American citizen and the Constitutional protection of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience?

Thankfully, Ashley knew her rights. The instructor was insistent that she participate. Ashley pushed back despite worries about future attempts at intimidation. Ashley boldly told the instructor that she knew she could opt out of the abortion training and that she also must be provided an alternative curriculum. The medical school and hospital told Ashley that these are not their requirements but those of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) — a nationwide, non-governmental organization (NGO) that sets the standards for residency programs and administers licensing certification programs for physicians. Their program requires training and hands-on experience on performing abortions. A student can opt out, but there are often minimal efforts to advise the residents of their rights.

To help young doctors like Ashley, the St. John Paul II Life Center, in cooperation with the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin and Ascension Seton Hospital, has developed an alternative multiyear curriculum of instruction on women’s natural reproductive science. These residents are taught at the center by the center’s physicians who are adjunct professors. This alternative program commenced in July 2020, and one of the five incoming residents is participating.

The St. John Paul II Life Center plans to offer this alternative curriculum for the family-planning rotation to residency programs across America. If there is ever to be a way for future generations of physicians to bring back respect and dignity for human life in the womb, this is it! The center will proceed by the words of St. John Paul II, “Be not afraid!” Please pray for the program’s success.

TIM VON DOHLEN is a past president of Legatus’ Austin Chapter as well as an attorney, pharmacist, businessman, and former legislator. He and his wife, Pat, are co-founders of the St. John Paul II Life Center in Austin, Texas, where they reside. Their new book, In Life the Journey Is Everything, is available at www.jpiilifecenter.org or on Amazon.

Jesus’ mission to reveal the Father

If you polled Christians, asking the reason for Jesus’ incarnation, most would say he came to redeem humanity — to open heaven so we could one day be with him forever in heaven as adopted sons and daughters.


Patrick Novecosky

True. But Jesus also came to reveal the Father, who is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4). The invisible nature of God became visible in and through Jesus’ actions.

The Catechism teaches that “it pleased God … to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature” (#51).

Sadly, with so many young people (and grown adults) with no concept of a loving father, how does the Church communicate the love of God the Father, revealed in the person of Jesus Christ?

The crisis of fatherhood is epic, and the statistics are alarming. The U.S. Census Bureau tells us that nearly half of children (43%) are being raised without a dad at home, and 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The youth suicide rate is five times higher for kids without a dad.

There is no easy answer, but we are all called in our own particular way to mirror God the Father’s love to our own children and be surrogate fathers to people who are lacking that example.

The first time I ever saw my dad cry was at his father’s funeral. I was six years old, and the image of my father tearing up when he said his last goodbye will stay with me forever. He loved his father deeply.

George Novecosky with his six sons in May 2012

George Novecosky with his six sons in May 2012

Now it’s my turn. My father — George Novecosky — has cancer and I’m faced with the prospect of saying goodbye to him. Fortunately, he’s making it easy for us with his refreshing good humor. In a documentary I made on my parents’ spiritual legacy a few years ago, he quipped, “I’m not afraid to die, but I’m in no hurry!”

In his encyclical Rich in Mercy, Pope St. John Paul II taught that “the truth, revealed in Christ, about God the ‘Father of mercies,’ enables us to see him as particularly close to man especially when man is suffering” (#2).

My father’s spiritual legacy will live on in his nine children and 17 grandchildren. He taught us to live well, to love well and to remember that our end is to live forever in the Father’s House.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.

EDITOR’S NOTE: George Novecosky was received into the arms of Our Lord on July 30, 2016.

Standing strong for the family

…Experts say the Vatican’s Synod on the Family must defend traditional teaching while acting as a ‘field hospital’ in a sin-sick world

synod-featureFamily problems like divorce and fatherlessness have long concerned the Church. When bishops gather Oct. 4-25 in Rome for the ordinary synod on the family, they will discuss the difficulties they’re seeing in families around the world — and offer solutions to the Pope.

Although some Bishops and Secularists would like to see major doctrinal changes resulting from the Synod — like the approval of homosexual activity or the allowing of divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communionv — the reality is that the Synod will certainly disappoint them.

Extraordinary Synod

Fr. Gerald Murray

Fr. Gerald Murray

One of the reasons many Catholics are anxious about this synod is because of the media circus and confusion that swirled around the Extraordinary Synod which met in Rome last October. What emerged was division among participants: On one side was a group of bishops who want Church doctrine to change on issues of homosexuality, contraception, and Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics; on the other side were bishops who want to uphold time-honored Church teachings on marriage and family.

“We are in the midst of a debate that will try to influence each side,” said Fox News contributor Fr. Gerald Murray. “Both sides have been going back and forth. However, I don’t believe there will be a change in Church teaching.”

German and Swiss bishops head the camp opposing Church teaching on the family, with de facto leader German Cardinal Walter Kasper.

“The German Church is the wealthiest one in the world because of a very peculiar tax system, so most German bishops agree with Kasper,” said Kishore Jayabalan, director of the Acton Institute’s Rome office.

In May, two-thirds of the German bishops voted to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics — and those living in homosexual unions — to continue employment in Church-run institutions.

Faithful Catholics look to U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke as their leader. Priests who found their vocation under Pope St. John Paul II, as well as bishops from Africa, Asia and the Middle East occupy this camp. They want Humanae Vitae (Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical opposing artificial birth control) and John Paul’s Theology of the Body to be better integrated into Catholics’ lives.

Pope Francis will use the synod’s final document to craft an apostolic exhortation on the family. Most believe that he will uphold Church teachings, while calling upon Catholics to be merciful towards struggling families.

Finding focus

Although no one knows the synod’s outcome, there are a myriad of opinions as to what the bishops will discuss.

“I would like to see efforts to strengthen family life, helping people face challenges like divorce, raising children in the faith, and preparing couples for marriage,” said Fr. Murray, pastor of Holy Family Parish in New York City. “I would like to see a clearer teaching on Humanae Vitae, not as a Catholic hang-up but as the key to cooperating with God’s plan for marriage and the family.”

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a delegate to the synod, told Legatus magazine that there is a great need for the Church to accompany those who are hurting.

“It’s not easy to live a good life,” he said. “For us to be that healing touch of Christ, we need to be a ‘field hospital.’ We have to be that light on the mountain, not a light hidden under a bushel.”

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

Archbishop Kurtz says the Church needs to inspire witnesses — including single parents — to stand up and speak about the sacrifices they’ve made for their children and their marriages.

“They often say to me, ‘I don’t want my child to endure what I did alone,’” he said. “We need to call forth couples and families who can be mentors for others. There needs to be witnessing going on in neighborhoods, one family to another, even informally.”

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Neb., said he “would like to see the synod identify cultural obstacles that make it difficult to live out marriage — and give couples the tools to navigate them. There are all kinds of wonderful tools for couples. I think that families can get overwhelmed, distracted and lose hope.”

Jayabalan said the synod fathers need to talk about the state of marriage in the wake of the sexual revolution.

“They should go back to Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and Humanae Vitae: What do we need to do to practically to teach this again?” said Jayabalan. “They should also find ways for married couples to give their testimonies.”

Creative solutions

Many dioceses and individual bishops are already working on creative solutions to the problems families face. For example, the Pittsburgh diocese announced recently that it would stop charging a fee to begin the annulment process. In the Archdiocese of Louisville, it’s been free for 15 years. The Diocese of Lincoln waives the fee if necessary and asks for a donation when possible.

Bishop Conley’s Lincoln diocese is also working on a tribunal outreach.

“Oftentimes, in the process of annulments, we wait for couples to come to us,” said Bishop Conley. “The idea now is to present a positive message and go out and find couples that are outside the Church. The idea is to offer them a remedy to look at the Church again. We will also have someone shepherd them through the annulment process. It will be a person-to-person ministry.”

The Lincoln diocese is also looking for ways to speed up the process.

Bishop James Conley

Bishop James Conley

Bishop Conley published a pastoral letter on contraception in 2014 called “Language of Love,” which re-presents Humanae Vitae in a way that people can understand today.

“It reaches out in a pastoral way,” he said. “The whole issue of contraception is at the heart of so many struggles.”

In terms of the New Evangelization for families, some dioceses, notably Lincoln and Denver, are leading the way with online resources to help struggling families — articles, webinars, audio links, blogs, and links to organizations devoted to helping couples and families.

Proponents of the Catholic Church’s teachings on the family want to encourage those faced with difficulties.

“What I would like to see at the Synod is the rich treasure of the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage re-presented in a robust way,” said Bishop Conley. “I know that there are all kinds of struggles, but we cannot lower the bar on our teaching.”

Archbishop Kurtz concurred. “We cannot turn away from the great gift of marriage as a union of one man and one woman who are open to new life. We need to be true to the dignity of every person.”

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

Learn more:

Ordinary Synod: An advisory body to the Pope that considers issues of the Universal Church or specific to a certain geographical area. Meetings are held at fixed intervals.

Extraordinary Synod: A special synod that is held to deal with urgent matters. Only three have been held since the Second Vatican Council.

Balancing justice and mercy

BISHOP JAMES WALL: The three most recent popes have condemned the death penalty . . .

Bishop James Wall

Bishop James Wall

by Bishop James Wall

Pope St. John Paul II gave the Church a great gift on April 30, 2000, when he made the Sunday after Easter the Feast of Divine Mercy.

In his 1980 encyclical Dives in Misericordia, he wrote, “Mercy differs from justice, but is not in opposition to it … Love, by its very nature, excludes hatred and ill-will” (#III, 4).

The struggle to harmonize justice and mercy is central to understanding the use of the death penalty, recently rekindled by Pope Francis. In his March 20, 2015, letter to the president of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, he affirmed what his predecessors have taught.

Confusion enters in when the different principles are seen as irrelevant to each other, rather than what they really are — small pieces of a larger whole. We must hold fast to justice, but never twist justice into an excuse to cling to anger and hatred.

John Paul taught in Evangelium Vitae: “The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus’ message” (#1). Central to our Lord’s proclamation is the truth, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). The dignity of the human person is neither earned nor awarded, but was given as a gift from God when he created us in his own image and likeness.

Because it’s given by God, no human being — not even by their sinfulness — can destroy human dignity and the accompanying right to being acknowledged and treated as human persons. This is why John Paul, when preaching on the sanctity of life in St. Louis in 1999, took the opportunity to address the use of the death penalty: “The dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” This teaching was confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006: “Every human life … deserves and demands always to be defended and promoted.”

The death penalty is, in principle, legitimate. However, a legitimate principle and its legitimate application are two distinct things. This is what Evangelium Vitae teaches us: The purpose of punishment is to redress a disorder, to defend public order, and hopefully to heal the criminal (#56). It is not permission for hatred. The Gospel teaches that we are called to love our enemies, not simply those who used to be our enemies. Thus, we read that the death penalty is a last resort “when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today, however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent” (Evangelium Vitae, #56).

Not only is the necessity, practically speaking, non-existent, but Pope Francis reminds us in his March 20 letter that with the death penalty comes the end of the chance to reform. “With the application of capital punishment, the person sentenced is denied the possibility to make amends or to repent of the harm done; the possibility of confession, with which man expresses his inner conversion; and of [the possibility] of contrition , the means of repentance and atonement, in order to reach the encounter with the merciful and healing love of God.” We need to love all of our brothers and sisters, and love them not simply for a brief moment of time, but aid them to eternal life.

This is why John Paul urged the complete cessation of the death penalty and lauded those working for the end of capital punishment. Pope Benedict taught the same, just as Francis continues to do.

In the Diocese of Gallup, Sr. Elizabeth Racko, DC, leads the ministry to those who are incarcerated. Her ministry is to prisoners in Arizona and New Mexico. In 2009, New Mexico abolished the use of the death penalty, while Arizona still has the use of it. “I am not only against the death penalty for the sake of the life of the inmate, but also for the sake of the moral life of our society in the United States,” she said.

When we consider the validity of the use of the death penalty, we must always call to mind those who have been affected by the crimes committed: the victims, their families and the perpetrators. As a people of faith, from a distinctively Catholic perspective, we must first turn to the Merciful Father, imploring him to shower us with his mercy. We pray for a transformation of our culture from one of death to one that seeks to promote the gifts and values of the Gospel of Life — the culture that our Lord came to offer to all people.

BISHOP JAMES WALL leads the Diocese of Gallup, N.M. He is the former chaplain of Legatus’ Phoenix Chapter.