Bishop of Fresno writes about city funding for Planned Parenthood
Last Thursday, the Fresno City Council decided to override Mayor Dyer’s veto and funnel $1 million from the State of California to the Planned Parenthood Clinic on Fulton Street. Only Council Member Garry Bredefeld opposed the measure.
The funding is specifically allocated to help Planned Parenthood as it expands abortion services locally. When the measure was initially passed in mid-August, I feared it would set a dangerous precedent for direct city involvement in abortion funding. At that August meeting, Council Speaker Nelson Esparza said so at the end of the debate, expressing his hope that this vote would be the first of several such efforts by the city. That fear came to fruition last Thursday when Councilman Miguel Arias declared the city of Fresno a pro-choice city. This is the same board member who declared himself a devout Catholic in August.
After the first vote on the measure, Arias mentioned his Catholic faith and his displeasure with Christian leaders in Fresno who speak out on issues like abortion, but who he says aren’t doing their part to help those without. -shelter and the poor. Numerous comments at the meeting pushed the assertion that personal religious views have no part in this public policy discussion, that the First Amendment and the principle of “separation of church and state” put sectarian opposition to abortion out of reach.
Respectfully, I think both statements are wrong. I believe it is my responsibility to defend the record of Catholics and other Christians in the Valley serving the poor, and to defend the rights of religious people to express their opinions in public debate.
Last year, Catholic charities in the Diocese of Fresno distributed 3.2 million pounds of food to those in need. Their services have directly reached 250,000 people in 40 different communities in the region. Our individual parishes in the San Joaquin Valley hold food drives, clothing drives, and more. Catholics have provided enormous resources to the Poverello House and other ministries which have done heroic work to help the homeless and those in need.
Beyond my Catholic setting, other Christian churches and life-affirming organizations are doing wonderful work helping those in need. The Fresno Mission provides meals, shelter, rehabilitation and employment assistance to thousands of people. Obria Medical Clinics of Central California provides prenatal care to low-income women in Fresno, a desperately needed service that Planned Parenthood’s Fulton Street Clinic does not. The Fresno Pregnancy Care Center offers baby supplies, ultrasounds, pregnancy tests, parenting classes, mentorship, and abortion alternatives to women and couples facing difficult pregnancies.
So many evangelical churches that Arias criticized for not helping the poor — for example, Pastor Jim Franklin’s Cornerstone Church — actually have massive food, clothing, shelter and other activities. Local Christians are and should be proud of their incredible efforts to help those in need.
To defend the role of religious views in public life, it is helpful to explain not just what we Christians believe on moral issues, but how we believe. I don’t think killing is wrong just because the Bible says so – I rather think the Bible condemns killing because it’s inherently wrong. The inviolability of human life is a universal truth that everyone, Christian or not, can discern by observing our common human nature. We Christians find the Bible to be a God-inspired guide to confirming these ethical standards, but these principles are embedded in our very being.
This concept of “natural law” is not exclusive to Christianity and has been endorsed in various contexts by figures as diverse as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas, and thinkers from the Jewish and Muslim traditions. These ethical beliefs are not mere ceremonial rules or acts of positive law analogous to kosher laws or Meatless Fridays in Lent. Rather, they are universal truths that direct man to his best and ultimate ends of genuine happiness and fulfillment.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s advocacy of racial equality was not illegitimate because of his Christian faith. His beliefs inspired him to protect the universally known truths of fundamental human equality and brotherhood. In that same spirit, my fellow Christians and I plead for the lives of unborn children to be given equal protection in our society. To deny the legitimacy of these “personal religious views” in public debate would morally impoverish the history of our nation, which has benefited so much from the ethical advocacy of its faith-filled churches and citizens.
For these reasons, I defend life. I advocate for public funding to help those in need, especially mothers who need prenatal care and support. I represent women, children and families in need. I do this not out of narrow bigotry, but in support of basic human equality.
Last week, I sent Arias an invitation to join me in his district at the office of Catholic Charities Fresno to see a little insight into what his church is doing to support women, children and families in need. . I sincerely hope that he accepts the invitation and I undertake to host him at a time and on a date.
Bishop Joseph V. Brennan, DD, Bishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno