by Tom Grenchik
July 13, 2007
On June 7, by a vote of 9 to 8, the City Council of Philadelphia declared the City of Brotherly Love to be a "pro-choice city." Astonished citizens were quick to point out that it was only hours earlier that Philadelphia had earned the equally troubling distinction of being the city with the highest murder rate in the nation.
One could argue that this "pro-choice" resolution was non-binding and had no force whatsoever. But nonetheless, it was a symbol, and obviously a very important one to its backers. Pro-abortion activists and Planned Parenthood operatives have succeeded with similar resolutions in a few cities in California. Capturing Philadelphia was certainly a much greater prize than West Hollywood, a more highly celebrated. The local Planned Parenthood president declared that, "we are certain that this resolution is reflective of the opinions of a majority of Philadelphians." It seemed all was settled.
But just hours later, the battle was on to retake the city primarily because of the leadership of one churchman who was publicly willing to reject the politically correct label of "pro-choice." Cardinal Justin Rigali, taking on the City Council and the Planned Parenthood elite, immediately called on all people of good will to join him "in rejecting the divisive and erroneous label." Then he quickly mobilized the troops. He released a widely-distributed press statement, created a video message for "YouTube.com" and gave immediate and wide coverage on this issue in his diocesan newspaper that provided the names of all the city council members, their contact information and how they voted. His pastors quickly followed his lead and parishioners signed petitions, wrote letters and made phone calls to their elected representatives.
Just one week later, at their very next meeting, the Philadelphia City Council rescinded the "pro-choice" label by a vote of 13 to 4. A number of council members credited Cardinal Rigali with the quick reversal of the "pro-choice" resolution and most agreed that they never wanted to go down this road again. The once-confident local president of Planned Parenthood is probably still wondering what happened to one of the shortest-lived resolutions in the history of the city.
This may sound easy now, but that was a rough week for the Church and the pro-life community in Philadelphia. When the Cardinal spoke out, he had no idea what the response would be. He didn't call a committee, take a poll or gather a focus group. He simply acted as a shepherd and protected the flock in his city (but would quickly deny that he had done anything extraordinary).
What can we learn from this? We should be reminded of the critical importance of strong leaders who have the courage to take on challenging situations and the confidence to call others to join them. We can recall that pastors have tremendous influence on their congregations when they teach by example. We should remember that elected leaders can dramatically change their minds when they hear from enough constituents. And we can take heart in the fact that lies cannot last. The truth will always win out. Sometimes it may take generations. But sometimes, praise God, the "resolution" comes quickly.
Tom Grenchik is the Executive Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.