In a year that saw tremendous challenges for the Catholic Church in the United States, Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, Pennsylvania showed exceptional leadership. He lived up to the example of his patron saint, the defender of the Holy Family, in sharp contrast to Joe Biden who makes frequent references to his birth and upbringing in Scranton. Bishop Martino let the faithful know exactly why the Church does not see abortion as one among many social issues, but rather as the most pressing human rights violation at this moment of history. “No social issue has caused the deaths of 50 million people,” he told a gathering in a Scranton parish prior to the election.
What is most heartening is that Bishop Martino’s strong stand had a measurable effect on Catholic voting in Pennsylvania. Unlike in the rest of the nation, a clear majority of Catholics there voted against the anti-life presidential candidate. His pastoral letter for Respect Life Sunday 2008 clearly stated what was at stake in the national elections. “It is a tragic irony that “pro-choice” candidates have come to support homicide – the gravest injustice a society can tolerate – in the name of ‘social justice.'” He also pointed out the fact that 40 years after Pope Paul VI’s Humanae vitae, we are reaping the bitter consequences of the Sexual Revolution.
Another area where Bishop Martino has proudly taken a stand is the defense of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman. He wrote a pastoral letter in favor of the Protection of Marriage Amendment to the Pennsylvania State Constitution. He urged the Catholics in his diocese to contact their state senators in favor of defending marriage. Bishop Martino admirably debunks the myth that Catholics should not bring their faith and morals into the voting booth. “In the long run, we serve our country best by remembering that we are citizens of heaven first. We are, in fact, better Americans when we are truly Catholic.”
Cardinal von Galen is a hero of Bishop Martino’s, which is one more reason he is an excellent recipient for our HLI Cardinal von Galen Award for Pro-Life Leadership. Both these prelates spoke “truth to power” courageously. Bishop Martino has received attacks for his willingness to denounce evils clearly and boldly, but he will not be silenced. “Our Lord, Jesus Christ, does not ask us to follow him to Calvary only for us to be afraid of contradicting a few bystanders along the way. He does not ask us to take up his Cross only to have us leave it at the voting booth door.” HLI’s prayer is that the Lord will raise up many more bishops like Joseph Martino throughout His Church in our time of need.