From 10-11 March 2017, the Bringing America Back to Life Convention was held in Cleveland, Ohio. The convention was a gathering of nearly 1,500 defenders of life from different religious backgrounds and from all parts of the United States. This gathering, which included the courageous former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson, also featured many Catholic speakers such as Michael Hichborn (Lepanto Institute), John Smeaton (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children), Gabriele Kuby (Catholic German author), as well as John-Henry Westen (LifeSiteNews).
It was John-Henry Westen who proposed a larger topic that would have an impact on all pro-life work. A topic which, as he argued, affects all Christians and people of good will, namely: “After 2000 Years, Is the Catholic Church Altering Its Stance on Life and Family?” With this challenging topic, Westen addressed the serious problem that the Catholic Church — which was heretofore at the forefront of the protection of innocent and vulnerable life and of moral standards with regard to marriage and the family — seems now to be drifting away from that vocation and orientation under Pope Francis. This continued weakening of the Catholic Church’s doctrinal and moral resistance will inevitably affect all people in the world who fight for the defense of human life, since what is arguably the most powerful moral voice seems now be withdrawing, or at the very least, quieting down.
What is important for us to know in the current situation in the Church is that John-Henry Westen — after his charitable and detailed critique of the current pope — received a standing ovation, and thus found much support for his candid approach. This event might well be an indicator of the way social conservatives of different religious backgrounds perceive the grave changes that are proposed and also taking place in Rome right now.
It is also a sign that many Catholic defenders of life — especially the ones in attendance at that meeting — are increasingly critical of some of Pope Francis’ doctrinal and pastoral positions; this is even more significant inasmuch as much of this recent public criticism does not come from the expected traditional Catholic circles, but from more mainstream or “conservative” sources.
Westen, who is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the pro-life news website LifeSiteNews.com, told his audience on 11 March in Cleveland how difficult it has become for him and his colleagues at LifeSiteNews to report on Church events after the resignation of Pope Benedict and under the pontificate of Pope Francis. He and Steve Jalsevac, the other founder of LifeSiteNews, are both Catholics who had lost their way for a period of time in their earlier lives and then, under grace, found their way back to the full Catholic Truth. Having once lived a life outside of the fullness of Catholicism, they now better know from the inside how precious is the Catholic Faith and all of its teaching. As Westen put it: “without truth, we would not have come home.” “We needed the truth for our own good,” he explains. Thus they have made it their work motto to speak the truth in love — “Veritas in Caritate” or “Caritas in Veritate.” Based on this principle, LifeSiteNews publicly criticizes even prelates of the Church, “for their own good,” and while being especially mindful of the words of Our Lord about those who scandalize the Little Ones of Christ.
John-Henry Westen invited all people present — Catholic or not — to pray for Pope Francis. Until recently, he explained, the Vatican was at the United Nations a voice standing against the killing of the innocent children in the womb; however, with Pope Francis, a new tone has come into the Church. Westen reminded people of Francis’ September 2013 words, according to which “it is not necessary to talk about these issues [such as abortion, contraception and same-sex unions] all the time.” Westen recounted to the audience how this papal statement was a shock to him and his colleagues. But, he added, it then even became “much more grave.” In February 2016, Westen said, Pope Francis publicly praised as “one of the forgotten greats,” Emma Bonino, Italy’s long-term promoter (and procuror) of abortion. Bonino has never repented — at least not publicly — for her having performed such illegal abortions herself in the past.
The Canadian journalist also recounted how, during Francis’ visit in the U.S. in September 2015, there took place a private meeting between the pope and the Kentucky civil clerk Kim Davis who was punished for refusing to sign same-sex “marriage” licenses. What troubled Catholics at the time was that the Vatican tried to deny that the meeting took place and seemed embarrassed about it and never released official photos of that meeting. At the time, LifeSiteNews reported that the Vatican then claimed that there was only “one real audience” at that time in the U.S., and that one was with a former student of Pope Francis and his same-sex “partner.” According to Westen, Kim Davis was then accused by some of the public media of being a liar, while many pictures were being ostentatiously shown of the papal meeting with that homosexual “couple.”
As Westen described it, Pope Francis seems to wish to be “on a good footing with the media.” The secular media do not mind Catholics, explained the journalist, as long as they are not making a claim “of absolute truth.” Westen added: “Unfortunately, the pope has a similar approach,” seeming to “give in” with regard to the multiplying “hard cases.” As an example, the editor of LifeSiteNews quotes Pope Francis himself describing a same-sex couple where one of the two partners is a transgender. While talking about this couple, Francis called the “she” who had become a “he” a man, therefore accepting this immoral conjunction and behavior as licitly normal. The pope also called their union a “marriage.”
John-Henry Westen also explained his purpose in mentioning this candid description of these examples: “I show you things to wake you unto prayer.” “Prayer and speaking out to your pastors and bishops” is now so vital in Westen’s eyes.
Westen also mentioned the 16 June 2016 case where Pope Francis claimed in front of priests in Rome that cohabiting couples have “fidelity” and that they have “the grace of a real marriage.” Westen, who is the father of eight children, still remembers how his own daughter called him from college, asking him about these stunning papal words, since people were now believing that Pope Francis is officially accepting cohabitation. Westen continued: “I asked cardinals with whom I later spoke: was I supposed to lie to my daughter?” And he insisted that “this is a fight for our children’s souls.”
As another scandalous example, John-Henry Westen mentioned the words of then-Archbishop Blaise Cupich who said at a press conference during the 2015 Synod on the Family with regard to same-sex couples and their possible access to the Sacraments that one has to respect the consciences of the people. Here Westen insisted that one may not receive Our Lord in Holy Communion unworthily and that the words of Cupich go against Holy Scripture. Without being in the state of grace, explained Westen, one partakes in a “false communion.”
Later in his talk, Westen summed up our current situation in the Church with the words “we have thus going on now not just one heresy.” The world’s laxer beliefs have now come home to permeate the Catholic Church.
In the second part of his talk, John-Henry Westen gave a beautiful wholehearted witness to the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, explaining to Catholics and to non-Catholics alike how the Blessed Mother warned the world about the danger of hell and about the especially perilous consequences of sins against purity. Leading the audience calmly, and in detail, through the events of 1917, Westen presented how this 100-year-old message is still decisively valid for us today — and perhaps it is now even more urgent than ever. The Catholic Canadian journalist recounted how, today, most people believe that nobody goes to hell — or that “Our Lord did not mean that.” But, on the contrary, the seer Sister Lucia herself said indeed in 1954 to Father Lombardi: “Father, many [souls] will be lost.” John-Henry Westen also mentioned here that Cardinal Carlo Caffarra — one of the authors of the dubia concerning the papal document Amoris Laetitia — was told by Sister Lucia that “the final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family.”
After mentioning many other scandalous incidents — such as the ecclesiastical threats addressed to the priests and current seminarians of Malta if they were now to oppose the novel teaching of Amoris Laetitia; Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia’s controversial sex-education program; Paul Ehrlich’s presence and comments at a Vatican conference in Rome; and the fact that the dubia still remain unanswered by the pope up to today — Westen pointed to the possibility that perhaps “we will [soon] be meeting in homes again” for Holy Mass on Sunday. However, we have to “hope and fight,” added the journalist; “to pray and to spread the truth” are now so vital. With a good cheerful tone in his voice, Westen said that there is hope that we will win this battle in the end, because “Christ will win!”
After this Catholic witness of a journalist warrior, the 1000 people in the audience rose to their feet in well-deserved applause. Such praises for a controversial topic would have been unthinkable just a year or two ago, but this is further evidence of how drastically times have changed.
John-Henry Westen’s talk can be listened to on these two following links:
sequence, after a short interruption:
This post has been updated.
Dr. Maike Hickson, born and raised in Germany, studied History and French Literature at the University of Hannover and lived for several years in Switzerland where she wrote her doctoral dissertation. She is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.
Her articles have appeared in American and European journals such as Catholicism.org, LifeSiteNews, The Wanderer, Culture Wars, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Apropos, and Zeit-Fragen.