Father Leonard R. Klein has been seriously pro-life throughout his ministry, and that includes when he was a pastor with the Evangelical Lutheran Church. In fact, the Catholic pro-life doctrine was a significant reason behind his conversion to Catholicism and his ordination as a priest in 2006.
“In my Lutheran period, which was most of my life until 2003, I was not so much involved in the movement, but I took a fairly conspicuous role in the internal debates in Lutheranism, for instance, the questions of permissibility and the feminist side of anti-life that was gaining great strength,” he said.
Father Klein, 67, is director of the Office of Pro-Life Activities and Respect Life Committee for the Diocese of Wilmington, Del. He also has dual assignments at St. Mary’s Parish and St. Patrick’s Parish, and is administrator of the Cathedral of St. Peter. He and his wife, Christa, have three children, including a disabled daughter who lives at home, and six grandchildren.
“Delaware has one of the highest abortion rates in the country,” he said. “It doesn’t have a viable parental consent law, so we have reason to believe that underage girls from Pennsylvania and other states are coming here. There’s also an egregious effort by Planned Parenthood to target minorities, and Delaware is easily accessible to the (surrounding) black and Latino communities, which is a heavy part of Planned Parenthood’s business.”
The diocese’s pro-life ministries work with 40 Days For Life and groups that push for pro-life legislation, such as opposition to embryonic stem cell research. He has praise for the laypeople who “are doing a good job,” but would like to see more priests preaching more about life issues.
“One thing that I can say to them is that you can preach about this from the pulpit, but you have to take the time to write your homily,” he said. “It’s important to not shoot from the hip. You have to phrase it right so that we are the ones — not Planned Parenthood — who offer hope and forgiveness. It can’t be your only theme, and it doesn’t need to be every Sunday. Sometimes it can just be a paragraph or a few sentences.”
There’s no danger in preaching to the choir, he added, because many people in the pews are confused or influenced by the culture of death.
Advances in sonograms and other medical technology have proved the pro-life affirmation of human life in the womb.
“These sonogram images put the pro-abortion movement on the defensive, and fewer people are prepared to argue that this is just a blob of tissue,” he said. “They can no longer deny what is actually in the womb. They may try, but the blob-of-tissue argument is harder to defend when more people can see the evidence that it isn’t.”
Power of education
An African-American pastor from a Protestant church told Father Lee Perry that the reason more Protestant ministers don’t preach on pro-life is that many in their congregations have had abortions.
“It’s a form of genocide in African-American neighborhoods,” Father Perry said, “but he told me that the ministers don’t want to offend anyone and lose them as members.”
But it’s through information and education, he said, that people learn the truth about abortion.
Case in point: When he taught biology at Catholic schools, he presented the biology of the baby along with the theology, and explained that the logic in laws regarding abortion “weren’t a good thing.”
“So, after going through all this with the students, they understood that this did not make sense,” he said. “We talked about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that (abortion) takes away the life of the innocent. We talked about the horrors of the Nazis, and that’s just as bad as what they’re doing (with abortion).”
Father Perry is administrator of St. George Byzantine Catholic Church in Olympia, Wash., and is the pro-life coordinator for the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Van Nuys, Calif. His passion for the movement began in the early 1970s, when it was still a states’ rights issue. “There was very much energy,” he said, “and I wanted to become involved.”
There have been some major challenges in the last 40 years, particularly, he said, in the influence of a changing culture that’s accepting assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana and the widespread selective killing of unborn children with Down syndrome.
“But we also are seeing and doing things that are very encouraging,” he said. “We definitely have a pro-life younger generation, so I think we are making headway there. I go to the march in Washington, D.C., and I see school groups coming from all over the country, and these kids seem very dedicated to life. I would like to see more Catholic schools because education is the key, and I think that Catholic and non-Catholic churches should work together. Really, this is the civil rights movement for the unborn. We have a lot of work to do.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.