Conference offers pro-life leaders a chance to rejuvenate

COLUMBIA — Pro-life leaders throughout the Diocese of Charleston came together at the South Carolina Respect Life Conference on Aug. 23 to rejuvenate their parish organizations with fresh ideas and direction. The conference, held at St. Joseph Church in Columbia, was attended by more than 150 people.

New ideas and direction came in part from the pastoral plan developed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The plan, which was handed out during the gathering, is divided into four sections: public information and education, pastoral care, public policy, and prayer/worship. A copy is posted on the diocesan Web site ( under the department of family life.

Father James LeBlanc, director of the diocesan Family Life Office and pastor of St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken, welcomed those attending the conference and took the opportunity to do some recruiting for the diocesan Respect Life Committee.

“Please let me know if you feel as though your bright minds and big hearts are being called to serve on the diocesan level,” he said. He asked that those who wish to get involved write or call him.

The first speaker for the day, Msgr. Thomas Duffy, a well-known advocate for life, discussed the fundamentals of working for peace and justice.

“Our success is not going to be measured by the amount of peace (and justice) we bring in the world,” suggests Msgr. Duffy, “but like Christ, our challenge is to continue to proclaim the message by what we say and do.”

Msgr. Duffy, pastor of St. Michael Church in Garden City and a priest for more than 45 years, recalled the many initiatives he had seen started by a church but not sustained.

“The problem is that we sometimes give up on things because we forget that we must be refreshed,” he said, advising that “we must take time out to remember who we are, reflect on the purpose and meaning of our lives, so that we don’t get lost in the world just doing things.”

Brenda Cerkez, executive director of Family Honor, talked about the organization’s efforts to provide parents and their children with a forum to understand and articulate the church’s message of hope regarding love and life.

“Our philosophy in Family Honor is one of anticipation, not crisis management,” said Cerkez.

Family Honor tries to provide through its programs the opportunity and the resources for parents and children to communicate important life values, such as chastity, in a warm and caring atmosphere. Cerkez cited several studies that correlate this type of positive parent/child relationship with a significant reduction in risky behaviors that can lead to abortion.

Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D., director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee, cited yet another positive way people can make, and have already made, a difference in defending life. She walked through the history of pro-life legislation that was passed even under what she termed the “shackles of Roe vs. Wade.”

She showed that with the passing of each pro-life law — including parental involvement laws, women’s right-to-know laws, and the ban on physician-assisted suicide — there was a corresponding drop in the number of abortions.

The state of South Carolina has certainly proved this correlation, based on statistical data such as that in a recent report provided by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

After the passing of pro-life laws, the state has seen a 53 percent decrease in the number of abortions since 1988. This decrease was 35 percent more than the decrease reported for the nation on average, according to Holly Gatling, executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life.

“We seem to be at a fork in the road, a critical time in history, and if you fail to do your part, we may not end up on the right road for protect life,” concluded Balch.

After Mass, Dr. Mark O’Rourke shared his expertise as a physician, providing current medical information on the natural process of dying and the growing options in managing pain.

Articulated throughout the conference was the underlying theme that every life matters and everyone’s efforts in the pro-life movement can make a difference.

Cerkez summarized this sentiment in a quote from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver: “Our lives matter. We’re here for a reason. One life, lived well, can begin to change the world. So lead well, with honesty and vision and moral character and unselfishness. Lead well, not only with what you say, but with what you do — and in your example, that’s where the renewal of American public life will begin.”

For more information
Visit the diocesan Web site at and look under the Office of Family Life. The recent pastoral plan developed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is posted on the site.