When the U.S. Catholic bishops first launched a nationwide initiative to help pregnant women in need, the chair of their pro-life committee envisioned every parish becoming a pro-life hub.
“Our hope was … that every parish ought to be a place where any woman can come,” Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City told CNA. “And the parish would be really prepared to connect them with the best resources in the area — and hopefully, we have somebody that would walk with them through that process.”
Today, the bishops’ pro-life parish-based ministry, Walking with Moms in Need, promises to do just that — by encouraging Catholics to support and “walk in the shoes” of local pregnant and parenting women facing difficult situations.
Naumann oversaw its launch in 2020 when he served as chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. Now, two years later, the 73-year-old archbishop sees the ministry only gaining momentum after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in a ruling that frees states to decide abortion policy.
The pro-life issue is a personal one for Naumann. His father was tragically murdered, he disclosed, when he was still in his mother’s womb. She had a difficult pregnancy with him, as she did with his older brother. Growing up, he watched as his mother, who never remarried, worked as a Catholic school teacher and, then, a principal.
“I could see the struggle that a single mother goes through,” he remembered.
At the same time, he said, those circumstances “oddly, probably contributed to me becoming a priest.” He pointed to his parish priest, who took an interest in him and his brother because they grew up without a father.
Naumann was ordained a priest in 1975, two years after Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. He first took an active role in Catholic pro-life leadership when, in 1984, the archbishop in St. Louis invited him to lead the pro-life apostolate in that archdiocese.
But, he urged, “It was an issue I always felt strongly about.”
A call to action
Speaking with CNA at the bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore, Naumann recognized the overturning of Roe as a “significant” decision — and a call to action.
“Those states where they do have protective laws for women and children, that means they need to even have more support for moms and for their children,” he said of states that have restricted abortion. “I think Walking with Moms is very important in those states.”
Naumann also expressed concern about states that remain largely unaffected by the Supreme Court’s decision, including his state of Kansas, where a pro-life amendment on the ballot recently failed. He also worried about states enacting laws “maybe even more horrendous” than Roe v. Wade.
“In those states, it becomes very important too, because the children we can't protect with the law, we can [protect] with love and [by] surrounding the mother and the child with the support system,” he said.
Walking with Moms in Need, in part, began in anticipation of Roe’s reversal, Naumann revealed.
“We saw that that was a possibility,” he said, before adding, “But you know, frankly, I didn't think I would see it in my lifetime.”
“There was in my mind, why, if that happened, are we really prepared to support women — even more women and children,” he said. “And so I'm really glad we took that initiative and the Holy Spirit kind of guided us.”article
He described how his own diocese is participating in Walking with Moms in Need: by making parishes aware of the resources available in addition to identifying the gaps where help is needed.
“I've told our pastors, there's no excuse for any of our parishes not being able to connect women with the help they need and to be prepared to accompany them,” Naumann stressed.
He called the bishops’ pro-life pastoral plan “multifaceted,” with a focus on four areas: prayer; education within and outside the church; pastoral care, and advocacy. While much of the focus on abortion has been on the courts and legislation, Naumann emphasized the importance of building a pro-life culture.
“In the long run, we have to build a consensus within the culture that killing our own children is not the way we want to address difficult pregnancies,” he said.