For the chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, his family’s history of tragedy shaped his beliefs on human dignity – from the unborn to the criminal on death row.
“Every life is of such worth that Jesus gave his life on Calvary for each of us. And that doesn’t go away, even if we’re the perpetrator of a violent crime,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in an interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly that aired on Thursday evening, April 8.
In 1948, when Naumann was still in his mother’s womb, his father was murdered.
Yet his mother had a deep faith and strong support from her family and parish, and she raised her sons not to have a vengeful attitude. Naumann has carried his upbringing with him as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) pro-life committee, advocating for a culture of life that protects unborn children and works to end the death penalty.
“In the eyes of God, we’re still made in His image, and we still have a dignity. And the Lord came to redeem us,” he told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly. “From the cross, He was still forgiving His executioners. Once we understand that we need God’s mercy, then we want to extend that mercy to others.”
“Whether it’s the unborn child that may be the object of a difficult pregnancy, or whether it’s the criminal on death row – every life is sacred, and destroying life is never what the Gospel calls us to do,” Naumann said.
He recognized circumstances that may warrant the taking of a life, such as self-defense, “but for capital punishment, our society has other alternatives, other options on how we can protect people from violent criminals, and actually give them the opportunity for reform and for conversion,” he said.
Naumann’s father was a professional baseball player who served in World War II. By December 1948, his wife was pregnant with their second child – Joseph.
“It was precisely a week before Christmas. He went to work that day, and never came home. He was murdered on the job,” Naumann said of his father Fred, who managed a liquor store in St. Louis.
After Fred sent an employee home for being drunk on the job, the man slashed his throat, killing him. Fred left behind a wife and two sons, one under the age of two and the other in utero.
“It was a tragedy that affected the trajectory of our family life for decades,” Naumann said.
Yet despite the tragedy, Naumann said his mother maintained a deep faith – and raised her sons to have that same faith.
“She still had a hope and a joy about her, because she still had Jesus, she still knew that God had a mission for her and purpose for her, and I think that’s really what got her through that tragedy,” he said.
“I think what I’ve really learned from my mother, was that not to allow herself to be consumed with anger at this,” he said. “And I’m so grateful to her, because she never focused on that for my brother and I. She wanted us never to take on the role of a victim.”
He noted that he did not even know the name of his father’s killer until he was in the eighth grade.
Naumann added, however, that he does not presume to speak for all victims of violent crime.
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“As a culture, we need to do more for victims of violent crime. And I don’t want to presume to speak for others on this,” he said. His family, he added, was “blessed” with a “supportive family” and a strong parish community – support that not every person enjoys.
A culture of life should focus on providing every woman with a support system, he said.
“We need to do the same for every mother – no matter what circumstances, that they might be a single mother – we need to surround these mothers with a community of faith and support much like my mother was blessed to have,” he said.