An Email From the Cardinal This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

December 12, 2010
A few months ago I leaped at the chance to interview one of my close family friends, Fran Hogan. Fran is not only extremely astute and charitable woman, but she is also a member of the prestigious Pontifical Academy for Life, a committee set up to provide the pope with advice on bioethical matters relating to the tabooed “life issue”. Although Fran and I may have separate views on the “life issue” and Catholicism as a whole, the two of us had an enthralling conversation. I only wish that advocates who share her views were able to present their opinions in a calm, rational, and respectful way by following her example.

How long have you been traveling to Vatican City?

I first went to Vatican City in 1966 and went occasionally after that until 1996; since then I have gone every year (except this year) to meeting at the Vatican.
Prior to this interview Fran suffered a bout of various maladies; much to her dismay, her failing health prevented her from taking her annual trip to Vatican City.

How does one get high enough in the church to actually meet the pope?
Actually one does not have to be high in the Catholic Church at all to see the pope. Every Wednesday he has a public audience inside the Audience Hall at the Vatican and anyone can get tickets. Every Sunday, at noon, he appears at his window over St. Peter’s Basilica and recites what we call “Angelus” which is a prayer to the Blessed mother. He usually gives a brief talk. The square can hold comfortably 600,000 people.
Exactly how high are you in the Catholic Church?
Currently I am serving as a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. It is one of several Papal commissions and part of what is called “Roman Curia”. Pope John Paul II established the Academy and encyclical letter he wrote called the “Gospel of Life” in 1995. I was appointed to the position shortly after—in 1996. I have been reappointed since Benedict XVI became Pope five years ago. While no one told me why the Vatican appointed me, I have always assumed it was because I have been active since 1968 in what we call the “right to life movement in the United States. In 1968 I was a law student and began grass roots organizing for the movement. In the following years I wound up serving on the Board of Directors of The Value of Life Committee and Massachusetts Citizens for life. At the urging of Cardinal law I founded a catholic Professional women’s right to life group called “Women affirming life”—which later became an international organization. Then the United States Bishop made me a consultant to them and named me to the membership on the Pro-life Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I assume these activities are what brought me to the attention of the Vatican, but I will never know for sure.

Have you personally met any current, or late popes?

I have personally met both John Paul II and Benedict XVI whom I actually met before he was elected pope.

Are you alone when you meet the pope?
I have never been alone with the pope. I have always met him together with the other members of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

What will you be saying/what do you say when you meet the pope?

In the past when I have met the Pope, I have only a couple minutes with him—not much time for real conversation. I usually just thank him for what he is doing on behalf of the dignity of human life.

Is this trip business, or recreational?

Believe me, this trip is never a vacation. The meetings usually last about 3 and half days. They usually begin around 7 AM and go until 7:30 at night with breaks for lunch and coffee. The meetings are very intense and cover very emotionally charged issues—issues, which people all over are dealing with.

Could you give a time line of these meetings?

Meeting the pope usually involves going to the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City where the Pope lives. The meetings are usually near his apartment, which I think, is on about the 5th floor. We are brought into a beautiful meeting room—usually what is called “Clementine Hall” which is covered with fantastic great works of art. Once we are all seated, the Pope comes in and sits down and says a few words. Then we all assemble in a line and, one by one we step forward and greet him. Many will kiss his ring—the ring is a symbol of his position—Catholics believe that the Pope is a direct successor to St. Peter—often called the “Rock”—Christ told St. Peter that he was the rock upon which Christ would build his church. Christ went on to say that he was giving to Peter “… the keys of the Kingdom of heaven.” The meetings usually last about an hour and a half. Sometimes the Pope actually attends the meetings which the Academy is holding—they are held inside Vatican City in a place called the “New Hall of Synod”. When the pope does that he simply sits with the others during the meeting and participates that way.

Have you ever gotten an email from the pope?
I have never gotten an email from the pope, but just last week Cardinal Law called me from Rome when he heard I was not feeling well.

I understand that you are member of the organization Citizens for Life. What would you say the motto of the CCL is, and why?

Mass Citizens for Life’s Mission statement is: “In recognition of the fact that each human life is a continuum from conception to natural death, the mission of CCL is to promote respect for human life and to defend the right to life of all human beings, born and preborn. We will influence public policy at the local, sate, and national levels through comprehensive educational, legislative, and charitable activities.
Please understand that I do not feel that protecting all human life belongs to any one religion. I truly believe that even people with not religion at all—even atheists—can come to the understanding that the proper role of government is to protect human life and not destroy it. Also remember that we should never ever be anything other than kind, loving, and prayerful toward any woman who, while under enormous emotional or other pressures, has made a difficult decision for abortion. We know how difficult that can be and, as a Christian, I truly believe we need to be helpful and supportive of every woman in such a situation and keep in mind that her child is now in the loving hands of god!

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