WCR FILE PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Graphic images of dead fetuses were displayed at the 2010 Alberta March for Life.
Edmonton — The Alberta bishops will not participate in this year's March for Life because organizers could not guarantee that placards displaying dead fetuses would not be present at the event.
Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, liaison bishop with the march organizers, said the presence of images of aborted babies at the march is not consistent with the message the bishops want to portray about the dignity of human life.
The graphic images "have started to become a predominant image in the march," Smith said in a March 9 interview.
Given that the Alberta bishops have been in the forefront of organizing the march, people could naturally assume that they have "given our blessing" to those images, he said.
This year's March for Life is scheduled for May 12 and Smith said the bishops "will not stand in the way of anybody else participating."
They will also continue to be involved with a prayer vigil the night before and a Mass the morning of the march, he said.
"The bishops are deeply committed to the cause of the sanctity of all life from beginning to its natural end.
"We are also deeply convinced of the importance in our day of public witness to the beauty and the dignity of life."
Smith said he personally objects to the photos of aborted babies. "I do find them offensive because they do not honour the dignity of human remains and the dignity of the human person."
Asked if he thought such images might convince some women not to have abortions, he said, "This may work with some.
"We think a far more effective image, that would be consistent with what we are proclaiming, would be the images of unborn living children.
"That says the same thing and it says it far more beautifully."
Smith said he has had several discussions with march organizers about the issue since the 2010 march. He spoke with the WCR shortly after meeting with the organizers when he informed them of the bishops' decision.
Sister Elisabeth Coloumbe, chair of the march organizing committee, told the WCR she did not wish to comment on the bishops' decision.
Smith said he respects the organizers who are "wonderfully committed to life. This is not a fight or struggle with the March for Life organizers."
"We all want to end abortion," he said, but the presence of graphic images at the march threatens the unity and growth of the event.
In his Internet blog (archbishopsmith.blogspot.com), Smith said "from many discussions over this issue in the last several months, it is clear that the March for Life organizers are unable to pledge that the event will proceed without graphic displays.
"It is not that they will not do so; they simply cannot because it is beyond their control."
In the interview, the archbishop said he is also concerned about the effect the graphic images may have on women who are "deeply repenting" for abortions they've had in the past. He is further concerned about their effect on the growing numbers of school-age children attending the march who have not been prepared to see such images.
Last year, four of Alberta's six Catholic bishops were among the 1,300 people who took part in the March for Life in downtown Edmonton. It was the third year for the event, which the Alberta bishops helped to inaugurate.
Smith said that while graphic images of dead fetuses are also present at the much larger national March for Life in Ottawa, the situation is different. At the Ottawa event, the bishops have played no role in inaugurating and organizing the march.