Diocese of Stockton Prepares For Respect Life Month with Family and Respect Life Gathering

At the Family and Respect Life Gathering

October is Respect Life Month in the Catholic Church and Prenatal and Infant Loss Awareness Month in the wider world. To prepare parishes for Respect Life Month, the Diocese of Stockton held its annual Family and Respect Life Gathering on September 9 at St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Ripon, California, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the church hall. 

The event began with mass, during which Bishop Myron Cotta presided, preaching both on the gospel and the relevance of the saint of the day, St. Peter Claver, who made himself a “Slave of the slaves.” As is typical for Bishop Cotta’s sermons, he spoke of the Blessed Mother, whose nativity was celebrated the day before. Whatever we suffer, he said, “she’s a step ahead. He noted that there’s something unique about those missionaries who returned to the land they left in response to God’s call. He said that St. Peter Claver also had a special connection to one of the day’s speakers who will educate those present on the scourge of sex trafficking in our area.

Inside the hall, ministry tables lined the walls with representatives from Hope Ministries, Teams of Our Lady, Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Catholic Charities, California Association of National Family Planning, Turlock Pregnancy and Health Center, and many more.

The annual meeting is planned strategically in anticipation of Respect Life Month, which begins in October. On October 1, all parishes in the Diocese held a second collection to support the Respect Life Office. The Diocese provided parishes with Respect Life Month packets and prayer cards to help engage parishioners in prayer and advocacy for the least vulnerable in our world.

The Family and Respect Life Gathering brings together compelling speakers each year, touching on topics and exploring topics that engage both offices. Pro-life representatives, ministry leaders, and all the public are invited to the gathering.

Natural Family Planning Promotes Healthy Marriages

The day’s first speaker was Sheila St. John, who spoke about natural family planning, the differences between it and contraception, and its effect on the relationship between spouses. At the heart of her talk is the idea that NFP is pro-marriage and pro-life. Her data shows how much it contrasts with using artificial contraception and marriage. St. John demonstrated that society only recently changed its views on contraception. 

Until the 20th century, a generous cross-section of society was against it. While 29% of married persons said they were not using any fertility regulation, of the remaining 71%, 98% of Catholics said they had used contraception. Only 0.5% of the 71% of Catholics using some method reported using modern methods of natural family planning. A whole 1% of that group reported using the outdated rhythm method, which is said only to have about 80% accuracy. Considering all its methods, artificial contraception is reported to have closer to 95% accuracy. 

This method of distilling statistics leads to more extreme conclusions than if presented more straightforwardly. 

St. John moved onto messages after creating a sense of urgency about the current state of marriage, contraception use among Catholics, and childbearing. Below is a sampling of her main ideas.

That women should be on contraception as a norm implies healthy functioning fertility is defective. 

Widespread use of artificial contraception has changed the ideas of women and babies: a baby has a right to be avoided or obtained. 

Even Catholics are affected by the ways of thinking that develop around regular contraceptive use, specifically, being “done with having children” or that children will “ruin one’s future” and limit one’s potential.

In a culture where natural family planning dominates marital practice, the idea that every child deserves to be born of a loving union between a mother and a father would flourish. 

 “Real men use NFP” and self-mastery out of respect for their wives. Husbands may be misguided in choosing sterilization to attempt to show love to their wives. 

Sheila St. John said, “We need to lead our children to see the beauty of sex, babies, and love. Indeed, this next generation is disillusioned about what is possible even when it comes to falling in love and living happily ever after, perhaps because they were sold the idea that happily ever after comes without hard work, sacrifice, and natural consequences.” 

Sex is meant to be unitive and procreative. “It is inseparable, and if you harm one, you harm the other,” Sheila St. John explained.

In the Stockton Diocese, couples can learn the Creighton Model, Billings Method and the Symptom Thermal Method taught through the Couple to Couple League. For more information on where to find an NFP instructor, contact the Marriage and Family Office of the Diocese. 

Without Permission Combats Sex Trafficking: “We want to give them hope.”

From Without Permission, Samantha Johnson spoke next on sex trafficking in the Stockton Diocese. The vision of Without Permission engages the idea of restoration work to restore the brokenness and life of these victims. 30% of its funding comes from the church or private sources. 25 to 30% is government funding, and another 30% is through private funds. They run housing for victims, although most homes are at capacity, and these are privately funded to keep them faith-based.

Johnson is the Director of Operations at Without Permission. In her captivating presentation, Johnson explained there are 25 million victims worldwide. 

She presented data gained from the National Human Trafficking Hotline. 

Human trafficking refers to selling and purchasing children for sex, and most of the victims come from the USA, Mexico, and the Philippines. Sex trafficking uses force, fraud, and coercion, more easily understood as violence and trickery, to trap the victim in its hell hole. Not only is money exchanged for sex but anything is perceived as valuable to the victim.

Johnson explained that three levels of circuits exist in which victims are transported. A local circuit includes Stockton Modesto and Ceres, a statewide circuit that goes along the I-5 corridor, and a national circuit that utilizes routes such as I-80 or I-10. Each of these circuits hit upon the Modesto and Ceres area. In the Central Valley, all three intersect. 

In the 13 years since its founding, Without Permission has served 887 victims. And 888 in the last 12 months. Most victims were between the years of 12 and 24 years old, and they’ve seen a growing number of victims that are boys. Johnson pointed out that boys in our society are targeted in multiple ways, both to become pimps, to become users that are purchasers, or to become victims. Statistically, around 20 to 30% are boys. When Without Permission added a male staff member, they saw the number of those served triple in the last six months. 

Children are often groomed online through social media, and victims are targeted, unlike the Hollywood portrayal of the white van that sweeps up the girl never to bring her home. Not a scenario of kidnapping is rare in this area, Johnson explained. It is much more likely that the student would be a student on campus, a family member, a family friend, or a coach. Most pimps they see in this area are using a long game to target victims. There’s a pattern of psychologically building up and breaking down the victim. 

Traffickers do not fit one shape and size, nor do the victims. In one case, they encountered a trafficker who was a victim herself who decided she could reduce the quota required of her each night by pimping out other girls. 

Johnson recommended resources such as smartsocial.com, Shared Hope International, Polaris Project, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. For more information, visit http://www.withoutpermission.org.

Marriage and Family Politics: California Catholic Conference

Molly Sheehan made the third presentation from the California Catholic Conference, which spoke about what’s happening in Sacramento regarding family and respect life concerns. She started on the bright side, sharing advances in protecting pregnancy centers, protecting students from biased abortion information, and protecting against human trafficking. They were able to encourage pro-family policy and expanded child care, which included bereavement leave for miscarriage and paid family leave that would allow a person not only to care for oneself or one’s children but also other family members who are close friends. The increased protections for foster care and child care centers so that they can stay open. 

In this, they’re targeting the gaps above the poverty level where fewer financial resources are available, but the cost still needs to be lowered. 

Concerns on the table for the California Catholic Conference are AB 576 to expand access through Medi-Cal for the abortion pill, AB 1432 mandating insurance coverage for abortion and gender transition, SB 407 requiring foster parents to be gender-affirming, and AB 957 giving custody preference to the gender affirming parent. The bill’s terms are vague, but there is hope it will not pass as the House has sent it out multiple times for discussion rather than bringing it to a vote. 

She had explained some of the angles they’re taking in opposing, particularly the foster parent SB407. 

She said there is such a need for foster parents. Children are being set up in modern orphanages in office buildings because there is nowhere to place them. Sheehan emphasized that parents should constantly affirm their children, but you don’t affirm every single wish of your child. 

There is also an effort to remove Prop 8 from the California Constitution. She has said the approach by the bishops is to talk about what makes marriage unique and special and why it’s worth celebrating. To follow what they’re doing and to get involved, sign up at CACatholic.org/insights.

The California Catholic Conference also advises pregnancy centers, encouraging people to talk with their kids and participate in advocacy months. Shehan gave a vibrant glimpse into state advocacy to a firm or proposed bills to advocate for Christ. Some days are good, and the other days, they have to be able to stand. 

Hope Ministry and Online Support Groups

After lunch, Becky Morales from Hope Ministries presented, sharing about the online support groups through real options that began. Their success followed the shift from in-person to online access with COVID-19 shutdowns. Their goal is to offer hope for any reproductive loss. And these support groups lead to Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats. Morales said we must ask why so many Christians are having abortions and normalize the conversation around abortion.

Two Types of Pregnancy Centers

Next up was Cara Lehr from the Manteca Pregnancy Health Center. In this resource center, moms can “earn as they learn,” receiving education and material support for their children, presented with Gina Larson from the Turlock Pregnancy and Health Center, a licensed medical clinic. The Turlock Pregnancy and Health Center provides STD and STI testing and treatment, pregnancy tests, and ultrasounds. They also offer sex education in schools and are adamant about maintaining their presence despite state restrictions “to hold optimal health model” to children. They are in 13 school districts and 27 schools. Their goal is to meet the letter of the law in the least offensive way possible, so this might mean to meet the requirement to teach about LGBTQ, they present a definition rather than offering a model of instruction as other sex education programs provide.

Bishop Myron Cotta spoke at the end of the meeting, briefly encouraging and admonishing something those present quote to keep inviting our people to uphold this in prayer and trust all we do to him: “It’s is a sacrificial gift of ourselves for a neighbor. This work that we do and upholding the dignity of marriage and life takes shape and solidarity,” he said. “Let us pray for radical solidarity.” 

Bishop Carter described each of the ministries present as “baby steps all around the edge of this hall, baby steps towards the goal of what we hope to accomplish.” 

The Family and Respect Life Gathering is held every year in September. The event is free. While Diocesan staff invite two representatives attends from each parishes, any other interested persons and organizations may attend as well.