Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa says he will serve as a "cheerleader" at an anti-abortion rally Sunday in Old Courthouse Square, urging attendees to continue to fight to defend the sanctity of life.
"In many ways we are engaged in a battle for the American soul," said Vasa, who became spiritual leader of the 165,000-member Santa Rosa Catholic diocese in July.
He will be the keynote speaker at a Rally for Life from 2 to 3:30 p.m., sponsored by Sonoma County Pro Life, a local chapter of the National Right to Life Committee.
The rally is held annually on the Sunday closest to Jan. 22, the date of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 granting women the right to an abortion.
Vasa, in his first public appearance as bishop, is challenging that principle in a liberal, strongly feminist region in which two members of Congress, one a Catholic, support abortion rights.
Vasa, who previously served as bishop of the Baker Diocese in politically conservative eastern Oregon, said his blunt words may cause some people, including Catholics, to bristle.
His answer would be: "Show me a circumstance where it is permitted by God to take a life," Vasa said in an interview Friday.
Abortion opponents should not be discouraged, he said, even if they cannot elect "pro-life candidates" or get the court ruling overturned.
"It's about advocating for life," Vasa said. "As long as we are raising that voice (for the rights of "the pre-born child") we are a success."
Life in the womb that is "growing and metabolizing," even if it lacks consciousness, is "fully human," he said. "There are no gradations to it."
Former Bishop Mark Hurley, who retired in 1986 and died in 2001, spoke at a similar rally in 1984 on the 11th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision.
Hurley prompted applause from a crowd of more than 100 by describing abortion foes as "those of us who would defend the rights of the unborn" but are pictured by the media as "kooks and crazies."