In response to Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s call for prayer while lawmakers consider filling a vacant Supreme Court seat, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities has launched a novena, urging Catholics to pray and fast.

“As soon as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, pro-abortion groups began lobbying the U.S. Senate to reject any nominee who does not promise to endorse Roe v. Wade,” Dolan, who is head of the Committee, said in a statement last month.

“While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops does not support or oppose the confirmation of any presidential nominee, we can and should raise grave concerns about a confirmation process which is being grossly distorted by efforts to subject judicial nominees to a litmus test of support for Roe v. Wade. And we must pray,” he added.

In anticipation of the national novena’s launch, which begins on August 3 and continues through September 28, Crux spoke with Greg Schleppenbach, associate director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities on why the nation’s bishops are seizing this particular moment to engage in prayer, not politics.

Crux: What’s the history behind the “Novena for the Legal Protection of Human Life” — is this the first time the USCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities has sponsored such an effort?

Schleppenbach: This novena is new and was developed specifically for this moment when Justice Kennedy’s retirement may shift the Supreme Court in the direction of overturning the tragic Roe v. Wade decision and move our nation closer to the day when every human being is protected in law and welcomed in life.  It is for this intention that we are asking people to pray and fast.

How many people do you believe will be participating in it?

It is difficult to predict but given the wide promotion of it throughout the country, I think it is fair to say that tens of thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands will participate.

While your office has been very clear that the USCCB does not endorse or oppose specific candidates–how would you respond to critics that say this is a veiled effort in support of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process? 

The bishops don’t endorse nominees to the court largely because one can never know for sure how a justice will rule on any issue once confirmed to the court. This is why the intention of this novena is not that Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed, but that if he is confirmed this change in the Court will move our nation closer to the day when every human being is protected in law and welcomed in life.

If a Supreme Court Justice is confirmed who eventually leads to Roe v. Wade being overturned, what’s next for the pro-life movement?

If Roe is overturned, the pro-life movement will largely continue to do what it has been doing all along: working to enact laws that protect the child in the womb and his or her mother from the scourge of abortion; advocating for and providing the best possible support and care to pregnant mothers in need. There will, however, be much more attention placed on the democratic process in each state, which, post-Roe, will be free to determine its own abortion policy.

Besides prayer, how will your office be involved in the confirmation process? 

To be clear, the novena’s call to prayer and fasting is not trying to impact the confirmation process. But besides prayer and fasting, the novena seeks to educate the public and our elected representatives about the extremely permissive abortion policy that Roe imposed on our nation. Facts about Roe will be shared with novena participants as well as the broader public to correct the many misperceptions Americans have about our nation’s abortion law.  These facts and other information about Roe can be seen at the USCCB human life and dignity website.