BOGOTA, Colombia — The president of the Pontifical Academy for Life said Catholic groups need to use mercy and compassion in anti-abortion campaigns as they seek to “transform” those who do not support the rights of unborn children.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia spoke at the second online meeting of the Pan-American Network for the Right to Life, when he was asked by audience members what the church could do to counter politicians who say that they are Catholic but support abortion and whether one solution would be excommunicating them.

The archbishop replied that while supporting abortion is certainly against Catholic doctrine, it is not enough to simply “condemn the sin.”

“The members of our Christian community must understand that our mandate is to save, more than to condemn,” the archbishop said. “Convert rather than exclude. And transform rather than eliminate.”

“As a church, we need to have a greater capacity to influence those who are in error,” said Paglia, who delivered a session on the lessons learned from St. John Paul II’s encyclical, “The Gospel of Life.”

The Pan-American Network for the Right to Life is a coalition of scholars, priests, church members and anti-abortion groups, created in 2018. Its members meet regularly to discuss ways in which pro-life policies can be supported in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the online meeting, Paglia said that when it comes to defending life, the church faces various challenges that include participating in the formation of new codes for bioethics and in the debate on how to regulate new technologies.

He said the church must uphold universal values as it struggles against governments that promote ethical relativism and even engage in “dictatorial” behavior.

“Faced with the individualism that is infecting society like a virus, the church must promote universal fraternity,” the archbishop said.

Paglia said the church also must turn its attention to the elderly as it strives to promote life. He said that instead of being sent to institutions and care homes, “the elderly have the right to stay at home, supported by their family, Christian communities and local governments.”

He added that providing proper care for the elderly should be seen as part of the struggle against euthanasia.

“You don’t just fight euthanasia by citing Scripture,” the archbishop said, “but by having the elderly at home and helping them to live well until the end.”

Jesus David Vallejo, a bioethics professor who is one of the founders of the Pan-American Network for the Right to Life, said Paglia’s intervention in the online meeting reminded Catholics that “life must be defended from conception until natural death.”

The meeting was facilitated by CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ council.