Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, speaks during a Nov. 15, 2022, news conference at a session of the fall general assembly of the bishops in Baltimore. Archbishop Lori was elected the new vice president of the conference during the assembly. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, speaks during a Nov. 15, 2022, news conference at a session of the fall general assembly of the bishops in Baltimore. Archbishop Lori was elected the new vice president of the conference during the assembly. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- In a year when abortion has been front and center in U.S. politics -- from the Supreme Court decision to recent state referendums -- the Catholic Church faces a challenge of promoting its pro-life message to its own members and society at large, said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori.

"We have more work to do," the archbishop told his fellow U.S. bishops Nov. 15 during their annual fall general assembly in Baltimore.

The archbishop spoke as the outgoing chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Because he was elected as USCCB vice president earlier in the day, his term as pro-life chair ended.

Elected as his successor the next day was Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia.

Archbishop Lori also said he would be leaving the bishops' meeting early to be with his 103-year-old mother.

In his remarks on pro-life activities, he said the diverse actions this past year -- from the Dobbs ruling overturning the court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide and the passage of multiple state referendums that either protect abortion or reject abortion restrictions -- bring the church to a crucial time.

"In this pivotal moment in our culture, this post-Roe moment, you and I as shepherds of the church in the United States need to take stock," he said, particularly as some Catholics "are conflicted about abortion."

He said for some in the church, there is a disconnect right now between the works of mercy the church is about every day and the church's teaching "on the need always to protect innocent human life."

"The demise of Roe was a great victory, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory if we fail to win the minds and hearts first and foremost of our fellow Catholics," Archbishop Lori said, referencing an ancient Greek victory that ended up being a costly defeat.

He urged his fellow bishops to engage with Catholics on the issue of abortion and "encourage them to be closer to the mind and heart of the church," stressing that they would not succeed by "changing our teaching" but rather by "laying open" and showing with compassion what the church means by its emphasis on the dignity of life at all stages.

He also stressed that for the church to speak credibly in a polarized society, it must continue its hard work of "lessening and even eliminating any divisions" in its conferences, dioceses and among its pro-life and social justice ministries.

Archbishop Lori emphasized that the church, with its outreach and care for those in need, also "cannot remain silent about abortion."

He also said the church's "radical solidarity with mothers and their preborn children calls us to move beyond stale debates and harmful divisions within our own ministries" and to defend the dignity of life at every stage.

"We cannot credibly speak in a polarized society as long as our own house is divided," he said, while also stressing that "we cannot wait until perfect unanimity has been obtained before we can bear witness to the ambient culture about human life and dignity."

He said the more unified the church is, the more effective its witness will be.

The church's teaching on the dignity of life -- with the ultimate goal that abortion and other attacks on human life "become more and more unthinkable" -- has to be be the underlying message in meetings with political leaders and participation in marches for life.

"Building a culture of life demands that we win the hearts and minds of our fellow Catholics and many others," he said, "but it also demands that we speak forthrightly. In an era of disinformation, we must courageously bear witness to the truth."

To not speak out, when the church should have a voice in the public square, only "aids and abets the deterioration of public discourse while seeming to ignore the massive tragedy of abortion," he added.

Archbishop Lori acknowledged that church leaders "face a long and difficult struggle," in this arena but must remain united in their efforts to "proclaim the Gospel of life and defend human life at every stage."