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The two-party system in American politics tends to divide the country in halves, creating a polarized electorate and an “us against them” way of thinking. Heavily biased news reporting seems to exacerbate the situation. Sadly, this sharp controversy sometimes enters the Church, igniting suspicions and pitting Catholics against each other. Partisan politics has tried to pit “social justice Catholics” against “right to life” Catholics, a strained and contrived division which actually doesn’t exist in Catholicism.
Catholic Social Doctrine embraces both issues of the sanctity of human life and of social justice. In Church teaching, these two concerns with human wellbeing are complimentary, not mutually exclusive; the one is reliant on the other. To listen to some political commentators (not to mention candidates), one must be chosen over the other. Not so. For Catholics, these two concepts, the sanctity of every human life and the just treatment of all people are inseparable, one necessary leads to the other; they are two parts of a whole.
This being the case, there is an essential progression beginning with the sanctity of human life and eventuating in matters of social justice such as fair wages, housing, education, health care, immigrant rights and so forth. In their instructive document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the Bishops write -
The right to life implies and is linked to other human rights-to the basic goods that every human person needs to live and thrive. All the life issues are connected, for erosion of respect for the life of any individual or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life. The moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbors-basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work-is universally binding on our consciences and may belegitimately fulfilled by a variety of means. Catholics must seek the best ways to respond to these needs. As Blessed Pope John XXIII taught, “[Each of us] has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life; these are primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and, finally, the necessary social services”.
Plainly stated, without the right to human life, there are no other human rights. What right to education does an aborted child have? What right to health care does a euthanized elder have? What right to mental health care does a suicide have?
The Bishops quote Blessed John Paul II, perhaps the foremost Christian philosopher of modern times -
Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture-is false and illusory if the right tolife, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.
All moral claims are not equal in magnitude – some are more important and imperative than others. For illustrative purposes, let’s make a comparison between the right to life, and the rights of immigrants. In its twin decisions, Roe V Wade and Doe V Bolton, the US Supreme Court has ruled that abortion is legal for nearly any reason throughout all nine months of pregnancy. More than one million preborn children, and even some babies during delivery, are aborted every year. Imagine firing squads mounted on bluffs in the Southwest desert shooting Mexicans illegally crossing into the US and killing over a million a year. Who could legitimately champion the cause of undocumented aliens, arguing for education, health care and employment rights, while approving of such a lethal policy? Their legitimate human rights necessarily rest upon their fundamental right to their lives.
Catholics must take into consideration this hierarchy of morality when casting a vote for candidates who will shape the law and public policy. In the words of the Bishops -
Two temptations in public life can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity:
The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.
The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act.
The political divisions perpetrated by opposing parties may be incompatible with the unity within Catholicism, but so is moral equivalency. Catholics must respect the logical progression from the right to life to the other human and civil rights, while doing all they can to advance both.
By Father Paul C.B. Schenck
Founding Director and Chair of the National Pro-Life Center
August 14, 2012: Feast of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe
Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan friar, who gave his own life in the place of a stranger in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz, located in German-occupied Poland during World War II.
Some years ago I took our firstborn son with me to visit his Jewish ancestors’ homeland of Belarus, on the outskirts of the city of Minsk in the western pale of old Russia. There we met a young scientist named Levin, my uncle’s family name.
We went to his meager apartment for dinner with his elderly mother. His mother did not understand English, and our host told us that when the Nazis invaded Minsk, they buried all the Jewish children alive – including his four siblings – and his mother and father were forced to watch. It was a time of enormous evil.
We’re living in a time of terrible doubts: doubts about what is right and wrong, good and evil. Even doubts about whether we can know what is right or wrong, good or evil. Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has called this the “dictatorship of relativism” – and it might as well be called the tyranny of agnosticism.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s life and death demonstrate the falsehood of this proposition – that we can’t really know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.
No one doubts that Hitler and his Nazi party epitomized evil – that their campaign of genocide was flat out wrong. No one with a conscience questions the immorality and evil of killing innocents. Notice that in the current debate over abortion and euthanasia, it is the “personhood” of the unborn child or the disabled or the terminally ill that is questioned because it is necessary to disprove their humanity in order to justify their deaths.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s life and sacrificial death demonstrates what we all know to be true and right: that all human life is precious, to be cherished and respected and protected at law. Anything else is immoral and wrong.
In a time when our society is desperately in search of the true value of human life, we need to turn to great souls like Saint Maximilian Kolbe to remind and inspire us to work for a truly moral and just community in which all human life, born and unborn, is respected and protected.
By Father Paul C.B. Schenck
Founding Director and Chair of the National Pro-Life Center
Saint Paul writes: “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior.” (I Timothy 2:1-3)
The Prayers of the Faithful, or petitions, are a very important part of the celebration of the Holy Mass. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal says: “In the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in some sense to the Word of God which they have received in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal Priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all. It is desirable that there usually be such a form of prayer in Masses celebrated with the people, so that petitions may be offered for holy Church, for those who govern with authority over us, for those weighed down by various needs, for all humanity, and for the salvation of the whole world.”
In their Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops emphatically states: “In our present social context, marked by a dramatic struggle between the ‘culture of life’ and the ‘culture of death,’ there is need to develop a deep critical sense, capable of discerning true values and authentic needs.”
Quoting Blessed John Paul II, they observe: “What is urgently called for is a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life. All together, we must build a new culture of life.”
In response to the current crisis of respect for the sanctity of human life and the dignity of all persons, the bishops call for pro-life petitions (prayers of the faithful) at every Mass.
Typically, when I am leading the prayers, I will pray for the entire Church, which means:
- For our Holy Father, our Bishop, all the bishops in communion together, the clergy, the religious, the consecrated and the lay faithful, that we may be witnesses to the gift of life and love to the world.
- For all elected and appointed officials, and all those responsible for public policy, that they may keep before them the sanctity of every human life, the dignity of every person and the common good of all people.
- For the sick and the suffering; the weak and vulnerable; those without advocates or voices; the pre-born, their mothers and fathers; the aging; those deemed terminally ill; the disabled; the incapacitated; subjects of scientific experiments that injure and destroy life; those who feel hopeless and helpless; the mentally and emotionally ill; the homeless; those without a nation or country to defend and protect their rights; victims of violence; those condemned to death and victims of war.
- For the dying and those who have died, that they may see the face of God and enjoy Him forever.
The Pro-Life Secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops publishes the Word of Life series (online and in hardcopy) as an easy way to follow their instruction that a pro-life petition be prayed at every Mass. While their stated purpose is to “develop a deep critical sense” of the respect for all human life and the dignity of all persons, it is not necessary to always mention abortion. The whole range of concerns for human life may be included over a reasonable course of time, weekly, monthly or seasonally. Still, the bishops have called for some expression of the aspirations of the Gospel of Life in the petitions at every Mass.
In the words of the bishops, in this way “we proclaim that human life is a precious gift from God; that each person who receives this gift has responsibilities toward God, self, and others; and that society, through its laws and social institutions, must protect and nurture human life at every stage of its existence.”
Lord, hear our prayer, amen!
THE WORD OF LIFE pro-life petitions can be found at http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/resources-for-the-eucharist/word-of-life/
Pro-life prayers can be found at http://www.priestsforlife.org/prayers/index.aspx
July 24, 2012
While much of the nation bakes in summer heat, at the National Pro-Life Center our work among our elected and appointed officials in defense of Life is heating up as well. And you play a critical role in our efforts!
I am honored to announce I’ve been invited to address the sitting members of state supreme courts on the subject of religious liberty and the defense of conscience.
In addition to parish and diocesan responsibilities I’m traveling extensively in parish churches, commenting on the Supreme Court healthcare case and preparing Catholics to prayerfully and actively engage in the political process. I’m also assisting church ministries in passively resisting ANY healthcare action that violates our conscience as Catholics.
Every week our staff plays an important role in a values action team that meets in the U.S. Senate offices. This important team of key leaders prays for and strategizes about the issues impacting our nation and through these meetings our staff offers spiritual guidance and strategic consultation to our national policymakers.