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Personal Participation: The Key To A Just Society

A Statement of Pennsylvania's Catholic Bishops
October 1984

"I do not hesitate to proclaim before you and before the world that all human life…is sacred, because human life is created in the image and likeness of God. Nothing surpasses the greatness or dignity of a human person. Human life is precious because it is the gift of God whose love is infinite; and when God gives life, it is forever. And so, we will stand up every time that human life is threatened. When the sacredness of life before birth is attacked, we will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life."

(From the address of Pope John Paul II, Capitol Mall, Washington, D.C., October 7, 1979)

All human beings are made in the likeness of a loving God and endowed with reason, intelligence and free will. We enjoy God-given rights and have obligations to our fellow men and women. Since no aspect of life is beyond the scope of God's law or human responsibility, conscientious people must fulfill their obligations as church members and citizens.

As members of a democratic society we have a responsibility to see that our government respects and promotes the dignity and rights of all. In particular, we must act to protect the weak and those who are unable to defend their own rights. As conscientious citizens, we must bring our love for country and concern for the welfare of others to government and to the polling place. The expression "separation of church and state" can never be interpreted to prohibit individuals who are religiously motivated from taking positions on issues of public concern. The First Amendment protects advocacy by religious organizations and religious leaders.

The Catholic Church is concerned about human rights and urges all citizens to participate actively in the democratic process by registering to vote, voting intelligently and speaking out for justice. Because there are so many complicated issues, fulfilling these obligations requires serious consideration and prudent action. One must realize that no party, no platform, no candidate is perfect. Furthermore, a voter cannot avoid considering some issues to be more important than others.

How then does the concerned citizen rank issues? Assisting the unemployed, feeding the hungry, and providing adequate medical care for the sick and poor are crucial human rights concerns. On a broader scale, averting war and protecting human life from destruction and abuse are even more crucial. Each of these issues is important and needs to be addressed. However, there are significant differences in the issues themselves.

For example, while no candidates or public officials support nuclear war, they may disagree about how to avoid it. On the right to life issue, however, the disagreement is not in strategies for protecting human life, but whether some lives should be protected at all. This fact changes the way in which a candidate's position should be evaluated. No commitment to promote other rights by a public official can outweigh a refusal to help end the legalized killing of the innocent. To be "personally opposed" to such an evil as the killing of the unborn and yet to support it as a legal option for society is the most unreasonable and hollow claim of all. Are not all other rights threatened if innocent people can be legally destroyed or abused?

The right to life is at the heart of all morality and the foundation of all just civil law. To assert this right no more legislates one religious viewpoint than do laws against child abuse, racial discrimination or murder. Therefore, Catholics must not be intimidated by claims that their position in defense of human life is an imposition of their morality on others.

Our church has an important contribution to make and cannot avoid its responsibility to do so. We, the Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania, urge all people to place at the top of their list of concerns the protection of innocent human life. We urge all citizens to respond to this plea for justice by speaking out clearly and forcefully, and working to restore legal protection for all human life from fertilization to death.

+ John Cardinal Krol
Archbishop of Philadelphia

+ Louis A. DeSimone
Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia

+ John J. Graham
Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia

+ Edward T. Hughes
Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia

+ Martin N. Lohmuller
Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia

+ Francis B. Schulte
Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia

+ Stephen Sulyk
Archbishop, Ukrainian Catholic
Archdiocese of Philadelphia

+ Stephen J. Kocisko
Archbishop, Byzantine Catholic
Archdiocese of Pittsburgh

+ John Bilock
Auxiliary Bishop, Byzantine Catholic
Archdiocese of Pittsburgh

+ Thomas J. Welsh
Bishop of Allentown

+ James J. Hogan
Bishop of Altoona-Johnstown

+ Michael J. Murphy
Bishop of Erie

+ William G. Connare
Bishop of Greensburg

+ William H. Keeler
Bishop of Harrisburg

+ Anthony J. Bevilacqua
Bishop of Pittsburgh

+ Anthony G. Bosco
Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh

+ John B. McDowell
Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh

+ James C. Timlin
Bishop of Scranton

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