A time of important ethical decisions


Bishop William S. Skylstad

  Inland Register - Spokane, WA

Inland Register
Diocese of Spokane, WA

 More than at any other time in history, the world community is profoundly connected economically, socially, and geographically. We are a global village, moving together through complex times.

The other side of the globe is present to us with the click of a computer. We can see each other, live, from half a world away.

We are connected economically as well. We are suffering together as we try to make decisions for the future in a very complex and challenging situation. We are now assessing what went wrong and what kind of good and ethical decisions we need to make for building the future of a national and global economy.

Here in the United States, we are addressing the much-needed reform of our health care. That effort has been urgently needed for some time. Costs keep rising as the number of uninsured increases – some 45 million people, left vulnerable. As we can see from the heated congressional debate, the solutions will not be easy. We all need to rise to the occasion and help make it happen.

For years, our nation has been wrestling with the challenge of addressing immigration in a fair, just and humane manner. On the one hand, so much of our national economy – for instance, agriculture – is supported by migrant labor. Yet on the other hand, there are many workers who are not documented. The territory covered by our diocese is no exception. A nation has the right to protect its boundaries, but bear in mind that our crops, especially the fruit industry, would not be harvested if it weren’t for migrant workers. Poverty, desperation, and a dream for a better life are all part of the mix. Remember, too, that so many of our parishes have been enriched by the multicultural development.

By her very nature, the Catholic Church is universal. That fact is a gift we often don’t think about. I write this a couple of days before I fly to Manila to attend the week-long Asian Bishops’ Conference. That’s a part of the Church I haven’t much contact with, and I look forward to learning and observing.

We also come from a 2,000-year tradition of teaching that is rich in experience – sometimes great success, sometimes failure, sometimes persecution, but always trying to move ahead to be more genuinely the Church we are called by the Lord to be. Over the centuries the Church’s teaching has continued to develop and grow.

The Holy Father’s recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate (“Love in Truth”) is most timely and speaks to values that must undergird decisions in these complex economic times. The Church has always taught the inherent dignity of the human person, no matter who he or she is, no matter where. Although we make decisions to support the common good of our own nation, we must also be very concerned about the welfare of our neighbor on the other side of the globe. We can see that neighbor on our TV screens every night. Perhaps some things we see leave us appalled. How do we respond?

Economic decisions must be made on the basis of the dignity of the person and the common good. As the Holy Father points out in his encyclical, “The economy needs ethics in order to function properly – not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centered.”(45) Decisions are not easy. They need to be made in light of the moral good. Pope Benedict’s recent encyclical has something very important to contribute to the discussion and decision making.

In terms of health care reform, the Church has a long, deep history of ministry within that field. We have always treated health care as a basic human right. When you look to the history of the Church here in the Northwest, some of the first institutions established by the women Religious were health care institutions. As the debate continues, be assured that the Catholic Church will continue to proclaim the right of every unborn person to live. No one is disposable – before birth or after. As a society we must stand in solidarity, providing a voice for those who have no voice. We must strive to address skillfully the underlying causes that may tempt people to terminate their lives. We must help people process their issues regarding the end of life, so that no one reaches a point where they think physician-assisted suicide is the only viable solution. Redemptive suffering can be a truly powerful leaven and grace.

Finally, as we address these and other difficult and complex situations, all of us as Church must call for respectful discussion and dialogue. We will not back down from proclaiming the dignity of each person. We will never condone physician-assisted suicide. But as we proclaim the truth to the world, we must do so in a context of civil dialogue and discourse. A face yelling from the TV screen, or through the printed word, or in a letter often violates the very principles the writer or speaker is trying to uphold. We must press for accurate information that counteracts those ideologues who would exaggerate or misinform.

I encourage you to read through Pope’s Benedict’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (http://www.usccb.org/jphd/caritasinveritate) as we reflect on our responsibilities to the world. Let us also pray for wisdom for our leaders, that their decisions consistently uphold the dignity of the human person, protect the most vulnerable in our midst, and enhance the common good.

Blessings and peace to all.