Elections and the Consistent Ethic

 

Fr. Frank Pavone

 
  5/22/2000
   The Church embraces a consistent ethic of life. In their 1999 statement "Faithful Citizenship," the Administrative Committee of the USCC stated, "We are convinced that a consistent ethic of life should be the moral framework from which to address all issues in the political arena." The consistent ethic acknowledges that while individual issues affecting human dignity are unique, they are interrelated to the point where progress on one front affects progress on all fronts.

"Faithful Citizenship" is the latest in a line of statements on political responsibility issued every four years since the mid-1970's. In 1984, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, the most well-known spokesperson regarding the consistent ethic of life, had this to say about the role of such statements: "The purpose is surely not to tell citizens how to vote, but to help shape the public debate and form personal conscience so that every citizen will vote thoughtfully and responsibly. Our "Statement on Political Responsibility" has always been, like our "Respect Life Program," a multi-issue approach to public morality. The fact that this Statement sets forth a spectrum of issues of current concern to the Church and society should not be understood as implying that all issues are qualitatively equal from a moral perspective…As I indicated earlier, each of the life issues—while related to all the others—is distinct and calls for its own specific moral analysis. (A Consistent Ethic of Life: Continuing the Dialogue, The William Wade Lecture Series, St. Louis University, March 11, 1984).

Notice that the Cardinal stated that not all issues are qualitatively equal from a moral perspective. A consistent ethic recognizes that there is justification for placing priority emphasis on certain issues at certain times. Hence, the document "Faithful Citizenship" goes on to say, "Our world does not lack for threats to human life. We watch with horror the deadly violence of war, genocide and massive starvation in other lands, and children dying from lack of adequate health care. Yet as we wrote in our 1998 statement, Living the Gospel of Life, 'Abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human life and dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental good and the condition for all others.'

To ignore the priority attention that the problems of abortion and euthanasia demand is to misunderstand both the consistent ethic and the nature of the threats that these evils pose. On Respect Life Sunday, 1 October 1989, Cardinal Bernardin issued a statement entitled "Deciding for Life," in which he said, "Not all values, however, are of equal weight. Some are more fundamental than others. On this Respect Life Sunday, I wish to emphasize that no earthly value is more fundamental than human life itself. Human life is the condition for enjoying freedom and all other values. Consequently, if one must choose between protecting or serving lesser human values that depend upon life for their existence and life itself, human life must take precedence."