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THE A.D. TIMES

OCTOBER 26, 2000

THE BISHOP SPEAKS

Most Rev. Edward P. Cullen, D.D.

Bishop of Allentown

The concerned citizen

"How 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" ("Personal Participation: The Key to a Just Society," Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania).

One can discern, even in these few sentences, the presence of a certain hierarchy of concerns. The first list of items all have to do with the sustaining of human life. They focus on the practical reality of the carrying out of the corporal works of mercy. They are expressions of the Christian love that ought to animate each and every one of us. As such, none of them can be taken lightly; all of them are serious.

But notice that none of those rights has any real meaning at all if we do not pay attention to the even more basic rights of "averting war and protecting human life from destruction and abuse ...." That is why these needs are even more crucial.

Without that basic regard for life itself, any claim to be devoted to the other rights would ring hollow. It would be little more than the dreadfully selfish claim to take care of those whom we have decided are worth allowing to live in the first place, while we decide that others are not worth caring about, not even to the extent of allowing them to take their first breath.

Many of the things about which we argue or disagree in terms of social programs may truly be varying points of view, each of which has something to recommend it, and upon which we may come to valuable compromise, even if we cannot come to full agreement. The far more basic issue of the sacredness of life itself cannot be satisfied by such a political compromise.

Once again, the bishops capture this truth in some well-chosen words. "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."

Here is the point at which we must be perceptive about what candidates claim and equally perceptive about the reality of the basic issues involved. We cannot ever afford to become blind to the basic issue of life, thinking it is enough for us to be concerned abut the other issues and only those.

The bishops go on: "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?"

It is at this point that we cannot agree at all with those who say that legislation that acts to preserve the life of the unborn is nothing but the imposition of "our morality" or "our religious point of view" on others. The fact is quite the opposite.

To make legal the killing of the unborn is to impose on the most innocent and helpless of all an individual point of view, an individual morality (if one can call it that), which treats particular human beings as of no value. It is a point of view that condemns them to oblivion, with no say in the matter, with no chance even to make their existence felt.

Once again, the bishops express this most admirably: "The right to life is at the heart of all morality and the foundation of all just civil law. To assist 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."

We, as citizens, have it within our hands to do something about this. It is we who will decide who will govern us. It is, therefore, we who bear the final burden of the responsibility for seeing to it that those who are elected will be those who recognize this most basic morality. To help elect anyone else is to do a disservice to all of our fellow citizens.

To quote the bishops once again: "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."

We cannot afford to fall for the empty arguments of those who say we may ignore that one "issue" of the unborn in favor of all the other issues of social concern. To say that we support the programs sorely needed by society, while at the same time ignoring the most basic issue of life itself, is not only foolish, it has become in so many instances a sad and tragic expression of hypocrisy.

The Most Rev. Edward P. Cullen, D.D., was installed as Bishop of Allentown Feb. 9, 1998.

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