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
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.