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"CREATING A CULTURE OF LIFE"

A Reflection by

Cardinal Roger Mahony
Archbishop of Los Angeles

November 12, 1998

 

In the wake of the elections on Tuesday, November 3rd, commentators and pundits will continue sifting through the returns to decipher the messages sent by the electorate, trying to predict political trends for the next two years. Their efforts will tell only part of the story. What will be missing from their analyses are the human and moral implications of the votes cast on election day, and of the campaigns that helped to sway the votes.

Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members -- the last, the least, the littlest. Will our newly elected officials offer a vision for the future that includes all people-young and old, rich and poor, great and small, healthy and weak? Will politicians focus on the concerns that unite us instead of the divisive issues that were central to most of the campaigns? Will the protection of human life and human dignity be tests for social policy? Or will fundamental human values be negotiated away at bargaining tables for partisan advantage? Will the language of the "right to choose" continue to drown out the language of commitment to the common good? These are not the concerns the exit polls are designed to address. Sadly, these are not the questions being asked either by the politicians or the electorate.

In reflecting on the recent elections, it is disturbing to see how prominently anti-life themes were at the core of so many campaigns. At times, candidates appeared to be engaged in a race to see who would go the extra mile in advancing policies that undermine the sanctity of life. Citizens who followed the campaigns heard candidates promise:

•to protect and expand a woman's "right to choose" -- never completing the sentence that this "right" is a choice to kill an unborn child;

•to apply the death penalty quickly and vigorously, killing as many of those on death row as possible during their term of office; and

•to support euthanasia and other "right to die" measures deceptively portrayed as compassion for the ill and elderly.

It is a lamentable fact that these anti-life themes play such a prominent role in the candidates' campaigns precisely because they seem to strike a sympathetic chord with voters.

The consistent teaching of the Catholic Church challenges what many think makes for a "good society." In this regard, Pope John Paul II stands apart from other world leaders in his steadfast defense of life. In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae ("The Gospel of Life"), Pope John Paul II calls for the transformation of policies, systems, and institutions that promote a culture of violence and death. He calls for a conversion of the hearts and minds of persons who shape and are shaped by that culture. In doing so, he reminds us that abortion, capital punishment, and euthanasia are not just medical, legal, or economic issues. They are moral and ethical matters that challenge us to consider how genuinely we value and reverence each person because lie or she is created in the image of God. We are challenged to stand up to the truth that each and every one is a unique expression of God's love -- the last and the least no less than the strong and the robust!

If we are really engaged in the gift and task of ongoing conversion then we will be able to see the incongruities in political platforms and to recognize the contradictory messages about fundamental human values and priorities, which every politician has a duty to safeguard.

As we approach the Third Christian Millennium, we must strengthen our resolve to respect, honor, and protect every human life from conception through natural death. It is our duty to create, promote, and sustain a culture of life, even and especially in the face of the forces of the culture of death. It is our responsibility as those who are entrusted with ushering in the new millennium. This is the only legacy worthy of passing on to the next generation. And the next.

It is my sincere hope and fervent prayer that the hearts of all people, but especially our civic leaders, will be turned once again to a renewed reverence for each and every human life. We will either progress forward as members of one human family protecting, respecting, and sustaining life, or we will perish. "Choose life, that you and your descendants may live" (Dt. 30.19).

Statements of Other Bishops on Abortion

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