Living the Gospel of Life -- Study Guide

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Table of Contents

Priests for Life was founded to disseminate the teachings of the bishops on abortion, and to assist the clergy and faithful to carry out those teachings. Few tools have been more helpful in that mission than the current document, Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American CatholicsWritten by the US bishops in their role as "pastors and teachers," this document was issued three years after Pope John Paul II's encyclical The Gospel of Life, and applies his teaching to the political and cultural landscape of America.

The bishops praise our nation and its founding principles, and call us as disciples of Christ to rediscover those principles, to see their relationship to the Gospel, and to build, by our active citizenship, a nation that proclaims, celebrates, and serves the gift of life. This document clarifies the true meaning of the "consistent ethic of life" and identifies abortion and euthanasia as preeminent threats to human dignity, within the wider framework of life issues about which we all need to be actively concerned. The document calls us to exercise our duty to vote, and addresses the scandal of public officials, especially Catholics, who claim that abortion should remain legal.

We have prepared this study guide to assist individuals and parishes to understand the bishops' teachings, and to prepare for our nation's elections. This study guide is not an endorsement for any candidate or party, but rather an educational and pastoral tool. It provides some background information, references to other Church documents and publications relevant to the theme, reflections, and discussion questions.

The entire study guide, with expanded reference materials and hyperlinks, can be followed by groups or individuals online below.

Priests for Life is happy to provide this tool to the Church and the pro-life movement. As always, our priests and other speakers are ready to come to your parishes, schools and communities to strengthen the pro-life effort and to share the encouragement we all find in Christ, the Lord of nations and the Lord of Life. May he bless you and the work you do for him!

-- Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
President, National Pro-life Religious Council

More background information, and talks you can listen to, about the Pope's Encyclical The Gospel of Life.

References to other documents on the sanctity of life by the Pope and bishops of the United States and the world.

Reflection

Why did our Founding Fathers separate from Great Britain? Most people remember the phrase "taxation without representation," but do not remember any of the other reasons. This indicates a distortion in the way our history has been taught, a distortion that gives undue importance to economic concerns. Certainly "taxation without representation" was one of the reasons for the separation, but that was reason number 17 out of 27 grievances that our Founding Fathers had. Among other greater grievances was the abuse of military and judicial powers, the latter being mentioned four times more frequently than "taxation without representation."

Authors such as Charles Beard, who wrote The Economic Basis of Politics (1922)and many voters today, say that economics is more important than morals. Americans need to be aware of how this exaggerated emphasis on economics distorts our view of history.

Samuel Adams, for example, joined the revolution to fight for religious freedom. Another major factor in the thinking of many Founders was the abolition of slavery. The colonies, in fact, attempted to end slavery, but George III, who favored it, vetoed those efforts.

As Henry Luce did in his book The American Century, so the bishops in this document, and the Holy Father in his remarks during his US visits, point to the founding principles of our nation. Those principles, referenced in the many writings of our Founding Fathers, and in the founding documents of America, are Christian principles. Many of the Founders asserted that explicitly, including Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Carroll, Chase, John Jay, Storey, and others. Presidents and educators have said the same. Congress itself, in 1854, and the Supreme Court, in 1892, after a review of US history, affirmed that ours is a Christian nation from its founding (See Holy Trinity Church V. U.S., 143 U.S. 457, 12 S.Ct. 511, 36 L.Ed. 226, Feb. 29, 1892).

But false, revisionist history denies that the Founders were Christians. We've been trained to know Franklin and Jefferson, who were the One least religious of the founders. Yet even so, Franklin recommended Christianity in the schools, issues prayer proclamations, established chaplains, and so forth. Jefferson authorized federal funding for evangelization efforts! Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, nearly half were educated in seminaries, Bible schools, or their equivalents. Some were Bible translators, others edited hymnals.

Researchers have analyzed some 15,000 writings of our Founding Fathers, and have found that the single source quoted the most is the Bible. In fact, specific principles and provisions found in the Constitution can be traced directly to provisions in Scripture.

The US Constitution is a unique document, and was not borrowed from other Constitutions. It is, in fact, the longest surviving Constitution, in contrast to so many other modern nations whose constitutions have been replaced numerous times. 

Discussion Questions

Why is America's success more than its economic strength?

What are the "founding principles" to which the bishops refer, and the "moral vision" of our founding documents, to which the Pope refers?

How did this moral vision express itself in the reasons why the Founding Fathers separated from Great Britain?

Do the Church and its leaders take a positive view of our country and its founding principles?

Further reading

David Barton, Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, & Religion (Aledo, TX: Wallbuilders, 2000). www.WallBuilders.com

Reflection

One of our national heroes is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who fought for the equality of the Black community. His writings reveal that this struggle was by no means an isolated cause, disconnected from its foundations in the fundamental rights of human beings. Rather, he articulated those foundations. In a Christmas Eve Sermon delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1967, Dr. King declared that the sanctity of life underlies all social justice. He said, "Now let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God…Man is more than a tiny vagary of whirling electrons or a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering. Man is a child of God, made in His image, and therefore must be respected as such… And when we truly believe in the sacredness of human personality, we won't exploit people, we won't trample over people with the iron feet of oppression, we won't kill anybody."

Dr. Alveda King is the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and is both a civil rights activist and a pro-life activist. On her website, civilrightsfortheunborn.org, she asks, "How can the dream survive if we murder the children?" Recognizing that any struggle for civil rights is meaningless unless the most fundamental right -- life itself -- is secure, she says, "I join the voices of thousands across America who can no longer sit idly by and allow this horrible spirit of murder to cut down, yes cut out and cut away our unborn."

Indeed, it would be a misguided and deeply erroneous position to attempt present efforts for justice and peace as somehow in tension with efforts to restore recognition of the right to life of the unborn. All of these efforts are, instead, essentially integrated in the Gospel's vision of the human person.

Discussion Questions

What are some examples of those who struggle for social justice in American life?

Is the effort to end abortion part of "social justice?"

Further reading

An article on the relationship between social justice and the right to life.

Background information on Dr. King's strategies and how they correspond to the pro-life movement.

Letter from the Birmingham Jail

Fr. Frank's column on Dr. King's dream and the pro-life effort.

Reflection

In his encyclical letter The Gospel of Life, John Paul II observed that we need more of a "contemplative outlook" in our daily life. He explains,

"[W]e need first of all to foster, in ourselves and in others, a contemplative outlook. Such an outlook arises from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual as a "wonder" (cf. Ps 139:14). It is the outlook of those who see life in its deeper meaning, who grasp its utter gratuitousness, its beauty and its invitation to freedom and responsibility. It is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of reality but instead accept it as a gift, discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person his living image (cf. Gen 1:27; Ps 8:5). This outlook does not give in to discouragement when confronted by those who are sick, suffering, outcast or at death's door. Instead, in all these situations it feels challenged to find meaning, and precisely in these circumstances it is open to perceiving in the face of every person a call to encounter, dialogue and solidarity. It is time for all of us to adopt this outlook, and with deep religious awe to rediscover the ability to revere and honour every person…"(n.83).

A simple distinction between the "ideals of utility" about which our bishops warn, and the "contemplative outlook" described by the Pope, can be seen in two ways we can look at a tree. We can see it and begin calculating how much lumber or paper can be produced from it. Alternatively, we can look at the tree and be moved by its beauty and praise its Creator. There is a place for both ways of looking at the tree, but our problem today is that there is no balance between the two.

The following list, showing how much Americans spend each year on various pleasures, puts numbers on the "consumerist excess" mentioned by the bishops.

Peanuts $1 billion yr. (National Peanut Council)

Popcorn $1.2 billion yr. (Nielsen Marketing Research)

Chewing gum$2.3 billion yr. (National Assoc. of Chewing Gum Manufacturers)

Cookies $3.4 billion yr. (Nielsen Marketing Research)

Potato chips $4.6 billion yr. (Nielsen Marketing Research)

Movie box office receipts $4.8 billion yr. (Academy of Motion Pictures)

Candy $6 billion yr. (Nielsen Marketing Research)

Ice cream $10 billion yr. (Int. Ice Cream Association)

Soft drinks $30 billion yr. (EPM Communications)

Restaurant dining $173.8 billion yr. (National Restaurant Association)

Beer $50 billion yr. (Beer Institute)

Legal gambling $300 billion yr. (Discovery Channel, Cronkite Report)

Pet grooming $175.3 million yr. (Pet Industry Joint Council)

Cat furniture $23.5 million yr. (Pet Industry Joint Council)

Terrarium heaters $37.7 million yr. (Pet Industry Joint Council)

Dog snacks $39.3 million yr. (Pet Industry Joint Council)

Licensed sporting goods $2.2 billion yr. (The Licensing Letter, 1993)

Guns and ammunition $10 billion yr. (National Rifle Association)

Non-beer alcoholic beverages $39 billion yr. (Beer Institute)

Cosmetic products $27 billion yr. (Drug & Cosmetic Magazine)

Lawn & Garden Products $6.1 billion yr. (Better Lawn & Garden Products)

It is not the intention of the bishops to call for an outright rejection of the "marketplace" but rather to call for balance and a proper hierarchy of values. We do have boundaries, actions do have consequences, and our obligations to one another call us to a life focused on others rather than on ourselves.

Discussion Questions

What are some examples of "self-absorption, indifference, and consumerist excess" that have become problems in our society?

What are some ways we can foster a "contemplative outlook" in our families, Churches, and schools?

Reflection

Two kinds of Government

The key distinction is made in this paragraph between political life for and by the people, and a political experiment on people. These are, ultimately, the two kinds of government into which all political systems can be categorized. One type recognizes that God is the source of our rights and government exists to secure those rights. That is the type America was founded to be. The other type asserts that government is the source of our rights, and can therefore modify or negate them. That is the type of which totalitarian regimes and holocausts are made. A "totalitarian" government is "total" in the sense that the whole of human life, existence, and rights are subject to it. There is nothing that such a government acknowledges as beyond its reach.

People under this latter form of government cannot be free, because the foundation of our security is the acknowledgment that our rights come from God, and hence no other human beings can touch them. As soon as that premise is eliminated, then people have no recourse against the powerful who are willing to oppress them. This threat, the document recognizes, does not simply come from the outside. It comes from within our own nation, when we begin to tamper with our own identity as humans. If life itself becomes an experiment, the obvious question is, By what criteria do some human beings get to experiment on others rather than be experimented upon? If two people are equally human, by what criterion does one obtain the right to dominate the other? On the other hand, if our rights belong to us precisely because we are human, then no other human can tamper with them. It is then that we are free.

Our Declaration of Independence is, in fact, a declaration of dependence upon God. The first role of government is to know its place; the first duty of public officials is to know where their authority stops. And it stops at the boundary of human rights, which we possess not because any Court, Congress, or King gives them to us, but precisely because God gave them to us when he made us human.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Government, then, cannot tamper with human rights. Government, in this sense, is not an authority over people, but rather flowing from them and at their service. Government exists for human beings, not human beings for government. Our Founders understood this well, which is why they knew that no ruler could trample upon human rights. They also realized that the people themselves could not trample upon their own rights. This is the sense in which those rights are called "unalienable." They cannot be taken away by someone else, nor can they be thrown away by those who possess them.

Thus, certain things are beyond the reach even of the majority, and in this sense our Founders did not establish a "democracy." In its technical meaning, "democracy" means that whatever the majority says, goes. In such a system, if most of the people were to decide that oppressing a minority were OK, then it would be OK. The Founders recognized the dangers of such an arrangement. John Adams, the second President of the United States, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote, "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."

Rather than a democracy, our Founders established a Republic, which is based on the rule of law. Certain things are beyond the reach of the majority. The law, furthermore, is of two kinds. Alexander Hamilton, a signer of the Constitution, wrote, "[T]he law…dictated by God Himself is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity if contrary to this" (The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Vol. I, p. 87).

James Wilson, another signer of the Constitution and a US Supreme Court Justice, wrote, "All [laws], however, may be arranged in two different classes, 1) Divine. 2) Human…Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is Divine" (The Works of the Honourable James Wilson, Vol. I, pp. 103-105).

The Founders of our nation believed in Biblical law, and that was the standard for law and government in our country until the turn of this century. Now, instead, legal positivism has become the standard. It says that there are no unchanging, superior laws. Rather, man-made law is the final law and can always change according to circumstances. That's the poisoned soil out of which Roe vs. Wade and other abortion decisions have grown.

A preferential option for the poor and vulnerable

In this paragraph and the next, the bishops point out that some people are more vulnerable than others. The Church, like Jesus, exercises a "preferential option for the poor," which means that we make the strongest effort to help those most in need of our help. It is not that some lives or people are more important than others; rather, some are more vulnerable than others. This paragraph points out that many people who are marginalized "at least have a presence. They at least have the possibility of organizing to be heard." They can vote, lobby, write letters, march, and pray. But the unborn children have no such opportunity. They cannot even pray or know the threat that looms over them. They are, as the next paragraph will indicate, "the poorest of the poor." That is why they deserve the most attention.

Discussion Questions

In what sense is American government an "experiment?" What kind of "experiment" is legitimate, and which is not?

How are the unborn, infirm, and terminally ill at an even greater disadvantage than others who are marginalized in our society?

The bishops assert that "we are arguably moving closer to that day" when the experiment of American political life "will no longer be worth conducting." Comment upon the seriousness of such an assertion.

Further reading

Hadley Arkes, Natural Rights and the Right to Choose (Cambridge University Press, 2002)

M. Stanton Evans, The Theme is Freedom: Religion, Politics, and the American Tradition (Washington, DC; Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1994)

Fr. Frank Pavone's homily "Roe vs. Wade: A New Form of Government."

Reflection

Abortion is issue number one

This paragraph makes a key assertion that is critical to understanding the entire document, namely, that while there are many "life issues," all of which are interconnected and all of which require our active concern, abortion and euthanasia are in a special category, are "preeminent threats," and call for urgent, priority attention.

This is not the first time the bishops have made this assertion. In 1989, in their Resolution on Abortion, the bishops stated, "At this particular time, abortion has become the fundamental human rights issue for all men and women of good will. …. For us abortion is of overriding concern because it negates two of our most fundamental moral imperatives: respect for innocent life, and preferential concern for the weak and defenseless."

This theme had been set forth in the 1974 Declaration on Procured Abortion published by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which stated, "The first right of the human person is his life. He has other goods and some are more precious, but this one is fundamental - the condition of all the others."

In The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae, 1995), Pope John Paul II pointed out that there is a wide array of life issues and attacks on human dignity about which we must be actively concerned. He then, however, points to abortion and euthanasia as attacks of "another category" and of "extraordinary seriousness." He explains what he means as follows:

"It is not only that in generalized opinion these attacks tend no longer to be considered as "crimes"; paradoxically they assume the nature of "rights", to the point that the State is called upon to give them legal recognition and to make them available through the free services of health-care personnel. Such attacks strike human life at the time of its greatest frailty, when it lacks any means of self-defence. Even more serious is the fact that, most often, those attacks are carried out in the very heart of and with the complicity of the family—the family which by its nature is called to be the 'sanctuary of life' (n.11).

The Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities of the US Bishops has always pointed out the priority of abortion, and the most recent version of the plan (2001: A Campaign in Support of Life) explains it this way:

"Among important issues involving the dignity of human life with which the Church is concerned, abortion necessarily plays a central role. Abortion, the direct killing of an innocent human being, is always gravely immoral (The Gospel of Life, no. 57); its victims are the most vulnerable and defenseless members of the human family. It is imperative that those who are called to serve the least among us give urgent attention and priority to this issue of justice.
"This focus and the Church's commitment to a consistent ethic of life complement one another. A consistent ethic of life, which explains the Church's teaching at the level of moral principle—far from diminishing concern for abortion and euthanasia or equating all issues touching on the dignity of human life—recognizes instead the distinctive character of each issue while giving each its proper place within a coherent moral vision."


Yes, it's killing

The bishops point out in this paragraph that "supporters of abortion and euthanasia freely concede that these are killing even as they promote them." We have provided here a few of the many examples proving that statement:

  • In 1963, before Planned Parenthood publicly supported abortion, it stated, "An abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun. It is dangerous to the life your life and health. It may make you sterile so that when you want a child you cannot have it." [Planned Parenthood ~ World Population, Plan Your Children for Health and Happiness, 1963]
  • Thomas Emerson, the Yale professor who argued Planned Parenthood’s case before the U.S. Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, insisted that recognition of a contraception privacy right would not threaten any state’s anti-abortion legislation. There was a difference, he said, because abortion involves "killing a life in being" [N.E.H. Hull and Peter Charles Hoffer, Roe v. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, October 2001)]
  • In 1997, Faye Wattleton, former president of PPFA, said "I think we have deluded ourselves into believing that people don’t know that abortion is killing. So any pretense that abortion is not killing is a signal of our ambivalence, a signal that we cannot say yes, it kills a fetus, but it is the woman’s body, and therefore, ultimately her choice." [Ms., May/June 1997]
  • on the Phil Donahue show, when former director, Faye Wattleton responded to the statement: "It's not a frog or a ferret that's being killed. It's a baby," with "I am fully aware of that. I am fully aware of that." (Donahue Transcript # 3288, 1991)
  • "...The abortion-rights folks know it, the anti-abortion folks know it, and so probably, does everyone else. One of the facts of abortion is that women enter abortion clinics to kill their fetuses. It is a form of killing ...you're ending a life." Ron Fitzsimmons, Executive Director, National Coalition of Abortion Providers, New York Times, 26 February 1997
  • "After 20 weeks (4-½ months) where it frankly is a child to me, I really agonize over it. ... On the other hand, I have another position, which I think is superior in the hierarchy of questions, and that is: 'Who owns the child?' It's got to be the mother." -- Abortionist James McMahon, interview with American Medical News, July 5, 1993.
  • "While abortion takes life, it enables life to reproduce itself successfully, not on nature’s terms but on human terms," writes Alexander Sanger in his recent book, "BEYOND CHOICE: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century" (New York: Public Affairs, 2004). "The unborn child is not just an innocent life. While it is the epitome of human destiny and the greatest potential joy that humanity can create, it is also a liability, a threat, and a danger to the mother and to the other members of the family. In order to survive, humanity has necessarily taken pre-born life to preserve other life all throughout its evolutionary history."
  • "Abortion always has been and continues to be another way of choosing death over life….It is morally acceptable that a woman who gives life may also destroy life under certain circumstances….As Artemis might kill a wounded animal rather than allow it to limp along miserably, so a mother wishes to spare the child a painful destiny." (Ginette Paris, The Sacrament of Abortion, Dallas: Spring Publications, 1992, pp.51-56).
  • [Euthanasia] "Active euthanasia. Taking steps to end your life, as in suicide…If you wish to deliberately leave this world, then active euthanasia is your only avenue…[W]hether you bring your life to an abrupt end, and how you achieve this, is entirely your responsibility…(Derek Humphrey, "Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying," Eugene, OR: The Hemlock Society, 1991, pp.20-21).

Discussion Questions

Why do we need to be concerned about many different issues?

Why are abortion and euthanasia more urgent problems than other attacks on life?

Do you find it surprising that some people will promote abortion while at the same time admitting that it kills a child?

Further Reading

Article by feminist Naomi Wolf, Our Bodies, Our Souls, calling on supporters of abortion to be honest about what it is.

US Bishops' web page regarding the priority of the right to life as a concern of the Church.

Reflection

An Imbalance of Powers

As was pointed out above, our Founders established a republic, in which the people govern themselves and have the privilege and duty of choosing their representatives who, in turn, write laws. This paragraph indicates that when citizens participate in this process, they "participate in promoting the inalienable rights of all."

This "participation" takes many forms. We register to vote, we inform ourselves about candidates, we vote in elections, we lobby and educate those who hold elected office, we encourage and admonish them as needed, and we hold them up in prayer, as Scripture requires (see 1 Timothy 2:1).

It should be noted that the "political structures enabling all citizens to participate" can function successfully only when the proper balance of powers between the three branches of government is preserved. The Founders indicated that each of the three branches has equal authority to interpret the Constitution. The Courts, in other words, do not necessarily have the final word, and Congress is empowered to limit their jurisdiction. Nowadays, we live under many policies that contradict the will of the American people, and have never been voted on by the people or their lawmakers: policies like the prohibition of prayer, Bible-reading, and the viewing of the 10 Commandments in our public schools, abortion on demand, and now the re-definition of marriage. Where did these policies come from? They were imposed by judges who have overstepped the bounds of their constitutional authority. A key pre-requisite of building the Culture of Life in America is to restore the proper balance of powers, so that laws are made by duly elected legislators, not by unelected judges.

Imposing beliefs?

The paragraph is a call to use the gifts we have been given in our citizenship. The bishops here respond, as they will again later, to the charge that the participation of Catholics in public life is, essentially, an "imposition of their religion and morality on the rest of society." Yet the bishops point out that "our country's founding principles" and our Declaration of Independence are clear about the inherent value of human life. In other words, we are not calling for a "Catholic takeover of America." If anything, we are calling for an American takeover of America, a return to principles that were put in place by our Founders but recently abandoned by many.

Some argue that since we have religious freedom in this country, people should be allowed to believe what they want about these matters. It would be wrong to impose by law one particular religious or theological position, they assert. Correct. And the Church does not seek to require any religious belief by law. People have the right to profess, believe, and practice their own freely chosen set of religious and moral beliefs.

But while we are free to believe whatever we want, there are limits to how far we can go in acting on those beliefs. In our society, a person is entitled to believe that stealing your car is OK, but he is not permitted to carry out that belief by actually stealing your car. A person, furthermore, is entitled to believe that you do not have a soul, but is not permitted to carry out that belief by killing you. Your life is still protected by the law, despite another's beliefs.

The United States Supreme Court and lower courts have made this distinction in various religious freedom cases. Courts in Alabama and Tennessee, for example, ruled that Churches that had ceremonies in which poisonous snakes were handled could no longer do so, because despite the freedom of belief, the fact was that those snakes endangered the lives and health of the believers. (See Harden v. State, 216 S.W.2d 708 (Tenn 1948), State ex rel Swann v. Pack, 527 S.W.2d 99 (Tenn 1975) and Hill v. State, 88 So.2d 880 (Ala 1956).) Note that the handling of the snakes in these cases was an integral part of the faith and worship of those religious bodies. The US Supreme Court, furthermore, wrote as follows in Reynolds vs. US, 98 U.S.145 (1878): "Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious worship. Would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which he lived could not prevent a sacrifice?"

Abortion is not simply a matter of beliefs, but of bloodshed; not simply viewpoints, but victims.

The law's criterion for who receives protection should be the verifiable evidence of science, rather that the subjective criterion of religious belief. There is such a thing as religious truth. But whether a baby lives or dies should not depend on whether or not everyone in society has acknowledged that truth. Human life needs protection now. Freedom of belief should never be confused with freedom to destroy others.

Discussion Questions

What is the foundation of "real freedom," and how is it different from false ideas of freedom?

Why is it not true to say that in trying to stop abortion, we are trying to "impose our beliefs" upon society?

Further Reading

Fr. Frank Pavone's column on the balance of powers and the proper role of the courts.

Talk given by Fr. Frank Pavone addressing the topic of "The Founders, Morality, and Political Responsibility." 

Reflection

This paragraph issues a clear call for consistency and renewal. The bishops are not recruiting for a political party or an ideological platform; rather, they are calling disciples of Christ to rediscover their identity. Recognizing the sanctity of life flows not from our own agenda or our adherence to a political platform, but from our knowledge of Jesus Christ. He identifies himself as "life" (see John 6:35; John 10:7-15; John 11:17-27; John 14:1-6). To stand with Christ is to stand with life, and to stand with life is to stand against whatever destroys it. Our commitment to work for the renewed protection of life is not simply a response to an erroneous Court decision; it is, ultimately, a response to Jesus Christ. It is, in fact, the same response that impelled Christians to rescue abandoned children in the earliest centuries of the Church, to establish hospitals, to free slaves, and to fight segregation.

It has been said that there is no such thing as "secret discipleship." Either the discipleship will destroy the secrecy, or the secrecy will destroy the discipleship. The Christian Faith is not given to us as a private possession, but as a public proclamation intended for all people. The Church is missionary by her very nature. In other words, announcing the Gospel to others is not one among many agenda items the Church has; it is, rather, what the Church does at all times and through all her other activities. A follower of Christ does not have the option to choose whether or not he or she wants to help spread the Gospel to others. Rather, being a follower of Christ necessarily entails bearing witness to that Gospel message. And this call to proclaim the message is given by the Lord himself. Each Christian receives this call, and the grace to carry it out, through baptism and confirmation.

Discussion Questions

Is being a good Catholic compatible with being a good American, or is that a conflict of interests?

How does being a leader in our society relate to one's faith?

Is it proper to divide one's "private religious beliefs" from one's conduct in public, especially if one is a leader?

Give some examples of "act[ing] publicly in a way contrary to [the] faith."

Further reading

George Grant, Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-life Movement from the First Century to the Present (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Haytt, 1991).

Reflection

This section speaks of ambiguity in the American spirit as it influences the rest of the world. It is not evil and it is not purely good either; rather, it is mixed. There are, in an image used by our Holy Father, "lights and shadows" in what we offer the world. The culture of death is truly global, and one of the ways that battle rages is in debates in Congress and in the United Nations regarding whether the United States will fund population programs that are coercive, such as China's, or that use abortion as a means of "family planning." Abortion advocates constantly push for such funds, while pro-life elected officials work to prevent the exportation of abortion.

We have already entered into the "next century" of which this document speaks. What will the "discourse about the sanctity of human life" be like in this century? It will increasingly be centered around nothing less than the re-making of the human species. The mapping of the human genome, cloning, genetic therapy and manipulation, and the combination of human genetic material with that of other species and with robotics and artificial intelligence create a cluster of bio-ethical challenges that bring us to the most fundamental questions: Who are we? What does it mean to be made in the "image of God?" How far can we go in tampering with that "image" before we destroy ourselves?

Discussion Questions

What are some examples of how America imprints its spirit, for good and for bad, upon the rest of the world?

Listen to a homily given by Fr. Frank Pavone on the re-making of the human species through bio-technology. [Listen here.]

Reflection

Roe, Doe, and Casey

The bishops make reference here to two key Supreme Court decisions that are responsible for the continued legality of the abortion procedure: Roe vs. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood vs. Casey (1992).

Most Americans still do not know what Roe vs. Wade enacted, namely, that abortion would be legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy. The Court held that in the last three months of pregnancy, a state could -- but did not have to -- prohibit abortion in cases where it was not necessary for the woman's health. In cases where health did require abortion, however, the state could not prohibit abortion even in the final days before birth. Here it must be noted that Roe vs. Wade was accompanied by another decision, Doe vs. Bolton, issued on the same day. The Court indicated that the two decisions were to be read together. Doe defined "health" to include "all factors - physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age - relevant to the wellbeing of the patient." Since abortion cannot be banned by a state when it is needed for "health," and since "health" is so broadly defined, the effect of the two Supreme Court decisions of January 22, 1973 was to initiate a policy of abortion on demand.

The American people have never accepted such a policy. Opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Americans reject abortion for the reasons it is usually performed -- reasons that have nothing to do with medical needs of the mother or child.

It should be noted that Roe vs. Wade never denied the humanity of the unborn child. Some people think that because the court concluded (albeit wrongly) that the unborn child is not human, it therefore felt free to authorize the killing of the unborn. But the court did not say that. If the court had said that, at least they would have maintained a basic moral principle, which is that no government has the authority to destroy innocent life. But the Court didn't do that. As to the question of whether this unborn child is in fact a new human life the Court said, in effect, "We don't know and it's not up to us to say." Then on the same page of the decision they declared that this unborn child is not a person under the Constitution. The problem, then is that the Court began to separate the concept of "human being" from "human person." And in separating a human life from the protections of the Constitution, the Court assumed to itself a new kind of authority, namely, we can decide that some human lives don't have to be protected.

This is the sense in which, as this paragraph of the document asserts, Roe has poisoned our entire legal and political system. It has, in fact, abandoned the founding principles of America and of all civilization. Mother Theresa, in her 1994 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, summarized the problem by asking, "If we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?"

In 1992, the Supreme Court came close to overturning Roe, but did not do so. The Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision, regarding various regulations on abortion enacted in the state of Pennsylvania, upheld the right of the state to regulate the procedure in various ways. The decision also modified the reasons for the legality of abortion, rejecting much of the reasoning of Roe vs. Wade but reaffirming its "central holding" that "a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability." But the basis for allowing the woman that decision shifted in Casey from "privacy" to "liberty." In fact, a famous line in the Casey decision, that has come to be known as the "mystery clause," continues to poison our legal system. The Court declared, "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." This is, of course, fundamentally at odds with the view of life taken by our Founding Fathers and by the Christian Gospel, namely, that there is an objective truth about the meaning of life and the universe, and that this truth flows from the God who made both.

Signs of Hope

Even as we suffer from the effects of these Supreme Court decisions, however, we see the victory of truth unfolding. The original plaintiffs, the "Jane Roe" of Roe vs. Wade and the "Mary Doe" of Doe vs. Bolton worked to overturn those decisions. They were both pro-life and repudiated their role in making abortion legal. Sandra Cano, who was "Mary Doe," never even wanted an abortion. She simply wanted her children back from foster care. Pro-abortion attorneys turned it into an abortion case. Norma McCorvey, who was "Jane Roe," underwent several conversions to the pro-life position and became a practicing pro-life Catholic who headed up her own ministry called "Crossing Over Ministries."

Discussion Questions

What policy did the Roe vs. Wade decision establish regarding abortion?

How did the Casey decision justify continuing the policy of Roe vs. Wade?

Why is it not good for our society to ignore the effects of these court decisions?

Further reading

Norma McCorvey, with Gary Thomas, Won by Love (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997).

Norma McCorvey, with Fr. Frank Pavone, My Journey into the Catholic Church (New York: Priests for Life, 1999)

Sybil Fletcher Lash, Supreme Deception (The story of Sandra Cano) (Lawrenceville, GA: Sentinel Productions, 2002)

Reflection

Next step: Infanticide

As we saw in the previous section, Roe asserted a new (but invalid) government authority to permit the killing of the innocent. Once that line is crossed, that supposed authority can be imposed on any group of people. The infanticide, which the bishops call "a predictable next stop along the continuum of killing" is already a reality.

Jill Stanek is a nurse who came face to face with infanticide. She shares her story:

"I had been working for a year at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, as a registered nurse in the Labor and Delivery Department, when I heard in report that we were aborting a second-trimester baby with Down’s syndrome. I was completely shocked. In fact, I had specifically chosen to work at Christ Hospital because it was a Christian hospital and not involved, so I thought, in abortion….

But what was most distressing was to learn of the method Christ Hospital uses to abort, called induced labor abortion, now also known as 'live birth abortion.' In this particular abortion procedure doctors do not attempt to kill the baby in the uterus. The goal is simply to prematurely deliver a baby who dies during the birth process or soon afterward. One night, a nursing co-worker was taking a Down’s syndrome baby who was aborted alive to our Soiled Utility Room because his parents did not want to hold him, and she did not have time to hold him. I could not bear the thought of this suffering child dying alone in a Soiled Utility Room, so I cradled and rocked him for the 45 minutes that he lived. "

Advocates of infanticide are now at prestigious posts in our nation's universities. Peter Singer is a professor at Princeton's University Center for Human Values. He openly justifies infanticide, and asks, "Is life at birth more significant than at the second, fourth, or sixth month of pregnancy? It is not." He explains further,

"The pro-life groups are right about one thing: the location of the baby inside or outside the womb cannot make such a crucial moral difference. We cannot coherently hold that it is all right to kill a fetus a week before birth, but as soon as the baby is born everything must be done to keep it alive. The solution, however, is not to accept the pro-life view that the fetus is a human being with the same moral status as yours or mine. The solution is the very opposite: to abandon the idea that all human life is of equal worth" ("On Letting Handicapped Babies Die" as quoted in "In Defense of Life", Fournier and Watkins, Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1996, p.43).

Singer sums it up this way: to be morally consistent, there are "only two possibilities." Either "oppose abortion or allow infanticide" (p.44).

Legislatively, we have taken an important step forward in this regard. On August 5, 2002, President Bush signed the Born-Alive Infants' Protection Act, which ensures that every infant born alive -- including an infant who survives an abortion procedure -- is considered a person under federal law. This lays an important premise into the law which is essential for further progress in the defense of life, namely, that the law can protect a child at any stage of gestation despite the will of someone else that the child die. The value of that life, in other words, does not depend on another's choice.

Verbal Engineering

The manipulation of language is key to the revolution that brought about the culture of death. In 1970, the journal California Medicine carried a famous editorial that stated the following: "Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices."

The language used to justify assisted suicide is extremely subtle. I was stationed in a NY City parish some years ago when a ballot initiative regarding assisted suicide came up in another state. I asked the parishioners to contact any friends or relatives they had in that state, to inform them of how harmful the initiative was. A few days later, one of the parishioners told me she spoke to her daughter, who lived in the state in question, and that her daughter obtained a copy of the various initiatives that were to be voted on. She said that the one I spoke about wasn't listed. I asked her to send me the list…And right there on the list was the ballot initiative I had spoken of. This woman and her daughter, even when they knew what they were looking for, couldn't find it, because the language was so carefully sugar-coated. The initiative spoke about giving "assistance in dying."

In regard to the cloning debate, a deceptive linguistic distinction is made between "reproductive cloning" (presented as bringing the clone to birth) and "therapeutic cloning" (presented as cloning someone to obtain helpful stem cells). In fact, however, all cloning is reproductive and no cloning is therapeutic. You have reproduced another person as soon as you have that life at the single-cell stage, and no therapeutic benefits of this process have been demonstrated.

Discussion Questions

How is language used to advance a Culture of Death? How can we begin to use language to build a culture of life?

In what ways to physician-assisted suicide, fetal experimentation, and human cloning reduce the human person to an object? How are these problems linked to Roe vs. Wade?

Further reading

William Brennan, Dehumanizing the Vulnerable: When Word Games Take Lives (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1995).

Click below to listen to a series of radio programs (Real Audio format) with Dr. William Brennan discussing his book Dehumanizing the Vulnerable.

Program 1: Click here to listen

Program 2: Click here to listen

Program 3: Click here to listen

Program 4: Click here to listen

Program 5: Click here to listen

Program 6: Click here to listen

Discussion Questions

How does Roe vs. Wade damage patriotism?

Reflection

The theme of freedom and truth is central in the teachings of Pope John Paul II. In his 1993 encyclical The Splendor of Truth (Veritatis Splendor) he comments at length upon the fact that freedom and truth are inherently linked, and that neither can be understood without the other. Freedom is the power to do what is right, and we perceive what is right by the gift of truth. At its core, a "pro-choice" mentality pretends to create its own truth. For example, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice produces a booklet called Abortion: Finding your own Truth. In reality, it is God who creates truth and enables all of us to know it objectively.

In The Gospel of Life, the Holy Father takes up this theme again. "No less critical in the formation of conscience is the recovery of the necessary link between freedom and truth. As I have frequently stated, when freedom is detached from objective truth it becomes impossible to establish personal rights on a firm rational basis; and the ground is laid for society to be at the mercy of the unrestrained will of individuals or the oppressive totalitarianism of public authority" (n. 96).

Discussion Questions

Describe the meaning of freedom in the light of the Pope's words at Camden Yards. How does he succinctly define freedom in that talk?

Discussion Questions

What is the relationship, according to the Declaration of Independence, between rights, God, and government?

Discussion Questions

Describe the contradiction between our nation's founding principles and the current political reality.

Discussion Questions

How do you properly describe the relationship between parents and their children?

What does it mean that our rights are "unalienable?"

Reflection

This paragraph makes reference to the religious beliefs of our Founding Fathers. As was noted in the beginning of this guide, the Founders were religious men. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration, nearly half were educated in seminaries, Bible schools, or their equivalents. Some were Bible translators, others edited hymnals, and Sacred Scripture was the single most common source from which they drew their ideas.

Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote, "I sat next to John Adams in Congress, and upon my whispering to him and asking him if he thought we should succeed in our struggle with Great Britain, he answered me, 'Yes--if we fear God and repent of our sins.' This anecdote will, I hope, teach my boys that it is not necessary to disbelieve Christianity or renounce morality in order to arrive at the highest political usefulness or fame."

Countless similar declarations of faith can be seen in the Founders' writings, and the references to God both at the beginning and end of the Declaration of Independence give their philosophy of government its undeniable framework.

Discussion Questions

When it comes to the fundamental rights of the human person, what role do religious differences play?

 

Discussion Questions

Why do you think public service is called a vocation?

What is the purpose of the political community?

What do we mean by the "common good?"

Reflection

Understanding "Separation of Church and State"

The phrase "separation of church and state" is found nowhere in the Constitution. It was originally used in a personal letter of Thomas Jefferson, and was not employed by the Supreme Court until the mid-twentieth century.

We need to get a handle on what this phrase means and what some people try to make it mean. Of course there is a division of labor, which is very legitimate, between Church and State. The Church does not have a standing army. The Church does not deliver the mail. The Church cannot say that there are 51 states instead of 50. At the same time the State does not administer the Sacraments or lead people in Sunday worship or determine where pastors are assigned. The State cannot say that there are eight sacraments instead of seven. There is a certain legitimate autonomy, then, that we all acknowledge and accept and can live with.

The problem is that people forget the third element of the equation. Because in our lives, in our world, in our nation there is the Church, there is the State, and then there is morality, which overlaps the concerns of both the Church and the State.

Our Founding Fathers understood that the great experiment of self-governance on which they were embarking would never succeed if God were separated from the State or if the State were separated from morality. They knew better.

The First Amendment to the Constitution is sometimes used to defend "separation of Church and State." But the amendment says nothing about that. What it does say is that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…" When the Federal government was established, all but one of the states had established religions. The decision of our Founding Fathers was that the federal government would not establish any religion itself, but rather leave that decision to the people and the individual states. This has nothing to do with a separation between government and God or between religion and public life. It had everything to do with the proper role of the federal government versus the states.

The very same Congress that crafted the First Amendment passed what was called the Northwest Ordinance.

This ordinance, which was signed by our first president George Washington, set up some of the criteria that had to be followed by new states and territories. Among its provisions was the following: "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." In other words, we have to encourage schools because our children have to be imbued with knowledge, morality and religion. It is impossible that, having declared this ordinance, the same body of lawmakers would have intended in the First Amendment to separate religion and morality from government and public life.

Pastors or politicians?

This paragraph of Living the Gospel of Life also mentions the Church's right and duty to comment upon political matters. There is a difference between such commentary and partisan politics. The Church is always free to speak about the issues of the day, even when those issues are being debated by political parties and candidates. The Church can also comment upon the duties of government and the actions of specific political leaders.

But it becomes clear that the Church's message is not partisan as such when we reflect on the fact that if tomorrow each candidate and party swapped positions with their opponents, the Church would not need to change a single word of its message. The Church does not endorse candidates or merge with political parties. The Church, like her Lord, bears witness to a Kingdom that precedes all human governments and institutions, and will outlast them all. While political platforms change, the message of the Gospel does not change. At particular times, that Gospel message may, in effect, present more of a challenge to one candidate or party than another. But the preaching of that message nevertheless cannot be reduced to or categorized as a partisan statement. A statement of Gospel truth may indeed have political implications, but it is no less for that reason a statement of Gospel truth which preachers of the Gospel must in fact preach.

Discussion Questions

How are the Church and State independent of each other?

What are the common misunderstandings of the phrase "Separation of Church and State?"

Further Reading

Click here to read the papers, or listen to the talks, of the Legal Symposium "The Church and Politics: Are we as Restricted as we Think?"

Reflection

The quote here from the Holy Father is critical in helping our fellow citizens discern the issues that matter most as they choose candidates. Without defending the right to life, calls for other human rights are false and illusory. Those are strong and clear words that call for our further reflection.

"I stand for adequate and comprehensive health care." So far, so good. But as soon as you say that a procedure that tears the arms off of little babies is part of "health care," then your understanding of the term "health care" is obviously quite different from the actual meaning of the words. In short, you lose credibility. Your claim to health care is "illusory." It sounds good, but is in fact destructive, because it masks an act of violence.

"My plan for adequate housing will succeed." Fine. But what are houses for, if not for people to live in them? If you allow the killing of the children who would otherwise live in those houses, how am I supposed to get excited by your housing project?

This teaching becomes clearer if we pose the hypothetical case of a candidate who supported terrorism asked for your vote, would you say, "I disagree with you on terrorism, but where do you stand on other issues?" I doubt it.

In fact, if a terrorism sympathizer presented him/herself for your vote, you would immediately know that such a position disqualifies the candidate for public office -- no matter how good he or she may be on other issues. The horror of terrorism dwarfs whatever good might be found in the candidate's plan for housing, education, or health care. Regarding those plans, you wouldn't even ask.

The remaining question, then, is whether the violence of abortion is morally any different from that of terrorism. One only has to read the descriptions of abortion as put forth in court transcripts, or view the images of the violence of abortion, to come to a clear answer. (The court testimonies about the abortion procedure are available online at www.priestsforlife.org/pba. The photos of abortion can be viewed at www.priestsforlife.org/images.)

Discussion Questions

In what way can the outcry for human rights become false and illusory?

How can we make people more aware that abortion is in fact an act of violence?

Discussion Questions

What is the spiritual sickness that currently divides our society?

What do the bishops say about the attitude that our religion should be practiced only in a personal, private way?

Reflection

Policy and principle

This paragraph invites us to reflect on the distinction between a "policy" and a "principle." Understanding the difference can make it less confusing to sort out the political debates and competing claims of candidates for public office.

An example will clarify this. We are rightly concerned about the poor, and need to develop programs and policies to advance their rights and enhance their lives. Parties and candidates will often disagree about what programs and policies best achieve that objective. But the disagreements are over "how" to help the poor, not "whether" to help them. In other words, there is agreement on the principle of solidarity with the poor; there is disagreement about the policies that implement the principle.

Love of God, and faithfulness to the Gospel and Catholic teaching, bind us to the principle, but not necessarily to any particular policy that seeks to carry it out. Faithful Catholics could conceivably disagree strongly on policies while adhering to the principle.

But on the question of abortion and euthanasia, the policy is the principle. Here, we are not talking about disagreements on how to secure people's rights, but on whether they have those rights at all! The disagreement goes much deeper, right to the question of whether these people should live or die. Either they need to be protected, or they can be killed. A policy allowing them to be killed necessarily violates the principle that the innocent may not be killed.

To make a truly equivalent parallel between the plight of the poor and that of the unborn, one would have to imagine a policy whereby a) the poor were officially declared to be devoid of "personhood" under the Constitution (as Roe vs. Wade did to the unborn), and b) over 4000 of the poor were put to death daily against their will (as is the case regarding the unborn). It is one thing to assert that a particular policy does or does not advance the rights of the poor; it is quite another to assert that the poor have no right to exist. Debates about the poor are in the first category; the debate about the unborn is in the second.

The starting point, then, is adherence to what the document calls "the basic principle" -- "never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of any innocent human life." This is where we start in evaluating any candidate, policy, or program, and if this principle is violated, we need go no further. There can be no counterbalancing values that would ever justify killing the innocent.

The content of love

This paragraph also points out that "love" has a content. Some moral theories that say love is just an intention, not bound to specific actions. In other words, I can do what I want as long as I doing "in a loving way" or "with the intention to love." On the contrary, no matter what my intentions or methods are, "certain ways of acting [are] always and radically incompatible with the love of God." Killing the innocent is one of them.

Note that this cannot be said of capital punishment or war. There can be circumstances in which both are justified, in order to stop someone who is killing others. Here we see the meaning of "innocent," from Latin words meaning "not harming." As soon as one starts deliberately harming others, he may be stopped, and if the only way to stop him causes him harm or death, that is morally permitted. This does not break the principle of never intentionally killing the innocent. Obviously, capital punishment carried out on the innocent, or attacks in war on innocent civilians, would never be justified.

Pressures

This paragraph mentions the pressures that women are subjected to relative to abortion. A review of the testimonies of those who have had abortions reveals clearly that this is not a matter of "freedom of choice," but of "no freedom and no choice." These women feel trapped, abandoned, desperate, afraid, and sadly, they feel they have nobody to help them except the abortionist. An extensive series of examples can be found in the testimonies online at www.priestsforlife.org/postabortion/postabortiontestimonywomen.htm.

Discussion Questions

What is the key moral principle found at the heart of all "life issues?"

Why can we say that some actions are always wrong?

What are some other examples of the difference between a "policy" and a "principle?"

Do women really "choose" abortion?

Further reading

Frederica Matthews-Green, Real Choices (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 1997)

Click here for an overview and explanation of the most common reasons that women get abortions.

Click here for resources for those who have had abortions.

Reflection

"Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity," the Holy Father reminds us in The Gospel of Life. This section of the document calls rightly for a rejection of capital punishment.

It should be noted, however, that the paragraph also makes reference to the "cases where it may be justified." Rare as they may be, or even practically non-existent in our times, this indicates a significant difference between the Church's "no" to capital punishment and its "no" to abortion and euthanasia. The prohibition on the intention killing of the innocent is an absolute; the prohibition on capital punishment is not absolute.

In his encyclical The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II makes a clear distinction between a practical "no" to the death penalty and an absolute "no" to abortion. In regard to the state punishing wrongdoers, he writes, "the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent" (56).

Then he goes on to say, in distinction, "If such great care must be taken to respect every life, even that of criminals and unjust aggressors, the commandment "You shall not kill" has absolute value when it refers to the innocent person." (57) Simply put, "You shall not kill" applies even to the criminal, but with exceptions. "You shall not kill" applies absolutely to the innocent (born and unborn), without exceptions.

If you compare the statistics on capital punishment (www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=18) with those on abortion (www.PriestsForLife.org/statistics) you find that more children are killed by abortion in America in a single week than criminals have been executed in our entire history. Every life is of equal, infinite value, but the nature and extent of these two issues are beyond comparison.

 

Discussion Questions

What is the teaching of the Church regarding capital punishment, and how does it differ from the teaching on abortion?

Can one still be pro-life and support the death penalty in certain instances?

Further Reading

Learn more about the Church's stand on Capital Punishment.

Paragraph Twenty-three

Reflection

This is an especially important paragraph of the document, because it clarifies the concept of the "consistent ethic of life," sometimes known as the "seamless garment" philosophy. Clearly, there are many issues that impact human life and dignity, and the bishops call both public officials and citizens to be actively concerned about them all. Yet in this section, the bishops not only assert that these many issues are linked, but explain how they are linked. They improve upon the "seamless garment" image and use the image of a house, pointing out that the right to life is the foundation.

Every four years since the mid-1970's, the Administrative Committee of the bishops' conference issues a document to help citizens prepare for our national elections and to reflect on "faithful citizenship." This document always points out a multitude of issues, which is fine. But many are confused by this, thinking that the bishops are giving equal weight to all the issues. Living the Gospel of Life, along with many other statements, indicates clearly that they do not give all the issues equal weight. Even the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the most well-known spokesperson regarding the consistent ethic of life, had this to say in 1984 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. Cardinal Bernardin pointed out that there is a hierarchy among the issues. "The fundamental human right is to life—from the moment of conception until death. It is the source of all other rights, including the right to health care" (The Consistent Ethic of Life and Health Care Systems, Foster McGaw Triennial Conference, Loyola University of Chicago, May 8, 1985).

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."

Yes, all life issues are linked. Some people see life issues as linked arithmetically; they are lined up and counted. This was done in 2004 when some Catholic senators issued a "Catholic Scorecard" to rate how well they were doing in their voting patterns. But they gave each issue an equal value, so that the issue of limiting the use of mercury fever thermometers was on an equal par with partial-birth abortion. Such an approach sees the issues as simply linked arithmetically. Actually, they are linked geometrically. People sometimes say to me, "Abortion is only one among many issues." I respond by saying, "Yes, and the foundation of the house is only one of many parts of the house. Take it away, and see how well you can build the rest."

The primacy we give to the right to life is not because we are unaware or unconcerned about the other issues, but precisely because we are.

Discussion Questions

How are the many different "life issues" related to one another? Are some more important than others?

In what sense is it proper to be a single-issue voter?

Describe the difference between seeing abortion as "the only issue" and seeing it as "the fundamental issue."

What does the Church mean by "the consistent ethic of life?" How has the phrase been misinterpreted in the past, and how do the bishops attempt to correct that misinterpretation in this document?

Further Reading

For an extensive study of the Consistent Ethic of Life and its articulation by Cardinal Bernardin, see www.priestsforlife.org/consistentethic

Reflection

Pluralism

We often hear about the value of a "pluralistic society." There is, in fact, a lot of legitimate pluralism, in the cultural, religious, ethnic, political, and other kinds of differences among people. Life would be quite boring if we were all the same. Yet a "pluralistic society" is, at the same time, a (that is, one) society, and to remain one society, something has to hold it together. There need to be some norms that everyone adheres to; and that's what makes "a society" different from a jungle. One such norm is that everyone's life has to be protected. We should defend legitimate pluralism. We should also recognize that to invoke pluralism and religious liberty to destroy another's life is an intolerable abuse.

When life begins

This paragraph points out that scientific fact -- not religious belief -- indicates when life begins.

Among the many references on this point is the widely used medical textbook The Developing Human, Clinically Oriented Embryology, 6th Edition, Moore, Persaud, Saunders, 1998. It states at page 2 that "The intricate processes by which a baby develops from a single cell are miraculous .... This cell [the zygote] results from the union of an oocyte [egg] and sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being ...." At page 18 this theme is repeated: "Human development begins at fertilization [emphasis in original] ...."

This scientific evidence has also been presented in courtrooms. Judge Michael J. Noonan ruled as follows in a New Jersey case based on a man's efforts to save his unborn child from being aborted: "…based upon the undisputed medical testimony by arguably the foremost authority in genetics in the world, I found that human life begins at conception; and that Roe vs. Wade permits a legal execution of that human being." (Municipal Court of New Jersey -- Law division, Morris County criminal action docket no. C1771, et seq. State of New Jersey v. Alexander Loce, et als., Defendants, April 29, 1991, Honorable Michael J. Noonan).

Discussion Questions

When Catholic elected officials claim that they cannot impose their pro-life views on the rest of society, what fallacies have they committed?

Further reading

Dr. Jerome Lejeune, The Concentration Can: When Does Human Life Begin? An Eminent Geneticist Testifies (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992).

Click here for more details about the beginning and early development of human life, including photos of the unborn child and the sound of the early heartbeat.

Reflection

We do know what is right.

As this paragraph indicates, there is a "false pluralism" that pretends that each person can have "whatever moral convictions they please." This attitude actually consists of a "moral agnosticism," the idea that we cannot really know what is good and right for the human person or for society. The "common good," for which public officials are to strive, becomes a matter of opinion.

The Church stands strongly against this idea, proclaiming instead that we are capable of knowing the difference between right and wrong, between the common good and that which is destructive of society. The fact that we can know moral truth and are therefore responsible for applying it in political life is one of the key themes of a special document that was issued by the Vatican in November of 2002 called the "Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life." The document states, "Political freedom is not – and cannot be – based upon the relativistic idea that all conceptions of the human person’s good have the same value and truth." Hence, as Living the Gospel of Life says, "Democracy is not a substitute for morality." What is right and wrong is not something we vote on. The Vatican "Note" goes on to say, "The Church recognizes that while democracy is the best expression of the direct participation of citizens in political choices, it succeeds only to the extent that it is based on a correct understanding of the human person… In this context, it must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals."

To put it another way, a people cannot govern themselves if they cannot tell the difference (or pretend they cannot tell the difference) between right and wrong. When, in June of 2003, the Vatican issued another notification telling legislators that they could not vote to legitimize homosexual unions, a United States legislator complained that the Pope was "interfering with democracy." Actually, in teaching the moral law, the Pope was fostering democracy. Freedom is always found only when it points to truth, and self-governance works only when people clearly discern the common good and can distinguish it from evil.

Opposing all violence

The pro-life movement, and the bishops, reject violence as a means to ending abortion. This, however, does not impress abortion advocates, who claim that by calling abortion "killing," we fuel a climate of violence against those who do it. This, of course, echoes the objections brought about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who exposed the evil of segregation and was accused of thereby fostering violence. Reformers and prophets must expose injustice and call it what it is.

But whose rhetoric really fuels violence? It is the rhetoric of "choice" that fuels violence. By exalting "choice" and "freedom," even when the free choice is the killing of a human being, this rhetoric degrades the value of all human life. "Abortion on demand - no apologies." That is the rhetoric of violence. It does not deny that abortion kills children. It simply says, "I don't care. My choice is more important than the child's life."

It is the "pro-choice" rhetoric that promotes violence. A pro-abortion demonstrator in Little Rock, Arkansas in the summer of 1994 held a sign saying, "Keep Baby-Killing Legal." He was serious. That's the message of their rhetoric.

The idea that one can kill an abortionist is actually cut from the same cloth as the pro-choice argument. After all, for decades the "pro-choice" movement has been telling us that sometimes it's OK to choose to end a life to solve a problem. If people believe the end justifies the means, they did not get that from the pro-life movement, but from our opponents.

Dr. Gary Romalis, an abortionist who was physically attacked, said, "No matter what people’s beliefs are with regard to the abortion issue, the shooting of a doctor is a violent act. It’s a terrorist act." We agree. Beliefs never justify violence, and it's time the pro-choice movement heeds its own words, and ends the violence against the unborn, despite what they "believe" about them.

Discussion Questions

Why does democracy require virtue in order to succeed?

How does the use of violence to promote the pro-life cause contradict the Gospel?

Further Reading

Full text of the Vatican Doctrinal Note

Why violence is not a solution to abortion.

Reflection

On the theme of being "sent" as a people, the Holy Father said the following in The Gospel of Life:

"We have been sent. For us, being at the service of life is not a boast but rather a duty, born of our awareness of being "God's own people, that we may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light" (cf. 1 Pet 2:9). On our journey we are guided and sustained by the law of love: a love which has as its source and model the Son of God made man, who "by dying gave life to the world".

"We have been sent as a people. Everyone has an obligation to be at the service of life. This is a properly "ecclesial" responsibility, which requires concerted and generous action by all the members and by all sectors of the Christian community. This community commitment does not however eliminate or lessen the responsibility of each individual, called by the Lord to "become the neighbour" of everyone: "Go and do likewise" (Lk 10:37).

"Together we all sense our duty to preach the Gospel of life, to celebrate it in the Liturgy and in our whole existence, and to serve it with the various programmes and structures which support and promote life" (EV, 79).

Discussion Questions

Why is faith not enough in order to be faithful?

What are some ways that we can be "active witnesses" to life?

Reflection

One of the many virtues we need in building the culture of life is, in the words of this section, "the humility to listen well to both friend and opponent on the abortion issue." It may seem that we have nothing to learn from our opponents in this matter; after all, what kind of "dialog" is needed on whether you can kill a child? It is true that there can be no compromise or middle ground on the matter of abortion. But the following reflection of Fr. Frank Pavone can shed some light on what the bishops mean in this section:

Bill Baird of New York is known by many as the "Father of the Pro-choice movement." His name is on three Supreme Court decisions which advanced the "right" to birth control and abortion, and he continues to crusade for his cause today. Part of his crusade involves picketing the National Right to Life Convention each year. Yet he doesn't only picket it, he attends it. Wearing his registration badge, he attends the various workshops, visits the exhibit booths, and interacts with the Conference participants in the hallways. Through his presence at these conventions I have come to know Bill over the years, and at my invitation he has visited my New York office and joined me for lunch.

At the Convention one year, I asked him to attend the Mass that I was celebrating for the Conference participants. He graciously accepted the invitation. In my homily, I stressed that the message of respect for life applies even to those who promote abortion. A person's error or sin does not remove his or her dignity, nor take away his or her right to be treated respectfully.

At the conclusion of the Mass I said the following words, after which the congregation erupted in applause: "I hope I don't embarrass him or anyone else, but I would like you all to know that Bill Baird has been standing at the back of the room all during this Mass, respectfully observing all we have been doing. Bill, I want to thank you for accepting my invitation to come to this Mass, and I want you to know that we respect your life as much as we respect the life of any unborn child."

Bill remained until every person left that room, and he commented on the remarkable overflow of love that came from the people. He also told me it was the first Catholic Mass he had ever attended.

Many remarked favorably about the Mass. Shortly thereafter, however, I received a letter which read in part, "I write this letter with a sense of dismay…Bill Baird is an individual who has completely given himself over to Satan, it seems to me. We cannot 'dialog' with evil as monstrous and craven as the butchery of unborn human beings in their mother's wombs…"

I responded to the letter by pointing out that I do not "dialog with evil." I dialog with persons. Neither Bill Baird, nor anyone else who promotes abortion, ceases to be a human person with dignity. Many of the actions they defend are evil; many of the ideas they espouse are erroneous. But they are not the enemy.

The Pope, the Church, and the Lord Himself have always pursued the path of dialog. This dialog can and does break down misconceptions that those on the other side have about us and about the pro-life movement. And by listening to them, it conveys a message beyond words: I respect your life so much that I can take the time to listen to you, despite our disagreement. Indeed, the most challenging word of the phrase "the dignity of every human life" is the word "every."

Discussion Questions

Explain the basis and nature of dialogue, and how love for those who oppose us is not the same as false tolerance or indifference.

What kind of virtues do we need to build a culture of life?

A talk by Fr. Frank Pavone, Should we Talk to Abortionists? Part One and Part Two

Reflection

Many Catholics ask what the Church is doing about the Catholic public officials who promote abortion. This paragraph expresses the bishop's pastoral duty to teach and to correct. The private call to conversion is always the first step in dealing directly with an individual who is publicly contradicting Church teaching. The document then leaves the door open to further action regarding those who "refus[e] to open their minds to the Church's witness." In June of 2004, the US bishops published a statement called "Catholics in Political Life," which extends the thought of this paragraph. The statement lays out clearly the fact that public officials sin against the common good when they fail to work to correct defective laws that allow the taking of innocent life. It stresses again the themes of teaching, persuading, and inviting to dialogue. It then also states that "the Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." Regarding the question of whether bishops should deny Holy Communion to pro-abortion public officials, that decision is left to the individual bishop.

Discussion Questions

What is the responsibility of the bishop, as described in this section?

How do the bishops prefer to deal with pro-abortion Catholic politicians?

Discussion Questions

How can each of the special professions mentioned here advance the Gospel of Life?

Reflection

This paragraph speaks about the "political penalty" some may pay for living out their pro-life convictions in public office. Yet it also points out that "many voters are hungry for substance." Statistical polls in recent elections have in fact demonstrated that taking a pro-life position on abortion is advantageous for the candidate.

For example, a Wirthlin poll taken immediately after the elections of 2000 asked voters whether the abortion issue affected their vote. Some 42% said yes. Those who voted for the candidate who opposed abortion were 23% and those who voted for the candidate who favored abortion were 19%.

Two years later, after the mid-term elections of 2002, a Zogby International/Buffalo News Nationwide poll showed that 40% of voters voted for pro-life candidates or at least tended to favor them, while only 23% voted for or favored the pro-choice candidates. Another Zogby post-election poll that year showed that 25% of all voters chose pro-life candidates while only 13% chose pro-abortion candidates. When viewed just among those who voted on the abortion issue, 61% chose the pro-life candidate, and only 31% chose the pro-abortion candidate.

Discussion Questions

What are some examples of ways in which politicians witness to the dignity of life -- or compromise that witness -- in the course of carrying out their duties?

Reflection

Scandal

The word "scandal" here is important to understand in its technical sense. Robert George and Gerard Bradley explain it as follows:

"Scandal": that is, weakening the faith and moral resolution of others by one’s bad example.

Scandal is not a peculiarly Catholic or even religious concern. Business executives who wink at accounting shenanigans or racist humor permit a corrupt or racist corporate culture to flourish. We have all heard of cases where male employees’ sexual bantering was tolerated, despite a firm’s pretense of wholesomeness and sexual equality. Actions speak louder than words. Where leaders do not act to uphold stated principles, everyone concludes that the principles are nothing more than cynical propaganda. No one need take them too seriously.

"Scandal occurs in religious communities in the same way, and has the same effect. When Catholic Church officials did nothing about priests who abused children, those who knew the facts had to wonder: Do church authorities not really mean it when they say these acts are immoral? Are such acts really wrong, if nothing happens to those known to perform them? If they are wrong, wouldn’t the bishops act decisively against those who commit them?

"The same concern underlies the discussion of what Church leaders did and failed to do during the Holocaust. No serious person suggests that the German bishops or Vatican officials actively supported the Nazis’ murderous policies. The suggestion, rather, is that by their (alleged) failure to denounce those policies and to excommunicate those Nazi leaders who had Catholic backgrounds, Church officials signaled that Catholics could legitimately support Nazi policies without peril to their souls or to their standing in the Church. … If the Church is to be in solidarity with victims of injustice, bishops must not permit those Catholics who commit or abet the injustices to pretend to be Catholics in good standing with the Church."

(Robert P. George & Gerard V. Bradley National Review Online January 29, 2004)

"Imperfect Legislation"

This paragraph addresses the common situation in which public officials cannot bring about complete protection for human life but can make some progress in that direction by supporting "imperfect legislation." For example, if a nation gives unborn children no protection at all from abortion -- as is the case in the United States -- and if the legislative support for a ban on all abortions is not yet present, then the public official may support a proposal that brings some protection.

Why is this not a moral compromise? First of all, the public official is not voting to legalize abortion. It is already legal, through the act of someone else (in this case, Supreme Court Justices). So the current defect in the law is not the fault of the public official.

Secondly, the public official is not saying that any abortion is justified. In fact, in voting for an "imperfect law," the public official has to be careful to avoid scandal and should make it clear his/her opposition to all abortions, including those that will remain legal under the proposed legislation.

Finally, the public official must aim for the maximum progress possible under the current circumstances.

[Read a full explanation of these principles]

Imperfect candidates

An analogous dilemma faces voters when they evaluate the candidates. One of the reasons that some Christians don't vote is that the slate of candidates isn't that great. They feel compromised, dirty, or even sinful by casting a ballot for someone with whom they disagree.

Now it is true that to vote for someone who will advance un-Christian policies, precisely because you want them to, while rejecting a better, viable alternative, is indeed sinful. But when you are faced with two candidates, neither of whom is perfect (which should not be a surprise!), but one of whom is clearly closer in his/her convictions to the Gospel than the other, it is perfectly legitimate to vote for the better one.

Some mistakenly call this "the lesser of two evils." It is not. In this example, one is not choosing evil at all. Rather, one is choosing a good. The good is the reduction, as much as possible, of an existing evil.

A clear example arises with abortion. All abortions are currently legal. If one candidate wants to eliminate more abortions than the other one, my vote for the one who wants to eliminate more can be seen as an effort to reduce the evil of legal abortion, and a choice to reduce evil is precisely a good.

Now some Christians, not finding a candidate who is willing to eliminate all abortions, do not vote at all. It is a mistake, however, for these Christians to think they will be "tainted" by voting for an imperfect candidate. The vote is not a vote for canonization, nor is it a declaration that one agrees with every position the candidate takes. (The only way to do that is to vote for yourself!)

What then, is the vote? It is a practical exercise in leadership, by which we do our part to put people into office who can make some improvement in our country's policies. Both we and the elected official are obliged to make the maximum improvement possible at the moment. At the same time, nobody is morally bound to what is impossible, and it is perfectly legitimate to recognize the limits of what is possible.

Every abortion is wrong, and somebody else's sinful choice made them legal, not ours. No vote can end them all today. But a vote that can help reduce the evil is, in fact, a good.

Click here for more on what to do when none of the candidates seem acceptable.

The law of the land can change…

Some politicians who support abortion take refuge in the slogan that it is, after all, "the Law of the land." But "the law of the land" allows us to change the law of the land -- and that has happened many times in our history. Fr. Clifford Stevens, Founder of the National Organization for Embryonic Law has put together a wealth of research that provides a perspective on how, with time and evidence, injustices have been uprooted and Constitutional rights expanded. A summary follows; for the full body of research, see www.priestsforlife.org/government/intro.htm.

America has, on various occasions, recovered the recognition of the equal dignity of those who were deprived of their rights and suffered violence which was given legal cover under a different name. This legal cover was often mistakenly recognized by the Supreme Court for a while, but then such decisions were overturned.

Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856) is the most commonly cited instance. The slaveholder's right to property eclipsed and subsumed the slave's right to freedom. But the Constitution was eventually amended to correct the error.

Decisions like Lochner v. New York (1905) show us another error: employers' right to contract eclipsed and subsumed the workers' rights to humane conditions and hours. These abuses were corrected by subsequent Supreme Court decisions like Muller v. Oregon and Bunting v. Oregon.

The "Separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) sanctioning segregation was overturned by Brown v. Board of Education some 58 years later.

Erroneous decisions like Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918) institutionalized child labor. But this was overturned 23 years later by United States v. Darby. A new development -- a "pedagogical moment" -- occurred here in Constitutional law. The question was whether constitutional rights applied to children too. The answer was yes.

Many reversals of Supreme Court cases came about when new evidence was brought forward that made it clear that someone's rights, not previously recognized, were being violated. Thus, Louis Brandeis brought forward the facts about how workers were being harmed.

Now, with some 200 embryological sciences, and massive evidence of the harm abortion does to women, such evidence, combined with new legal concepts, can challenge Roe vs. Wade in the same way its erroneous ancestral decisions were challenged.

Discussion Questions

What are some examples of how "scandal," in its technical sense, affects our lives?

How can we give people hope, from history, that Roe vs. Wade can be overturned?

Reflection

The arena for defending life, the bishops indicate here, is not only the halls of government, but the voting booth as well.

In the "halls of government," legislators must work to defend life, and citizens must lobby. The nation's top lobbying group on abortion and euthanasia is the National Right to Life Committee (www.nrlc.org) and they offer a wealth of information for others who lobby. The National Committee for a Human Life Amendment (www.nchla.org), which is a lobbying arm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is also a valuable resource. Many other resources are available as well.

For tips on visiting and writing to your legislator, see www.priestsforlife.org/government/visitlegislator.aspx

Regarding the voting booth, there is an urgent need to re-activate Christians to get involved. Over the last decade there has been a decline in Christian participation in the electoral process. Yet at a time when more and more policies and laws are contrary to the Gospel, Christians need to be more involved, not less.

As we saw earlier in the study, Alexander Hamilton expressed a view shared by our other Founding Fathers that God's law is the highest law, and "No human laws are of any validity if contrary to this." That theme is taken up in this paragraph, and echoes the Holy Father's teaching in The Gospel of Life, as well as numerous Biblical examples. The Pope sums it up in this way:

"Laws which authorize and promote abortion and euthanasia are therefore radically opposed not only to the good of the individual but also to the common good; as such they are completely lacking in authentic juridical validity… Consequently, a civil law authorizing abortion or euthanasia ceases by that very fact to be a true, morally binding civil law.

"Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). In the Old Testament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we find a significant example of resistance to the unjust command of those in authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew midwives refused. "They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live" (Ex 1:17). But the ultimate reason for their action should be noted: "the midwives feared God" (ibid.). It is precisely from obedience to God—to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty—that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for "the endurance and faith of the saints" (Rev 13:10).

"In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to 'take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it'"(n.72-73).

An interesting question arises when we consider that the law does not require a person to have an abortion; how, then, do Christians "not obey" the laws permitting abortion? Essentially, this consists in not acquiescing in or accommodating ourselves to such laws. In other words, we are not to change our behavior in any way out of respect for such laws, or cooperate with the evil that such laws allow. We are to have no respect for such laws, because ultimately, they are no laws at all.

One way this is manifested is in the refusal of service personnel to perform any services for abortion facilities. [See Fr. Frank Pavone's column on Conscientious Objection].

Discussion Questions

How do we "acquiesce" in laws that allow abortion, when they don't require us to have abortions?

What are ways that we can "work peacefully and tirelessly to oppose and change" unjust laws?

Why do you think many Christians do not vote? How can we encourage them to do so?

A homily by Fr. Frank Pavone on "Conscientious Objection" to laws permitting abortion.

Reflection

Some people think that elections are contests between candidates. They're not. They are contests between two or more teams. The people of this nation have to decide what team they are going to be on in each election in which they are eligible to vote. It is the team better organized, more active, larger and more well prepared whose candidate wins. The team wins that gets more people actually out to vote.

There are things that the Church can do to call Christians, to call all citizens to their political responsibility. One of those things is to get them to register to vote. Some churches do voter registration campaigns. A non-partisan voter registration effort is perfectly legal for a Church to conduct. [For details, see www.priestsforlife.org/vote.]

You can also get your fellow citizens to register to vote through your groups, your organizations, your meetings, your bible studies, your prayer groups. It is time now in the meetings of those groups between now and whatever the deadline for registration may be in your state that you use those meetings as an opportunity to get people to register to vote.

Some people say, "Well I only have one vote." Of course we do. You can only cast one vote but you can influence thousands of votes.

One way to do this is to inform your fellow citizens about the positions of the candidates on the issues. One of the resources provided for this purpose, in regard to the presidential race, is a website called votinginfo.org. Votinginfo.org is a c-3 friendly website that will allow people to simply inform themselves on the positions of candidates. There are many other resources on the Internet as well regarding where the candidates stand (see www.priestsforlife.org/elections).

It is critical for people to realize that it is not morally responsible to go into the voting booth and just vote according to the letter after the name. You have to look at the name itself, at what that person stands for. Some people are in "automatic pilot" mode. "Oh my parents, my grandparents, we always voted for this political party." There is nothing wrong with belonging to a political party. There is nothing wrong with being loyal to a political party. But there is something very wrong when our loyalty to a political party is greater than our loyalty to God and to basic moral principles.

Every vote does count!

The bishops' assertion that "Every vote counts" is verified by many historical examples of close elections. In fact, entire elections are often swayed by numbers smaller than the active members of a single parish.

It would be hard to forget the lesson of the Presidential Election of the year 2000, won by a mere 537 votes in the state of Florida. In that same race, the margin of victory in New Mexico was 366 votes, in Iowa was 4144 votes, in Wisconsin was 5708 votes, in Oregon was 6765 votes, and in New Hampshire was 7211 votes.

In 2002, some of the close races were as follows:

Colorado District 7 - Republican Beauprez defeated Democrat Feeley by 121 votes.

South Dakota Senate - Democrat Tim Johnson defeated Republican John Thune by 524 votes

Utah District 2 - Democrat Jim Matheson defeated Republican John Swallow by 1641 votes.

And a recent mayoral race in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin was won by a single vote!

 

Discussion Questions

What are some examples of how campaign rhetoric can be misleading, and therefore needs to be analyzed critically?

Why is mere party affiliation not enough to justify one's choice in voting?

What are some examples of "self-interest" as a motivation in voting? Why are such reasons not enough in choosing a candidate? What are the alternative motives?

Fr. Frank Pavone's homily on "Political Loyalties." For a printed transcript, click here.

Fr. Frank Pavone'ss address to the National Right to Life Convention on July 2, 2004. For a printed transcript, click here.

Discussion Questions

Who has the primary responsibility for educating a child?

Does the family have a political role beyond that of forming a strong family?

Reflection

There is such a thing as authentic, Christian, pro-life feminism. Unfortunately, the pro-abortion movement has hijacked the "feminist" movement, but it was not that way in the beginning. Those who established the women's rights movement in America opposed abortion. Susan B. Anthony called it "child-murder," and Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, "When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit."

Authentic feminism is pro-life, because it is based on equality. It recognizes the real difference between the two sides of the abortion debate. The difference is not that we love the baby and abortion supporters love the woman. The real difference is that they think you can separate the two and we say you cannot. The destiny of mother and child are inextricably linked. You cannot hurt one without hurting the other, and you cannot love one without loving the other. To be pro-life is to be pro-woman.

Feminism also listens to the voices of women. It hears their voice of despair when nobody is willing to help in a crisis pregnancy, and seeks to make room for both mother and child. It also hears their voice of pain when, having gone through the ordeal of abortion, they declare that it was a dead end, and reach out for someone who can restore their hope and peace. Numerous programs of post-abortion healing are serving women every day. The Silent No More Awareness Campaign helps people to find these programs, and also provides opportunities for women to share with the rest of society their pain and sorrow over the loss of their child. The Campaign has organized women to stand publicly in prayer holding signs that say "I Regret My Abortion," and to tell the story of how they were exploited. National celebrities such as Jennifer O'Neill, Melba Moore, and Dr. Alveda King -- all of whom have had abortions -- have joined the Campaign.

The bishops indicate that women can play a unique role in helping elected officials appreciate the sanctity of life. A perfect example is how one of the Silent No More Awareness gatherings at the Supreme Court impacted Democratic (and formerly pro-abortion) Senator Zell Miller. He writes in his book A National Party No More, "The most poignant sight for me at this year's annual pro-life march and demonstration in Washington, D.C., was the large number of women holding signs saying they regretted their abortions" (p.106).

Discussion Questions

Describe the relationship between "authentic feminism" and "equality."

How can women share their unique perspectives with candidates and public officials?

Talk by Fr. Frank Pavone on Church teaching and authentic feminism.

Reflection

The promise of persecution

When the infant Jesus was presented in the Temple by Mary and Joseph, the prophet Simeon declared to them, "This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign of contradiction" (Luke 2:34). Jesus himself declared that he had not come to bring peace, but division (Matthew 10:34). This is the essential division between truth and falsehood, grace and sin, life and death. The dynamic at work here is explained in John's Gospel: "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (Jn. 3:19-20).

Because of this, Jesus promised that his followers in every age would be hated. "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me" (Jn. 15:18-21).

The Beatitudes proclaim that we are blessed when we are persecuted. We pray to "be made worthy of the promises of Christ," but we should never forget that persecution is one of those promises.

St. Paul certainly learned that lesson. His ministerial activity as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles involved a message that led many of his listeners to conspire to kill him in Damascus, forced him to flee Jerusalem, ran him out of Antioch, threatened his life in Iconima, stoned him and left him for dead in Lystra, attacked and beat him in Macedonia, stormed his residence in Thessolonica, drove him from Berea, abused him in Corinth, assaulted and arrested him in Crispus, silenced him with threats of mob violence in Ephesus and incited two riots in which he was almost killed in Jerusalem, the city in which the Book of Acts ends with a description of plot to assassinate him.

And every social reformer in history was hated. Popularity and success are two different things, and when we undertake pro-life activity, we cannot expect to have both at the same time.

Love has a content

It is important to note here that the bishops mention various types of pro-life activity, and then state that all of these different works "embody our Lord's command to love one another." "Love" encompasses all the different versions of pro-life activity, not just the activities that provide the alternatives to abortion or the post-abortion healing. Some call these the "compassion arm" of the pro-life movement. But that should not lead us to think that those who lobby, or run political campaigns, or stand in protest at abortion facilities, have less love or compassion. When Martin Luther King, Jr. led protest marches against segregation and was dragged away under arrest, he was living out the love and compassion he had for his people who were being oppressed. When people stand up for unborn children in legislatures, before podiums, and on marches through the streets of our cities, they are also living out the same spirit of love that fills the pregnancy centers and the post-abortion healing services.

Discussion Questions

Give some examples of the kind of pro-life activities the bishops praise in this paragraph. What are the common threads between these activities, and what are the distinctions?

Give some examples of social reformers who were persecuted. Why can we recognize them as heroes today, when the people of their own time did not?

Reflection

Democracy demands virtue. People cannot govern themselves if they do not know the difference between right and wrong. This theme, which we have encountered before, is expressed in a speech given by Congressman Henry Hyde called "Virtue in Democracy" in which he said the following:

"To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men deriving their just power from the consent of the governed." What a revolutionary thought! Power comes from the creator to the people and is then consigned temporarily to the rulers of the people, not directly to the rulers, as had been the practice and the belief for so many centuries. And so we learn from studying our Founding Fathers that democracy is more than a process. It is more than establishing a set of rules as to how we shall litigate, how we shall sue each other, but a democracy, envisioned by our Founding Fathers, that assigns value, intrinsic value, to every human being because each human being is made in the image and likeness of God, and we are endowed by our creator with inalienable rights, the right to life, the right to liberty, the right to pursue happiness.

"And so, as we study the beginnings of our nation, we understand that to have a virtuous kingdom it is enough perhaps to have a virtuous king, but you cannot have a successful democracy without a virtuous people. And that is where today’s great problem comes forward." (Heritage Lecture #673, July 19, 2000))

Discussion Questions

What affects "a people's capacity to govern themselves"?

How is "virtue" related to "democracy?"

Reflection

The image of the two roads, one leading to life and the other to death, is rooted in the book of Deuteronomy, and is later reflected in one of the earliest First Century Christian writings, the Didache (or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles). That document begins with the words, "There are two ways, one of life and one of death; and between the two ways there is a great difference." In one of the earliest Christian references to abortion, the document says, "Do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant."

The Christian way, the way of the Church, has always been the way of freedom and life. It is the way that has in fact established the foundation of freedom for America and for the world. M. Stanton Evans establishes this point in his book The Theme is Freedom. He explains, "In the conventional history lesson, paganism is identified with the cause of liberty, Christianity with oppression." But in truth the reverse is true. Evans continues, "One Pythagorean writer expressed it: 'The monarch has an irrepressible authority (and is therefore not limited by consent); he is a living law; he is like a god among men'" (p.132, 141). The American vision was completely different, however, declaring that governments "deriv[e] their just powers from the consent of the governed" (Declaration of Independence). The dignity of the individual, created by God and given unalienable rights from Him, is a Biblical and Christian truth, not a pagan one.

Can one be a good Christian and a good American? Upon careful study, we discover that the match is much closer than anyone thought. Indeed, the Church from the beginning has nourished the very concept of "good American". With the publication of Living the Gospel of Life, that process, by which yet another generation of Americans is nourished, continues.

Discussion Questions

In the light of this paragraph, evaluate the accusation that some make that the Church is "anti-choice."

What are some of the ways that we can "choose life" each and every day?


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