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Priests for Life Newsletter

Volume 10, Number 4
July - August 2000



The Most Marginalized Member of the Political Community

Educational tools for Election Season

Suggested Bulletin Inserts 

The Elections and the Consistent Ethic

Pastors: Commission Your Respect Life Group!

Prayer Intentions



The Most Marginalized Member of the Political Community

"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. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…" The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

"You have rights antecedent to all earthy governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe." - John Adams, Second President of the United States

"Every human person - no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society - is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival - yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn." - Pope     John Paul II at the Detroit Airport on 19 September, 1987

"I have to govern all the people," say some pro-choice politicians.

"Yes," we respond, "including the unborn!"

There is no issue more basic to the political process than the question of who belongs to the political community in the first place.


Educational tools for Election Season

Priests for Life (888-PFL-3448) is happy to offer the following educational tools for you and your parish:

a) Bulletin inserts, camera-ready, and drawing on the US Bishops' document Living the Gospel of Life, as well as the document Faithful Citizenship, by the Administrative Board of the USCC. Some of these inserts are featured in this newsletter.

b) The full text of the documents Living the Gospel of Life and Faithful Citizenship.

c) Our own brochure Caesar Must Obey God, and our audio tapes, "Does the Church Have a Political Role?" and "Challenging Government Leaders to Defend Life."

d) A guided study outline for this and related material on our website, go to the Political Responsibility page.


Suggested Bulletin Inserts 

Note: These are some of a series of inserts that you can obtain camera-ready from Priests for Life at 888-PFL-3448.

"Every human person is created in the image and likeness of God. The conviction that human life is sacred and that each person has inherent dignity that must be respected in society lies at the heart of Catholic social teaching. Calls to advance human rights are illusions if the right to life itself is subject to attack. We believe that every human life is sacred from conception to natural death; that people are more important than things; and that the measure of every institution is whether or not it enhances the life and dignity of the human person" (Administrative Board, US Bishops, Faithful Citizenship, 1999, p.13).

"For Catholics, public virtue is as important as private virtue in building up the common good. In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral obligation. Every believer is called to faithful citizenship, to become an informed, active, and responsible participant in the political process" (Administrative Board, US Bishops, Faithful Citizenship, 1999, p.9).

"Catholics are called to be a community of conscience within the larger society and to test public life by the moral wisdom anchored in Scripture and consistent with the best of our nation's founding ideals. Our moral framework does not easily fit the categories of right or left, Democrat or Republican. Our responsibility is to measure every party and platform by how its agenda touches human life and dignity" (Administrative Board, US Bishops, Faithful Citizenship, 1999, p.8).

"Sometimes it seems few candidates and no party fully reflect our values. But now is not a time for retreat. The new millennium should be an opportunity for renewed participation. We must challenge all parties and every candidate to defend human life and dignity, to pursue greater justice and peace, to uphold family life, and to advance the common good" (Administrative Board, US Bishops, Faithful Citizenship, 1999, p.5).

"No appeal to policy, procedure, majority will or pluralism ever excuses a public official from defending life to the greatest extent possible. As is true of leaders in all walks of life, no political leader can evade accountability for his or her exercise of power (Evangelium Vitae, 73-4). Those who justify their inaction on the grounds that abortion is the law of the land need to recognize that there is a higher law, the law of God. No human law can validly contradict the Commandment: 'Thou shalt not kill'" (US Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life, 1998, n. 32).

"The Gospel of Life must be proclaimed, and human life defended, in all places and all times. The arena for moral responsibility includes not only the halls of government, but the voting booth as well. Laws that permit abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are profoundly unjust, and we should work peacefully and tirelessly to oppose and change them. Because they are unjust they cannot bind citizens in conscience, be supported, acquiesced in, or recognized as valid" (US Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life, 1998, n. 33).

"We encourage all citizens, particularly Catholics, to embrace their citizenship not merely as a duty and privilege, but as an opportunity meaningfully to participate in building the culture of life. Every voice matters in the public forum. Every vote counts. Every act of responsible citizenship is an exercise of significant individual power. We must exercise that power in ways that defend human life, especially those of God's children who are unborn, disabled or otherwise vulnerable" (US Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life, 1998, n. 34).

"Catholics who are privileged to serve in public leadership positions have an obligation to place their faith at the heart of their public service, particularly on issues regarding the sanctity and dignity of human life. Thomas More, the former chancellor of England who preferred to give his life rather than betray his Catholic convictions, went to his execution with the words, 'I die the king's good servant, but God's first'" (US Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life, 1998, n. 31).

"In an age of artifice, many voters are hungry for substance. They admire and support political figures who speak out sincerely for their moral convictions. For our part we commend Catholic and other public officials who, with courage and determination, use their positions of leadership to promote respect for all human life" (US Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life, 1998, n. 31).

"We urge those Catholic officials who choose to depart from Church teaching on the inviolability of human life in their public life to consider the consequences for their own spiritual well being, as well as the scandal they risk by leading others into serious sin. We call on them to reflect on the grave contradiction of assuming public roles and presenting themselves as credible Catholics when their actions on fundamental issues of human life are not in agreement with Church teaching. No public official, especially one claiming to be a faithful and serious Catholic, can responsibly advocate for or actively support direct attacks on innocent human life" (US Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life, 1998, n. 32).



The Elections and the Consistent Ethic

The Church embraces a consistent ethic of life. In their 1999 statement "Faithful Citizenship," the Administrative Committee of the USCC stated, "We are convinced that a consistent ethic of life should be the moral framework from which to address all issues in the political arena." The consistent ethic acknowledges that human dignity is threatened by many things in our society, and that while individual issues are unique, they are interrelated to the point where progress on one front affects progress on all fronts. The statement "Faithful Citizenship" outlines the moral framework of the Church's approach to society, and some of the key questions that need to be asked as we face another election.

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

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

To ignore the priority attention that the problems of abortion and euthanasia demand is to misunderstand both the consistent ethic and the nature of the threats that these evils pose. To again quote Cardinal Bernardin, "A consistent ethic of life does not equate the problem of taking life (e.g., through abortion and in war) with the problem of promoting human dignity (through humane programs of nutrition, health care, and housing). But a consistent ethic identifies both the protection of life and its promotion as moral questions"(Wade lecture, as above). "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).

Pastors: Commission Your Respect Life Group!

According to a recent survey, about half of US Catholic parishes have a formal committee which deals in some way with the abortion issue. Priests for Life encourages every parish to form such a committee, and also suggests that the members of such committees be given a special commissioning at a liturgy in the Fall, perhaps on Respect Life Sunday. Such a "commissioning" is an acknowledgment that the mission to defend life is an integral part of the overall mission of the Church. Priests for Life provides a suggested set of commissioning prayers which can be used in such a liturgy.


Prayer Intentions

You are encouraged to remember the following intentions as you pray the Liturgy of the Hours:

July intention: That Jubilee Year celebrations may lead many nations to declare liberty and equality for the unborn.

August intention: That the world's youth carry the pro-life message vigorously through this New Millennium.

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Priests for Life
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