Faithful Citizenship Revisited
Over the last 30 years or more there has been a great upheaval in the life of our society. Consensus about fundamental moral issues has broken down, for example, with regard to the protection of unborn life and the very definition of marriage and family.
In the Catholic Church this tidal wave of cultural and social change has given rise to a situation in which some people claim to be Roman Catholic and yet dissent from fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church. Sometimes they do this in a public manner that is scandalous, sometimes out of ignorance of what their own church believes and teaches, and other times not.
Recently, in anticipation of the November elections, we have witnessed the spectacle of certain politicians who say they are Catholic yet publicly misrepresent the history and content of church teaching. Our U.S. Bishops’ Conference, as well as several bishops individually, were compelled to respond to this intrusion of politicians into the teaching office of the church.
Lest anyone be misled, it bears repeating that “since the first century the church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.” (Catechism, no. 2271) The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council defined abortion, together with infanticide, as an “unspeakable crime.” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 51) And, “while in past centuries biological knowledge was often inaccurate, modern science leaves no excuse for anyone to deny the humanity of an unborn child. Protection of innocent human life is not an imposition of personal religious conviction but a demand of justice.” (USCCB, 9/9/08)
As moral teachers and leaders, what we bishops are calling for is a political engagement by the Catholic people “shaped by the moral convictions of well formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable.”
I encourage everyone to consult the bishops’ teaching document Faithful Citizenship on the diocesan or USCCB Web sites. It calls attention to seven key themes of moral concern to the electorate. Not surprisingly, first and fundamental to everything else is the right to life and the dignity of the human person; then the call that everyone has to family, community and participation; the morality of both rights and responsibilities; an option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity and rights of workers; human, global solidarity; and caring for God’s creation.
Human beings are often blinded, or choose to be blind, to the law that is written in their hearts by God (cf. Rom 2:12-16), and to His revelation. For example, one has only to look at history to see the tragedy and the scars left by racism, which, especially but not exclusively during the time of legal slavery, was thought to be morally justifiable by many in our country, and even in American law. The fact that so many people thought that racism was morally acceptable or tolerable did not change the fact that it is an intrinsic evil, that is, something that no circumstance, purpose or law can ever justify.
Just as through much of American history upright consciences faced situations of moral conflict in the political sphere regarding the intrinsic evil of racism, so now people face a host of intrinsic evils in the form of direct abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, the destruction of human embryos, human cloning and so-called same-sex “marriage.”
These issues, like racism in its heyday, constitute the moral challenges of our day because they are intrinsic evils that can never be justified under any circumstances, and they threaten the very foundations on which every human community is founded. The application of moral norms to economic policy, war, health care, immigration and the use of capital punishment, by contrast, is subject to a legitimate diversity of opinion among people of good will.
The question arises on the part of a believing and practicing Catholic, how can I, by my participation in political life, best uphold fundamental moral truths of right and wrong, justice and injustice. How can I ensure the inviolable right to life while not neglecting other issues? How can I uphold and protect marriage and family as the God-given foundation of society while doing justice to other serious concerns?
In human history, rarely, if ever, does one candidate or party embody all that is morally good or all that is morally evil with respect to a given situation.