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«Reverence for Life: Conscience and Faithful Citizenship 1 Reverence for Life: Conscience and Faithful Citizenship Catholic social doctrine is not ...»

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Reverence for Life: Conscience and Faithful Citizenship 1

Reverence for Life:

Conscience and Faithful Citizenship

Catholic social doctrine is not limited to the defense and promotion of

economic and political rights; human life issues such as abortion, euthanasia, the

death penalty, and the violence of war also fall within the scope of social


In the tragic 1973 Roe v. Wade case and in subsequent decisions, the U. S.

Supreme Court has created a legal climate of abortion on demand and thus has denied the right to life of the unborn. Faithful for Life: A Moral Reflection, our 1995 pastoral statement, analyzed the fallout of pervasive ethical relativism and

the ensuing deadly moral blindness generated in the wake of Roe v. Wade:

Since the legal floodgates were opened in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, an abortion mentality has swept across our land and throughout our culture. The language and mindset of abortion --- presented in terms of unlimited choice, privacy, and autonomy --- pervade our entertainment, our news, our public policies, and even our private lives. Wrapped so appealingly in the language of self-determination, cloaked so powerfully in the mantle of federal authority, is it any wonder that the logic of Roe has been extended to apply beyond the unborn? Is it any wonder that it appears so explicitly in our public and private conversations about euthanasia?

With our fellow bishops we continue to voice our opposition to that morally flawed, unjust, and radical judicial fiat that sanctioned abortion on demand.

On the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, we Catholic bishops of Kentucky are issuing a pastoral letter on the fundamental human rights issue of our day --- the right to life of the unborn. Our pastoral concerns will focus on Church teaching on conscience formation and the moral responsibilities of Catholics as citizens.

Reverence for Life: Conscience and Faithful Citizenship 2 The “Resolution on Abortion” issued by our national conference of Catholic bishops in 1989 continues to remind all Catholics of the gravity and urgency of this issue: “At this particular time, abortion has become the fundamental human rights issue.” In the encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“Gospel of Life,” 1995) Pope John Paul II observed that the Church’s Gospel of life “has a profound and pervasive echo in the heart of every person — believer and non-believer alike.” (EV n. 2) In 1998 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published Living the Gospel of Life which applied Church teaching on the sanctity of human life set forth in Evangelium Vitae to the American cultural scene. It clearly points out that our conviction about the sanctity of human life is “not merely Catholic doctrine but part of humanity’s global ethical heritage and our nation’s founding principle.” (LGL n. 24) Opposition to abortion, then, cannot be dismissed as a sectarian Catholic belief but is in fact a moral conviction shared by many of other faiths.

Consistent with our nation’s legal tradition we hold that all human laws must be measured against the natural law engraved in our hearts by the Creator.

Our religious beliefs affirm basic human rights and obligations that are essential to the fabric of our social life. In particular, respect for human life is numbered among those basic values that underpin the very foundation of civilization. What we profess in defense of the sacredness of unborn human life harmonizes with our historic legal tradition founded on the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Abortion on demand does not.

We claim the historical freedom enjoyed by churches to exercise the freedom of expression to teach social doctrine. In the words of the Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 1965), the Church has the duty “to pass moral judgment in those matters which regard public order when the fundamental rights of a person or the salvation of souls require it.” (GS n. 76) Without doubt, religious bodies in this country have significantly served the public good of society in exercising their distinctive role in forming Reverence for Life: Conscience and Faithful Citizenship 3 consciences to pursue matters of social justice. For example, the contributions of religious bodies to the common good are reflected in their involvement in building consensus to reject racism, to overcome poverty, and to subject war to moral scrutiny.

As the Pastoral Constitution confirms, the Catholic moral doctrine at the foundation of Church social teaching is rooted in a single, pivotal truth --- the dignity of the human person.

Our moral tradition teaches that human persons are both sacred and social.

As such, men and women are subjects of universal and inherent rights along with correlative duties. (GS n.12) Men and women are sacred because they are called into life by God and destined for eternal life with God. On the same grounds, they are inherently social since persons can only achieve fulfillment in and through community. Because of this essential sociality that orders society to the good of the person, society, in turn, bears a duty to foster, promote, and to protect human life --- from conception to natural death. (GS n. 12) Church, the Political Order, and the Pursuit of Justice In his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love,” 2006), Pope Benedict XVI identifies the duty of the Church in the political order as “indirect.” Insofar as justice comprises “both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics,” the construction of a just civil society is a charge directly incumbent on government. (DCE n. 28) However, unless political life is anchored in common public goods and moral values, society risks succumbing to a moral blindness “caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests.” According to the Holy Father, faith opens up horizons of truth that transcend the realm of reason and constitutes a purifying force which “liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself.” And, in this context of faith and politics, the faith of the Church exercises an indispensable ecclesial role through the formation of consciences attuned to Reverence for Life: Conscience and Faithful Citizenship 4 blindness. To that end, the Church can make a twofold contribution --- both by means of rational argument and by means of awakening “the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper.” Pope Benedict XVI holds that “[t]he Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible.” Nonetheless, while the Church cannot replace the State, the Church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.” (DCE n.28) In order to sustain a just social order, Deus Caritas Est asserts that “the Church is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and through ethical formation, her own specific contribution towards understanding the requirements of justice and achieving them politically.” Pope Benedict XVI states that “the direct duty to work for a just ordering of society… is proper to the lay faithful.” (DCE n. 29) Political Responsibility and Conscience As we stated in our pastoral Reverence for Life: A Need for “A Heart That Sees” (September 2007), the formation of the consciences of our Catholic people becomes a priority for us in our role as pastoral teachers. In addition, we affirmed the Church’s role “to participate in the public debates about abortion and other threats to human life as correlative to the task to inform consciences and to promote justice.” At the same time we acknowledged that believers are citizens who “share the right --- indeed, the duty --- of all citizens to insist that the laws and policies of the United States be faithful to our founders’ conviction that the foremost ‘unalienable right’ conferred by God our Creator on us is life itself.” (Faithful for Life: A Moral Reflection, 1995) In its synthesis of Church teaching on the nature and duties of conscience, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (2007) applies that tradition to the question of the responsible formation of conscience in reference to the civic duties

of Catholics:

Reverence for Life: Conscience and Faithful Citizenship 5

–  –  –

While personal conscience is “the most secret core and sanctuary of the human person,” it is not a teacher of doctrine. Catholics are responsible for forming their consciences “by attending to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 1758) In proclaiming the Gospel of life, Evangelium Vitae (1995), Pope John Paul II’s signature encyclical on building a culture of life, called for renewed evangelization and catechesis within the Catholic community: “We need to begin with the renewal of a culture of life within Christian communities themselves. Too often it happens that believers, even those who take an active part in the life of the Church, end up by separating their Christian faith from its ethical requirements concerning life, and thus fall into moral subjectivism....” (EV n. 95) The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997) states unambiguously: “The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation.” (CCC n. 2273) On the question of abortion and politics, our “Resolution on Abortion” of

November 1989 challenged Catholics to carry out the implications of their beliefs:

“No Catholic can responsibly take a ‘pro-choice’ stand when the ‘choice’ in question involves the taking of an innocent human life.” Moreover, the recognition of abortion on demand as legal situation that sanctions an intolerable moral evil calls for a response. A moral evil that negates a public good demands the exercise of a moral responsibility to limit and eliminate that evil.

No Catholic voter or politician can hide behind the evasion --- “Personally I oppose abortion, but I cannot impose my religious beliefs (or my morality) on Reverence for Life: Conscience and Faithful Citizenship 6

–  –  –

No one can be exempted from the logical step to translate moral opposition into effective strategies. If there is a lack of public consensus to effect full legal protection, no one can be excused from working toward creating consensus as a first step.

With our fellow bishops, we remind political leaders, especially those publicly identified as Catholic, of “their duty to exercise genuine moral leadership in society.” Moral leadership is not dictated by opinion polls but is exercised “by educating and sensitizing themselves and their constituents to the humanity of the unborn child.” (LGL n. 29) The U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issues guidelines on political responsibility prior to national elections. On November 14, 2007 the Conference published Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States.

In publishing our statement on political responsibility we explain our intent: “In this statement, we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth. We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in the light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.” (FCFC n. 7) Hence, as pastors and teachers of the faith, we do not seek the formation of a religious voting bloc, nor do we desire to instruct Catholics on how to vote Reverence for Life: Conscience and Faithful Citizenship 7 either by endorsing or opposing candidates. We do uphold our right and duty to provide moral analysis of the major issues confronting society.

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