September 23, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Respecting human life: the way to peace

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

In the weeks leading up to Election Day 2016, I am offering some reflections on the issues that faithful citizens must consider as we exercise our duty to vote at the local, state and federal levels.

As I noted last week, no candidate for political office perfectly represents the positions of the Catholic Church. No political party has written a platform that is in complete agreement with our perspective on morality and social justice.

And yet, we are strongly urged to get involved, to exercise our God-given right (and responsibility) to select leaders and affirm policies that are morally responsible and promote the common good.

Two of the Church’s teachings are especially important to consider as we prepare to vote on Election Day.

The first is our absolute belief in the sanctity of all human life. The second is our opposition to all forms of unjust aggression against individuals and groups regardless of their race, color, religion, sexual orientation, economic, political or social status.

All life is sacred. This includes in a special way the most vulnerable members of the human family—children, the elderly and infirm, and all those who have no means of defending themselves, especially the unborn. Candidates and party platforms that support abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, capital punishment and any other legal or state-supported assault against the dignity of human life must be held accountable for their anti-life positions.

Church teaching also urges us to avoid war and work for peace—here at home and throughout the world. As the

U.S. bishops write in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” “Nations should protect the dignity of the human person and the right to life by finding more effective ways to prevent conflicts, to resolve them by peaceful means, and to promote reconstruction and reconciliation in the wake of conflicts” (#68).

The Church acknowledges that “nations have a right and obligation to defend human life and the common good against terrorism, aggression, and similar threats, such as the targeting of persons for persecution because of their religion,” but “the use of torture must be rejected as fundamentally incompatible with the dignity of the human person and ultimately counterproductive in the effort to combat terrorism” (#68).

The common denominator here is the sanctity of all human life. So, in our political decision-making it’s important to ask the question: Which candidates and political parties are truly for life and for peace in the deepest and most profound meaning of these terms? Other issues must also be included in this assessment: Where do the candidates and political parties stand in their concern for the poor, for families, for immigrants and refugees, for the balance of trade and international collaboration?

Defending human life requires us to promote the common good, to build up rather than tear down social structures that support individuals, families and communities. And as Pope Francis reminds us, we should be “building bridges” that allow for the safe, legal and orderly migration of peoples from one homeland to another.

As I noted last week, the broad spectrum of grave moral issues that must be considered as we prepare to vote places Catholics who are also faithful U.S. citizens in a tough spot. The Church’s teaching is clear: A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity. (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” #34.)

All life is sacred, and the only way to defend life and, at the same time, achieve lasting peace is to insist that our leaders be consistent (and accountable) for positions and policies that are both for life and for peace.

The way to peace is simple, but it is not easy. It requires letting go of prejudice, and it requires that we forgive (and forget) past hurts. Only by respecting the human dignity of our sisters and brothers close to home and in foreign lands, can we build a just and lasting peace.

On Election Day, let’s make choices that respect human life and promote peace. And let’s pray for an end to all violence in our hearts, our homes and throughout the whole world. †

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