by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Each year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) designates the month of October as Respect Life Month to invite Catholics to ponder the dignity of each and every human person.
Each celebration of the Eucharist is a poignant reminder of the value of human life, because during each Mass we touch anew the great miracle of God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ. The Second Person of the Triune God, the Son of God, became flesh, and in so doing elevated the dignity of the human person and the human body.
Jesus gave his own life and endured the terrible indignity and excruciating pain of death by crucifixion so that you and I would know the depth of God’s love for us and share in eternal life.
Our Christian faith reveals that each and every human life is of such worth that God died for us. This is indeed a message of the greatest good news. It is the heart of what Pope John Paul II called the “Gospel of Life.”
This annual Respect Life celebration also serves to be a sober reminder of the tragic disrespect and disregard for human life in our own nation.
Sadly, many in our American society have rejected the Gospel of Life to embrace what St. John Paul termed a “culture of death.” This culture of death does not accept the innate value of each and every human life — no matter how small, no matter how sick or weak, no matter how poor, no matter how aged. In contrast, the culture of death views human life as only valuable if it is productive, wanted and useful.
There are many manifestations of the prevalence of the culture of death in our society. For example, racism rejects the innate dignity of every human being and denies that every member of the human family is created in the divine image.
Violence by police against innocent citizens, violence by angry mobs against law enforcement officers and violent riots placing lives at risk and harming innocent business owners are all symptoms of a culture of death. Wherever human life is disrespected or denigrated, the culture of death is present.
However, the issue of abortion demands special attention as we strive to combat a culture of death and build a culture of life.
In the “Gospel of Life,” John Paul articulated the reasons why the defense of the unborn child has special significance in our efforts to foster a culture of life: 1) abortion attacks life when it is most vulnerable and defenseless; 2) abortion takes place in and with the complicity of the family, desecrating what should be the sanctuary of life and destroying the most fundamental of all human bonds — the bond between parent and child; 3) abortion is not recognized as an attack on human life, but rather is celebrated as a right.
In the cover letter for the document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the bishops of the United States identified the protection of the unborn as the preeminent issue for Catholics for the reasons cited by St. John Paul and because of the sheer number of human lives destroyed. Abortion kills nearly one million American babies each year, and since its legalization in 1973, has resulted in the deaths of more than 60 million of our children.
Some supporters for legalized abortion will argue that there have always been abortions.
There were illegal abortions in the United States before the 1973 Supreme Court decisions. Abortions will happen, whether they are legal or not. Thus, it is pointless to pass legislation prohibiting or even limiting abortions.
The same rationale could be applied to murder, rape, discrimination and stealing. The fact that legislation makes a particular action illegal is no guarantee that everyone will abide by the law.
Legislators enact laws to protect the fundamental rights of individuals, not because every citizen will honor them. The real question must be: Is the unborn child in the womb of her mother a human being?
In a conversation last January with the bishops from Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska, Pope Francis shared two questions which he believes help clarify a proper ethical understanding of abortion: 1) Is it ever right to kill a child to solve a problem?; 2) Is it ever right to hire someone to kill a child to solve a problem? The answers to the Holy Father’s questions properly frame what is morally at stake with each and every abortion.
Moreover, our current laws not only permit abortion, but also promote and teach abortion. Our laws do not permit the killing of innocent persons in any other circumstance.
The fact that abortion is legal misleads some young people to conclude that abortion must not really destroy an innocent human life, because our laws would never permit such a crime.
For every aborted child, there is a mother and a father. Based on my ministry to those experiencing grief, there is no greater sorrow than a parent’s mourning the death of a child.
The trauma of this painful grief is compounded when a mother must acknowledge that she chose the death of her child or a father must admit he pressured his girl-friend to abort their child. Abortion not only kills a child, but it forever scars a mother and a father and many others who help facilitate or perform the abortion.
In our January meeting with Pope Francis, I shared with him that some had criticized the U.S. bishops for our cover letter to “Faithful Citizenship.” They even said we were not “Pope Francis bishops.” He asked: “Why?” I responded because we identified abortion as the preeminent issue. His immediate response was: “Of course it is preeminent. If you do not have the right to life, then no other rights matter.” The Holy Father reminded us that abortion is not primarily a religious issue, but it is a human rights issue.
In a little under a month, our nation will hold a very important election. We have a responsibility as Catholics, not just to vote but to be well- informed voters, who know the moral principles of our Catholic faith and know the positions of candidates for office.
The nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court makes clear that elections have consequences.
The president, along with members of the U.S. Senate, determine who serves on our nation’s highest court. In Kansas, the “Value Them Both” amendment is necessary to correct the grave error of the Kansas Supreme Court claiming to have discovered a right to abortion in the Kansas Constitution.
The only remedy for this error is a state constitutional amendment. For Kansans to be able to vote on such an amendment, we need super-majorities in both the House and Senate of the Kansas Legislature. Again, elections have consequences.
In our almost 250-year history, the Catholic Church has never endorsed a political party or candidate. In so doing, the church’s motive is not the protection of our tax exempt status because this has been our practice long before there was an income tax or IRS.
In a democratic republic, the American bishops have always believed the proper role of the church is to form the consciences of Catholics with the moral principles and priorities of our faith and then respect the ability of the laity to be able to apply those principles when casting their votes.
We are not single-issue voters but nor do we think every issue is morally equivalent. We are concerned about the care for the poor, the welcoming of refugees and immigrants, the protection of religious liberty and conscience rights, the care of creation, access to health care, and combating the Covid-19 virus.
However, good Catholics can and do disagree how we best address these and many other important public policy issues. In good conscience, Catholics can never support public policies that permit and promote the killing of innocent children.
There are no perfect candidates. Before casting your ballot, I encourage you to invite the Holy Spirit to guide the choices you make as a voter. May we choose wisely those we empower to lead us!