The right to life: authentic Catholic social teaching

archbishophebdaofficialportraitStrange things happen in election years. That was clear to me last Monday morning as I opened the newspaper to a full-page ad from an organization called “Catholics for Choice” referring to “Abortion in Good Faith” and misrepresenting Catholic social teaching by claiming that “public funding for abortion is a Catholic social justice value.” This ad, with slight regional variations, appeared in newspapers across the country, and represented the latest in a series of public relations efforts by this organization to promote a pro-abortion agenda by attempting to counter the Church’s consistent and convincing proclamation of the Gospel of life.

You may remember Catholics for Choice from their failed efforts, for example, to challenge the Holy See’s permanent observer status at the United Nations.  It’s the same group that put St. John Paul II at the top of its “enemies list” at the time of the U.N. Cairo Conference. Its long-time president, Frances Kissling, would go so far as to express her longing at times “for the destruction of the Catholic Church,” which she saw as a “fatally flawed” institution — quite a contrast from our Catholic understanding of the Church as the body of Christ. As an organization, there’s nothing Catholic about “Catholics for Choice.”

Unable to muffle the Church’s opposition to the culture of death, its most recent ad campaign seems to be an attempt to sow seeds of confusion concerning authentic Church teaching as we once again approach election time.

Judging from the phone calls and email messages that we received this week, however, the Catholic faithful of this archdiocese are too well-educated in the faith to be so easily misled. They know that Christ, in founding the Church upon the apostles, assured that through them and their successors she would always be blessed with authentic teachers endowed with his authority who, as taught at the Second Vatican Council, would “preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice” (Lumen Gentium 25). They also know that those authentic teachers have consistently taught that the value of human life needs to be respected and protected from conception to natural death.

In his most recent encyclical, “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis, reiterating the teaching of his predecessors, could not be any clearer: “So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life.” Earlier this year, he called on all Christians to “a renewed esteem of the human person and a more adequate care of life, from conception to natural death.” That, brothers and sisters, is authentic Catholic social teaching.

I am not naïve enough to think that there are not individual Catholics who struggle with different aspects of Catholic teaching, even here in our local Church. I bristle as you do whenever I hear a politician begin a sentence with “I’m a devout Catholic, but … .” Living in a throwaway culture that at times values things more than people and convenience even more than life, it is all too easy to forget that the right to life is the first human right. As men and women of faith who have taken to heart the theme of this jubilee year, “Merciful like the Father,” our hearts have to move with compassion not only for new parents anxiously wondering how a child is going to fit into their lives, but also for their unborn children.

Indeed, in “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis noted that we need to have a special compassion for the unborn: “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this … . Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question … . It’s not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life … .”

I am very proud that our Catholic community is so obviously committed to providing concrete support to new parents and families. I know that so many of you are supporting the many pregnancy resource centers in this region that offer practical assistance to pregnant women in need. I know as well the wonderful programs that are offered locally to enable young moms to be great parents, even when they are facing that responsibility alone or need to finish their education. I know the phenomenal work that Catholic Charities is doing to keep struggling families together. It is a blessing to be part of a Church that lives what it believes about the dignity of human life.

It seems to me that the recent ad from Catholics for Choice presents us as a local Church with a wonderful teachable moment. I hope that the priests and faithful of this archdiocese, who have been relentless in their defense of human life, will join me in looking for opportunities to lovingly and patiently bring the light of authentic Catholic social teaching into this discussion in the days and weeks ahead. May the Lord bring forth our efforts to preach his Gospel of life.

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