Before the Cross | Defending human life, our primary duty as faithful citizens

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column


The defense of human life -- from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death -- is our primary duty as faithful citizens. All human life is sacred because every human being, without exception, is made in the image and likeness of God.

At all times, but especially during national elections, we bishops call out for the defense of those who are most vulnerable: the unborn, the disabled, the elderly and those who for whatever reasons find themselves on the margins of human society. A healthy society defends life, all life, and establishes laws and customs that build up the human family while vigorously opposing all threats against human life and dignity.

I have said many times that I consider legalized abortion to be the most serious threat to the defense of human dignity that our nation faces. There are many vitally important life issues that Christians and all people of good will must address, but unless we change our minds and hearts, our laws and practices, on the fundamental right to life of all unborn children, we will never be a healthy society. In the words of Blessed John Paul II, we will be a "culture of death" and not a "culture of life."

This makes opposition to abortion the pre-eminent political issue of this and every election. We must defend human life whenever and wherever it is threatened. And we must end abortion now!

I am constantly amazed at the number of people who are passionate about life issues and human rights but who shy away from opposing (or openly support) laws that permit, or even encourage, abortion. Our Church teaches a consistent ethic of the dignity of human life. That does not mean that all life issues are the same (or equally important), but it does mean that we are not free to "pick and choose" which life issues we can either support or ignore.

All human life is sacred because every human being, without exception, is made in the image and likeness of God. As we bishops teach in our pastoral reflection, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," "direct attacks on innocent human life are never morally acceptable." In our society today, human life is threatened by abortion, euthanasia, human cloning and the destruction of human embryos for research. These are intrinsic evils that must always be opposed. As Catholics, and as faithful citizens of the United States of America and of the world community, we also vigorously oppose genocide, torture, unjust war, and the use of the death penalty. We also pray for, and pursue, peace as we work to overcome poverty, racism and every condition that demeans human life. It is imperative that we form our consciences on these issues in order to exercise our moral responsibilities as citizens.

According to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, whose inaugural session was held 50 years ago next month, conscience "spurs us to love good and avoid evil." Through a properly formed conscience "human persons recognize the will of God and can freely respond in keeping with their essential dignity. It is by relying on a correct conscience that we Christians unite most effectively with all men in a common search for truth and for solutions to problems of human life. It is according to the honest promptings of conscience that all will be judged" ("Gaudium et Spes," #14).

I urge all Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Louis to join with people of good will throughout our state and our nation in examining their consciences on fundamental human life issues. The weakest and most vulnerable members of our society need our help. They need us to elect legislators, judges and other government officials at the local, state and federal levels who are proactive and unambiguous in their defense of all human life.

Defending human life is our primary responsibility as faithful citizens. It is not enough to "blame the politicians." If our society promotes a culture of death rather than a culture of life, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

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