Living the Gospel of Life

By Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza

It should be no surprise that legalizing abortion on demand has led to other immoral aberrations, which seriously offend human dignity. Abortion strikes at the root of human life. Once this is considered an acceptable moral choice, other intrusions into the moral process of human conception, such as human cloning and genetic manipulation for sex selection, are viewed as scientific progress, rather than unwise and immoral human interference into the natural processes of human generation determined by nature's God.

The tampering with human life at its beginning has set the state for the public acceptance of assisted suicide. Recent polls in Michigan, where this is on the ballot for November, show that voters are equally divided. A few years ago, assisted suicide would have been resoundingly rejected by the public. The unfortunate change is not due to a better-informed public, but to a public whose conscience has been dulled and deformed by decades of legal abortions which brutally affront nascent human life.

How else can the acceptance of near infanticide involved in partial birth abortion be explained? How can a civilized nation legalize the killing of infants, except that its national conscience has been corrupted by abortion? Do not our laws condemn the intentional killing or collusion in killing of any innocent human life? Today no self-respecting or reputable genetics scholar would deny that human life begins at conception. Even hardcore abortionists will not deny this any longer. Why, then, do legislators continue to allow the legal killing of innocent human life?

As you know, now the argument has shifted to "choice" and "reproductive rights." The moral right to choose is highly valued, as it should be in a nation which has enshrined "freedom" and "liberty" in its founding documents. The right to choose is moral only when one chooses what is morally good and beneficial to one's self and to others. The right to choose is never moral when it harms one's self or others. Certainly one never has the right to choose when it involves the killing of innocent life. No matter how one may define abortion, it always involves killing a human life.

The abortion lobby has made "choice" into a right to kill innocent life. No civilization can endure based on a right to kill innocent human life. Sad to say, many people who oppose abortion are deluded by abortion propaganda, and while they believe that abortion is immoral, they support the right of others to choose abortion. It sounds like good American tolerance. They say that they do not want to force their opinions or beliefs on others. Yet these same people would not tolerate other citizens supporting segregation, racism or sexism. It seems that the right to life for innocent nascent human life is judged by a different standard. Is this typical American fairness?

The Gospel of Life, as proclaimed by Pope John Paul II, embraces all the pro-life issues. It includes not only an unborn baby's right to be born, but also the human right to sufficient food, education, health care, and a decent home. These human rights must be championed by legislators and protected by law whenever they are denied or diminished by economic policies or circumstances beyond the control of the poor.

The Gospel of Life condemns capital punishment as an infringement on God's absolute dominion over all human life. Pope John Paul II teaches us that there are practically no circumstances today that would justify capital punishment. Governments at all levels everywhere have the means to protect citizens and society from dangerous criminals by life imprisonment without parole.

Yet it is rare to find any politician, Catholics included, who oppose capital punishment. It is good politics, we are told, to be tough on crime, which usually is a code for supporting capital punishment. Is it not possible to be tough on crime without usurping God's sovereignty over all human life?

Of course it is. I think everyone wants politicians to be tough on crime, but there are effective ways to be tough on crime without capital punishment, and without other policies in our criminal justice system which violate human dignity and human rights. I refer to the policy of incarcerating the mentally retarded, and treating them the same as other prison inmates. The execution of the mentally retarded shames our criminal justice system.

As a people we value our democratic political system. Pope John II has reminded us, however, that "the value of democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes" (The Gospel of Life, 70). He developed this thought further in the Ad Limina talk to the Bishops of Texas last June: "The survival of a particular democracy depends not only on its institutions, but to a greater extent on the spirit which inspires and permeates its procedures for legislating, administering and judging. The future of democracy in fact depends on a culture capable of forming men and women who are prepared to defend certain truths and values."

These truths and values are the pro-life issues, which are the Gospel of Life that every Catholic must proclaim and defend both in private and in the public square.

Editor’s note: The U.S. bishops voted 217-30 on November 18 to approve the document about which this article was written, "Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics." It discusses American attitudes toward abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in relation to church teaching about the sanctity of life at all stages, and to the nation’s founding principles as stated in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston was elected the President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops at their November meeting in Washington, D.C. This article is condensed from the Texas Catholic Herald. 1998, The Texas Catholic Herald Publishing Co., Inc.

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