Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
In Support of Life
As pastors and teachers, we proclaim that human life
is a precious gift from God. Each person who receives this gift
has responsibilities toward God, self and others. Society, through
its laws and social institutions, must protect and nurture human
life at every stage of its existence. These beliefs flow from ordinary
reason and from our faith—s constant witness that —life must be
protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception— (Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, #51). This teaching
has been a constant part of the Christian message since the apostolic
A Consistent Ethic of Life
A wide spectrum of issues touches on the protection
of human life and the promotion of human dignity. As Pope John Paul
II has reminded us: —Where life is involved, the service of charity
must be profoundly consistent. It cannot tolerate bias and discrimination,
for human life is sacred and inviolable at every stage and in every
situation; it is an indivisible good— (The Gospel of Life,
Abortion necessarily plays a central role among important
issues involving the dignity of human life. Abortion, the direct
killing of an innocent human being, is always gravely immoral (The
Gospel of Life, #57); its victims are the most vulnerable and
defenseless members of the human family. It is imperative that those
who are called to serve the least among us give urgent attention
and priority to this issue of justice.
A consistent ethic of life does not diminish concern
for abortion and euthanasia. It does not equate all issues touching
on the dignity of human life. It recognizes, instead, the distinctive
character of each issue while giving each its proper place within
a coherent moral vision.
As bishops of the United States we have issued pastoral
letters on war and peace, economic justice and other social questions
affecting the dignity of human life—and we have implemented programs
for advancing the Church—s witness in these areas through parishes,
schools and other Church institutions (e.g., Communities of Salt
and Light ; Sharing Catholic Social Teaching ).
Taken together, these diverse pastoral statements and practical
programs constitute a consistent strategy in support of all human
life in its various stages and circumstances.
To focus on the evil of deliberate killing in abortion
and euthanasia is not to ignore the many other urgent conditions
that demean human dignity and threaten human rights. Opposing abortion
and euthanasia —does not excuse indifference to those who suffer
from poverty, violence and injustice. Any politics of human life
must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital
punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address
issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing
and health care— (Living the Gospel of Life, #23).
We pray that Catholics will be advocates for the weak
and the marginalized in all these areas. —But being —right— in
such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks
on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend
life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to
the —rightness— of positions in other matters affecting the poorest
and least powerful of the human community— (Living the Gospel
of Life, #23).
Pervasive Threats to Human Life
Where does one begin? Today, when human rights are proudly proclaimed
and the value of life itself given public affirmation, the most
basic of all human rights, —the very right to life,— —is being denied
or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of
existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death— (The
Gospel of Life, #18).
Sometimes very difficult or even tragic situations
can be the basis for decisions made against life. These circumstances
can diminish the personal culpability of those who make choices
that in themselves are evil. But as Pope John Paul II points out,
today the problem goes further: —It is a problem which exists at
the cultural, social and political level, where it reveals its more
sinister and disturbing aspect in the tendency, ever more widely
shared, to interpret...crimes against life as legitimate expressions
of individual freedom, to be acknowledged and protected as actual
rights— (The Gospel of Life, #18).
The question —Where does one begin?— is easy to answer:
—We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill,
or collude in the killing, of any innocent human life, no matter
how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem—
(Living the Gospel of Life, #21).
Thus some behaviors are always wrong, always incompatible
with our love of God and the dignity of the human person. Abortion,
the direct taking of innocent human life prior to birth, is always
morally wrong, as is the deliberate destruction of human embryos
for any reason. Assisted suicide and euthanasia are not acts of
mercy but rather are acts that are never morally acceptable. Direct
attacks on innocent civilians during war and terrorist acts targeting
noncombatants must always be condemned.
Our concern is only intensified by the realization
that a policy and practice that result in well over a million deaths
from abortions each year cannot but diminish respect for life in
other areas. In this pastoral plan, then, we again recognize that
the pro-life issues are all closely related: —Precisely because
all issues involving human life are interdependent, a society which
destroys human life by abortion under the mantle of law unavoidably
undermines respect for life in all other contexts. Likewise, protection
in law and practice of unborn human life will benefit all life,
not only the lives of the unborn— (1985 Pro-life Pastoral Plan,
This is why we focus here on the pervasive threat
to human life arising— 1) from the widespread recourse to abortion,
2) from public policies that allow, encourage, and even fund abortion
and 3) from a growing effort to promote taking human life through
Legacy of Roe v. Wade
In January 1973, the Supreme Court of the United
States gave our nation Roe v. Wade and its companion decision
Doe v. Bolton. In so doing it effectively removed every legal
protection from human beings prior to birth. The legacy of Roe
is virtually incalculable. In its wake it has left death and sorrow
— the deaths of millions whose lives were destroyed
before birth and even during the very process of being born
— countless women traumatized so deeply by abortion
that they spend years struggling to find peace, healing and reconciliation
— men who grieve because they could not choose to
protect a child they helped bring into existence
— a society increasingly coarsened by toleration and
acceptance of acts that purposely destroy human life.
These attacks on human life are carried out within
the family and with the active involvement of those in the healing
profession—institutions that traditionally have protected the weak
and the vulnerable.
Often they are carried out at the urging of fathers
who, rather than protecting their child, believe their only responsibility
is to help pay for an abortion. Today, those who support and provide
abortion freely acknowledge that killing is involved. Choices once
treated as criminal and rejected by the common moral sense have
become socially acceptable.
In 1992, the Supreme Court reaffirmed Roe v. Wade—in
large part, it said, because admitting error and reversing a prior
decision would undermine the Court—s authority. It said also, —People
have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define
their views of themselves and their places in society in reliance
on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception
should fail— (Planned Parenthood v. Casey). In other words,
Americans had come to rely on legalized abortion as a backup for
In 2000, in Stenberg v. Carhart, the Court
expanded the abortion liberty beyond killing in utero; it now wrapped
in the mantle of the U.S. Constitution the practice of killing during
the process of birth. Abortion has come to be seen by many not only
as a right to end a pregnancy prior to birth, but also as a guarantee
that a child aborted will not survive. This is clear in regard to
partial-birth abortion. It is also clear in the growing reports
of children who, having survived mid- and late-term abortions, are
put aside and left to die because they were not supposed to live
in the first place.
Today, some seek ways to alleviate human diseases
through research that involves the deliberate destruction of human
embryos. Such research, it is claimed, will enhance human life,
when in actuality it —reduces human life to the level of simple
—biological material— to be freely disposed of— (The Gospel of
Often these embryos, targeted for experimentation,
were created in laboratories by in vitro fertilization attempts
to assist infertile couples. Such efforts, however, embrace the
manufacture of human life without considering the consequences,
including the many ethical dilemmas resulting from such misuse of
We Condemn Violence
Our goal is to eliminate violence against unborn
children, their mothers and those who are dying. We unalterably
oppose the use of violence in any form to achieve this objective,
and we condemn the actions of those few who advocate otherwise.
During the past decade, several abortion practitioners
have been killed or harmed by tragically misguided individuals claiming
to be pro-life. Such violence against human beings is indefensible.
It is an offense against God—s command, —You shall not kill.— It
also unjustly stigmatizes the pro-life movement in the eyes of many
Americans as being violent and intolerant. We abhor and condemn
such violence unequivocally.
Abortion and Contraception
The Church—s teaching and pastoral efforts on responsible
parenthood are appropriately treated more fully in other documents.
We address the issue here, however, because some promote widespread
use of contraception as a means to reduce abortions. They even criticize
the Church for not accepting this approach.
It is noteworthy that as acceptance and use of contraception
have increased in our society, so have acceptance and use of abortion.
Couples who unintentionally conceive a child while using contraception
are far more likely to resort to abortion than others. Tragically,
our society has fallen into a mentality that views children as a
burden and invites many to consider abortion as a backup to contraceptive
failure. This is most obvious in efforts to promote as emergency
contraception drugs that really act as early abortifacients.
With Pope John Paul II we affirm that contraception
and abortion are —specifically different evils,— because only —the
latter destroys the life of a human being,— but that they are also
related (The Gospel of Life, #13). It is important to remember
that means that are referred to as —contraceptive— are, in reality,
sometimes also abortifacient. An end to abortion will not come from
contraceptive campaigns but from a deeper understanding of our human
sexuality and human life. These are sacred gifts deserving our careful
The United States is the only Western industrialized
nation today that uses capital punishment. Increasingly the bishops
have spoken out against its use. Pope John Paul II and individual
bishops have sought clemency for persons scheduled to be executed.
There are compelling reasons for opposing capital punishment: its
sheer inhumanity and its absolute finality are two. There is also
concern about its inequitable use and an imperfect legal system
that has sentenced innocent people to death.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds
us, —If...non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect
people—s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself
to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions
of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the
human person— (#2267).
Executing the guilty does not honor one who was killed,
nor does it ennoble the living or even lessen their pain, for only
love and forgiveness can do that. State-sanctioned killing affects
us all because it diminishes the value we place on all human life.
Capital punishment also cuts short the guilty person—s opportunity
for spiritual conversion and repentance.
The consequences of widespread loss of respect for
the dignity of human life are seen in pervasive violence, toleration
of abortion and increasingly vocal support for assisted suicide
and research that destroys human embryos. All of these make it all
the more urgent to reject lethal punishment and uphold the inviolability
of every human life.
—Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly
when we demand respect for each and every human life, including
the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others— (Living
the Gospel of Life, #22). Thus we are called to extend God—s
love to all human beings created in his image, including those convicted
of serious crimes. In so doing, we can help to make —unconditional
respect for life the foundation of a new society— (The Gospel
of Life, #77).
We renew our call for the Catholic community to be
what the Holy Father asks us to be: a people of life and a people
for life (The Gospel of Life, #78). Key to the success
of this pastoral plan is the work of informed and committed laypeople
throughout the nation. Together we are involved in God—s work in
promoting the dignity of the human person.
NEXT: 10 Questions on Annulments (by Joseph M.