October is the Catholic Church’s annual celebration of “Respect Life Month.” Whether in the midst of an election cycle or at any other point during the year, it is worthwhile to remind ourselves that all faithful disciples are encouraged to embrace our universal call to holiness, no matter our circumstances.
This is perhaps particularly evident in the case of Catholic politicians, given their prominent role, elevated social visibility, and subsequent responsibility. Let us be real: many citizens will more quickly listen to a Catholic politician than to a Catholic bishop, although only one of the two is typically a vetted expert in moral theology and canon law. Thus, if Catholic politicians evade at best, or relentlessly oppose at worst, the Church’s clear teachings as they relate to life, marriage, and the family (among various other key considerations), this can cause great scandal among the faithful throughout society. This is not to downplay the significance of other teachings as they concern social justice; rather, it is important to remember the Christian principles at the foundation of the Church’s teachings since they impact us all, especially at a time when – as reported recently by the Pew Research Center – there is significant confusion and dissent on the part of the Catholic laity when it comes to the Church’s time-honored teachings on life, marriage, and the family.
Below are a few – of multiple publicly available – noteworthy excerpted quotes, primarily from American bishops who have called upon Catholic politicians to remind themselves of their obligations, keeping in mind Christ’s command to all of his disciples: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33). The link has been provided for each document, and you are encouraged to read each in its entirety in order to fathom the broader context. They are listed in chronological order.
1. Pope Benedict XVI (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger)
“A kind of cultural relativism exists today, evident in the conceptualization and defense of an ethical pluralism, which sanctions the decadence and disintegration of reason and the principles of the natural moral law. Furthermore, it is not unusual to hear the opinion expressed in the public sphere that such ethical pluralism is the very condition for democracy. As a result, citizens claim complete autonomy with regard to their moral choices, and lawmakers maintain that they are respecting this freedom of choice by enacting laws which ignore the principles of natural ethics and yield to ephemeral cultural and moral trends, as if every possible outlook on life were of equal value. At the same time, the value of tolerance is disingenuously invoked when a large number of citizens, Catholics among them, are asked not to base their contribution to society and political life – through the legitimate means available to everyone in a democracy – on their particular understanding of the human person and the common good. The history of the twentieth century demonstrates that those citizens were right who recognized the falsehood of relativism, and with it, the notion that there is no moral law rooted in the nature of the human person, which must govern our understanding of man, the common good, and the state.” (“Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, November 24, 2002)
2. Bishop Martin Holley
Former Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington and Bishop-Elect of the Diocese of Memphis. “Through clear catechesis, expanded pastoral efforts, vigorous engagement in our parishes and in the public square, through love and prayer, we can end the scourge of abortion. The Culture of Death will be defeated in the African American community and throughout our nation when we — as individuals and as a Church — proclaim and witness with our lives to God’s love, the sacredness of human life, and the meaning of human sexuality and marriage. Let us embrace this task with the urgency and the enthusiasm it demands!” (“A Reflection on the African American Family and the Culture of Life,” 2008)
3. Archbishop William Lori, Archdiocese of Baltimore
“This is not a fight we want or asked for, but one forced upon us by government on its own timing. This is not a Republican or Democratic, a conservative or liberal issue; it is an American issue. The Church forms its positions based on principles — here, religious liberty for all, and the life and dignity of every human person — not polls, personalities, or political parties.” (“Keynote Address at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC,” May 24, 2012)
4. Pope Francis
“The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” (“Address to the Joint Session of Congress,” September 24, 2015)
5. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archdiocese of Washington
“In the public square, these two worldviews are bound to clash. But now we are being told that anyone who dissents from the prevailing secular understanding of human life, its meaning and worth, and of human sexuality and activity is reductively a ‘bigot’ who engages in ‘discrimination.’ This language is the new weapon used to force a single worldview on all of society. If a follower of Christ understands marriage to be the lifelong union of one man and one woman, that sexual activity should be reserved for marriage, and human life in the womb has every right to live, the charge leveled by many in the secular world is that they are bigoted or anti-women. This accusation is further propagated and amplified by some in the media (both journalists and those with editorial responsibilities), the entertainment industry, politicians, and opinion makers.” (“Worlds Apart: The Place of Catholic Values in a Changing Society,” America magazine, February 24, 2016)
6. Archbishop José Gómez, Archdiocese of Los Angeles
“But the hard truth is that not all injustices in the world are ‘equal.’ We can understand this perhaps better about issues in the past than we can with issues in the present. For instance, we would never want to describe slavery as just one of several problems in 18th-century and 19th-century American life. There are indeed ‘lesser’ evils. But that means there are also ‘greater’ evils — evils that are more serious than others and even some evils that are so grave that Christians are called to address them as a primary duty. Among the evils and injustices in American life in 2016, abortion and euthanasia are different and stand alone. Each is a direct, personal attack on innocent and vulnerable human life. Abortion and euthanasia function in our society as what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls ‘structures of sin’ or ‘social sins.’” (“Fundamental Injustices in Our Society,” Angelus News / The Tidings, June 3, 2016)
7. Three Bishops in One!
This one involves Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Bishop Richard Malone of the Diocese of Buffalo, and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of the Archdiocese of Miami
“Questions revolving around marriage and human sexuality are deeply felt in our homes and communities. We join with our Holy Father Pope Francis in affirming the inviolable dignity of all people and the Church’s important role in accompanying all those in need. In doing so, we also stand with Pope Francis in preserving the dignity and meaning of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The two strands of the dignity of the person and the dignity of marriage and the family are interwoven. To pull apart one is to unravel the whole fabric. When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth. Pope Francis has been very clear in affirming the truth and constant teaching of the Church that same-sex relationships cannot be considered ‘in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family’ (Amoris Laetitia, 251). Laws that redefine marriage to deny its essential meaning are among those that Catholics must oppose, including in their application after they are passed. Such witness is always for the sake of the common good.” (“Faithful Witness to Marriage,” USCCB Blog, August 5, 2016)
8. Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, Diocese of Richmond
“More than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage, and despite recent statements from the campaign trail, the Catholic Church’s 2,000-year-old teaching to the truth about what constitutes marriage remains unchanged and resolute. As Catholics, we believe, all humans warrant dignity and deserve love and respect, and unjust discrimination is always wrong. Our understanding of marriage, however, is a matter of justice and fidelity to our Creator’s original design. Marriage is the only institution uniting one man and one woman with each other and with any child who comes from their union. Redefining marriage furthers no one’s rights, least of all those of children, who should not purposely be deprived of the right to be nurtured and loved by a mother and a father. We call on Catholics and all those concerned for preserving this sacred union to unite in prayer, to live and speak out with compassion and charity about the true nature of marriage – the heart of family life.” (“Statement on the Catholic Church’s Teaching Regarding Marriage,” September 13, 2016)
9. Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
“Of course some of the worst pressures on family life come from outside the home. They come in the form of unemployment, low pay, crime, poor housing, chronic illness, and bad schools. These are vitally important issues with real human consequences. And in Catholic thought, government has a role to play in easing such problems – but not if a government works from a crippled idea of who man is, what marriage is, and what a family is. And not if a government deliberately shapes its policies to interfere with and control the mediating institutions in civil society that already serve the public well.” (“Tocqueville Lecture at the University of Notre Dame,” September 15, 2016)
10. Bishop James Conley, Diocese of Lincoln
“My second point is that on some issues the moral obligations of Catholics, and the demands of the common good, are abundantly clear. For example, no Catholic can vote in good conscience to expand legal protection for abortion, or to support the killing of unborn children.” (“Voting and Living as Good Citizens,” September 30, 2016)
For further reading, you can review the Catechism’s entries on the Sacrament of Matrimony, the Family in God’s Plan, and Respect for Human Life. During an election year or otherwise, you are likewise encouraged to read the USCCB’s Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, which discusses marriage, the family, and human life in greater context, of course in the midst of other considerations. Faithful Catholics who assent to the Church’s timeless teachings are neither conservative nor liberal, because these are mere political terms whose very meaning changes by the decade.
This is not to mention that the Church’s positions hardly fit neatly into prepackaged political presuppositions; rather, more appropriate terms are “orthodox” (from the Greek for “correct reading”) or “heterodox” (from the Greek for “incorrect reading”). Please remember to pray for all public officials and political candidates, that they may be ever attuned to how to best serve the common good for the formation of a more just society, in the interest of both this life and the next, steadily keeping in mind Christ’s promise as we read it in John 10:10: “I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”