Put Out into the Deep

The Hierarchy of Life Values

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

This past week, Cardinal Dolan and I wrote a blog post on the real responsibility we have as Christians to serve the poor. It surprised me that this posting received a good bit of media attention; after all, the Church has been serving the poor following the Lord’s command from the beginning of its existence.

With the upcoming presidential debates, now is an opportune time to reflect on the issues that Catholic voters ought to consider in advance of the election. The foundation of Catholic social teaching is the sanctity and dignity of human life. From the principal hierarchy of values, we consider specific policies and how they measure up against the moral principles of the Church at the more practical level.

Last year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published a document titled “Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States.” I was the chair of the committee that drafted the original statement that was re-issued with the new introductory statement, reinforcing the importance of the issues, which I would like to highlight and ask voters to consider. Human life, family life, social justice and global solidarity are the critical areas of concern.

Human Life

We begin with the teaching of Christ and His Church with respect to human life because it is foundational. Thus the bishops teach that laws that permit, expand or pay for medically induced abortions must always be opposed. Such laws directly undermine the values upon which all other principles are based.

Today, we could add the Health and Human Services mandate because it forces almost all Catholic institutions that offer health care to its employees to include contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs as part of their plans.

Family Life

Last year, so-called same-sex marriage became legal in New York State. We Catholics failed in our efforts to articulate the unique and special benefits afforded to children who grow up in a loving home with a father and a mother. In my view, we as a Church have not done enough to support families when they are in distress. Consequently, where we failed is not in opposing a redefinition of marriage, but rather in living out the compelling reasons why marriage is and only can be conceived between a man and woman.

Social Justice

Over the 42 years that I have been a priest, immigration has been an issue very close to my heart. Immigration is a moral matter because it is related to social justice as well as family life, and, therefore, it is essential for us to consider: Are our national policies grounded in the principles of concern for the dignity of the human person and the command of Christ to care for the stranger in our midst?

Yes, there are many ways in which we can strive to live up to that command of Our Lord. In this case, lawmakers and voters are called to exercise prudential judgment, because we do not normally deal with intrinsically evil acts such as abortion.

Despite reports that seem to indicate that New York has had the strongest job growth in 50 years, all Americans have to consider economic policy when determining who will represent us at every level of government. We are in the midst of a serious recession that has claimed the homes and jobs of many of our fellow citizens. We are right to consider who has the policies that will best help improve our economy. Especially at this time of economic uncertainty, we must concern ourselves with the social safety net. Once again, we as citizens must consider whether policies actually assist to lift the poor out of poverty or perpetuate a cycle of poverty.

Global Solidarity

We cannot help but recognize that American policies do not simply impact our lives but also have a ripple effect throughout the world. Ours is a nation that remains at war in Afghanistan. This war has claimed the lives of over 3,000 coalition soldiers in that country, as well as another 1,900 in the surrounding region. Since 2001, several tens of thousands of Afghanistani civilians have been killed. Recently, we have read of the impact of drone attacks upon women and children in Pakistan with whom we are not at war.

About a year ago, I had a conversation with a missionary priest who had just returned from Africa in a country adjacent to Rwanda. I asked him how the genocide could have taken place. He explained that the loyalty of most people is directed first to their tribe and then to their religion and country, which are neck in neck for second and third place. I am afraid that the same situation is found closer to home. Many people place party loyalty above religious principle and national interest.

As we put out into the deep on this election day, we should consider the hierarchy of life values in casting our vote and heed the guidance of our Scriptures, which teach us how to foster a correct conscience, which will make us prudent and informed voters. For more information, visit www.usccb.org and click on “Issues and Action.”

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