In 1980, Geyer said, “Moral societies are the only ones that work…” She lamented that “Americans have stopped acting in terms of their own moral, ethical and religious beliefs and principles. They’ve stopped acting on what they know is right – and the ‘me’ has become the measure of everything.” Every election either proves her right or proves her wrong. For every election is not simply political. It is a moral choice for better or for worse.
We are in the midst of an economic crisis that has increased unemployment, bringing poverty and hunger to new highs. In her social teachings, the Church offers us a centuries-old wisdom. Her teachings draw their strength from the deposit of faith passed down to us by the Apostles. The Church proposes practical and prudential principles to help us translate our love of neighbor in terms of employment, just wages, economic structures, immigration, poverty and social welfare. As Catholics, we have the duty to face these challenges in such a way that protects the poor, respects immigrants who come to seek a decent living, keeps families united and provides a future for those who come after us.
With an estimated 47 million Americans lacking health care coverage, the teaching of Pope John XXIII resonates loud and clear. He taught that, since we have the right to live, we have the right “to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest and, finally, the necessary social services” (“Pacem in terris,” 8). Affordable and accessible health care should safeguard and respect our right to life. As Catholics, we need to promote an adequate health care system in our nation that does not exclude others nor force us to act against our religious convictions.
Wars and terrorism confront us with serious moral questions. Accepting St. Augustine’s just war theory for the last 1600 years, the Church always sees the use of military force, even when justified, as a regrettable event with terrible consequences. The Church has always taught the fifth commandment, forbidding the deliberate murder of an innocent person. Furthermore, the Popes have repeatedly labeled terrorism as an act against humanity that drenches the soil in the blood of helpless and innocent people. Every government must do its best to protect its citizens wherever they may be.
Holding fast to the fifth commandment, the Church has always taught that abortion is morally wrong (cf “Didache 2,2”). It is intrinsically evil because it directly attacks life itself, the most fundamental good. Just as the Church defends the life of the child about to be born, she vigorously defends the life of the person about to die. Euthanasia is murder. In protecting the life of every person, the Church has been consistent. Her teaching has not changed. It cannot change. As Catholics, whether voter or politician, we have the moral obligation to advance laws that protect human life at all stages.
In today’s society, it has become fashionable not to see “The Church's teaching in the moral realm [as] one consistent body of thought…The Church's solicitude for the poor, the marginalized, the unborn, and the elderly is all of a piece…[However,] a Catholic cannot subordinate "justice issues" to "life issues"…because life issues are justice issues” (Rev. Robert A. Sirico, “Religion and Liberty,” Volume 21, Number 2).
Today, the Church remains steadfast in safeguarding the dignity of the human person. She has not given in to an age that tosses aside all too quickly the rights of the unborn, the poor, the immigrant and the institution of marriage. She continues to insist on the rights of her faithful to have their freedom of conscience and freedom of religion protected. Unfortunately, the Church’s mission has become very difficult as shrill voices attack her for what she teaches. How often her opponents say that the Church’s teaching is dated. It is. By 2,000 years. Dated, but timeless! It is a teaching that the Church has received from Christ. And, over the centuries, she has witnessed the fall of many an empire, regime and nation which acted contrary to the divine law, and the eternal wisdom that the Church and other people of faith reflect upon and teach in every generation.
Those who staunchly oppose the Church’s moral teaching will often accuse Catholics who speak on these issues of being partisan. At times, even priests who try to open a dialogue with the faithful in order to clarify what the Church teaches on important moral issues are accused of pushing the agenda of one or another political party. What those who make such allegations forget is this: the Church’s consistent teaching predates not only any present political party, but even the very existence of our country. Is it not the case that political parties at times will adopt platforms that may or may not be in accord with Church teaching on fundamental moral issues?
Media sound bites and the constant drumbeat of the polls should not drown out a meaningful reflection on the wisdom that Catholicism offers. Catholics need to see the issues clearly. They should not let their voices be silenced in the public forum or their precious votes be compromised by any political agenda. There is too much at stake!
Reprinted with permission from The Beacon, official newspaper for the diocese of Patterson, New Jersey.
Bishop Serratelli is the bishop of Paterson, New Jersey.