Catholic scholars sign essay on advancing culture that puts ‘life at the center’

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Nearly 30 prominent Catholic scholars have signed on to an essay calling for advancing “a Catholic vision of the human person” and bringing about a society that puts “life at the center.” 

The essay, published by First Things this month, was authored by Father Thomas Joseph White, the university rector at Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas; University of South Carolina philosophy professor Christopher Tollefsen; Father Kevin L. Flannery, a professor of philosophy emeritus at Pontifical Gregorian University; and O. Carter Snead, a law professor and the director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame University.

“The Church constantly recalls publicly that God, the Holy Trinity, creates all human beings in view of eternal beatitude,” the essay reads. “Therefore, no human life is inconsequential. The natural gift of every human person is an invitation for others to grow in understanding and love.”

In addition to the authors, more than two dozen other scholars and Catholic leaders signed on to the letter, including Ethics and Public Policy Center President Ryan Anderson, superior general of the Sisters of Life Mother Mary Concepta, and Princeton University professor Robert P. George. 

The essay addresses several questions on how Church teaching can “provide a deeper, positive vision of the human person and of the natural right to life” and how Catholics can demonstrate that this right “relates in turn to other goods that society values and must protect” and what obligations “pro-life advocates [must] accept for the defense of human life across its various dimensions.”

According to the authors, society’s “failure to affirm the dignity of human life at all stages” and the “systematic refusal to consider unborn human life with sufficient honesty” has led to “a corrupting influence even on the most tangential of goods.”

The authors state that respect for human life is the “necessary foundation” for broader rights, such as “autonomous freedom, education, and health care, the care for the poor, and the cultivation of learning and of the arts.” 

The “systematic refusal to consider unborn human life with sufficient honesty,” they write, “has in turn affected academic freedom, artistic realism, religious consensus, and our prospects for political peace in numerous adverse ways.”

“A human society can only create an adequately just social order and inclusive common good if it first recognizes the intrinsic natural dignity of every human person,” the essay says.

“This dignity is given by God and by our created nature; it is not conferred by social convention or the mere legal apparatus of the state. For these and other reasons, the Catholic Church is committed to the civic legal protection of innocent human life from conception to natural death as an exceptionless norm.”

The writers and signatories in the letter argue that the “failure to protect human life” can lead to broader transgressions against human lives such as euthanasia, the degradation of “the goods of the family,” a “culture of enforced silence and of taboo” in higher education, and lack of care for the environment.

When pursuing legislation regarding these goods, the scholars argue, political leaders “should do so from the start by protecting innocent human life as a fundamental or central good of society in all circumstances.” 

Catholics “must privilege the defense of the right to life from conception to natural death as a most fundamental social right for the good of all other civic rights” but also seek the good of every human “in ways that accord with Catholic social teaching,” they write.

“Catholics who rightly emphasize other facets of social teaching need to draw people’s attention to the right to life as a basic premise for all other rights,” the letter states. 

“In this way, members of the Church can provide a more unified, coherent, and consistent witness to life in a public way, for the good of the whole of society. The Church does this in part for herself, to be more herself in the light of God. She does so also for others, to promote a social doctrine that is rich in implications for the promotion of the common good.”

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