Editor’s note: This week Archbishop Gomez continues his reflections on the duties and demands of Catholic social teaching. This column is adapted from his recent foreword to the 4th edition of “Catholics in the Public Square,” by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix.
In some Church circles today we are seeing a return to the vision of a “seamless garment” or “consistent ethic of life.”
Advocates have noble intentions — they want to bring the Church’s moral wisdom and passion for justice to bear on a broad range of urgent issues. They recognize that the Church’s social witness must be founded on our common responsibility to defend the gift of human life at every stage and in every condition.
In practice, however, this line of thinking can lead to a kind of moral relativism that renders serious social issues as as more or less equivalent. Setting priorities and frameworks for decision-making can become an arbitrary, sometimes partisan exercise in political calculation.
A broad desire to promote the integral development of the human person leads to obvious and crucial agenda items — abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, global poverty and the related issues of migrants and refugees, and climate change. Each of these realities of our world represents an affront to human dignity and threatens the sustainability of social order.
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.”
Abortion has become a part of mainstream health care and one of the “freedoms” that Americans presume take for granted. Euthanasia or doctor-assisted suicide is fast gaining that same status.
Our society’s elites tell us that abortion and euthanasia are private, deeply personal matters that ultimately should concern only the individuals involved.
But evils and injustices committed behind closed doors are still evil and unjust and are neveronly personal — they have consequences and implications for our life together.
As Pope Francis has said: “It is not licit to eliminate a human life to solve a problem. … [It is] a sin against God the Creator: think hard about this.”
This is the great challenge for the Church’s social witness in our society, which seeks to address many of its problems through the elimination of human life — not only through abortion and assisted suicide, but also in the areas of the death penalty, human embryo research and government-mandated contraception.
It is this broader mentality — what Francis and previous Popes have called a “culture of death” — that the Church must confront. That is why abortion and euthanasia are not just two issues among many or only questions of individual conscience.
Abortion and euthanasia raise basic questions of human rights and social justice, questions of what kind of society and what kind of people we want to be. Do we really want to become a people that responds to human suffering by helping to kill the one who suffers? Do we really want to be a society where the lives of the weak are sacrificed for the comfort and benefit of those who are stronger?
That is why any approach that essentially tolerates abortion and euthanasia or puts these issues on a par with others, not only betrays the beautiful vision of the Church’s social teaching, but also weakens the credibility of the Church’s witness in our society.
So, in this culture, the Church must insist that abortion and euthanasia are grave and intrinsic evils — evils that are corrosive and corrupting, evils that are at the heart of other social injustices.
Abortion and euthanasia are “fundamental” social issues, because if the child in the womb has no right to be born, if the sick and the old have no right to be taken care of, then there is no solid foundation to defend anyone’s human rights, and no foundation for peace and justice in society.
How can we claim to speak for the marginalized and disenfranchised, if we are allowing millions of innocent children to be killed each year in the womb? If we cannot justify caring for the weakest and most innocent of God’s creatures, how can we call our society to resist the excesses of nationalism and militarism or confront global poverty or protect our common home in creation?
So this week, let’s keep praying for one another and praying for our country.
And let’s ask Our Blessed Mother Mary to help us to live our faith and to build a society where every life is welcomed, cherished and defended, especially those lives that who need more care and attention, those lives that can be a burden to others.