Events of this year, and particularly this summer, have gotten me thinking about how we, as Catholics, respond to all attacks on the dignity of human life.
Many times, I only hear Catholics speak about the sanctity of life regarding the abortion debate. I believe that we are called to support policies that promote and protect ALL life: life that is easy to protect as well as lives which are more complex to defend.
Jesus was clear about our obligations toward our neighbor. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, he is clear that loving our neighbor even means caring for our enemy (Lk 10:29-37). Jesus also speaks of a rich man who finds himself in Hades for failing to care for the poor man at his door (Lk 16:19-31). Moreover, Jesus tells us that when we fail to help “the least of these” we fail to care for Him (Mt 25:31-46). As Christians we must allow Jesus’ teaching to form our consciences. Like every moral question, there are rights that must be protected as well as duties that must be observed.
The Vatican announced this month that Pope Francis approved changes to the compendium of Catholic teaching published under Pope John Paul II. “The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” reads the Catechism of the Catholic Church now on the death penalty. Pope Francis declared on October 11, 2017 that the death penalty is “contrary to the Gospel.” He said that “however grave the crime that may be committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person.”
Founded on natural law and enlightened by faith, the Church’s position on immigration also recognizes certain rights and obligations. These include the requirement to defend the right to life for all individuals, regardless of legal status.
The Church expects us to protect the right to life of those who cannot find work, food, or safety where they live. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The more prosperous nations are obliged to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin” (No. 2241). While nations are not obliged to have open borders, Christians are obliged to welcome those whose lives are in danger due to conditions such as violence or extreme poverty. To be pro-life means promoting consistent protection of those whose lives are in danger. Therefore, Christians must advocate that life should be the standard for immigration reform.
Because the family plays an important role in Catholic social teaching, the rights of the family must also be taken into consideration when looking at how Catholics should view immigration. The Church teaches that needs of the family precede the desires of the state. When we see families torn apart at the border and parents deported while their children remain in cages or foster care in the US, we are not fulfilling our responsibilities to respect the sanctity of human life and families.
Human dignity must be under consideration in any implementation of new, or enforcement of existing, laws. Rules must be “aimed at protecting and promoting the human person,” said Pope Francis in 2014.
As we close this summer, The Basilica wraps up strategic planning for the next 3-5 years and as our country enters the contentious election season, I encourage you to consider what it truly means to be pro-life. Do we as Catholics defend life in all forms, in all places, regardless of our perception of “worthiness"?