Bishop Hying

The fundamental right to life is at the core of our social ethics, our constitution

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on October 16, 2016


       In the context of this year’s very contentious presidential campaign, I have heard many people say  they are simply not going to vote. While able to profoundly sympathize with the frustration and anger behind such a decision, I certainly encourage everyone to vote in the elections next month, as we remember that many state and local elections are important as well. 

       From the dawn of the Church, Catholics have always sought to engage in the political process, to be good citizens and to contribute to the common good. We do not separate ourselves from society, but rather, seek to be a leaven of Gospel and human values in order to build a culture of life and a civilization of love.

       The Church calls us to form our consciences well, by embracing truth and goodness, by studying the Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, to know the basic tenets of Catholic Social Teaching, to examine the facts of varying political choices and to sincerely pray before voting. I offer this brief reflection, based on “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the recently updated document published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as a guide for us Catholics as we go to the polls.

       I quote Paragraph 20 in its totality: “The Church’s teaching is clear that a good end does not justify an immoral means. As we all seek to advance the common good - by defending the inviolable sanctity of human life from the moment of conception until natural death, by promoting religious freedom, by defending marriage, by feeding the hungry and housing the homeless, by welcoming the immigrant and protecting the environment - it is important to recognize that not all possible courses of action are morally acceptable.

       “We have a responsibility to discern carefully which public policies are morally sound. Catholics may choose different ways to respond to compelling social problems, but we cannot differ on our moral obligation to help build a more just and peaceful world through morally acceptable means, so that the weak and vulnerable are protected and human rights and dignity are defended.”

       The bishops’ document applies Catholic teaching to major issues in Part II, outlining the fundamental threats to human life and dignity.  Abortion and euthanasia represent the direct killing of human life at its most vulnerable moments and must always be opposed. The bishops also condemn cloning and the destruction of human embryos, assisted suicide, genocide, torture, capital punishment and the direct targeting of noncombatants in war or terrorist attacks. This fundamental right to life is the core of our social ethics and is also articulated in the Declaration of Independence.

       The Church tries to promote global peace among nations through its teaching and diplomacy.  Countries have the right to defend the lives and safety of their citizens but are never justified in initiating hostilities. The Church has raised fundamental moral concerns about preventive use of military force, while honoring the commitment and sacrifice of our armed forces. We must work to reverse the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The bishops also support policies and actions that protect refugees of war and violence and all people suffering religious persecution throughout the world.

       The Church is a strong supporter of marriage and family life, calling for policies that support marriage’s traditional definition, as well as aiding families in their commitment and responsibility in the areas of taxes, divorce, immigration and welfare. Living wages should allow workers to support their families with dignity. Children, in particular, should be valued, protected and nurtured.

       The bishops oppose contraceptive and abortion mandates in public programs and health plans which endanger rights of conscience. The document also upholds religious liberty as a fundamental human value and constitutional right, whereby no one may be forced to violate their moral conscience or religious beliefs.

       The Church embraces a preferential option for the poor and economic justice, calling for a social order where all those who can work have the opportunity to do so with decent working conditions and just wages. The document affirms the right of workers to organize but also upholds economic freedom, initiative and the right to private property. The Church calls for social programs and policies which will reduce poverty and increase self-sufficiency, stamp out hunger and provide dignified housing for all people. Affordable and accessible health care is a fundamental human right.

       “Faithful Citizenship” also calls for immigration policies that balance the Gospel call to welcome the stranger with the need for nations to control their borders and maintain the rule of law.  The bishops  affirm the right of parents to provide quality education for their children, the need to promote justice and stop violence, to combat discrimination and to care for the environment. Global solidarity, especially with the millions of people who struggle to live in the developing world, is another priority.

       This column is a too brief commentary on the fundamental social and moral issues outlined in the bishops’ document. I write it to encourage all of you to read “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” in its entirety before voting next month and to vote after you have read, studied and prayed over the many challenges and issues that confront us as a world, nation and local community. 

       Sadly, few, if any political candidates embrace the totality of this coherent moral vision, as laid out in the bishops’ document and the teachings of the Church, so we are called to exercise prudence and discernment as we weigh the platforms of parties and the positions of candidates. The sanctity of human life in all its challenges and forms, the dignity of the human person and the need to build a world of love, justice and mercy stand at the heart of the Catholic moral vision.


+ Donald J. Hying


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