Several election cycles ago, I took my video crew over to Rome and interviewed several highly-placed Vatican officials about the upcoming Presidential election in the United States, in the light of Church teaching. One of the most significant of such interviews was with the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, His Eminence Cardinal Renato Martino. This is the office in Vatican which officially oversees social teaching and action within the Catholic Church throughout the world.
It was under the guidance of Cardinal Martino that the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church” was brought to completion and presented to Pope St. John Paul II for approval and publication. This document, which is really a book, is the most comprehensive and authoritative treatment of the Church’s social teaching, and contains an entire chapter titled “Safeguarding the Environment” as well as commentary on the rights of immigrants.
In the interview, Cardinal Martino pointed out that the entire advocacy of the Church, whether on immigration, the environment, or anything else affecting human rights, rests on the foundation of the right to life. He stated, “The Holy Father speaks of the protection of life as the fundamental realization and respect for human rights. Without that realization, without that respect for the right to life, no other discussion of human rights can continue; it must be based upon the foundation of human dignity and the right to life.”
I also interviewed Cardinal John Foley, who was President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and he expressed it most succinctly by saying, “If we don’t have life, we don’t have anything!”
Both of these cardinals made reference to a very strong statement of Pope St. John Paul II in his apostolic exhortation “Christifideles Laici” (1988) where he writes in section 38, “Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”
We encounter in all these quotes an inescapable truth that does not change from generation to generation or from pontificate to pontificate, and it is that any credible defense of human rights has as its foundation the right to life itself. Therefore, anyone who fails to affirm the right to life has compromised and tainted his or her stance on every other human rights issue.
Pope St. John Paul II used the words “false and illusory” to characterize the all too common advocacy of human rights by those who favor legal abortion.
One of the recent public examples of this was the letter that Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro wrote on August 12, 2015 to Pope Francis in anticipation of his September U.S. visit and address to Congress.
DeLauro and some 93 of her colleagues signed this letter and, in a profoundly hollow and self-contradictory fashion, praise the Pope’s “solidarity with the poor and the marginalized,” and then go on to urge him to address a litany of social problems, with no mention at all about the violence of abortion. Of course they don’t mention abortion, because all of the signers have a pro-abortion voting record!
“False and illusory” — why? Because our rights are human rights precisely because we are humans, and not because a court or Congress awards them to us. When the right to life, then, is recognized only for some humans, and not for all, then every human right is weakened in the same way, precisely by disconnecting those rights from the fact that the one who possesses them is “human.”
It is on these very same grounds that the United States bishops, in a document issued by the entire body, stated the following:
“Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care. Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all these areas. Catholic public officials are obliged to address each of these issues as they seek to build consistent policies which promote respect for the human person at all stages of life.
But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community.” (Living the Gospel of Life, n. 23, 1998)
There are many issues, but some are more important than others. The right to life is like the foundation of a house. It holds up every other issue, because it is the principle at the heart and core of every effort for justice and peace.
Most disagreements between candidates and political platforms do not have to do with principle, but rather with policy. For example, it is a basic principle that immigrants are persons and must be treated as such. We don’t see candidates campaigning on opposite sides of that principle, with some saying, “Protect Immigrants” and other defending “The Right to Kill Immigrants.”
Instead, there is agreement on the principle, but disagreement on the best policies to implement the principle. One voter concludes that one candidate has a better policy on immigration than his opponent, while a second voter concludes the opposite. Both can vote in good conscience, because as long as the policy doesn’t break the principle, both policies may well be morally legitimate. It remains to be seen by trial and error which works best.
But when a policy dispute involves questioning whether people deserve protection in the first place, the policy is the principle. To allow abortion, which is the killing of a human child in the womb, is to break the principle that every human life is sacred and to deny the principle that life deserves protection.
And when we do that, we hinder the progress of all social justice. How can we build a society that will feed the hungry if we cannot feed our own children?
How can we build a society that will welcome the stranger across the borders of our nation if we fail to welcome the child across the border of the womb?
How can we make the environment safe for all if we cannot insure the safety of our first environment, the womb?
And how can we maintain peace between nations if we cannot maintain peace between a mother and the child within her?
Would you please explain to me in English. I am pro-life but do not understand this article as has difficult/technical language. Thanks for all you do!
Let us pray for an end to abortion. God Bless
As I understand it, the first and foremost right is the right to life.
Without the right to life, no other right makes sense.
When speaking about human rights such as concern for the povor while also supporting abortion, one negates the claim to be concerned about the poor. Every unborn child is poor. If one is for universal healthcare and also supports abortion, then what about the healthcare for the unborn?
Each human life is made valuable by Christ’s sacrifice. The conditions surrounding each life must then matter. Ultimately, our life in the hereafter will be determined by how we treated one another.
How can we trust those politicians who claim to support children’s educational, nutritional, and other needs when they have not supported their fundamental need of the right-to-life in the womb. Do they not see the contradiction? Bravo, Fr. Frank. You are an outstanding speaker for life. Who would think that in this so-called enlightened world, we would not see that the basic right to life is the root from which all other rights grow.
I am so grateful for the tireless work and prayers of Father Frank and all who spread the truth about the terrible effects of abortion. The violent death of an innocent life is followed by such suffering of the misguided mother! Emotionally, physically and spiritually. And where are those advocates for abortion when this mother is suffering through these effects?
the other day, I was listening to EWTN radio, and a man said, “these will be words, that you will never hear, if you go through with that abortion”, and then, a little child said, ” I love you, Mommy, I love you Daddy”, . A precious baby, the most beautiful completion, of a man and womans love. What has our society become? Where did we go from, ” look at our new baby”, to, ” discard that mass of tissue, in the trash can.” I believe, God, is going to do something, to Justify all these senseless abortions, we need to pray, that disaster, does not come upon us for these atrocities. The problem is, that no amount of prayer can replace one precious baby. How has the womb, become a place of destruction? My God, what have we become, in today’s society? How many millions, have been aborted? God, must be weeping, for their lost lives. Gene.
I fully agree with everything that Fr. Frank Pavone has well said. I believe that we need to all be pro life in every way. Through Priests of life I have learned that the baby in the womb feels the pain when it is aborted. I find it highly evil that babies are aborted. When I last read through the long and awful healthcare bill, there are references towards the elderly, the sick and disabled, and euthanasia. With that I remember as though it was yesterday when President Obama of the United States told Pope Benedict XVI that he would not sign the abortion bill. As soon as he returned to the US, he signed the abortion bill. I am amazed at how many have forgotten that fact. With politicians deliberately lying and contradicting themselves, it is difficult for the average population to recognize this huge hypocracy as well as evil especially when it affects human life. The bottom line is that no Catholic should vote for any politician who supports abortion and does not respect all human life. We need to stand strong against all forms of evil attacks against life. Thank you for all that you do Fr. Frank Pavone. You are a wonderful Priest and Saint. Thank you for protecting life in as many ways possible. God Bless You and Priests for Life..
Praying for Gods guidance in our up coming elections to elect people who will help us end abortion and respect all ages of life. Thank you for all you all do.
Thank you, Father. You make excellent points throughout, and your four questions in the closing puts everything in right perspective.