by Susan E. Wills
January 31, 2003
A Catholic member of Congress is asked to vote on two bills. The first, designed to elicit vital intelligence concerning future terrorist attacks, permits the torture of suspected terrorists. The second aims to speed up the pace of medical research by funding broad-scale experimentation on human embryos, created specifically for research and destroyed after use.
Homeland defense and curing disease are legitimate government goals. Yet we instinctively recoil from torturing humans, and from creating and destroying innocent human lives. We know such acts are wrong, irrespective of religious teaching, current law or public opinion. They are wrong because torture and taking innocent life are opposed to the "moral law rooted in the nature of the human person," to use the words of the Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on November 24, 2002.
Today, many deny the existence of the objective moral truth of natural law. Moral relativists believe all individuals' personal views of right and wrong have equal validity. Yet some views are more "equal" than others. As to public policy, they reject moral views informed by religious faith, and then justify this by distorting the meaning of "separation of Church and state." Should Catholic politicians jettison the religious beliefs which conflict with the prevailing mentality-a mentality that is individualistic, disdainful of religion and often fixated on materialism? Is returning to private life their only other choice?
The Doctrinal Note reminds Catholic politicians, bishops and lay faithful of our "right and duty to recall society to a deeper understanding of human life." It's not a question of imposing one's religion on others. For democracy to succeed, it must be based on a correct understanding of the human person. Lacking this, the majority can oppress the minority, the strong exploit the weak. Fundamental rights of life, liberty, conscience and equality under the law would be lost.
The truth about the nature of God and man is the foundation for justice and peace on earth, and for hope in eternal life. God, who is Love, wills our happiness. Because he has loved, forgiven and redeemed us, we are called to love God and to love like God, defending the lives and dignity of all who bear God's image, from the moment of their conception to the moment of their natural death.
No individual or government can validly deprive human beings of the God-given rights which they possess as images and heirs of God. And because these truths flow from the nature of God and man, they form a consistent, unified whole. One cannot accept some aspects of the truth and reject others, as if they were simply planks in a political party's platform. It is morally incoherent to say you respect all God's children and advocate bombing civilians in war or torturing those suspected of crime. It is incoherent to seek better healthcare for the poor and advocate the destruction of their children by abortion.
Choosing among political parties, policies and programs that are consonant with moral truths and Church teaching is something we all must do. But we may not ignore or reject moral truths because they are unpopular or ask too much of us. So what's a Catholic to do? Whether politician or not, the answer's the same: Live a Catholic life fully and without apology.
Susan Wills is associate director for education, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.