“Why the right to life is not merely one among many urgent issues, but rather the foundational one”

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. Charles J. Chaput, who is now retired, was the Archbishop of the diocese of  Philadelphia from 2011 until earlier this year. This first ran in 2013 but what he had to say resonates.

It’s not a secret to anyone who reads NRL News Today that I am a huge admirer of Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. He is a graceful writer who is able to pack an amazing amount in insight into his weekly columns for “Catholic Philly.”

I particularly enjoyed his thoughts and reflections this week on “Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics.”

Although I read this document from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 15 years ago, I had forgotten just how powerful, how faithful this statement was and what a great impression it made on so many of us.

Archbishop Chaput writes

“I believed then, and I believe now, that it’s the best document ever issued by the U.S. bishops on the priorities of Catholic engagement in our nation’s public life. In writing it, the bishops sought to apply Pope John Paul II’s great encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”) to the American situation.”

When the document appeared in December 1998, Ernest Ohlhoff, NRLC’s Director of Outreach, wrote an eloquent summary of how encouraging “Living the Gospel of Life” was to the Pro-Life community. (See “A Challenge to American Catholics,” https://nrlc.cc/1bmU0oW.)

Archbishop Chaput quotes what he calls “the heart of their statement.” Part of that is the insistence that “Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all these areas.” But whereas some would (and did) misrepresent what is meant by that refusal to be indifferent to such things as poverty, the Bishops were crystal clear. The statement read

“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. If we understand the human person as the ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’ — the living house of God — then these latter issues fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation. These directly and immediately violate the human person’s most fundamental right — the right to life. Neglect of these issues is the equivalent of building our house on sand. Such attacks cannot help but lull the social conscience in ways ultimately destructive of other human rights.”

Archbishop Chaput uses incredibly insightful analysis as a springboard to a memorable conclusion. I could paraphrase that conclusion but that would seriously shortchange our readers. He writes

This is why the right to life is not merely one among many urgent issues, but rather the foundational one. It provides the cornerstone for a whole architecture of human dignity. Nothing has changed in recent months or years in Catholic thinking about the sanctity of human life. Nor can it. As America’s bishops have stressed so many times, we have an obligation to work for human dignity at every stage and in every circumstance of human life. Here in Philadelphia, our Catholic social ministries model that dedication to the poor and disadvantaged in an extraordinary way.

But when we revoke legal protection for unborn children – when we accept the intimate violence abortion inflicts both on women and their unborn children; when we license and sacralize abortion as part of what Pope Francis calls a “throw away culture” — we violate the first and most important human right, the right to life itself. And once we do that, and then create a system of alibis to justify it, we begin to put every other human and civil right at risk.

Each and every day is a good time to remember the preciousness of all human life, beginning in the womb and continuing through natural death.

There are really two tragedies in every abortion: the killing of an unborn child; and the killing of an opportunity to love. God made us to be better than that.