The Observer—Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford
Publication date: April 7, 2006
By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Director, Respect Life Office
It’s not often I receive correspondence regarding a column that spurs me to respond publicly. “Maria,” however, sent a clever, albeit inaccurate, analysis of my “Who’s in the Cafeteria Line” piece last month. Unfortunately, she did not take the recommended large serving of the Catechism and if she passed by it, it’s logical to assume there may be others who also overlooked that most nutritious offering.
Maria misses the central theme of the column: faithful Catholics cannot choose to believe what they want to believe and ignore teachings where they think the Church is wrong. As the late Fr. John Hardon explained, “. . . our duty as Roman Catholics is to adhere to both the letter and the Spirit as the Holy Father delineates them for us, not pick and choose those aspects of Catholicism more to our liking.”
Maria makes the issue one of political elections and she tacitly justifies the whole concept of cafeteria Catholicism. She fails to understand that being a “cafeteria Catholic” is about Catholics—whether politicians (Democrat, Republican, or Independent) or ordinary citizens.
In classic “peace and justice speak,” Maria points to the war in Iraq, support of the death penalty, arms control, debt, environment, housing, labor, migrants and refugees, non-violence, poverty, and social security. She claims if these issues are ignored and one is a “single-issue voter [caring only about abortion],” they are “rejecting most of what the Church teaches.”
In addition to not fully understanding “what the Church teaches,” Maria confuses the Seamless Garment or consistent life ethic proposed by the late Cardinal Bernardin. While the Cardinal believed all social justice issues were interrelated, he was emphatic in stating that they were not equal.
On one occasion, he wrote, “Not all values, however, are of equal weight . . . I wish to emphasize that no earthly value is more fundamental than human life itself . . . if one must choose between protecting or serving lesser human values that depend upon life for their existence and life itself, human life must take precedence. Today the recognition of human life as a fundamental value is threatened. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of elective abortion.”
The consistent, authoritative teaching of the Church is unequivocal—the fundamental right to life is the source of all other rights. In Christifideles Laici, John Paul II wrote,
“. . . 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.”
If Maria had studied fully the Catechism and other official Church documents, she would have discovered that none of the human rights she mentioned can be addressed in the same way as abortion. The Second Vatican Council defined abortion as an “unspeakable crime.” You won’t find that said about the issues mentioned by Maria.
There is a hierarchy of moral issues. While Catholics certainly must be concerned and act against all violations against human dignity, we must not act as if all issues are morally equivalent.
To be in conformity with the moral norms of the Church, we must know what those norms are. The Catechism is our first source of reference. In the Catechism, we learn, “Personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church (no. 2039)” and “All men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and his Church, and to embrace it and hold on to it as they come to know it (no. 2104).”
We have an obligation to learn the truth, so once again I encourage a thorough study of the Catechism. The truth found there—not my opinion, nor Maria’s—is what ultimately matters.