Have you heard Catholics say that we should not discuss Roe v. Wade in our churches on Sunday or in the Church at large? Have you heard Catholics and other Christians trying to marginalize human life by protesting the efforts of the Church to overthrow unjust laws that attack human life in the womb or in the later stages of life? These are a common errors in our day and must be opposed.
We are required by God as part of the Gospel to work, through every means available to us, to change laws that fail to respect the “ fundamental principle of justice” that every human life must be respected from conception to natural death in all its stages and conditions.
Some say that the Scriptures, “ Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” mean that we should not talk in church about changing the laws; that Christ was teaching that God has nothing to say to Caesar. Some say that when we ask Catholics to work to overthrow the laws that say an unborn child’s life can be terminated, we are doing the work of the board of elections down the street and should mind our own business.
But as Cardinal George said recently, “ Something that is a moral matter before it becomes a political matter, remains a moral matter after it becomes a political matter.”
We must say, and repeat often, that life is not a “ religious” issue. The right to life is a “ fundamental principle of justice.”
God is just, and commands that all laws uphold the just treatment and recognize the rights of every human person. But when we speak as Catholics and believers in the public square we do not always and in every case ask our interlocutors to accept our creed in order to agree with us. We ask only that our society, our government, and our laws uphold the fundamental principles of justice as inscribed in the founding documents of our republic and in the hearts of every human being, of every creed, color, and language. This means that all human beings must be respected and loved, throughout the whole course of their lives.
No one should ever, under any circumstances, be deliberately killed. This is not a purely religious idea. This concept is accessible to any human person simply through the use of reason. In the case of capital punishment and war, this can sometimes tragically be the case. But in abortion and embryonic stem- cell research, in every crime against the unborn child and the child in the course of being born, it is always and in every case an abominable crime. Always. There is a very great evil involved in the monstrous act of slaughtering a completely defenseless human being — the image and likeness of God in our midst.
And, now, to “ Render unto Caesar” — how fraught with danger is our own interpretation of the Scriptures! When Christ taught “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s,” He was in fact authorizing the very protest against unjust laws that Catholics, and other Christians and men and women of goodwill, carry out through the March for Life each year in Washington and in other places all over this country.
Let’s hear what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say:
“The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. ‘ Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ ‘ We must obey God rather than men’: “ When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which oversteps its competence, they should still not refuse to give or to do what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the Law of the Gospel” ( CCC, n. 2242).
So, in fact, our faith obliges us, requires us, to work to overthrow unjust laws like Roe v. Wade, in some cases to the point of civil disobedience. Such work is necessary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Love and Life and Light, and involves every one of us, wherever we live and work and worship.
Praised be Jesus Christ!
(Visit Meeting Christ in the Liturgy for teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church paired with the Scriptures of the Sacred Liturgy for every day of the week.)
Column and photo by Father Kevin M. Cusick appeared in the 28 January 2010 issue of The Wanderer Catholic Newspaper. The e-edition of The Wanderer is available here.