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It prohibits direct attacks on unborn life in the womb, direct attacks on civilians in warfare, and the direct killing of patients in nursing homes. Each of these topics has a constituency in society concerned with the morality of abortion, war, and care of the aged and dying. A consistent ethic of life encourages the specific concerns of each constituency, but also calls them to see the interrelatedness of their efforts.

The need to defend the integrity of the moral principle in the full range of its application is a responsibility of each distinct constituency.

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If the principle is eroded in the public mind, all lose. A second level of a consistent ethic stresses the distinction among cases rather than their similarities. We need different moral principles to apply to diverse cases. The classical distinction between ordinary and extraordinary means has applicability in the care of the dying but no relevance in the case of warfare.

Not all moral principles have relevance across the whole range of life issues. Moreover, sometimes a systemic vision of the life issues requires a combination of moral insights to provide direction on one issue.

At Fordham, I cited the classical teaching on capital punishment which gives the State the right to take life in defense of key social values. But I also pointed out how a concern for promoting a public attitude of respect for life has led the bishops of the United States to oppose the exercise of that right. Some of the responses I have received on the Fordham address correctly say that abortion and capital punishment are not identical issues. The principle which protects innocent life distinguishes the unborn child from the convicted murderer.

Other letters stress that while nuclear war is a threat to life, abortion involves the actual taking of life, here and now. I accept both of these distinctions, of course, but I also find compelling the need to relate the cases while keeping them in distinct categories. Abortion is taking of life in ever growing numbers in our society. Those concerned about it, I believe, will find their case enhanced by taking note of the rapidly expanding use of public execution. In a similar way, those who are particularly concerned about these executions, even if the accused has taken another life, should recognize the elementary truth that a society which can be indifferent to the innocent life of an unborn child will not be easily stirred to concern for a convicted criminal.

There is, I maintain, a political and psychological linkage among the life issues—from war to welfare concerns—which we ignore at our own peril: A third level of the question before us involves how we relate a commitment to principles to our public witness of life. As I have said, no one can do everything.

There are limits to both competency and energy; both point to the wisdom of setting priorities and defining distinct functions. The Church, however, must be credible across a wide range of issues; the very scope of our moral vision requires a commitment to a multiplicity of questions. In this way the teaching of the Church will sustain a variety of individual commitments.

Neither the Fordham address nor this one is intended to constrain wise and vigorous efforts to protect and promote life through specific, precise forms of action. Both addresses do seek to cultivate a dialogue within the Church and in the wider society among individuals and groups which draw on common principles e. The appeal here is not for anyone to do everything, but to recognize points of interdependence which should be stressed, not denied.

A fourth level, one where dialogue is sorely needed, is the relationship between moral principles and concrete political choices. The moral questions of abortion, the arms race, the fate of social programs for the poor, and the role of human rights in foreign policy are public moral issues. The arena in which they are ultimately decided is not the academy or the Church but the political process. A consistent ethic of life seeks to present a coherent linkage among a diverse set of issues. It can and should be used to test party platforms, public policies, and political candidates.

Consistent life ethic

The Church legitimately fulfills a public role by articulating a framework for political choices by relating that framework to specific issues and by calling for systematic moral analysis of all areas of public policy. This is the role our Bishops' Conference has sought to fulfill by publishing a "Statement on Political Responsibility" during each of the presidential and congressional election years in the past decade. The purpose is surely not to tell citizens how to vote, but to help shape the public debate and form personal conscience so that every citizen will vote thoughtfully and responsibly.

Our "Statement on Political Responsibility" has always been, like our "Respect Life Program," a multi-issue approach to public morality.

Consistent Ethic of Life

The fact that this Statement sets forth a spectrum of issues of current concern to the Church and society should not be understood as implying that all issues are qualitatively equal from a moral perspective. As I indicated earlier, each of the life issues—while related to all the others—is distinct and calls for its own specific moral analysis. Both the Statement and the Respect Life program have direct relevance to the political order, but they are applied concretely by the choice of citizens. This is as it should be. In the political order the Church is primarily a teacher; it possesses a carefully cultivated tradition of moral analysis of personal and public issues.

It makes that tradition available in a special manner for the community of the Church, but it offers it also to all who find meaning and guidance in its moral teaching. The moral teaching of the Church has both pastoral and public significance. Pastorally, a consistent ethic of life is a contribution to the witness of the Church's defense of the human person. Publicly, a consistent ethic fills a void in our public policy debate today. Pastorally, I submit that a Church standing forth on the entire range of issues which the logic of our moral vision bids us to confront will be a Church in the style of both Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes and in the style of Pope John Paul II's consistent witness to life.

The pastoral life of the Church should not be guided by a simplistic criterion of relevance. But the capacity of faith to shed light on the concrete questions of personal and public life today is one way in which the value of the Gospel is assessed. Certainly the serious, sustained interest manifested throughout American society in the bishops' letter on war and peace provides a unique pastoral opportunity for the Church.

Demonstrating how the teaching on war and peace is supported by a wider concern for all of life may bring others to see for the first time what our tradition has affirmed for a very long time: The public value of a consistent ethic of life is connected directly to its pastoral role. In the public arena we should always speak and act like a Church.

But the unique public possibility for a consistent ethic is provided precisely by the unstructured character of the public debate on the life questions. Each of the issues I have identified today—abortion, war, hunger and human rights, euthanasia and capital punishment—is treated as a separate, self-contained topic in our public life. Each is distinct, but an ad hoc approach to each one fails to illustrate how our choices in one area can affect our decisions in other areas.

There must be a public attitude of respect for all of life if public actions are to respect it in concrete cases. The pastoral on war and peace speaks of a "new moment" in the nuclear age. The heart of the consistent ethic is precisely the linkage of the issues; but they are specifically different issues that are linked. Moreover, the Cardinal pointed out that there is a hierarchy among the issues.

It is the source of all other rights, including the right to health care. Some people see life issues as linked arithmetically; they are lined up and counted. Actually, they are lined geometrically. In their document Living the Gospel of Life , the U. The foundation of the house is the right to life itself. One of the most difficult areas of application for the consistent ethic is the realm of politics. The first consideration here, of course, is that Christians are not a sect fleeing the world, but rather a community of faith called to renew the earth. I wish to reaffirm this forcefully at the beginning of the new millennium, so that Christians will feel more obliged than ever not to neglect their duties as citizens in this world.

This task brings us into the voting booth, and with the responsibility of voting comes the responsibility to know where the candidates, and their respective parties, stand on the issues. Relying on a few news reports here and there is not enough to appreciate where a candidate really stands on issues that matter.

A serious effort should be made to gather and analyze pertinent information. Nor does simple loyalty to a party suffice.

Cardinal Bernardin’s Consistent Ethic of Life – The Myth and the Reality

The linkage and hierarchy of issues should shape our evaluation of candidates. We will hardly find a candidate with whom we agree on everything. The key question, however, is the relative importance of the issues on which we disagree. Some disagreements pertain to how best to secure a basic right. Candidates may have different approaches on how to reduce poverty, without disagreeing that the poor have rights. Other disagreements, however, pertain to whether certain groups have rights at all, such as the disagreement as to whether the unborn are persons.

This latter type of disagreement is much more decisive. If a candidate supports policies that deprive human beings of fundamental rights, he or she also supports the view that government dominates — rather than serves — the human person. Consistency is not optional.

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