Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Respect for life: our commitment to the common good"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Oct. 21, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

There is so much pain in the world community today. War, hunger, violence. Addiction to drugs; indifference to pandemics such as AIDS. Terrorism, oppression. Child trafficking, abortion: These are just some of the realities which violate one of the most foundational principles of the Catholic Church’s social teaching: the dignity of the human person.

October has been designated Respect Life month. In the United States each year, the Church gives even more focus to the gift of human life and the implication of this truth as it plays out in the life of our nation. Since 2004 is a presidential election year, the issue of respect for life takes on special significance and even more intense urgency.

Debates and discussions continue to be heated at almost every level in our nation. Our Catholic community is involved, with varying positions on the issue of politicians and Communion. Though some of the reporting might suggest otherwise, it’s my judgment that the great majority of United States bishops would not deny Communion to a Catholic politician at Mass. This in no way suggests that the bishops have softened their teaching that abortion is very wrong. Some, critical of many bishops’ stances, have implied otherwise. Not so. Individuals have different opinions, yet strive toward the same goal: protecting the dignity of all human life.

Make no mistake about it: Abortion denies the fundamental human right to live, once life has been conceived in the womb. Dominican Father Bruce Williams, a professor at the Pontifical University St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, addressed the issue in a recent talk at a Newman Center in Fitzburg, Mass.

“In principle,” said Father Williams, “abortion strikes at the foundations of society and, indeed, at the most fundamental of all social relationships – the relationship between mother and child. All of this is what lies behind Mother Theresa’s famous characterization of abortion as the great threat to world peace.”

Does not abortion enable violence in our society? I firmly believe it does. And I firmly believe that too often, in the culture of our nation, we are blind to that connection.

As Church, we have a clear role: We must help not only Catholics, but all citizens of this country to make connections, to relinquish our willing blindness, to see better and more clearly. We must be a voice for the voiceless and vulnerable, especially the unborn. Every four years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Administrative Committee has issued a statement, “Faithful Citizenship,” to assist us in forming our consciences and to inform ourselves about the teaching of the Church. There is no question that the abortion issue is of fundamental importance in principle. We must also remember, however, that there are other very serious issues – and they are many – which must be addressed as well. You will find a rich resource of materials available at the USCCB website:

Our approach to respect for human life must be constant and long-term. Ours are unusual times of cultural change. We have all the more reason to be focused on principles of the church’s social teaching, principles that will offer guidance and assistance in making important decisions while voting.

As we approach the voting booth and as we think of our responsibilities as citizens to promote respect for human life, the Catholic bishops in the “Faithful Citizenship” offer a list of 10 questions for our consideration:

1. After the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, how can we build not only a safer world, but a better world – a world that is more just, more secure, more peaceful, and more respectful of human life and dignity?

2. How will we protect the weakest in our midst — unborn children? How can our nation stop turning to violence in order to solve its most complex issues? Abortion, for difficult pregnancies; the death penalty, to combat crime; euthanasia and assisted suicide, to deal with burdens of age, illness, and disability; war, to address international disputes?

3. How will we address the tragic fact that more than 30,000 children die every day as a result of hunger, international debt, and lack of basic economic development around the world?

4. How can our nation help parents raise their children with respect for life, sound moral values, a sense of hope, and an ethic of stewardship and responsibility? How can our society defend the central institution of marriage and better support families in their moral responsibilities?

5. Our nation includes a growing number of people without affordable and accessible health care. How can health care better protect human life and respect human dignity?

6. How will our society combat prejudice, overcome hostility toward immigrants and refugees, and heal the wounds of racism, religious bigotry, and discrimination?

7. How will our nation pursue the values of justice and peace in a world where injustice is commonplace, desperate poverty is widespread, and peace too often overwhelmed by violence?

8. What are the responsibilities and limitations of families, community organizations, markets, and government? How can these elements of society work together to overcome poverty, pursue the common good, and care for creation?

9. When should our nation use or avoid the use of military force? For what purpose, under what authority, and at what human cost?

10. How can we join with other nations to lead the world to greater respect for human life and dignity, religious freedom and democracy, economic justice, and care for God’s creation?

Please exercise your right and responsibility to vote. As we do so, we participate in building up the common good.

May God grant us wisdom and peace.

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