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Catholic Social Teaching

Ways to learn about Catholic social teaching and how to implement it at home, in the classroom, and in everyday life.

Moral Priorities #1 Protecting Human Life

By Sr. Joan Hart SSDN
Sr. Joan  Hart SSDN

Sr. Joan Hart, SSND, has been involved in justice and peace education for the past 30 years and served on the NCCB/USCC Task Force on Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Education from 1996-98.


For the past several months, readers of this web page have been considering the seven central themes of Catholic social teaching. Now comes the task of translating the theory into action on issues of the day. The U.S. bishops have given us some direction in their recent statement on Faithful Citizenship. As voting citizens, we are called to examine a whole gamut of issues in their relationship to our faith. No single issue should determine how we vote. No single candidate agrees with us on all the issues.

Protecting Human Life

In their section on "Moral Priorities for Public Life" the bishops choose Protecting Human Life as their first of these moral priorities, saying, "we have a duty to defend human life from conception until natural death and in every condition." We would expect to see abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide as issues under this priority, and they are surely there. In addition, two new issues are cloning and human experimentation through biotechnology. Several other issues concern warfare. The bishops include opposition to intentional targeting of civilians in war or terrorist attacks, and call us to work to avoid war itself, especially the preemptive use of force. For the danger that weapons of mass destruction pose to human life, the bishops oppose nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and anti-personnel landmines. They point to the global arms trade as contributing to violent conflicts all over the world. They cite health care coverage as essential to the protection of human life. Finally, the bishops oppose the death penalty, calling instead for solutions to violent crime that would "reflect the dignity of the human person."

Perhaps no other religious body in our nation would put together such a list which includes both highly controversial issues and an admirable consistency. Once we have said that the human person is made in the image and likeness of God, then it is our duty to protect human life wherever and however it is threatened. It is our opportunity to raise these issues in the national debate so that we may know where candidates stand.

Being willing to say that we are committed to protecting human life has a price tag. It is not merely a theoretical statement but one with carefully thought out implications and applications. This is where "the rubber hits the road" for our faith. Assenting to all of it can involve struggle, but did anyone ever say discipleship would be easy?

  • Are there issues here which are stumbling blocks for you? What can you do to try to examine them more closely?
  • How can you bring this concern for human life more fully into the public forum?


    From Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility, © October 10, 2003 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.






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