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September 24, 2008
The Catholic charge: reform laws to respect the sanctity of human life
By the time most people see this column, Mark Stricherz will have delivered the 2008 Casey Lecture. But it’s not too late for me to strongly encourage Catholics to buy, read and reflect on his insightful book, “Why the Democrats Are Blue” (Encounter, 2007).
The Casey Lecture was founded to explore the proper role of religious faith in Catholic public service. It’s named, not surprisingly, after the late Democratic Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr. of Pennsylvania. Casey, who died in 2000, embodied the best qualities of the “party of the little guy.” Because the Democratic Party historically fought for the socially marginalized, including waves of Catholic immigrants, it was the preferred party of most American Catholics for many years.
Times have changed. Today the Catholic vote, if it exists at all, is much more diverse. Both major parties—the “blues” (Democrats) and “reds” (Republicans)—have strengths and weaknesses, and neither adequately represents Catholic social teaching. The moral calculus facing Catholic voters is often more difficult than in decades past. But the late Gov. Bob Casey still appeals to committed, practicing Catholics no matter what their party affiliation. The reason is simple. In his public service he devoted himself to the poor and disadvantaged, but he also argued forcefully against the “abortion rights” lobby in American public life and for the sanctity of the unborn child. Casey understood that a nation cannot build justice for its adults if it simultaneously allows the mass killing of its unborn children in the womb.
Stricherz, himself a Catholic and a Democrat, begins from the same Casey principles. “Why the Democrats Are Blue” reminds Catholics in both major parties of their duty to get politically involved and work to turn their party leaderships toward a deeper respect for human dignity, from conception to natural death.
The heart of the Catholic political vocation is captured best in the 1998 U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter, “Living the Gospel of Life”:
“Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care. Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all these areas.
No law that allows the intentional killing of innocent human life can be just. Political parties, or scholars, or leaders who support such laws, or make excuses for them, or distract people from their gravity, implicate themselves in the injustice. Whoever wins the U.S. national elections this November, the task of serious Catholics will remain the same: to reform our laws to respect the sanctity of human life. The great value of Mark Stricherz’s work is to remind us of how urgent and difficult a task that will be.
“Why the Democrats Are Blue” (Encounter, 2007) can be purchased through local bookstores or at Amazon.com.
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