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The Pope, the Consistent Ethic of Life, and the Common Good

Pope Benedict XVI has been making the news lately. On theoccasion of Barack Obama’s election victory, he sent a personal congratulatorymessage and emphasized working with the new president on issues of “peace,solidarity and justice.”  When the Vatican spokesman was asked by a reporter for morespecifics discussed in the letter, the spokesperson reiterated, “peace,solidarity and justice.”


The Pope also reminded Catholics in a recent statement thatall human life, born and unborn, is sacred and mustbe protected. The Pope noted that every year about four million newbornchildren die around the world less than 26 days after birth because of poverty,lack of health care, and armed conflict. The Holy Father described this as amatter of “urgent” concern.

This consistent ethicof life principle has a long history in Catholic social thought, butit’s often eclipsed when it comes to contemporary debates over faith inpolitics.  Abortion, for example, is sometimesviewed in isolation from the social, cultural and economic context in whichwomen and families live.  As AuxiliaryBishop Gabino Zavala of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles told Washington Post writer E.J. Dionne, Jr. inthis column.”We are not a one-issue Church,” Zavala insisted.


Catholic voters agree. A new post-election pollconducted by Public Religion Research and sponsored by Faith in Public Life,Catholics in Alliancefor the Common Good and Sojourners found that 72 percent of Catholics saypeople of faith should “focus on all issues that are central to their faitheven if it makes them less effective in politics.”   Strongmajorities of Catholics (71%) and evangelicals (62%) also believe people offaith should advocate for policies that “protect the interests of all andpromote the common good.”


On the urgent moral issue of abortion, poll findings offerhope that we can move beyond culture-war divisions to support public policiesthat prevent abortions. Eighty-one percent of Catholics and 86 percent of whiteevangelicals, according to the survey, believe elected leaders should worktogether to find ways to reduce abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies,expanding adoption opportunities, and increasing economic support for women whowant to carry their pregnancies to term.

The role of religion in public life today has dramatically changed. Justfour years ago, the far right had a monopoly on the faith and values’ debate. AChristian engagement with public life too often ignored the long tradition ofthe social gospel:  Jesus’ centralmessage of justice and liberation for the poor and oppressed, and theMagnificat’s reversal of worldly power.  War,health care and the economy were not widely viewed as moral issues that have aprofound impact on human dignity. Today,organizations like Catholics in Alliance,Pax Christi, NETWORK, Faith in Public Life and Sojourners have helped put thecommon good back at the center of political discourse.


This resurgent common-good faith movement has deepened themoral agenda by reclaiming a prophetic voice on issues such as poverty,  compassionate and root-cause solutions toabortion, genocide and climate change. The movement looks forward to realizingsolutions to these issues, and advocating for and holding the newAdministration and Congress accountable to these solutions and ideals, as aprophetic faith community must.

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posted November 27, 2008 at 12:32 am

Sounds like Ms. Kelley has been coached by Douglas Kmiec. A couple of “cafeteria” Catholics. who who believe they can re-write the teaching of the Church, are apostates of the first order. Please check with the Pontiff to see if he supports your views.

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posted November 27, 2008 at 12:53 am

That’s right, Ms. Kelley, call up His Holiness right now.
Honestly, I used to think Presbyterians were anal retentive. That was before I started reading this Catholic column.

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posted November 27, 2008 at 1:47 pm

My goodness, I’m not sure what to make of the previous two comments. I felt quite hopeful for today’s Christian church, whether Catholic or Protestant, after reading this column, feeling that it is consistent in a holistic way with the life and message of Jesus Christ. I’m very disappointed to see 2 responses to its message either miss the point entirely or be non-responsive in a meaningful way. It looks like it’s time for some folks to prayerfully revisit the 4 Gospels and see what Jesus taught. If you do so, you’ll see that this column is entirely consistent with the teachings of Jesus. And let’s not forget that the teachings of Jesus should always be the foundation of our beliefs and practices as Christians.

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posted November 29, 2008 at 9:57 am

It is time to pray for our President and the men and women he surrounds himself with for advice and counsel. I pray I could be one of them at any level of Government. There I can make my Christian – Catholic beliefs known and maybe the annointing we Catholic – Christian’s have about the value of life will rub off on our President. Remember this is our Government ” We the People” If my people will pray and humble themselves I will heal their land. Our pledge of alligence says One Nation Under God… This is a Godly county and there is Hope,Faith and Charity within our hearts but Faith without works is dead and it is time for each one of us to get up and join in to help our Government get back to the core values that our consitution promised.

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Asinus Gravis

posted November 29, 2008 at 2:08 pm

It is quite fascinating how many people who comment on this blog have exactly the same name–i.e. “Your Name.”
Or could it be that some have not noticed that if they click on that line (the one saying “Your Name”) in “Post a Comment” it will go blank and they can actually type in a different name, perhaps their own name, or a pen name.

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posted November 30, 2008 at 4:47 pm

To Asinus-
Beliefnet times out very quickly when one is composing a post. Therefore, they have to refresh the page and even though the content of the post remains, the name gets removed. It took me awhile to notice that even though I had entered my name orginally, I had to re-enter it after refreshing the page. Perhaps others have had the same problem.

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posted December 29, 2008 at 7:36 pm

‘Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.’
Who said this?? Was it the RNC chairman trying to trick the clingers? No… Was it some hypocritical, old fashion catholic trying to get out of paying more taxes? No….Was it some Catholic lawyer trying to position himself for a job in a McCain administration??? No.
It was Pope John Paul II. The same Pope who was almost assassinated on the anniversary (May 13th) of Mary’s first appearance at Fatima. (a 1 in 365 probability). Who subsequently concentrated Russia to Mary. With Russia (unexpectedly) falling on December 25 (Christmas) (also a 1 in 365 probability)
Probabilities are not proof but for a modern world that is always calling for proof of God’s existence and will they should at least be thought provoking. Maybe we need to listen to our Shepard and reach beyond ourselves and our politic beliefs and allow are political beliefs to be informed not by opinion but truth. Any Catholic who thinks voting for (more) health care or child care tax credits is more important than defending the right to life is not listening to their shepherd. Anyone who thinks that the Democratic Party is the secret pro-life party needs to reflect really hard on whether they are trying to obfuscate their conscience from reality and why.

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