Archive for the ‘Pope’ Category

Where Do Things Stand on the Sex Abuse Crisis?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

The news from the recent US bishops’ meeting came as a shock and disappointment to many Catholics – the Holy See blocked a vote on any plan to address the latest developments in the sex abuse crisis until after a world-wide meeting of the heads of national bishops’ conferences in February. And many are deeply frustrated because there is a lack of information about why this was done and what’s going to happen.

I’ve been hearing lots of angry questions about the situation from friends and correspondents. There is a plethora of opinion and speculation online, much of it colored by various ideological positions. There is a lot of mis-information, and lack of information, being spread through the media and the blogosphere.

I’d like to offer some of my thoughts and explanations to try to clarify where I see things being. Note that these are my personal opinions. They’re not official positions of the Archdiocese and I have no special inside information. But I am involved in child protection, so I’m going to use that experience to try to make some sense of things.

Why did Rome stop the bishops from acting? 

Just to review, the US bishops were holding their semi-annual meeting in Baltimore. The main issue on the agenda was how to address the sex abuse crisis, particularly the question of how to hold bishops accountable. There were two inter-related proposals on the table – to establish a lay-led commission to review complaints against bishops and to define a code of conduct for bishops. At the last minute, a letter was sent from the Holy See asking (in reality, a nice way of ordering) the bishops to postpone any vote on any kind of proposal until after the meeting that the Holy Father called in February to discuss the matter with the presidents of all the regional bishops’ conferences around the world.

It’s impossible to say why the Holy See stopped the bishops from adopting an American policy, because nobody in Rome explained the reasoning behind the decision. All we were told was that decisions should be deferred until after the February meeting. For Americans, this is, perhaps, the most frustrating part of what happened, since we are used to much more open debate about policy options. Many feel deeply offended and angry, and see this as another example of condescending clericalism and a culture of secrecy. Some have also found it bewildering to stop our bishops from voting on a plan that was going to have to be approved in Rome anyway, and wonder whether there is some kind of hostility to America going on.

It’s clear to me that the Holy See needs to be much more open about what they’re doing and why — especially because one of the most damaging parts of the sex abuse crisis was the loss of trust because of all the secrecy.

Why can’t the US Bishops just adopt their own policies for the US?

American Catholics naturally want our American bishops to offer solutions to our American problem. We respect the principle of subsidiarity, according to which there’s a strong preference that local bodies resolve local problems if possible, and that larger bodies only get involved if local solutions don’t work. Our experience since 2002 with the Bishops’ Charter shows that our bishops are perfect capable of developing successful ways to deal with sex abuse on a national scale.

So for many people, Rome’s decision to postpone any action on the US bishops’ plan, before there was a chance to see if it would work, seems to violate subsidiarity. On the other hand, the Holy Father may be convinced that the sex abuse crisis (including the problem of misconduct and poor governance by bishops) can’t be answered on a nation-by-nation basis and requires a world-wide discussion, if not a world-wide response. It’s hard to tell because Rome’s reasoning hasn’t been made public.

Regardless of the reasons, once Rome made the request (i.e., order) to our bishops, they had no choice but to comply. Unity with the Holy Father is an essential part of the collegiality among bishops and the catholicity of our Church, and great deference has to be given to his wishes.

One pragmatic matter is crucial to understand: the Church is present in virtually every country in the world. We in America are used to dealing with a good government with fair courts and laws, a free press and wide-open discussions. But in most other countries, dioceses operate in a completely different environment, with open hostility and persecution from their governments, limited free press and fear of retaliation for speaking one’s mind. So what may make perfect sense in one country or diocese could be a disaster in another. The Holy See has the difficult job of trying to make world-wide policy that will work in all nations.

So does Rome have a plan?

Again, we don’t know, because nobody at the Holy See has publicly proposed anything yet. The Vatican has just announced the names of some of the people who will be involved in the planning of the February meeting (none of whom are laypeople), they haven’t had any formal meetings yet, and there haven’t been any real hints about the actual agenda. Public statements by some of the organizers have been very general and have suggested that the meeting will only be the beginning of a longer process of developing policies.

That kind of statement is just astounding to me – we are very far from the beginning of the crisis, and we need to move quickly towards ending it. The crisis is now, not in the future. We need to see a sense of urgency and a concrete plan that has much more involvement of the laity, especially experts in the field, and much more openness and accountability.

For all those reasons and more, I think it’s reasonable to be skeptical that the February meeting will result in any concrete proposals. In the past, high-level meetings run by the Holy See have usually been better at discussing general principles than for adopting practical policies. Just think of the most recent Synods of Bishops for examples.

There was also some discussion at the US bishops’ meeting of strengthening the role of archbishops in supervising the bishops in their province and in evaluating allegations of misconduct by them. There were even hints that this proposal might be favored in Rome. There is some merit to this idea, since it relies on existing structures, but it makes many Catholics nervous. Having bishops overseeing other bishops, unless they also have robust transparency and involvement by laity or independent investigators, will likely be perceived by many as perpetuating the kind of clericalism that has been a major part of the problem in the past. The Archbishop McCarrick case has been seen as a prime example of the failure of bishops to self-police.

In any event, it seems clear to me that to regain the trust of American Catholics, Rome will have to come up with more than just additional statements about how serious the problem is, how concerned they are, how committed they are to preventing abuse, and how serious they are about developing policies. There’s already been a lot of talk, and people are impatient for action.

What can our bishops do in the meantime? 

Seeing our bishops’ hands tied by the Vatican is very upsetting, because that means there are very few things they can do on the national scale while waiting for the February world-wide meeting. Cardinal Dolan and two other prelates have been appointed to a special task force to study the issue, and we can hope that there will be some positive results from that and an avenue for input from the laity in that process. And we can also hope that after the February world-wide meeting, the US Bishops will have the ability to adopt particular policies that would apply in the unique situation of the US.

Individual bishops, however, can use this time to increase their communication with the laity, particularly by being completely transparent about the cases that have arisen and how they have been handled, including apologizing for mistakes. The bishops can also be transparent by explaining the procedures they already have in their dioceses and how they can hold their brother bishops accountable. Greater attention can also be paid to the problem of unchastity among the clergy. More bishops are following Cardinal Dolan’s example and setting up compensation plans for victims of abuse, and more should also follow his example by calling on an independent monitor to evaluate what the diocese has been doing.

These steps help, but they don’t eliminate people’s impatience over the need for a strong national solution.

Is the Vatican dragging its feet on the Archbishop McCarrick case?

Not at all. The first allegation against the Archbishop was evaluated last Spring by our review board and found to be substantiated. That case was then sent to Rome, the Holy Father removed the Archbishop’s faculties to function as a priest and bishop, he resigned from the College of Cardinals, and he has been assigned to live in prayer and penance. A second allegation was made public this summer in the newspapers. It was referred to Rome, and they then sent it back to us for investigation. According to our protocols, we referred the case to the local District Attorney to determine whether there is any possibility of a criminal prosecution. Once they have concluded their handling of the case, we will conduct our own investigation and all the evidence will be submitted to our review board. If any other allegations are made, they will be handled the same way.

Investigating these kinds of cases takes time, and we all wish things would move faster. But the Holy See has been following its law and procedure, the DA’s offices have followed theirs, and so have we. These things can’t be rushed. We also have to make sure that the Archbishop, like anyone else, receives due process. People often forget that even the American justice system moves very slowly. The Bill Cosby sexual assault case took three years from the filing of charges through two trials, and the Larry Nasser/US gymnastics sex abuse case took over a year and a half for the criminal cases to end in guilty pleas (but the civil cases are still going on). Unfortunately, real life is not like an episode of “Law and Order” where everything is neatly wrapped up in sixty minutes.

Evaluating the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick is only part of the issue, though. The larger question is about how he was able to advance in office despite widespread rumors and even legal settlements about his misconduct. That’s a serious question that Rome will have to eventually answer.

Aren’t the bishops and the pope worried about losing Catholics? 

Many Catholics are baffled by what they see as the tepid and confusing response by Church leaders and think that the bishops “just don’t get” the level of anger and alienation they feel. What happened at the bishops’ meeting was more fuel for that feeling, and there’s a grave concern that ordinary Catholics are going to leave the Church in frustration.

We Catholics have great reverence for our Church, and our faith is inevitably shaken when Church leaders let us down. Throughout her history, the Church has struggled with scandals and failings in ourselves and our leaders. A quick read of St. Paul’s letters shows that in vivid detail (1 Corinthians is a good example). The offenses and failures of the clergy undermine our trust in their sincerity about the faith itself – people rightly think, “if they act that way, why should I believe anything they say?” Of course, we know that the validity of the sacraments and the integrity of the faith don’t depend on the worthiness of the ministers. And Church history is also a good lesson in patience and perspective – we’ve survived many, many crises before, thanks to the protection of the Holy Spirit.

But still, there is a critical element of trust that our bishops need to regain, before too many people are disillusioned and join the ranks of the “nones” – those who say they’re believers but who don’t belong to any church – or the legion of “ex-Catholics”.

What can lay people do about this?

Because complaints of clergy misconduct are handled according to internal Church processes (under the Bishops’ Charter and the Canon Law), it’s hard to see how regular lay people can get more involved. There is no clear avenue right now for raising complaints about bishops, and it’s hard to tell how Rome handles those complaints or even if anyone is listening to them.

One thing that is absolutely necessary is for people to respectfully let their bishop know how they feel about this situation and how much they want to see some positive action. The only way they’ll “get it” is if we give it to them – politely and reasonably. I know that some people are withholding donations to their bishops’ appeal to send a message, but I don’t think that gets the job done — that money goes primarily to the pastoral and charitable work of the dioceses, so the only people being deprived of money are the needy people who will lose services.

The most important thing that lay people can do is to pray for our bishops and priests, and especially for victims, and to lead blameless and holy lives ourselves. Good Christian lives are the best way to attract people to the Gospel, and to heal the wounds of sin.

How can the Church operate this way?

We Americans are very impatient and practical by nature. When there’s a crisis we want solutions right away. If there’s a natural disaster, we expect the President and the Governor to be on the next plane and for FEMA, the Red Cross and the military to be on the ground within hours — forget about red tape, just get the job done. We hold them all to a high standard and any slips are put under a microscope immediately.

Americans are also used to our government officials explaining in detail (both officially and through unofficial statements, leaks, etc.) why particular policies are being put forward, and we are comfortable with extensively debating about them. When our government isn’t open with us about what policies are being developed, we are immediately suspicious and often resort to conspiracy theories. Americans have an ingrained allergy to government secrecy, and we really believe in the expression that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”.

As a result, the deliberate pace and closed manner with which the Church operates can be bewildering and intensely frustrating to Americans. Most people, including many Catholics, don’t realize that the Church isn’t organized like a corporation with branch offices on every corner and policies that can be changed in a minute by the CEO. There are elements of both localism and universalism in the Church that work together and are sometimes in tension. Each diocese is governed by a bishop who has very broad authority, but the diocese is still part of the universal Church and the bishop is responsible for maintaining unity with the Holy Father. The Holy Father has ultimate governing authority over the Church, but he has to respect the autonomy of individual bishops. National bishops’ conferences like the USCCB are really coalitions like the Chamber of Commerce, and don’t have any actual governing power over individual dioceses.

The Church also operates under its own internal legal system. The Canon Law is a complex and ancient body of law that is very different in concept from our Anglo-American common law system. It reflects very rich and deep theological principles about the nature of the Church, and it has detailed standards and procedures that have developed over centuries. It is not designed for rapid-fire pragmatism like you would find on a TV court reality show or a legal thriller novel. The Holy Father has the authority to change Canon Law, but, as with any legal system, changes have to be done very carefully to avoid interfering with or undermining other important principles. For example, it would be easy to streamline a criminal trial to make it faster, but that can’t be done in a way that endangers due process rights or the presumption of innocence.

The Church operates in a way that is very strange to Americans. It’s hard to get used to, and sometimes even harder to explain.

What’s the take-away?

Ultimately, of course, our faith is not in man or in institutions but in Jesus Christ, and we believe that His saving power works even though imperfect people like our clergy and ourselves. As St. Paul said, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7).

For the last 15 years, the Church has been implementing the Bishops Charter and has made tremendous strides in protecting children from sexual abuse and addressing past misconduct. The current state of things is very frustrating and there’s no easy answer, but we can’t lose hope. We will just have to continue working the best we can through the imperfect system that we have, with faith that the Holy Spirit is always active and guiding us.

The Truth is Our Most Important Ally

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

In recent weeks, we’ve seen an abundance of news stories about the crisis facing the Church. The letter released by the former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States has begun a new phase of the crisis, by leveling some deeply troubling allegations. There is a great deal of anger and concern among the faithful, but there is also a lot of confusion about what is actually going on and what can and should be done about it.

At this troubled time, a relentless pursuit of the truth will be our best ally in dealing with the current crisis. But we have to leave ideologies, axe-grinding and agendas behind. We need, as the old TV character Sgt. Joe Friday insisted, to stick to “just the facts”. Here’s my attempt to clear up some of the confusion.

I think it’s vital to be clear about the specific issues that are in play right now. Some of them overlap, but at their heart they are separate problems that require particular corrective responses. As I see it, there are four basic issues.

The sexual abuse of children by clergy. This was the primary focus of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, and it has been a major issue for the Church since at least 2002, when the Boston abuses became public. I consider this problem to be largely behind us, and it is no help for people to act as if nothing has changed since the adoption of the Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. We are still unearthing old cases of horrible abuse, but there is no evidence whatsoever that there is anything like widespread abuse of minors by clergy taking place now. In fact, all the evidence is to the contrary, and even the Grand Jury Report notes the dramatic changes that have occurred since 2002.

The dioceses across the United States have spend millions of dollars on prevention efforts, including training and background checking, and there has been a vast improvement in the way that cases are handled. In fact, we should have no problem with any outside organization auditing our files to see how we’re doing. If there are deficiencies, we need to have them identified right away so that we can correct them. But we also need to make abundantly clear that we will redouble our efforts and be held accountable to our absolute adamantine commitment that any offender will be excluded from any contact with minors in any program or institution of the Church.

Sexual harassment and oppression of seminarians. This is the major focus of the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick, and many of the other allegations that have been made since those became public. These allegations are particularly appalling. The idea that priests (or upper classmen seminarians) who are in positions of authority would exploit the power disparity between them and their students is utterly reprehensible, a sin that must be extirpated as soon as possible. These offenses corrupt vulnerable men and they poison the entire ethos of a seminary, which is to form young men in a life of holiness.

So little is known about the scope of this problem, and much needs to be done to get to the facts. Investigations clearly need to be done, which means that people need to come forward on the record with testimony and supporting evidence. To ensure that will happen, we have to institute and enforce robust whistleblower protections for priests and seminarians who provide evidence. Boards of Trustees of the seminaries need to take the lead on this, in conjunction with independent investigators. If they are unwilling or unable to do so, then they should be replaced by those who are, or outside help such as accreditation boards should be welcomed.

Sexual infidelity by clergy. This has primarily been centered on the issue of “gay priests”, although infidelity is not limited to them. From what we know so far, though, there is certainly a some connection between active homosexual clergy and both of the prior issues.

The exploitation of seminarians is clearly a homosexual problem. The Holy See issued a strong directive in 2005 that “the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture'”. A seminary should be a place where holiness and human formation are the priority, and sexual dynamics have no place distracting the men from that work. It would seem to me to be grossly unfair to a man with same-sex attraction to be put into an all-male environment, which would necessarily be a constant occasion of sin. Just imagine putting a young adult male with normal sexual desires into an all-female dorm for four years.

It has to be noted that the sexual abuse of minors is not primarily a problem of homosexuality, although there clearly is some overlap. Pedophilia is a very complicated phenomenon. The clinical definition of pedophilia is a prolonged sexual attraction to minors 13 years old or younger. The large majority (over 70%) of the victims nationwide fall into that age group, but over a quarter were older teens. Studies have shown that the vast majority of men who have clinical pedophilia actually consider themselves to be heterosexual, and the clinical studies do not support the idea that homosexuals are more likely to be child molesters. Nevertheless, it would seem obvious that same-sex attraction has to be a relevant factor in the sexual abuse of mid-to-late teenagers.

The response to sexual infidelity of clergy is not limited to those with same-sex attraction, and it certainly is nothing new. If you read the biography of every saint who was a bishop or an abbot, you will see that they struggled with reforming the clergy away from sinful behavior. Clearly, every priest and bishop must be called to (and helped with) fidelity to their obligations of celibacy (not getting married), continence (no sexual activity), and chastity (properly ordered sexual desires). Careful attention must be paid to friendships and activities that undermine those commitments. Worldliness in general must be addressed, since moral laxity is contagious.

No matter what celebrity priests might say, it is imperative that the Holy See’s directive about homosexuals in the priesthood and seminary be taken seriously and implemented. This should not create an open season or “witch hunt” for gay priests, but a time of cleansing and purification of the clergy.

Ensuring the holiness and fidelity of the clergy is the responsibility of individual bishops, but they should not hesitate to seek assistance from lay people in pursuing investigations. We need people to come forward with facts, not with rumors or innuendo. In fact, we lay people can be a big help in this regard — we all need to live in a way that is less worldly, more ascetic, more chaste. It is hard to expect our clergy to be pure if we are not pure, but a renewed commitment to reforming our lives and living according to the Gospel can’t help but aid our brothers in their own path to holiness.

The failure to correctly handle abuse cases. This includes covering up, moving offenders around, failing to report to law enforcement, punishing whistleblowers, and creating a culture of silence. Clearly, in the past, the three problems discussed above were poorly dealt with by Church authorities. The revelations in 2002, subsequent disclosures in dioceses around the nation, the Grand Jury Report, and the McCarrick case make that abundantly clear. And while the first problem (sexual abuse of minors) is being dealt with, the other two problems need serious and vigorous attention — immediately.

In this, we need our bishops to step up to the plate and exercise the governance responsibilities that are part of the charism and burden of their office. This has to be done at the local level, since the problems stem from specific local characteristics and activities, not from broad national generalities.

Cardinal DiNardo, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement the other day that said some good things, but he left others out:

I convened our Executive Committee once again, and it reaffirmed the call for a prompt and thorough examination into how the grave moral failings of a brother bishop [i.e., Archbishop McCarrick] could have been tolerated for so long and proven no impediment to his advancement.

The recent letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò [the former Nuncio] brings particular focus and urgency to this examination. The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.

I am eager for an audience with the Holy Father to earn his support for our plan of action. That plan includes more detailed proposals to: seek out these answers, make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier, and improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops.

That’s a good start, but it doesn’t even address what will be done about the problems of sexual harassment of seminarians or sexual infidelity of clergy. Amazingly, it gives no indication that there is any sense of urgency. And it is a sad irony that the “plan of action”, which will supposedly enhance transparency, hasn’t been shown to anyone and nobody even knows who is involved in developing it. There are hundreds of people in our dioceses, and thousands in the private sector, who could offer excellent help and guidance in producing a plan to ensure internal integrity and whose involvement would assure greater public confidence in the process and the result. After all the terrible results of years of insularity and secrecy, USCCB needs to understand that the old ways don’t work any more if they’re to retain any credibility they might still have.

One thing is perfectly clear — in all of this, the truth is our most important ally. We are in a burgeoning crisis, and time is short. We have to get past politics, personalities, self-preservation, ideologies, agendas, fear of legal liability and personal embarrassment, and get to the truth. The truth is all that matters. After all, we have it on good authority that “the truth will set you free”.

Reading the Holy Father Correctly on Life Issues

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

There is an unfortunate tendency during the current papacy to seek confusion and controversy where there really is none. All too often I see in my email and online Catholics complaining about various statements by the Holy Father, saying that they are unclear or confusing or contrary to the statements of earlier popes.

My favorite recent pope is Benedict XVI. His clear and powerful writings resonate with me. Perhaps it’s the legacy of my German ancestors. Benedict gave us a key tool with which to look at statements from popes and bishops, so that we can always “think with the Church” as St. Ignatius of Loyola put it. Speaking specifically about the Second Vatican Council, he contrasted two ways of looking at teachings of the Church over time: “On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture”; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform”, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us.” The word “hermeneutic” is a fancy term for the way we look at things.

In that spirit, let’s look at one passage from Pope Francis’ new document, his apostolic exhortation on holiness Gaudete et Excultate (nos. 101 and 102):

The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend. Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.

We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him (cf. Mt 25:35)? Saint Benedict did so readily, and though it might have “complicated” the life of his monks, he ordered that all guests who knocked at the monastery door be welcomed “like Christ”, with a gesture of veneration; the poor and pilgrims were to be met with “the greatest care and solicitude”.

Some people have looked at this passage through the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture”, thinking that Pope Francis has broken with the teachings of his predecessors and saying that abortion should no longer be seen as a paramount issue and that migration issues are just as important. The secular media has been guilty of spreading this misinterpretation, obviously because they wish that we would spend less energy fighting abortion and they love to sow disunity among us. Unfortunately, some Catholics have fallen for it, and think that Pope Francis is going soft on abortion.

Actually, not. When we look at this passage through the “hermeneutic of continuity”, we see that what the Holy Father is saying is that all the issues on which we do advocacy stem from the same source — the inherent dignity of every human person. He recognizes that abortion requires “clear, firm and passionate” defense, but urges us to make sure that other violations of human dignity are not ignored. The Holy Father is personally very concerned about migration issues, and he wishes that we all were too, but he is absolutely not telling us to desist from fighting abortion. He particularly is warning us against pitting one issue against another, as a cynical politician might do in order to get our votes. We can all cite examples of that.

If this advice sounds familiar, it should. Here is what St. Pope John Paul II said in his great pro-life encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (nos. 3 and 10):

The Second Vatican Council, in a passage which retains all its relevance today, forcefully condemned a number of crimes and attacks against human life. Thirty years later, taking up the words of the Council and with the same forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church, certain that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience: “Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator”….

And how can we fail to consider the violence against life done to millions of human beings, especially children, who are forced into poverty, malnutrition and hunger because of an unjust distribution of resources between peoples and between social classes? And what of the violence inherent not only in wars as such but in the scandalous arms trade, which spawns the many armed conflicts which stain our world with blood? What of the spreading of death caused by reckless tampering with the world’s ecological balance, by the criminal spread of drugs, or by the promotion of certain kinds of sexual activity which, besides being morally unacceptable, also involve grave risks to life? It is impossible to catalogue completely the vast array of threats to human life, so many are the forms, whether explicit or hidden, in which they appear today!

St. John Paul went on in that encyclical to focus on abortion and euthanasia as particularly grave threats to life, but he made sure that we recalled that there are many other threats to life and dignity as well.

There is clearly nothing wrong with responding when the Holy Spirit is calling us to prioritize our efforts on one issue or another. So many people have dedicated their lives to fighting for the rights of unborn people, and others have done so on behalf of prisoners, migrants, victims of human trafficking, the environment, and so on. But what Pope Francis, and St. John Paul and Pope Benedict before him, is warning us about is our natural tendency to ignore other issues, or — even worse — to denigrate them or oppose Church teaching about them, out of a misguided devotion to the particular issue that we favor or that is favored by our preferred political party.

Serving the common good, which is at the heart of Catholic social teaching, requires that we work to eliminate all threats to human life and dignity, since all lives are equally sacred in the eyes of God. That requires each of us to focus our energies on particular issues, and to be grateful that other people are working on other issues. All of this is good — after all, “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord” (1 Cor 12:4-5).