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Bishop Burke on the Dignity of Human Life and Civic Responsibility

Pastoral Letter Accompanies Recent Decree on Pro-Abortion Politicians

LA CROSSE, Wisconsin, JAN. 10, 2004 (Zenit) - Bishop Raymond Burke of La Crosse, who has taken a stand against Catholic politicians who support abortion and euthanasia, has issued a pastoral letter on the duty of every one of the faithful to promote the culture of life in politics.

The bishop wrote the letter at the same time that he released a decree that local Catholic politicians who support abortion or euthanasia may not receive Communion in the diocese until they publicly denounce their positions. Bishop Burke previously had written to three lawmakers privately, imploring them to vote more in line with the faith they profess.

The full text of the pastoral letter appears below.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In these and in the coming months, politicians are beginning their campaigns for election or reelection to public office in 2004. The start of political campaigns reminds us that we, as Catholics, are called to be faithful to Christ also through our political involvement. Every election gives us the opportunity to discuss the ways our government should lead us now and into the future for the common good.

Forming Political Judgments

Sadly, many Catholics misunderstand the meaning of the so-called "separation of Church and state" in our nation and believe that the Word of God, handed on to us in the Church, has no application to political life. Certainly, our government does not endorse or fund a particular Christian denomination or religion. But, at the same time, we, as Roman Catholics, have the right and, indeed, the obligation to inform our consciences and political judgments from the teachings of our faith, especially in what pertains to the natural moral law, that is the order established by God in creation.

For example, while the Ten Commandments forbid stealing, no one would believe that laws against theft are an imposition of the Jewish or Christian religions. People of different faiths or of no faith can recognize the natural obligation to respect the property of others. Also, no one would consider Christian opposition to slavery a "religious" issue. Rather, Christians who oppose slavery and other similar evils are acting according to the standard of right and wrong, which has its foundation in our common human nature.

Embracing the Challenge of Our Faith

As Catholics, we face a special and critical challenge when the moral law demands something different from what society sanctions. In such a situation, many around us, and especially the communications media, will urge us to conform to societal standards, to "follow the crowd."

Our Catholic faith, however, demands that, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, we follow the norm of the moral law and also proclaim it in society for the good of all. "Catholics are called to be a community of conscience within the larger society and to test public life by the moral wisdom anchored in Scripture and consistent with the best of our nation's founding ideals" (Administrative Board of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium" [September 1999], p. 8).

When Dr. Martin Luther King wrote his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," he cited the natural law teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas in defense of civil disobedience. If Dr. King drew from Catholic teaching to uphold what is right and good, then should not we as Catholics do so as well?

Protecting All Human Life

Catholic teaching distinguishes itself from what society presently sanctions by its firm and unchangeable defense of the dignity of human life. As Catholics, we are always held to defend human life from conception to natural death. The Church teaches that human life should be protected at every stage of development, whether in the womb, in the wheelchair or on the deathbed.

Our consistent stance on the dignity of all human life is not understood by some. Many understand our care for the poor and the marginalized, but they part company with us in our defense of innocent and defenseless life in the womb. They will stand with us against capital punishment, but not against procured abortion or euthanasia.

The situation is most difficult for us and profoundly sad for our society, especially for her defenseless and heavily burdened members, but it should not make us doubt the truth of Catholic teaching. On the contrary, we must work to point out the contradiction of protecting some human lives and not others, and work to protect all human life.

"Every human person is created in the image and likeness of God. The conviction that human life is sacred and that each person has inherent ...

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