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In what ways are Catholics unique?

In what ways are Catholics unique? Some would say: in our understanding of the office of the successor of Peter (the Pope); others would add, in our strong love for Jesus’ mother; others would state how real our faith in the Eucharist is.

All of these answers are accurate. Let me add one that is rarely mentioned: the Catholic imagination and culture embraces “and” rather than “or”. In other words, it is a faith that is very holistic and organic. Let me explain.

To some who are so convinced of the value of the unborn, we add: “AND the value of the dignity of the poor and the immigrants.”

To those who emphasize personal responsibility and love for country, the Catholic view reminds them also of global solidarity and the art of peacemaking.

To those who aim for jobs in our cities and stability in our economy, we add concern for refugees, attention to the mentally ill and the rehabilitation of prisoners.

To be a Catholic is the opposite of holding narrow interests and a one-dimensional way of thinking. Father James Murtagh, now serving in the Diocese of Palm Beach, used to talk of reality as an elephant: one’s perception is a piece of a bigger reality. Knowledge is to move from your perception to a wider perception. That is a why dialogue with people of different races and cultures, languages and ways of life, is so enriching to our Catholicity — or simply to the art of being a person without prejudice.

“The Gospel of Life” is one of my favorite writings of Pope John Paul II. More than anyone, he shows the integrity and consistency of human life and dignity. One is called to protect the right of the unborn AND his or her mother, AND human stem cells, AND the fertility of couples, AND disabled persons, AND the imprisoned in death row, AND the older person who is dying.

I find very few leaders who are able to reason out the linkage of these issues as well as John Paul II did both intellectually and in practice. In this vast vision and commitment for the human person, Pope John Paul II ordered the issues according to the principle of “hierarchy of truth”: the protection of the unborn from abortion and of the dying from euthanasia demand the highest responsibility.

Elections call for both our personal choice AND a well informed conscience. Conscience is more than feeling; it is a voice of truth which expects docility. One of the passions of that great Cuban thinker, Father Félix Varela, was to think rightly. He often repeated: good logic AND Christian charity. Today we would probably say: abide in truth AND love.

As we make our selections in the lonely voting booth, we need to connect our values to party platform positions and then to the individuals in public service who best reflect those values. Among our values are some that are non-negotiable: the rights of the unborn, the human dignity of the embryo, the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman. There are others of major importance to our country: accessible health care for all, a comprehensive new immigration program and the protection of our most vulnerable population.

To reiterate: As Catholics we need to vote for human dignity AND the common good of all. We need to respect the unborn AND assist the poor AND ensure that humankind will be preserved from a toxic planet. In all matters, and especially voting, our Catholic faith reminds us that is not a question of “or” but of “and”.

Most Reverend Felipe J. Estévez, S.T.D.
Auxiliary Bishop of Miami

Comments from readers

David - 10/16/2008 05:41 PM
I must agree with Luis, and strongly so. While we are all in agreement that life at all stages (in the womb, on the battlefield, in the nursing home) must be defended, how can I possibly expect a candidate who so vigorously supports abortion to have my trust when it comes to respecting and defending the remainder of society that is far less vulnerable than the unborn child?

Now is not the time to withdraw from the defense of the unborn, especially when there are countless millions at risk. Pray for peace overseas, but don't forget the war that rages on in our own country over the innocent dying daily.
Luis - 10/16/2008 07:35 AM
Perhaps I was unclear in my post. I have not said that we should simply ignore any other issues in this election cycle. I do not believe that the our moral obligation ends at the moment of live birth. We must not ignore other serious threats such as the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war or the use of torture. This would be the misuse of necessary moral distintions. However, neither can we make the mistake of moral equivalance that makes no distintions between the kinds of issues involving life. The intentional destruction of innocent human life is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It has a special claim on our conscience and our actions.

I disagree that the next President WILL NOT be able to change Roe v. Wade. You seem to be suggesting that my vote in this election will not sufficiently implicate or involve the issue of abortion. Leaving aside for the moment Mr. Obama's enthusiastic support for FOCA (see my prior post) which will immediately increase abortions nationally, I disagree with your premise. While the Supreme Court did not yet overturn Roe v. Wade they did uphold the ban on partial birth abortion (which is infantcide not abortion) Gonzales v. Carhart. This was a HUGE change in the direction of the Court's jurisprudence. The current configuration of the Court, in which Anthony Kennedy joined the majority and Ruth Bader Ginsburg was on the dissent, means that the next President will be able to, effectively, overturn Roe. It is quite likely that Ruth Bader Ginsburg and/or Anthony Kennedy will be retiring during the next Presidential term. Depending on who appoints their replacements (Obama or McCain/Palin) we may see Roe overturned.

So in this election I will be unable to vote for one particular candidate because 1) his enthusiastic support of FOCA, 2) his effect on the configuration of the Supreme Court 3) that fact that the are no other proportionately grave issues to to justify ignore a candidate's support for the destruction innocent human life through abortion. Unless 1) there is another proportionately grave issue or 2) the Church teaches that I can ignore a candidate's support for abortion since he supports other important social justice issues or that abortion is simply one issue among other equal competeing issues I cannot in good conscience vote for one particular candidate. Where have I gone wrong?
vestri frater in Iesus
Jean - 10/15/2008 04:14 PM
I realize that abortion is a priority issue when it comes to life. However I feel very uneasy when we can say [I mean we as in many Catholics and Christians in general] that an unjust war which has lead to the death of many people is not "at the same level." My conscience does not allow me to say that or agree with that. An unjust and immoral war [which the Pope has been very open about...and again I repeat does not get preached too often!] which has lead to the death of many both abroad and at home is a top life issue for me and for many in the church. At moment like this I truly ask myself What would Jesus say...and I am afraid the answer would be that destroying life is destroying life...whether it is an unborn child, a child in Iraq, a young military US man. All have life and it has been unjustly been taken away in an immoral way. I don't feel I can judge whose life is more worthy...or in need to be protected.
Luis - 10/15/2008 09:13 AM
Thank you for your response. I agree that there must support pro-life candidates and require that the other social issues which are truly part of what Catholics are called to do in living the Gospel. It is clearly part of Catholic teaching. I did not say our moral responsiblity stops at the moment of birth. However, a candidate may disqualify himself if he supports an intrinsic evil such as abortion. THAT was my point. I am not sure that the USCCB would put the war in Iraq on the same level as the issue of abortion, if that was your point.
Jean - 10/15/2008 08:35 AM
Good morning to you all.


Proof that the Presidents power is limited can be easily found in the last 8 years. We still have Roe vs Wade as the law of the nation. At the same time we have killed thousands in an unjust war. I think that as Catholics we need to respect and honor life from wom to tomb. We cannot be "protect the unborn" OR "protect the born, the old" but as Bishop Estevez says we need to insert an AND in there. No one puts it better than Cardinal Bernardin who once stated:

"Our moral, political and economic responsibilities do not stop at the moment of birth. Those who defend the right to life of the weakest among us must be equally visible in support of the quality of life of the powerless among us: the old and the young, the hungry and the homeless, the undocumented immigrant and the unemployed worker."
Luis - 10/15/2008 07:50 AM
Your Excellency
Thank you again for your insightful blog.
I cannot agree that the President of the United States' role is limited and indirect when it comes to legislating abortion laws. The President has the power to veto legislation such as the Freedom of Choice Act which if enacted would "would immediately make null and void every current restriction on abortion in all jurisdictions.” (Bishop Flinn of Kansas City
One candidate supports the FOCA ( and has indicated that his first act as President would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act.
I whole heartedly agree with Bishop Estevez that we must be cognizant of all other social justice issues they are not proporionate reasons to support a candidate who supports FOCA. If we are inclined to vote for someone despite their pro-abortion stance, it seems we are morally obliged to establish a proportionate reason sufficient to justify the destruction of 45 million human persons through abortion. If we learn that our 'candidate of choice' further pledges — through an instrument such as FOCA - to eliminate all existing limitations against abortion, it is that much more doubtful whether voting for him or her can ever be morally justified under any circumstance.
Martha Selaya - 10/15/2008 02:20 AM
Bishop Estévez, thank you, for your words, in such a precise moment when so much is at stake. Thank God, I know what I want, but what concerns me greatly is that I see many people; youth, seasoned, 3rd age - any and every age mis-informed; mis-guided by all the paid advertising with which we are being bombarded many times a day.
Articles such as yours should be posted everywhere, and I thank God for Radio PAZ who has invited their audience and friends to be with Our Lord on that Day, (exposition of the Blessed Sacrament) praying for discernment, enlightment, intelligence, morality, and faith, at the moment each American Citizen casts their vote wherever they are, for this coming election on 11/4/08.
Have you thought of sending your article to all Churches to be read to all parishoners at all Masses. Your article can give "light" to many people that are so confused, and in such darkness not knowing what to do; and they want to do what is right.
Thank you, many blessings to you, and please pray for all of us.
"Con Cristo su Hijo, nos bendiga la Virgen María,"
Jean - 10/14/2008 03:34 PM
I find this article to be so refreshing and challenging. Specially now that elections are coming. I find so many Catholic who become one single issue voters and I feel we need to take into consideration all of the issues as hand. One issue we need to be careful with is the "life" issue as candidates are very keen at using it as a flag to sway voters in one way or another. Some Catholics will immediately point out "don't vote for X as he/she is for abortion." Keep in mind that Presidents have an indirect/limited power over the current abortion laws [such as assigning new judges to the Supreme Court..and wait until a case comes up. Even if they overturn Roe vs Wade that means that States decide if they allow it or not. On the other hand, the President does have direct power to declare war [such as the one we are in...which both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have condenmed as immoral . How many times do we hear that in sermons?????] the President does have a direct influence over guiding the country and pressuring to make laws that impact the poor, those without insurance [currently one out of six americans]. So, pray and ask God to illumine than no one candidate get our vote based just on one issue and keep in mind the ability he/she has in changing those issues.
Maria Villarreal-volunteer for "Respect Life "North Miami - 10/14/2008 12:34 PM
I'm glad to be living in the US today and activelly being part of all this "political" debate that finally is focusing in a primary subject:"The right to live".
Although I don't have the right to vote,at least I have the right to be informed and pass on some information about misconceptions regarding "genetic manipulation" ,"abortion","chastity","adoption" and the support that the destruction of main institutions like "Marriage" and "Family" gets from the media and in great part of an ignorant society.I believe that the real Americans,the ones that know the difference, must show the world that the foundations of this blessed country are still strong and ready to stand up for their citizens.
Maria Cristian Lascurain - 10/13/2008 11:33 PM
Thank you very much Bishop Estévez for writing such a brilliant article in a timely manner. Our responsability as Catholics demand that we take a more active rol and make a well informed decision in order to link the issues we regard important "both intellectually and in practice."
Carlota E. Morales, Ed. D. - 10/13/2008 03:02 PM
Dear Bishop Estevez,
As principal of a Catholic school, we have requested that our students become familiar with the issues facing our nation and thus our candidates in this coming election Your presentation is clear and very explicit to us who so often have to give answers. Bringing up Pope John Paul's writing, the Gospel of Life, enlightens us to be sure of appropriate, and most importantly, of ethical answers.
Thank you for taking the time to choose this topic.
In faith, hope and charity,
Carlota E. Morales, Ed. D.
Andrew Meszaros - 10/13/2008 02:03 PM
While there certainly exists a hierarchy of issues, one must not loose sight of the foundation. It is clear to me that I cannot set aside the right to life issue in favor of other concerns such as immigration, war, capital punishment, economy etc. I cannot weigh abortion and euthanasia as merely two issues among many others, because the right to life and the dignity of EVERY human being is the foundation of a moral vision for society. In other matters we can have plurality of opinions but the right to life is never optional. Therefore I have a huge concern with a party that espouses the license to abort as part of its platform.

Helen B. Rothgerber - 10/13/2008 02:00 PM
Dear Bishop Estevez, thank you so much for your brilliant, articulate response to the dliemma of the upcoming election. As Respect Life Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Louisville, I believe I understand the culture of life issues well and have been challenging our faithful here in the archdiocese to understand that voting is a right, a responsibility and above all, a privilege. With that in mind, it is imperative that we study the issues well, the candidates' positions on those issues and use our informed consciences to determine who is the right choice for us. This is not an easy decision and should require work on our part, a great deal of work. I would never tell someone how to vote''they need to do the work to determine that for themselves! And I believe, prayer for all of us in the process of making that decision is vital.
Thank you for taking the time to remind us to 'think rightly'.
May God bless you and all the good work you do!

Helen B. Rothgerber,
Respect Life Coordinator
Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Louisville
Antonio Fernandez - 10/13/2008 01:10 PM
I want to thank Bishop Estévez for this extraordinary and very timely message.

There another point that I would dare to add to his words. Actually, this is something that I learned from him during the years when he was our pastor and I had the privilege of working close to him. His words and example helped me to change from a closed and very dogmatic mentality into one open to the opinions and values of others. We as Catholics must recognized that we as individuals and as groups do not have the control of the whole truth. We need to discover in the opinions and thoughts of others what may contribute to the construction of the Kingdom of God here and now. It is not their opinions or our opinions… it is our opinions and their opinions working and balancing together!

As bishop Estévez reminds us, we should pay attention to the principle of “hierarchy of truth” outlined by Pope John Paul II. This could be the necessary step to eventually follow the saying of St. Augustine: “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”

Con un fuerte abrazo.

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