In moral theology there is a form of hierarchy in which certain acts are considered to hold supremacy over others. This allows for distinguishing between moral acts. Those things that directly violate the dignity of the human person hold pride of place. These include violations against the right to life and the livelihood of a person. Meaning the intentional killing of any human person is egregious and gravely evil, but so is poverty, sex slavery, the intentional killing of civilians, etc.:
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”.
Pope Saint John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 3
Abortion, in being the direct killing of a child at the hands of their own mother, is seen in all of its horror when one considers that it is a mother’s job to love and nurture their child. The unborn are incapable of defending themselves, and yes, it is abortion that is the supreme human rights issue of our day. Any truly intellectually honest Catholic recognizes and submits to this aspect of Church teaching (we are called to submit or assent to all, by the way).
The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder and, in particular, when we consider the specific elements involved. The one eliminated is a human being at the very beginning of life. No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined. In no way could this human being ever be considered an aggressor, much less an unjust aggressor! He or she is weak, defenceless, even to the point of lacking that minimal form of defence consisting in the poignant power of a newborn baby’s cries and tears. The unborn child is totally entrusted to the protection and care of the woman carrying him or her in the womb. And yet sometimes it is precisely the mother herself who makes the decision and asks for the child to be eliminated, and who then goes about having it done.
It is true that the decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful for the mother, insofar as the decision to rid herself of the fruit of conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but out of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a decent standard of living for the other members of the family. Sometimes it is feared that the child to be born would live in such conditions that it would be better if the birth did not take place. Nevertheless, these reasons and others like them, however serious and tragic, can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.
The reason I begin this blog with portions of Evangelium Vitae is merely to point out the obvious evils of abortion and why it is the primary human rights violation of our times. There is no question that abortion is supremely evil. I myself pray before Planned Parenthood through 40 Days for Life and work in the pro-life movement in other capacities. So no one can accuse me of being for abortion.
My concern is the propensity for tunnel vision by some within the movement. This is not only found in those who are openly battling abortion. It is often found in Catholics, to include clergy, who combat poverty or work with refugees or the sick and dying. There is a propensity to become completely focused on our own mission while denying the proper due of other missions.
Each of us is called by God to serve in certain capacities. This is one of the reasons there are so many kinds of religious orders. There is a need for Catholics to focus in various areas in order to work towards the common good. God calls some to be missionaries in poor countries. He calls others to fight abortion. Others are educators, doctors, lawyers, writers, artists, and the list goes on. Without taking away from the gravity of abortion, we must be cognizant that there are other tremendous evils going on around the world on a daily basis. Acknowledging those evils does not lessen the need to fight abortion. I think this was part of Pope Francis’ point when he mentioned pro-lifers a few years ago. I didn’t agree with his approach and I was incensed by his reference, but if we parse his words a bit, we might be able to discover something about ourselves.
If we cannot recognize evil elsewhere without comparing it to the abortion fight, then we have become disordered and obsessed with our mission. There is no reason why we cannot look to the poor, the refugee, or the sick with compassion without thinking of abortion in that moment. We do not contemplate the great suffering of a hungry child while brushing it off and saying, “Well it isn’t as bad as abortion.” We do not confront the great evil, violence, and horror of terrorism and compare it to abortion. Each evil needs to be acknowledged within itself, devoid of our tunnel vision. No orthodox Catholic who is free of this tunnel vision, would argue that abortion is not the greatest tragedy to befall humankind at this point in time. One billion unborn babies have been murdered worldwide. The sheer scope of this evil is breathtaking and horrifying.
We do ourselves a great disservice when we do not look to the other evils of the world and recognize their devastating impacts on countless people made imago Dei. Those people are also worthy of great dignity and charity. The Church’s social teaching does not focus solely on abortion. It may hold it up higher in the hierarchy than other issues, but the Church does not tell us to abandon the poor, displaced, and sick in order to battle abortion. Instead, she recognizes that there are members within the Mystical Body who have the call to go out and fight abortion and that every Catholic should do their part through voting, educating others, and providing for poor mothers. We must all be evangelizing. This a part of our baptismal promises . We are to help in bringing the world into conformation with the Blessed Trinity.
We cannot all perform every mission needed in the world. It is impossible to be dedicated if we are spread too thin. We must be willing to accept and even praise God’s desire to have his Mystical Body working in so many different areas of the world. Our Lord uses us to minister to others. There is so much suffering and Christ uses us to enter into the Crosses of others, where He calls us. Let’s stop comparing everything to abortion and look at each evil for what it is: A grievous violation of the dignity of the human person and God’s call for each individual. We become ideologues when we blind ourselves to the widespread suffering in the world. Yes, abortion is the greatest evil of our times, but there are also a lot of other evils that need to be confronted. We live a more vibrant Culture of Life when we are open to the whole of Catholic Social Teaching.