The escalating statistics on homicide, especially the killing of school children, in the city of Chicago leave many profoundly disturbed. There is the tragedy of mothers and fathers whose children have been killed, the tragedy of families further broken. There is the tragedy of fear that stalks the streets of neighborhoods no longer safe for daily activities like walking to school or to the store. There is the tragedy of hopelessness as young people confront a future they fatalistically believe they will not live to see.Killing others has many causes, and we are used to reading about them or experiencing them first hand. Too many guns in too many hands are an obvious cause. Gangs that live by a code of violence are a cause. Drug trafficking is a cause. The breakdown of family life is most certainly a cause.
I would argue that our present abortion laws are also responsible for attitudes that breed violence against innocent people. When abortion is legal, people learn that killing someone is a legitimate way to solve a personal problem.
The legal protection of human rights
In a truly civilized state, the laws prohibit private killings. Before a life can be taken, there must be a public trial; and the law is designed to protect those unable to defend themselves. In our country, since 1972, over 43 million human beings have been killed without any public process to declare them guilty of a capital offense. Killing is part of our way of life; killing the unborn is even deemed necessary to preserve our way of life.
In his speech before the U.N. General Assembly more than a month ago, Pope Benedict XVI said that state sovereignty exists for the protection of human rights. Human rights are elaborated in the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Universal Rights, and some of them are mentioned in our own 1776 Declaration of Independence. Human rights are more basic than the civil rights mentioned in the U.N. charter or the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly, the pope said that human rights should be protected by civil rights recognized in law and that, should a government not respect its own people’s human rights, then the international community has a right to find ways to intervene. He compared the human race to a family and pointed out that the stronger members of a family should protect the weaker.
Personally opposed, but …
In our country, the basic human right to life is inadequately protected by our system of legal or civil rights. Jurists and legislators who support laws permitting abortion betray their own vocation. Sometimes a jurist or legislator will say that he or she personally believes abortion to be wrong but that personal morality cannot be legislated in a pluralistic society. This is an intellectually dishonest argument, because the protection of basic human rights is the duty of government officials, lest they sin against the common good; and the common good is fractured in a legal system that permits abortion.
When the common good is violated, violence grows. When the law protects the private killing of one group of human beings, eventually no human being is safe. We do belong to a human family; and when one is unjustly killed, all are injured. We see that clearly when it is school children on the street. We should see it just as clearly when it is unborn children in the womb. Like a handgun, a surgeon’s scalpel can be used to save life or to destroy life. The law should see to it that neither is used wrongly.
Ordinary citizens share in the government’s obligation to protect the human right to life. This concern is not a matter of imposing one’s own morality but of preserving the foundations of our common civilization. Acquiescence in the present situation brings one into cooperation with the evil of abortion.
Catholic social teaching is not sectarian in its goals. It is based on the understanding of human nature and the value of the human person that have been interwoven into the best medical and legal codes throughout centuries of human moral development. What we now live with is a regression from those standards.
In any society, the law is a public standard for all; it should be designed to stop killing, not protect it. That’s the challenge we live with now. May the Lord assist us in working together to decrease violence and eliminate killings in our society. God bless you.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago