There remains great debate about who was most responsible for the death of Jesus. Christians know that Jesus’ death was caused by the sin of each of us. But we also know that Christ died at one specific moment in history, and that those who lived at that time also had a part in it. They could have avoided it. We could have avoided it. We know Judas had a part in it, since he turned Jesus over to those who hated him. We know the religious leaders at the time had a part in it, since they handed him over to the Romans for crucifixion. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: Jesus was crucified because Pontius Pilate allowed it.
Yet, Pontius Pilate personally opposed Jesus’ crucifixion; he said so several times during the course of Christ’s trial, and ultimately washed his hands of Christ’s blood before he turned him over for crucifixion. So the question becomes: did his personal opposition to Christ’s being crucified truly absolve him of his responsibility in the matter? Personally opposed or not, he still gave his permission for it to happen.
Now fast-forward two thousand years to our current political climate, where our leaders must decide on many important issues- including matters of moral importance. Since some matters are as serious as life and death, the Church has recently been reminding politicians and voters about five non-negotiable issues we must consider when choosing a candidate in the upcoming elections. In this lesson, we will examine these non-negotiable issues, which we can call the “Big Five”:
Embryonic stem cell research
Why so important?
Of course, Americans face more than these five issues during this election. There are economic issues, security and world peace issues, including the war on terrorism and Iraq. With so many pressing issues, why does the Church say these five issues are essential and non-negotiable? The reason is that the right to life is antecedent to all other rights.
The Church is not trying to impose its religious creed on everyone. It is simply reminding Catholics and society about basic truth. The Church reminds us that these are basic human rights issues. Giving in on these issues will make our society crumble.
The first four non-negotiable, ethical issues are life-and-death issues, actions that always kill innocent human lives. The fifth one deals with something essential for a healthy society: marriage and family.
The First Four: Life-and-Death Issues
Abortion and euthanasia are deliberate acts to terminate life in its most vulnerable stages: in the womb, and in sickness or old age. Both are hot topics in current elections.
Candidates fiercely debate the legality of abortion and partial-birth abortion-a procedure in which the baby is partially removed from the womb, and then killed. The state of Oregon has approved euthanasia, but part of the federal government is challenging this. Many courts of law are dealing with the issue of the killing of the sick or elderly.
Embryonic stem cell research and a potential application of human cloning involve the manipulation and killing of human life for scientific purposes. Scientists want to use stem cells from human embryos to create healthy cells for sick people. But a human embryo is a baby at the very beginning of its life. All scientific data points to this, even though this is not obvious to the naked eye. Some scientists promote human cloning as a way to reproduce, or mass produce, healthy organs and body parts for medical use.
Even though embryonic stem cell research and human cloning are proposed as a way to help the sick, they also involve inhuman production of human lives (manufacturing children), manipulation of these new human beings, and their destruction. Similarly, neither embryonic stem cell research nor human cloning is a proven method. In fact, adult stem cell research has offered a positive alternative. Nevertheless, the scientific community puts heavy pressure on elected officials to grant government money to these morally destructive pursuits.
The Fifth Issue: Protection of Marriage
The last of the Big Five is homosexual “marriage.” Some elected officials want government to allow and recognize the union of two people of the same sex as a marriage. Some judges or politicians have declared homosexual marriages legal even though these decisions often disregard laws that have been enacted to protect the definition of marriage. Even though most Americans oppose legalizing same-sex marriages, a very vocal minority is gaining the sympathy of many politicians and judges.
The Church’s Role: Reminding about Basic Human Rights
The Church is not interested in political parties. In this case it is interested only in helping us distinguish between right and wrong. That is why it offers guidance also during election years, when we face the responsibility of choosing legislative leaders. The Church has always confirmed the importance of certain basic ethical values, even when doing so has made it very unpopular, and has even lead to persecution.
Right to Life
Abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning all result in the deliberate ending of human life. They go against the most basic human right: the right to life.
Some argue that embryos are not human beings, but consider this: either the embryo is a human being or it is not. If it is not, then it should not become a child and then an adult. To use a simple example: a human embryo will definitely not grow into a cabbage or a kitten. From the moment of conception, a human embryo has all the elements necessary for its full development. Saying that it only becomes a human life after a certain amount of cell multiplication is arbitrary, and contradicts the facts. The embryo becomes a human life because it already is a human life.
As discussed above, this is not just a faith issue. Even though as Christians we know that these things directly violate the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not kill”, every human being is capable of understanding that killing innocent human beings is gravely wrong, whether he believes in God or not. Only selfishness and superficialness can make someone deny this.
That is why the Church is very clear when it speaks on these issues. Abortion is a “moral evil” and this teaching is unchangeable (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2271). Euthanasia is “morally unacceptable” and “constitutes a murder” (CCC, 2277).
Likewise, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research violate human dignity because they involve creating, manipulating, and oftentimes the killing of human embryos solely for research. “It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material” (CCC, 2275). The reason is that a newly formed embryo carries all the genetic material the person will ever need during his or her entire life. A new human being is there- just not in the form that is obvious to the naked eye. Therefore, any attempt to manipulate the embryo or genetic material is the manipulation or destruction of a human being.
Respect for Marriage
In regards to homosexual “marriage,” the Church has always upheld and defended the sanctity of marriage as an intimate union between a man and a woman. In marriage, a lot is at stake: the psychological and physical health of the spouses, the psychological and physical health of children, and the virtues that spouses and children will live in society. The health of society depends tremendously on the health of marriage and the family.
There are real consequences for everyone when marriage is called something it is not. It promotes a culture of deception and moral confusion. The very things that give society stability will be considered optional, and eventually will be despised. Calling homosexual unions marriage will promote a lack of respect for the essential things in real marriage.
These essential things in marriage, such as the sexual complementarity of the man and woman and the openness to the proper conception and education of children, work for the good of society and he good of children. They are an indispensable help for deeper happiness, maturity, and fulfillment of the husband and wife, and especially for the healthy formation of children. Every child has a right to a true father and mother, and a real family.
While the Church acknowledges some persons may have an attraction to other persons of the same sex, it is firm in its teaching: “Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered…contrary to natural law” (CCC, 2357). Homosexual persons are called to abstaining from sexual acts that go against the correct use of their sexual faculties, as every Christian person is.
The Church never tells people who to vote for, but it continues to educate and inform voters on matters of moral importance.
While the Church does not endorse either candidate in the current presidential election, its guidance helps us compare and contrast their views on the Big Five issues.
A fundamental difference in the candidates is the role they give their faith when making decisions. President Bush, a born-again Christian, believes strongly that his faith should influence his decisions. Senator Kerry, though a professed Roman Catholic, believes his faith should not influence the way he votes as a politician. He has said many times that he is personally opposed to certain issues, but would not impose his personal beliefs on others.
Other Elected Officials
In this election many other political positions are also being filled. One third of U.S. senators face election. All the members of the House of Representatives will be chosen. Many state and local officials will be elected. All these positions are important in defending these five non-negotiable issues. A responsible citizen will promote candidates in all these positions who defend human life and the family, since our society is affected by the laws that are proposed, enforced, and interpreted by all levels of the government. Of course national positions have more universal effect, but state and local levels are also essential in promoting and protecting a culture of life and a culture of respect for marriage and family. In addition, most national politicians and judges start first at a local level.
Vices and Virtues in the Political Process
In a perfect world, the sound moral judgments of voters would put moral leaders in office. Unfortunately, certain negative factors can affect the outcome of an election. One is the deceit and confusion that occurs when politicians give false information about issues or are not clear with us about where they really stand. News media can sometimes add to this problem. Voters must show discernment when choosing a candidate. Discernment is figuring out which issues are the most important, based on what is right and wrong, then prioritizing them accordingly.
Another negative factor is moral cowardice on part of politicians. Even if politicians are convinced of the right thing, it is difficult for them to stand up for it. This leaves voters with imperfect or poor options when going to the polls. It takes moral courage to stand up for what is right, both as a politician and as a supporter. When a candidate shows strong moral values, we should do all we can to support him or her. Sometimes this takes a spirit of initiative and networking for essential causes. An example of this is a campaign by Catholic Answers, an apologetics organization, for national distribution of a voter’s guide outlining the Big Five issues. They advertised the guide in full-page ads in a national newspaper and on radio stations in order to reach the most people.
Voters may also hinder the political process by way of their laziness and indifference. Either they do not make the effort to inform themselves properly on the candidates’ true positions or they do not vote because they think their effort will not amount to anything. In fact, little more than half of all eligible voters actually vote. Victory, however, results from tenacity and action. The beauty of democracy is that it rests in our hands. It is our responsibility to make our government a reflection of truth.
Some say the Church has no place in politics, but there is more than politics involved in an election. The Church has a duty to educate consciences on moral matters, just as lay people have a responsibility to spread Gospel values in the secular world. Many times during his pontificate, Pope John Paul II has reaffirmed this vocation to evangelize by reminding us, “Be not afraid.”
While we do not have the right to impose our beliefs on others, we have a right and a duty to propose the truth to them. Truth has a special power because it makes sense, like the difference between life and death. It also carries a special grace, as God uses it to convert hearts and minds.
The good news is that young people today are more pro-life and pro-family than in the very recent past. And we don’t have to be over 18 to have an impact. Often “campaigning” done by young people such as discussing these issues with friends and family, can make a huge impact. Ignorance is the greatest enemy to truth. We can make a difference by educating others on the importance of the Big Five issues and the stance that candidates take on them. Begin by understanding theses issues ourselves, and then we can find effective ways to help others understand them.
Let’s keep in mind that our efforts to educate others on these issues cannot end with these elections. The Holy Father has called young people to be active protagonists in promoting a culture of life and in spreading the Good News about marriage and family. He believes deeply in young people. We need to remember, however, that people are won over by charity in proposing the truth and by respect for their free will.
Human Embryo– A human life in the earliest stage of human development.
Discernment-Wisdom and judgment in determining the moral importance of issues or problems and prioritize them accordingly.
Moral Courage-Facing and dealing with what is important without withdrawing when it is dangerous or difficult. The virtue that helps us put into action and defend essential values, especially when they are contrary to popular opinion
Initiative-Personal capacity for thinking up and carrying out a positive action. Ability to think and act without being urged or obligated
Networking– Making the most of one’s personal relationships to spread information and inspire action
Apologetics– The art of using reason and knowledge to defend one’s faith. Explaining the specifically Christian faith to non-Christians and explaining the Catholic faith to non-Catholics
Tenacity– Endurance, strength, persistence. Holding fast to ideals and actions. Opposite of laziness.
Arbitrary– depending on individual discretion (as of a judge) and not fixed by standards, rules, or law
Antecedent– something that precedes- or comes before- something else
Complementarity– the state of filling up or completing; supplying mutual needs or offsetting mutual lacks
“I have set two things before you: life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)
“What you did you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” Mt. 25: 45
“No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lamp stand so that those who enter may see the light. (Luke 8:16)
“…for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31)
For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light.’ (Luke 16:8)
Saints and Heroes
White Rose Martyrs (1942)
Hans Scholl, a medical student, was a natural leader with a charismatic personality. His sister, Sophie, was intelligent and gutsy, never backing down from the truth. With fellow students Christoph Probst, Willi Graf, and Alexander Schmorell, they formed the White Rose, an underground resistance movement against the Nazis.
Though from different religious backgrounds – Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic – the students recognized and wrote about the fundamental evils in Hitler’s plan. They printed and distributed thousands of anti-Hitler leaflets to leaders throughout Germany. Three of the White Rose, the Scholls and Probst, were caught passing out leaflets at the university. At trial, when asked why she participated, Sophie proclaimed, “Somebody had to make a start!” Hours later all three were beheaded. Today, over 200 schools in Germany are named after the students who gave their lives to promote truth.
Blessed Alberto Marvelli (1918-1946)
Alberto Marvelli grew up in Rimini, Italy. A boy of great energy and determination, Alberto excelled at sports, especially cycling. After serving in the army, Alberto became an engineer and worked for Fiat, a famous sports car manufacturer. When the German army destroyed his hometown, he returned to help the people left injured, homeless, and hungry. He traveled all over by bicycle delivering food, clothing, and medicine. Once, he sent the windowpanes of his own house to a sick priest whose house was without windows.
His tireless works of charity earned him such a reputation that local authorities asked him to lead the committee for rebuilding the area. He oversaw building projects and managed large sums of money for those in need. He made the most of his responsibilities by founding a university, soup kitchens, and an association for construction workers.
Alberto enjoyed serving people through political action. He became a candidate for political office in the new government. Unfortunately, Alberto was struck by a military truck and killed on Election Day while riding his bicycle to the polling station. Even his political enemies mourned the loss of this sincere, courageous young man.
A. Using the Big Five guidelines, which presidential candidate, which senatorial candidates, and which candidates for the House of Representatives most support a culture of life and family?
B. What is the difference between the Big Five and other life-and-death issues such as war and capital punishment? (Note: Help students distinguish between situations that are “intrinsically evil” and those that prudential decisions made with certain criteria and which the Church has never said they are always intrinsically evil (Criteria for defense of society combined with respect for human life. Final decision left to the prudent judgment of “those who have responsibility for the common good”, etc.) See resources:
Abortion: CCC 2771; Euthanasia CCC 2277; Embryonic Stem-Cell Research: CCC2275; Human Cloning: CCC2275; Homosexual “Marriage”: CCC2357;
Capital Punishment: CCC2266; War: CCC2307-2317
C. Is it possible to believe one thing but to do the opposite? Give examples of how some politicians act this out in their political offices. Why would a politician do this? Is this a good characteristic to have in a leader?
D. Some people staunchly identify themselves with a certain political party to the point of disregarding these five non-negotiable issues. Is this a good rationale to have if one wants to be a serious Catholic voter?
A. In your journal, make a list of some things you really believe in. Next, write what you would do if these beliefs were challenged. Which beliefs are objective truths? Can you prove them? Which beliefs are your own personal opinions? Can you support them?
B. Write down the process of discerning a political candidate’s views.
1. Gather information on your local and state political candidates. Make a bulletin board for your classroom or school delineating the candidates’ positions according to the Big Five criteria. Make handouts available with the same information and offer them to your fellow students so they may disseminate the information.
2. Distribute the Catholic Answers Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics ( HYPERLINK “http://www.catholic.com” www.catholic.com) to neighbors, relatives, friends, and other Catholics.
3. Organize a debate to encourage students to further research the moral aspects of campaign issues, and to express their own opinions to rest of the class, or to the whole school. Explore the issues of just war and capital punishment in addition to the Big Five.
From Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life
About the Five Non-Negotiable Issues:
“When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person. This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia (not to be confused with the decision to forgo extraordinary treatments, which is morally legitimate). Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death. In the same way, it is necessary to recall the duty to respect and protect the rights of the human embryo. Analogously, the family needs to be safeguarded and promoted, based on monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, and protected in its unity and stability in the face of modern laws on divorce: in no way can other forms of cohabitation be placed on the same level as marriage, nor can they receive legal recognition as such.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, , November 24, 2002, number 4)
From The Catechism of the Catholic Church
About discernment, prudence, justice, and fortitude:
1835 Prudence disposes the practical reason to discern, in every circumstance, our true good and to choose the right means for achieving it.
1806 …With the help of this virtue (prudence) we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.
1836 Justice consists in the firm and constant will to give God and neighbor their due. 1837 Fortitude ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good.
“All sinners were the authors of Christ’s Passion … the Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus. (Catechism of the Catholic Church number 598)
“…This Biblical language does not mean that those who handed him over were merely passive players in a scenario written in advance by God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church number 599)
“No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman…”( Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Note on Legal Recognition to Unions of Homosexual Persons, November 24, 2002, number 2)
“Society owes its continued survival to the family, founded on marriage.” (Note on Legal Recognition to Unions of Homosexual Persons, number 8)
“Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean… making it a model in present-day society..(and) would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity.”(Note on Legal Recognition to Unions of Homosexual Persons, number 11)