FAITHFUL, WATCHFUL CITIZENS: The “preeminent” issue of life

Note: This column is the second of several columns that will run through Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 8). No single column on the theme of voting as a faithful Catholic can cover every important point that is required for voting with an informed conscience. The hope for these columns is to hit on some major themes Catholics should consider during an election cycle. I highly encourage you to read Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. This relatively short, but incisive document covers significant ground on the theme of voting as a faithful Catholic, and it is well worth your time.


In my last column, I talked about how to evaluate “imperfect candidates” when they inevitably appear on your ballot. Toward the end of that column, I mentioned one important principle to keep in mind, which has been articulated by the U.S. bishops. This principle is that “all issues do not carry the same moral weight.” As Catholics we have an “obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts” and this demand “has a special claim on our conscience and our actions” when it comes to voting for candidates.

This column seeks to discuss those intrinsic evils which the U.S. bishops have called the “preeminent issue” of our time.

In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Christifideles Laici (“On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World”), St. Pope John Paul II wrote that “the right to health, to home, to work, to culture is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.” He roots this “inviolability of the person” in the “absolute inviolability of God.”

In similar fashion, the U.S. bishops state in their document Living the Gospel of Life: “Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care. … If we understand the human person as the ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’ – the living house of God – then these issues fall logically into place as the cross beams and walls of that house. 

“All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation.” This is why they have called direct attacks on life – such as abortion and euthanasia – not “just one issue among many” but that they are the “preeminent issue” of our day, and that a “legal system that violates the basic right to life” is a system that “is fundamentally flawed.”

This emphasis on both the foundations of the house and the walls and cross beams is a reminder that “[a]s Catholics we are not single-issue voters.” Nevertheless, a candidate’s promotion or support for intrinsic evils can “legitimately disqualify [that] candidate from receiving support.” In other words, as Catholics we know that all moral issues matter, but we also know in what order they matter.

Under attacks against human life, the U.S. bishops do not just begin and end their analysis with abortion and euthanasia, but they also speak out about other direct attacks against human life, such as cloning, destruction of human embryos, genocide, torture, direct and intentional targeting of noncombatants in war or terrorist attacks.

Respecting human life in these fundamental areas are, as the U.S. bishops continue, “essential efforts to address and overcome the hunger, disease, poverty, and violence that takes the lives of so many innocent people.”

So, as a Catholic, when you begin (or continue) evaluating the candidates that are presented to you for election this cycle, give a hard look at where they stand on issues involving direct attacks on human life. This is not simply “as good a place as any” to start your evaluation of candidates, but it is the essential point of departure for understanding a candidate’s vision for the inviolability of the human person. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a candidate’s position on these issues speaks volumes about their core values and convictions about God’s plan to create each and every person in his image and likeness.

Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference. Email him at

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