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Vote with Benedict

Charles Rice | Monday, October 9, 2006

Are you trying to decide how to vote this November? Benedict XVI can help, whatever your religion or lack thereof.

In a little-noticed March 30 address to European parliamentarians, Benedict spelled out three “non-negotiable” principles for the public arena. They are not “truths of faith,” but rather “are inscribed in human nature” and are therefore “common to all humanity,” including candidates and voters in the United States. Achieving a “just society,” said Benedict, is the job of “politics, not of the Church.” As he said in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), the job of the Church is “to help form consciences in political life.” She does not seek to impose “ways of thinking and … conduct proper to faith” but argues “on the basis of reason and natural law” so as to reawaken “spiritual energy.”

The first principle stated by Benedict requires “protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death.” That recommendation was dead-on-arrival in the United States. Abortion and euthanasia are moving beyond the practical reach of the law. Early abortion technology is making abortion-by-pill a private event. At the other end of life, the legitimate technique of palliative care can be misused with the intent to kill a patient. The law also permits in some cases the intentional killing of a patient by starvation and dehydration where family and caregivers agree.

In abortion the law authorizes, but does not require, a mother to kill her unborn child who is defined by the Supreme Court as a nonperson. In the Terri Schiavo case, Judge George Greer took legalized murder to a new level. He did not merely authorize Terri’s killing. He ordered that Michael Schiavo “shall cause the removal of nutrition and hydration from Theresa Schiavo, at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, March 18, 2005.” That was as much a scheduled execution as the ones they do at the Florida state prison in Raiford. This is the first time ever that an American court ordered the execution of a concededly innocent person accused of no crime. On this the Pope, to say the least, is out of sync with American law and culture. But, regardless of what the law says, “all Catholics,” as the American bishops said last March, “are obliged to shape their consciences in accord with the moral teaching of the Church.” And vote accordingly.

Benedict’s second principle requires “recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family – as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage – and its defense from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union.” In the United States as well as the European Union, a homosexualization of culture results from the acceptance of contraception which separates sex from any connection to procreation. The main political issue is whether to confer the name or legal incidents of marriage on same-sex unions. In 2003, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, described the family as “the primary unit in society” and said “married couples ensure the succession of generations and … therefore … civil law grants them institutional recognition.” Putting homosexual unions on the same level as marriage would approve “deviant behavior … making it a model [and would] obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity.” You won’t hear anything like that on the Sunday morning talk shows.

Benedict’s third principle requires “the protection of the rights of parents to educate their children.” Parents, and not bureaucrats, are the primary educators of their children. “[M]ore than in any other historical period,” said John Paul II, “there is a breakdown in the process of handing on moral and religious values between generations.” The Supreme Court promotes that breakdown by imposing a religion of secularism on public schools. Justice requires that the law must protect the religious freedom, including freedom of expression, of students in public schools as well as the freedom of parents to choose home schools or authentic religious schools for their children.

Benedict works at his job, taking stands on many issues, including war, migration, globalization and others. But, as John Paul II said, “a family policy must be the basis and the driving force of all social policies.” The three principles noted here relate to the family. Since they are “common to humanity,” Benedict’s teaching is addressed to “all people.” That includes politicians and voters in the United States. Benedict is counter-cultural. And he is serious about it. But so was his Boss.

Professor Emeritus Rice is on the Law School faculty. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 574-633-4415 or at rice.1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.