PHILADELPHIA — Of the many struggles plaguing modern society, none can be equated with the blatant taking of innocent human lives, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said regarding the latest investigative videos of Planned Parenthood.
“Here’s a simple exercise in basic reasoning. On a spectrum of bad things to do, theft is bad, assault is worse, and murder is worst. There’s a similar texture of ill will connecting all three crimes, but only a very confused conscience would equate thieving and homicide,” he said in his Aug. 10 column for CatholicPhilly.com.
“Both are serious matters. But there is no equivalence. The deliberate killing of innocent life is a uniquely wicked act. No amount of contextualizing or deflecting our attention to other issues can obscure that.”
In a series of five videos released thus far by the Center for Medical Progress, Planned Parenthood officials casually discuss prices for various aborted baby body parts and how abortion procedures may be altered to ensure intact organs.
Planned Parenthood has maintained that its actions are legal. However, the videos have prompted widespread outrage, nationwide rallies, congressional investigations and calls to defund the organization, which receives more than half a billion dollars in taxpayer money annually.
While today’s world is filled with many social ills, which are connected and must all be acknowledged and addressed, there is a natural hierarchy to these problems, because some are foundational to human life itself, Archbishop Chaput said.
One common argument against the pro-life movement, of which Catholics make up a large contingent, is that they are merely pro-birth; they do not care about the needs of the child or the mother once the child has been born. That understanding is mistaken, the archbishop commented.
“It makes no sense to champion the cause of unborn children if we ignore their basic needs once they’re born,” he said. “Thus it’s no surprise that — year in and year out — nearly all Catholic dioceses in the United States, including Philadelphia, devote far more time, personnel and material resources to providing social services to the poor and education to young people than to opposing abortion.”
The Catholic Church is one of the largest charitable organizations in the world. Although it is difficult to quantify exactly what percentage of social services are rendered by the Church in the United States every year, a 2013 report by Forbes ranked Catholic Charities alone as No. 5 in the nation. And this doesn’t account for other Catholic charitable organizations, such as Christ in the City, St. Vincent de Paul societies and soup kitchens or other charities run by religious orders or local parishes.
However, it is correct to prioritize the right to life as the foundation for all other rights, Archbishop Chaput noted.
“But of course, children need to survive the womb before they can have needs like food, shelter, immigration counseling and good health care. Humanity’s priority right — the one that undergirds all other rights — is the right to life,” he said.
And while being opposed to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse anyone from caring about other social injustices, such a poverty and violence, there is a right ordering of moral priorities, Archbishop Chaput said, which is the reason the United States’ bishops released their 1998 pastoral letter, “Living the Gospel of Life.”
“Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing and health care. ... But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life.”
“Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community” (“Living the Gospel of Life,” 22).
Another common argument against the mainstream pro-life movement is that politics can never provide a solution to the problem of abortion, and therefore political involvement is a waste of time.
“In practice, politics is the application of moral conviction to public discourse and the process of lawmaking. Law not only constrains and defends; it also teaches and forms. Law not only reflects culture; it shapes and reshapes it. That’s why Christians can’t avoid political engagement,” Archbishop Chaput said.
While political action is never the main focus or goal of faith, Christians have a duty to defend life that “inescapably involves politics.”
“Thus the recent Senate vote to defund Planned Parenthood was not only right and timely, but necessary. And the failure of that measure involves a public failure of character by every Catholic senator who voted against it,” he said.
At the end of his statement, Archbishop Chaput urged everyone to read “veteran ‘pro-choice’ voice” Ruben Navarette Jr.’s Aug. 10 column in TheDailyBeast.com, in which he honestly questions his pro-abortion stance after his revulsion to the videos.
The column’s strongest lines, Archbishop Chaput said, are when Navarette quotes his pro-life wife.
“Those are babies that are being killed. Millions of them. And you need to use your voice to protect them. That’s what a man does. He protects children — his own children and other children. That’s what it means to be a man.”
Archbishop Chaput’s response: “Amen.”