BEGINNING the back page of this issue, the Register inaugurates a new feature, “the Culture of Life.” Therein, we will attempt to heed Pope John Paul II's call, issued most forcefully in Evangelium Vitae, to build up the “culture of life” as the paper chronicles the life of the Church and the world. Most obviously, but by no means exclusively, this will involve coverage of the pro-life movement, as it marks nearly a quarter century after Roe v Wade and readies itself for a possibly even tougher struggle ahead now that the push for the legalization of assisted-suicide has reached the Supreme Court. No matter how the Justices decide in the end, the battle has only begun. Even if, as some preliminary indications suggest, they balk at creating a constitutional “right to die,” the matter will revert to state legislatures. The High Court will also consider the fine points of abortion clinic protests this term.
However, the “culture of life,” in the broadest sense of the term, includes a full range of issues, in fact, all spheres of human activity and their bearing on the fundamental well-being of men and women. A“culture of life” will be characteristic of a “civilization of love,” another key papal concept and one that, perhaps, better describes the Church's ambition, for which all of us—Catholic or not—are responsible. Areview of the news provides ample illustrations of what such a “civilization of love” should and should not look like:
In the Holy Land, Israelis and Palestinians experienced a happy turn of events after more than six months of growing uncertainty about the peace process and concern about the possibility of full-scale violence. Prodded on by Jordan's King Hussein and the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who may just turn out to be more astute negotiator than stubborn hawk—and Palestinian Yasir Arafat appeared poised, at press time, to sign an agreement on the partial withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank city of Hebron. The arrangement would recognize the depth of religious feeling that attaches both Jews and Muslims to the city.
In separate news, a recent poll (see p. 4) revealed that 45 percent of Israeli Jews are in principle willing to cede parts of Jerusalem to Palestinian control. And Netanyahu also indicated that Israel could tolerate self-government for the Palestinians, provided such an entity could wield no military power and pose a threat to the Jewish state. An unnamed Israeli source told The Wall Street Journal that the Israelis would even consider the creation of a Palestinian state, “as long as it is not called a ‘state’ right away.”
In an other “life” realm, Latin American government representatives met late last year in Bolivia to hammer out an economic policy for the continent that would heed environmental concerns. The summit's document struck a balance between regulation and the free market, arriving at a formula with which Catholic social teaching could not disagree: “[W]e cannot attend basic needs without sound and dynamic economies. Free trade and increased economic integration provide an opportunity to improve the condition of laborers, make the economy more efficient and protect the environment,” the statement read.
On the labor front, there was a call for balance, too. An international delegation of top union officials recently traveled to Rome for meetings with Vatican officials, including the Pope. They praised the Church for its contributions to the betterment of workers around the world, shielding them, when possible, from the harsher dimensions of the free market. However, Msgr. Diarmuid Martin, the number two man at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, reminded the officials that unions, in their zeal, risk neglecting the needs of unemployed or under-employed workers and being too bent on improving the livelihood of their members. He also urged them to consider labor issues in the context of human rights generally, including the right to life.
Bosnia, where the “culture of death” sustained a reign of terror for four long years, is still confronted with President Slobodan Milosevich in neighboring Serbia, the instigator of many of the atrocities. It is to be hoped that the international community, with the European powers leading the way, will do everything legally in their power to ensure that genuine democrats rather than another band of nationalists step forward once the strongman goes down.
Finally, there is a sticking point for some when it comes to another aspect of the “culture of death”: the embrace by so many Americans of the death penalty. The Pope has made clear his vehement opposition to capital punishment. He has suggested that the rationale for the state to kill perpetrators— that allowing them to live would pose a threat to free society—is no longer applicable, given the modern prison system. Dare we say it? The Church holds to a consistent ethic of life as the foundation of a “culture of life,” the pursuit of which these pages will humbly report.