Archbishop Burke's Keynote Address at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast
The full text of the speech can be read here.
Here's an excerpt:
... Over the past several months, our nation has chosen a path which more completely denies any legal guarantee of the most fundamental human right, the right to life, to the innocent and defenseless unborn. Our nation, which had its beginning in the commitment to safeguard and promote the inalienable right to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” for all, without boundary, is more and more setting arbitrary limits to her commitment (cf. The Declaration of Independence: Action of Second Continental Congress, 4 July 1776, in The Constitution of the United States with the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2002, p. 81). Those in power now determine who will or will not be accorded the legal protection of the most fundamental right to life. First the legal protection of the right to life is denied to the unborn and, then, to those whose lives have become burdened by advanced years, special needs or serious illness, or whose lives are somehow judged to be unprofitable or unworthy.(emphasis added)
What is more, those in power propose to force physicians and other healthcare professionals, in other words, those with a particular responsibility to protect and foster human life, to participate, contrary to what their conscience requires, in the destruction of unborn human lives, from the first or embryonic stage of development to the moment of birth. Our laws may soon force those who have dedicated themselves to the care of the sick and the promotion of good health to give up their noble life work, in order to be true to the most sacred dictate of their consciences. What is more, if our nation continues down the path it has taken, healthcare institutions operating in accord with the natural moral law, which teaches us that innocent human life is to be protected and fostered at all times and that it is always and everywhere evil to destroy an innocent human life, will be forced to close their doors.
At the same time, the fundamental society, that is, the family, upon which the life of our nation is founded and depends, is under attack by legislation which redefines marriage to include a relationship between two persons of the same sex and permits them to adopt children. In the same line, it is proposed to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. At the root of the confusion and error about marriage is the contraceptive mentality – which would have us believe that the inherently procreative nature of the conjugal union can, in practice, be mechanically or chemically eliminated, while the marital act remains unitive. It cannot be so. With unparalleled arrogance, our nation is choosing to renounce its foundation upon the faithful, indissoluble, and inherently procreative love of a man and a woman in marriage, and, in violation of what nature itself teaches us, to replace it with a so-called marital relationship, according to the definition of those who exercise the greatest power in our society.
The path of violation of the most fundamental human rights and of the integrity of marriage and the family, which our nation is traveling, is not accidental. It is part of the program set forth by those whom we have freely chosen to lead our nation. The part of the program in question was not unknown to us; it was announced to us beforehand and a majority of our fellow citizens, including a majority of our fellow Catholics, chose the leadership which is now implementing it with determination. For example, I refer to our President’s declared support of the Freedom of Choice Act, which would make illegal any legislation restricting procured abortion; his repeal of the Mexico City Policy, permitting U.S. funding of procured abortion in other nations, together with the grant of fifty million dollars to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities which, for example, supported the Republic of China’s policy of one child per family by means of government-dictated sterilization and abortion; his proposal to rescind the regulations appended to the federal Conscience Clause, which assure that, not only physicians, but also all health-care workers may refuse to provide services, information or counsel to patients regarding medications and procedures which are contrary to their conscience; his removal of limitations on federal funding of embryonic-stem-cell research, involving the wholesale destruction of human life at the embryonic stage of development; and his choice of the members of his administration, who are remarkable for the number of major officials, including several Catholics, who favor the denial of the right to life to the unborn and the violation of the integrity of marriage and the family. These are only some examples of a consistent pattern of decisions by the leadership of our nation which is taking our nation down a path which denies the fundamental right to life to the innocent and defenseless unborn and violates the fundamental integrity of the marital union and the family.
Our prayer and conversion of life, and the serious reflection upon and study of the truths of the moral life, both as individuals and in our Catholic institutions, require that we accept our responsibility as citizens to work tirelessly to change unjust programs, policies and laws. In a nation set so firmly on a path of violation of the most fundamental moral norms, Catholics and others who adhere to the natural moral law are pressured to think that their religious commitment to the moral law as the way of seeking the good of all is a merely confessional matter which cannot have any application in public life. Apparently, a number of Catholics in public life have been so convinced. How often do we hear Catholic legislators who vote in favor of anti-life and anti-family legislation claim that they are personally opposed to what the legislation protects and fosters, but that they as public officials may not allow religious beliefs to affect their support of such legislation? How often do we hear fellow Catholics supporting candidates for office, who are anti-life and anti-family, because of political-party loyalties or for reasons of other policies and programs supported by the candidate, which they deem to be good? How often is such thinking justified by the claim that religious faith is a purely private matter and has no place in the public forum? On the contrary, the common good depends upon the active engagement of religious faith in the public forum.
Our uncompromising commitment to protect the inviolable dignity of innocent human life and to safeguard the integrity of marriage and the family are not based on peculiar confessional beliefs or practices but on the natural moral law, written on every heart and, therefore, a fundamental part of the Church’s moral teaching. At the same time, what is always and everywhere evil cannot be called good for the sake of accomplishing some other good end. All of us must be concerned about a wide range of goods which are important to the life of our nation, but the concern for those goods can never justify the betrayal of the fundamental goods of life itself and the family. We must take care to uproot from our moral thinking any form of relativism, consequentialism and proportionalism, which would lead us into the error of thinking that it is sometimes right to do what is always and everywhere evil.
An important part of our moral reflection must include a clear understanding of the principles regarding cooperation in evil, especially by the act of voting. Too often, in our time, our inability to accomplish all that we should for the sake of the defense of the right to life and of the protection of the integrity of the family is used to justify the direct choice of a political leader who espouses a position or positions in violation of the natural moral law. The Servant of God Pope John Paul II, in his Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, addresses at length the question of cooperation in evil which violates the dignity of innocent human life. He offers as an example the case of a legislator who has the possibility of voting for a law which would restrict the evil of procured abortion, even though it would not eradicate it completely. He concludes that the legislator could vote for the legislation, while his own opposition to procured abortion remains clear, for his vote does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects (Pope John Paul II, Encylical Letter Evangelium vitae , On the Good and Inviolability of Human Life, 25 March 1995, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 87 , 487, no. 73). In an analogous manner, as voters, we are often faced with a choice among candidates who do not fully oppose unjust laws. In such a case, we must choose the candidate who will most limit the evil effects of unjust laws. But, there is no element of the common good, no morally good practice, which a candidate may promote and to which a voter may be dedicated, which could justify voting for a candidate who also endorses and supports the deliberate killing of the unborn, euthanasia or the recognition of a same-sex relationship as a legal marriage. The respect for the inviolable dignity of innocent human life and for the integrity of marriage and the family are so fundamental to the common good that they cannot be subordinated to any other cause, no matter how good it may be.
In the present situation of our nation, a serious question has arisen about the moral obligation of Catholics to work for the overturning of the Supreme Court decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. There are those who would tell us that such work is futile and, therefore, is to be abandoned, so that we can devote ourselves to help prevent individuals from choosing abortion. As Catholics, we can never cease to work for the correction of gravely unjust laws. Law is a fundamental expression of our culture and implicitly teaches citizens what is morally acceptable. Our efforts to assist those who are tempted to do what is always and everywhere wrong or are suffering from the effects of having committed a gravely immoral act, which are essential expressions of the charity which unites us as citizens of the nation, ultimately make little sense, if we remain idle regarding unjust laws and decisions of the courts regarding the same intrinsic evils. We are never justified in abandoning the work of changing legislation and of reversing decisions of the courts which are anti-life and anti-family.
[Read the whole thing]