October 20, 2004
Bishop Calls Abortion 'Greatest Evil of Our Age'
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
What is perhaps the saddest exchange between God and man occurred very early in Salvation History: “The LORD asked Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He answered, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ The LORD then said, ‘What have you done! Listen: your brother’s blood calls out to me from the soil!’” (Gen 4: 9-10). Cain’s response to God is certainly meant to cover up his murderous action. But, Cain serves as a spokesman for much of humanity when he asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” From our earliest days, we are taught to take care of ourselves, to rely on ourselves first, and to not worry about what other people are doing. We learn, far too well, that each of us is his own keeper first and foremost. And so, Cain’s question becomes almost natural, especially in a society which teaches tolerance as its greatest virtue: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is very simple: “yes, every man is his ‘brother’s keeper,’ because God entrusts us to one another” (Evangelium vitae, 19).
As a brother among you and a Bishop for you, I have been made the keeper of you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, in a very special way. It is my sacred duty to celebrate for you the Sacraments of Salvation and teach you the Truth of faith and morals. Where I fail to do these, I have failed to fulfill my God-given responsibility to you and to all those in the world who are searching for the Truth.
These thoughts have been on my mind since I read data that indicate that Catholics are no different than the general population in their opinion on abortion or in their voting behavior. At the same time, I discovered that most Catholic legislators are no different from others in their lack of support for Pro-Life legislation; in fact, some Catholic legislators vote against any attempt to limit abortion on demand, and the culture of death it has created, with such regularity as to have a perfect record of opposition to this most innocent of all human life. I began informally asking members of the laity whether their pastors regularly preach the Gospel of Life and the Church’s opposition to abortion. Many told me that even on Respect Life Sunday this year (October 3, 2004), they had not heard a single word from the pulpit.
As my brother’s keeper, I feel guilty that I have said nothing to the priests of our Diocese to encourage them to preach the Gospel of Life each Sunday and to make the defense of innocent human life a pastoral priority. I would hate to come before the Lord our God and say that I was a Shepherd but that I did nothing to teach the people about the evils of abortion. Because I am my brother’s keeper, I never want it to be said that I was willing to tolerate evil or any cooperation in it.
Therefore, I want to say, clearly and distinctly, as your brother and your Bishop, that abortion is the greatest moral evil of our age. As the deliberate killing of an innocent human being, there is “no circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever” that can justify or excuse abortion. “It is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church” (Evangelium vitae, 62).
It is true that there are other evils which occupy our attention as a society, especially during an election. Euthanasia, the death penalty, war, genocide, hunger, abject poverty, discrimination, and unjust labor practices are all attacks on human dignity and the value of human life. As Christians, we must be committed to preaching the whole Gospel of Life and to being consistent in our defense of the inherent dignity and value of human life.
All evils are not equal. Abortion, representing as it does an attack on the most innocent of all human life and the most sacred of all human relationships, is so grave and profound an evil that it calls all men and women of good will to action. Abortion is an evil we can do something about, not only by prohibiting this cruel practice once and for all but by assuring that each and every child is welcomed in life, protected in law, and cared for in society. As a nation, we are wealthy enough, blessed enough, and compassionate enough to achieve this goal and to achieve it right now. If, however, we choose to stand idly by while abortion continues, we risk the fate of the rich man who refused to lift a single finger to help the starving Lazarus.
And so, I want to reiterate what I have said: abortion is the greatest moral evil of our age. In light of that truth, a Catholic who deliberately votes for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion is guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, such an action can only be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons. I cannot think of a value to put on innocent human life and the right to life; others, in conscience, may be able to. However, I ask each of you to give serious consideration to the Truth that is Gospel of Life as you prepare to vote and I ask each of you to remember that we are, all of us, our brothers’ keepers.
With personal regards and prayerful best wishes, I am,
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend Bernard W. Schmitt
Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston