Where We Begin

A reader submitted:

In protecting human life we must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of any innocent human life.

Some today are fond of saying that we have to consider “a wide range of issues” when we vote — which is true as far as it goes — but then go farther and say that all the issues are of equal weight — which is not only false, but offensive to common sense.

Take, for example, the “scorecard” that that is periodically put together by lawmakers, summarizing their voting record on a variety of issues and then giving each a score. There’s no problem, of course, in reviewing and summarizing how public officials vote. In fact, the public deserves more of that information. The big problem with the scorecard, however, is that all the issues are assigned equal weight, so that no distinction is made between the importance of banning partial-birth abortion and the regulation of mercury levels in thermometers.

Faithful citizenship reflects a wide range of issues, yet does make some distinctions. Faithful citizenship tells us where we start: never intentionally kill the innocent. By identifying this starting point, we lay out a foundation and absolute boundary by identifing a fundamental principle. Before we consider the many things we must do to build a just society, we must identify what we can never do. The claim of innocent human life to protection by society is a claim without which society could never protect the person’s other interests or fulfill the person’s other needs. Being right about those other needs while being wrong about the starting point is a formula for failure to serve the common good.

“We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill.” These words indicate that there is more that comes after the beginning, just as there is more to be built after a foundation is laid. But the foundation has to be secure. Considering, for example, the poor, we realize that any plans for giving them adequate food, housing, health care, and education always presume that we do not allow a policy of killing them. Any discussions about what laws promote the best care for the poor assume that the law protects their lives from deliberate destruction. “We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill.”

Laws allowing abortion fail society at the starting gate. If we cannot protect life, we’ll never succeed at enhancing it.

Adapted from Fr. Frank Pavone, Priests for Life)


10 thoughts on “Where We Begin”

  1. This article addresses a subject we discussed last week, the role of abortion in the “Consistent Ethic of Life” approach towards morality. While acknowledging that respect for the sanctity of life encompasses a wide range of issues, not just abortion, Fr. Frank Pavone asserts that abortion is an issue of much greater importance and urgency. I would tend to agree that abortion is a more urgent issue then, lets say, provding health care for every human being, because how can you benefit from access to health care if your’re never born.

    However I am wary as to the conclusions certain ideologues would be tempted to draw based on this assertion. I would not agree that you could deny people communion based on their abortion stand, but ignore their positions on all other issues pertaining to sanctity of life. If someone doesn’t respect the sanctity of life after it leaves the womb doesn’t that undermine and discredit the respect for the sanctity of life they are claiming to diisplay by opposing abortion?

    The Church is treading on very dangerous grounds when it is perceived as entering the political arena and taking partisan stands. The Bishops who would deny communion for pro-choice Democrats, but not for pro-choce Republicans like Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger are rightly perceived as no better than the “hypocrites, pharisees and scribes” condemned by Jesus.

    “We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill.” Father Frank Pavone declares. Through its use of the death penalty sentence the State of Illinois nearly intentionally executed 11 innocent men. Through policies that make health care a privilge of the rich, rather than a right for all, we intentionally kill thousands of people without health insurance by allowing to die from preventable illnesses. By allowing assault weapons to become legal again, the Republican party is allowing police officers and innocent bystanders to be killed unnecessarily by criminals. When we dropped bombs in croweded residential areas in Iraq last March and April 2003, we intentionally killed thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.

    “Hypocrites, Pharisees and Scribes.” Yes abortion is a urgent moral issue. However ignoring the sanctity of life for those outside the womb may be just as grievous. When we punish people for their stands on some moral issues, but then give them a free pass for their positions on other moral issues we open the church up to charges of partisan favoritism and weaken and devalue the churches moral authority.

  2. Dean, you took longer to respond than I thought you would! 🙂

    Your post is so much rhetoric I don’t think of a way to coherently respond. I think “innocent men”, “ignore their positions on all other issues” and “intentionally killed thousands of innocent Iraqis” are special hoots. Let me just say that the Church, by witnessing too morality, in no way weakens and devalues said morality 😉

  3. Chistopher: Taking a moral position on abortion does not give a pilitician a free pass to take immoral positions on other issues.

    But if you disagree, maybe you should write a letter to Pope John Paul II and tell him that you think his appeal to President Bush in early 2003 for a peaceful resolution to the situation in Iraq was “a hoot.” Pope John Paul asked Bush not to spill the blood of innocent civilians in Iraq.

    According to the well-documented Iraq Body Count web site, http://www.iraqbodycount.net/, the death toll among Iraqi civilians is now over 10,000.

    The IBC web site notes: Of the maximum total recorded on the IBC web site today of 10,079, a maximum of 7,356 were deaths in the invasion phase up to and including May 1st, the day on which President Bush declared “major combat” over. The remaining deaths have occurred under the occupation, with the largest proportion of these derived from records held by the Baghdad morgue up to the end of September.

    These disasters are the outcome of what George W Bush characterised in his London speech of November 20th as a “noble mission” to rid the world of terrorists. Of such terrorists he said “We see their contempt, their utter contempt, for innocent life.”

  4. Dean,

    “Taking a moral position on abortion does not give a politician a free pass to take immoral positions on other issues.”

    Your are correct.

    “Pope John Paul II and tell him that you think his appeal to President Bush in early 2003 for a peaceful resolution to the situation in Iraq”

    The Pope is/was wrong about the Just war in Iraq, and even more in error in general about what it means and what is possible in the world of “peaceful resolution”. The modern peace movement is about a bloody sacrifice of innocent lives, it is not about the Peace of Christ. War can be a virtue (see Fr. Alexander’s “The Virtue of War” for an Orthodox perspective on it). Pacifism does not, does not, equal the Peace and commandments of our Lord. Finally, even the Latin’s admit that abortion is clearly always wrong, whereas prudential decisions about war can be in error by their very nature. Thus, they agree with the assessment of Fr. Frank…

  5. Christopher: Father Stanley Harakas, who was a theology professor at Holy Cross Seminary conducted an extensive review of Orthodox canonical writing therough the centuries and found no evidence of a just war doctrine in Orthodox Christian doctrine. See “No Just War in the Fathers”


    Father Stanley writes, ” I found an amazing consistency in the almost totally negative moral assessment of war coupled with an admission that war may be necessary under certain circumstances to protect the innocent and to limit even greater evils. In this framework, war may be an unavoidable alternative, but it nevertheless remains an evil. Virtually absent in the tradition is any mention of a “just” war, much less a “good” war. The tradition also precludes the possibility of a crusade. For the Eastern Orthodox tradition, I concluded, war can be seen only as a “necessary evil,” with all the difficulty and imprecision such a designation carries.”

    Under the Orthodox Christian view of war, therefore, all peaceful solutions and alternatives must have been exhausted before going to war, and the alternative to war must pose a greater threat than remaining at peace.

    Neither of therse conditions were satisfied prior to our invasion of Iraq. Alternatives to war did remain, the threats posed (Weapons of mass Destruction and links to Al Qaeda) were unsubstantiated and unfounded) and the lack or planning for the post war occupation has arguably made the world less safe and Iraq a more dangerous place to live.

  6. Fr. Alexander in “the Virtue of War”, and other writings in great detail shows the logical and theological errors of the “necessary evil” or “lesser evil” position of Fr. Harakas in that well knows essay. Fr. Harakas is wrong IMO. Also, to the extant that some (and by no means all) of the bishops have accepted the “lesser evil” reasoning is the extant that IMO. For example, Fr. Harakas is factualy incorrect when he says things like:

    “Virtually absent in the tradition is any mention of a “just” war, much less a “good” war.”

    Actually, since we have already been over this quite extensively on this site (and I believe you were a regular poster then – perhaps my memory fails me) I will just refer you to the archives, last years St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly on Just War theology, and Fr. Alexander’s book which you can purchase here:


  7. Christopher: Thank you for the link. I will check it out. While I agree with you on a general level that in the face of great evil, and in the absence of any peacful alternative, war may be the only just response. I would adamantly disagree, however, that the 2003 invasion of Iraq satisfied any definition of a just or moral war. George W Bush has the blood of many innocents on his hands, the blood of thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of Americans who died so he could prance around on the deck of an aircraft carrier in a jump suit.

    The most persuasive essay I’be ever read in defense of the just war doctrine was Bishop Fulton Sheen’s sermon on the eve of World War II entitled “The Cross and the Double-Cross.” Bishop Sheen compared the sacrifice of the soldier leaving his family to go to war to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

  8. Might someone explain the difference between a “just war,” and a war that is “the lesser of two evils?” Is there a just war that is not the lesser of two evils? Is there a war that is the lesser of two evils that is not also just? I’m not quite following the distinction.

  9. Jim, Fr. Alexander has done just that. He is currently the only American Orthodox scholar writing extensively on the topic. He was a student of Fr. Harakas and at one time held to the same beliefs as Fr. Harakas and still has a great respect for those who are truly pacifist. He is highly critical of those who claim the pacifist mantle without any of its real substance.

    I urge you to examine his work.

    Fr. Hans, you might see if he will write an article for this site, or post some of his work for comment.

  10. I’m in contact with Fr. Alexander occasionally and have his permission to reprint the article in St. Vladimir’s quarterly. I also highlight his book on the main page. If anyone can send me a scanned copy of the article (I can’t find it), I will post it.

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