Social justice and peace are grounded in respect for human life, nun says


CHARLESTON — Sister Pam Smith gave a talk on Catholic teachings on justice and peace March 3 as part of a series offered at Blessed Sacrament Parish. Sister Smith, a Sister of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, pointed out that the “teachings are grounded in our respect for human life from womb to tomb.”

Her talk was given at a time when Americans are wrestling with the issue of the war in Iraq as well as the issues of abortion and euthanasia.

“The dignity of the human person is a key to Catholic belief,” Sister Smith said, “and the conviction that God is sovereign over life underlies and drives Catholic teachings on justice.”

Sister Smith has a doctorate in theology from Duquesne University and is the author of eight books on Scripture and the environment. She currently works with faculty faith formation and adult religious education and teaches religion at Blessed Sacrament.

The first part of her talk was a review of key teachings from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, “The Gospel of Life.”

“Human life is sacred despite the mixed messages that our culture is sending,” she said. “The conscience formation of our youth has been affected by television, talk shows, and books geared toward women. It is pervading our Catholic schools and universities.”

“The cultural messages are often louder than the internal voice that should tell us that taking a human life is wrong. A woman’s right to chose doesn’t ever supersede a human’s right to life,” she said.

She also pointed out that although the questions that we face today are much more complex than those faced by church leaders of the past, the same principles apply.

“Weapons of war, feeding tubes, and other modern technologies have made our questions complex, but the principles of life haven’t changed,” she said. She reminded those in attendance of the pope’s words that not choosing life is choosing our own death.

The second part of her talk dealt with keystones of Catholic social teaching, and she examined the church’s teachings on a just war and Christian pacifism.

“At present there are many Christians who profess pacifism,” she said. “The church respects the conscience of anyone who is pledged to non-violence … it does not, however, require this position.”

The current stance that the church takes in allowing Christians to use force to defend themselves is one that has developed gradually, said Sister Smith. The standards set for a just war are derived from those established by St. Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries and St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. “They also factor in recent developments in military technology and the variety of types of war waged,” she said.

Some of the conditions required to identify a just cause for war include the defense of innocent people and their land, the winning of peace as quickly as possible, the waging of war as a last resort when all other means of peace have been exhausted, as well as the probability of success.