Life and leadership

a parent holds the hand of a small child

It’s a good thing we have a Savior who is the eternal God and not a politician. Just in case we haven’t noticed, it is clear that no party platform is 100 percent pro-life, and we can’t guarantee that any individual holding office is either.

We rejoice that recent statistics show that the number of abortions in the U.S. has declined significantly, and it was a milestone when the vice president of the United States addressed the annual March for Life. Abortion is wrong, gravely wrong, and it seems that the message is attracting a bit more media attention this year than it has previously.

But torture is wrong too. To deem it acceptable in some cases because “it works” is to adopt amoral pragmatism rather than Judaeo-Christian wisdom. Similarly, euthanasia is wrong. So is leaving refugees to rot at borders.

Unfortunately, our two major parties are split in their life agendas. The right of a human being to live, from conception to natural death, has primacy over all other rights. But if we are true to our Catholic Christian values, that right requires other fundamental human rights. As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his encyclical “Charity in Truth,” the moral imperative to work for the common good applies to whole persons and all persons. He put it this way: “The earthly city is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationship of gratuitousness, mercy, and communion.” Justice and charity, rights and care all go together.

St. Thomas Aquinas long ago observed that there is a unity of virtue. Essentially, what he meant is that our good behaviors and our benevolent principles have to be consistent. If we are the stereotypic good scout helping an elderly person across a street, we aren’t truly virtuous if we then go off and shoplift or bully our classmates. Similarly, we can’t really consider ourselves pro-life if we oppose abortion and euthanasia but are willing to tolerate torture and capital punishment. We can’t save unborn children and then separate families whose children are citizens but parents are undocumented.

Since Leo XIII (1891) our popes have been issuing social encyclicals, lengthy letters in which they apply Scripture and tradition to the complex problems of civil society and the challenges we face as we try to live peaceably and justly. Sometimes their statements have provoked outcries that religion shouldn’t mix with politics. But politics is part of the fabric of human life, and if life is to be truly human, it must be guided by moral principles.

The long and short of it is that we need pontiffs and presidents, magisterium and legislation, confessors and courts of law. Our religious beliefs will never equate with public policy. Even so, we are called to do our part to transform the world so that life — life to the full (Jn 10:10) — truly wins. That takes moral leadership, and the final word on that score is always Jesus Christ.

Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, is the Secretary for Education and Faith Formation at the Diocese of Charleston. Email her at

About Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM 130 Articles
SISTER PAMELA SMITH, SSCM, is the Director for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the Diocese of Charleston. Email her at