No either/or approach: Church’s pro-life and social justice advocates should work together Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

What do St. Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, and Mother Teresa all have in common? They are just a few well-known Catholics who have put the Church’s pro-life and social teaching into action in their daily lives.

These three holy people had a unified way of living out the principles of Catholic social teaching. They showed respect for the dignity of all human persons, helped the poor and sick, and worked with people of all faiths and backgrounds.

Need to work together

It is unfortunate that some people in the pro-life and social justice ministries today seem to be working separately. They don’t seem to want to cross “party lines,” so to speak (both figuratively and literally).

Yet it seems as if we all should be working together. I can understand that each of us is not able to put all our time and efforts into every cause, but we should respect those who work in a different area.

January is a case in point. We have activities involving the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. It is essential to call attention to this infamous decision and to work to bring about respect for all human life in our country. In January, the Catholic Church also observes National Migration Week and Poverty Awareness Month, in addition to National Vocation Awareness Week and Catholic Schools Week — it’s a busy month!

We don’t seem to pay as much attention to migration and poverty issues, yet these are important matters that should be addressed, too.

Gospel dimmed by either/or approach

A Capuchin priest talked about the importance of pro-life advocates and social justice ministers working together at a conference held in 2012 called “Faith Seeking Understanding” sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington’s Department of Life Issues and Department for Charity and Justice.

Capuchin Franciscan Father Daniel Mindling, academic dean at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., said that these wings of the Catholic Church should work together because “the light of the Gospel is dimmed by an either/or approach to social justice and pro-life teachings.

“Trying to figure out which mandate to put in second place will ultimately put somebody who is vulnerable on the short end of the stick. It will ultimately deny basic human dignity to somebody,” he said.

‘Tremendous intertwining’

According to an article in the Catholic Standard, the Washington, D.C., diocesan newspaper’s online edition, Father Mindling called for a “tremendous intertwining” between the Church’s pro-life and social justice ministries. “We are a bi-lingual Church. We speak the language of the sanctity of life and the language of social justice.”

He warned that politics often “exploits a tension in the Catholic community between those who put the decisive emphasis on issues around abortion and the sanctity of life and those who prioritize the dignity of life: health care reform, urban poverty, education, unemployment, ecology, or immigration reform.”

Principles of Catholic social teaching

According to the U.S. Catholic bishops, the first principle of Catholic social teaching is that “Every human person is created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, each person’s life and dignity must be respected . . . from conception to natural death.”

Other principles call for support of family, community, and participation; solidarity as one human family; the dignity of work; securing and respecting rights and responsibilities to our families and to the larger society; concern for the poor and vulnerable; and caring for God’s creation.

The Gospel teaches us the importance of respecting all human life and loving our neighbor across the board. I hope and pray that pro-life and social justice advocates will realize that we are all working for the same goals, that we should work together when possible, and that we should respect each other’s efforts.