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The Thomist 63 (1999): 461-80 HAS THE MESSAGE OF EVANGELIUM VITAE BEEN MISSED? AN ANALYSIS AND A FUTURE DIRECTION FOR CATHOLIC BIOMEDICAL ETHICS JOHN BERKMAN The Catholic University ofAmerica Washington, D.C. ON MARCH 3, 1999, on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the promulgation of Pope John Paul H's encyclical Evangelium vitae ("The Gospel of Life"), John Cardinal O'Connor and Bernard Cardinal Law convened a conference entitled "In God's Image: Called to Build a Culture of Life." In honor of the occasion, the Holy Father sent his greetings and a four-page letter. Included in the letter was the following: At the end of the twentieth century we are witnessing a strange paradox: the sanctity of human life is being denied by an appeal to freedom, democracy, pluralism, even reason and compassion. As the Bishops' Statement points out, words have become unmoored from their meaning (e.g., Living the Gospel of Life, 11), and we are left with a rhetoric in which the language of life is used to promote a culture of death.... The language of human rights is constantly invoked while the most basic of them-the right to life-is repeatedly disregarded.... So great is the confusion at times that for many people the difference between good and evil is determined by the opinion of the majority, and even the time-honored havens of human life-the family, the law and medicine-are sometimes made to serve the culture of death. At such a time, Christians must act. Your action needs to be both educational and political. There must be a thorough catechesis on the Gospel of Life at all levels of the Catholic community. Catholics imbibe much of their surrounding culture, and therefore this catechesis needs to challenge the prevailing culture at those points where 461 462 JOHN BERKMAN human dignity and rights are threatened. Such a catechesis has as its goal that shift of perception and change of heart which accompany true conversion (cf. Eph 4:23). The call to conversion must ring out in your homes, in your parishes and in your schools, with complete confidence that the Church's teaching about the inviolability of life is deeply in tune with both right reason and the deepest longings of the human heart. This educational effort will increasingly open the way for Catholics to exercise a positive influence as citizens of their country, without false appeals to the separation of Church and State in a way that consigns the Christian vision of human dignity to the realm of private belief. The choice in favor of life is not a private option but a basic demand of a just and moral society.1 Drawing on the United States Catholic Conference's recently released Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, the Holy Father here emphasizes that for the Gospel of Life to be truly gospel, to be truly 'good news', it must be lived in its fullness by American Catholics. It is not an easy time to do so. For it is a time when that most basic moral imperative-innocent human lives are to be considered inviolable-is being undermined by what the Pope calls a "culture of death." In this time of Orwellian politics, the Pope notes that appeals to freedom and rights are increasingly reinterpreted through the lenses of utility and cost-effectiveness, so that the defenseless and the marginalized can be ignored or dispatched, and traditional virtues of love and compassion are being reconfigured to justify death-dealing. It is in this context that the Pope wrote Evangelium vitae, urging a new catechesis of our culture in which Catholics and all people ofgood will work together to "ensure that justice and solidarity will increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love."2 He also specifically urged Catholic intellectuals to "place themselves at the service of a new culture of life by offering seriousand well documented contributions, capable ofcommand1 This letter, dated February 20, 1999, was addressed to "MyVenerable Brother, Cardinal William Henry Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, Chairman of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 461-480
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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