On November 4, 2000, Pope John Paul II met in the Paul VI Hall with government leaders, members of parliament, and men and women responsible for public life, who had come to Rome to celebrate their Jubilee. Here are excerpts from his address:
Politics is the use of legitimate authority in order to attain the common good of society: a common good which, as the Second Vatican Council declares, embraces "the sum of those conditions of social life by which individuals, families and groups can achieve complete and efficacious fulfillment" (Gaudium et Spes, 74). Political activity ought therefore to be carried out in a spirit of service. My predecessor Pope Paul VI rightly affirmed that "politics is a demanding way of living the Christian commitment to serve others" (Octogesima Adveniens, 46).
Hence, Christians who engage in politics – and who wish to do so as Christians – must act selflessly, not seeking their own advantage, or that of their group or party, but the good of one and all, and consequently, in the first place, that of the less fortunate members of society... Justice must indeed be the fundamental concern of political leaders...
I would like to speak in a particular way to those of you who have the very delicate task of formulating and approving laws: a task which brings man close to God, the Supreme Legislator, from whose Eternal Law the validity and the obligatory force of every other law is ultimately derived... As I have already had occasion to state in the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, "the basis of these values cannot be provisional and changeable 'majority' opinions, but only the acknowledgment of an objective moral law which, as the 'natural law' written in the human heart is the obligatory point of reference for civil law itself" (n. 70).
This means that laws, whatever the areas in which the legislator intervenes or is obliged to intervene, must always respect and promote human persons - in all the variety of their spiritual, material, personal, family and social needs. Hence a law which does not respect the right to life - from conception to natural death - of every human being, whatever his or her condition - healthy or ill, still in the embryonic stage, elderly or close to death – is not a law in harmony with the divine plan. Consequently, Christian legislators may neither contribute to the formulation of such a law nor approve it in parliamentary assembly, although, where such a law already exists, it is licit for them to propose amendments which would diminish its adverse effects. The same must be said with regard to all laws which would do harm to the family, striking at its unity and its indissolubility, or which would give legal validity to a union between persons, including those of the same sex, who demand the same rights as the family founded upon marriage between a man and a woman.
Certainly in today's pluralistic society Christian lawmakers are confronted by ideas of life and by laws and requests for legalization which run contrary to their own conscience. Christian prudence, the virtue proper to Christian politicians, will make clear to them how they should act so as not to fall short, on the one hand, of the demands of their correctly formed conscience, and not to fail, on the other hand, in their duty as legislators. For Christians today, it is not a question of fleeing the world in which God's call has placed them, but rather of bearing witness to their own faith and being faithful to their own principles in the difficult and ever new situations which mark the world of politics...
With an act of wholehearted and steadfast faith, renew your fidelity to Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, and make his Gospel the guide of your thought and of your life. In this way you will be in today's society that yeast of new life which humanity needs in order to build a more just and fraternal future, a future open to the civilization of love.
John Paul II
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Political leaders who claim to be Christian cannot support abortion, since it goes directly against the Fifth Commandment of God, "Thou shalt not kill." Since life begins at conception, abortion is murder; and when politicians say that they support women's right to choose, it simply means that they support women's right to kill their babies.
Yet, some leaders seem to lead a double life — believers in "private life" and agnostics in "public life". In the last election campaign in Canada, two leaders, who claim to be Roman Catholics (Jean Chrétien and Joe Clark), clearly said they were pro-choice (pro-abortion), and harshly criticized the only leader of the five main parties who was pro-life (Stockwell Day).
In Winnipeg, on August 30, Prime Minister Chrétien said: "We Liberals believe in a woman's right to choose," and added that the "social peace" we have in Canada since the Supreme Court decision of 1988 (in favor of abortion on demand) should not be broken.
One cannot claim to be a Catholic and at the same time in favor of abortion. Speaking at an annual pro-life Mass at the Lourdes Grotto in Vanier, on May 31, 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais said in his homily:
"You may or may not have heard what our Prime Minister (Chrétien) said on March 17 of this year at a Liberal Party of Canada convention? He almost seemed to brag that one of the great accomplishments of the Liberal Party is the right of women to choose. I quote: 'Canadians do not want a right-wing party in this country. They do not want a party that does not support women's right to choose.' What does this statement mean? That the Liberal Party is now officially pro-choice?... I think that this is a lamentable state of affairs."
Toronto canon lawyer Monsignor Vincent Foy reacted to the leaders' statements, saying, "The truth of the matter is, of course, that you cannot be a faithful Catholic and pro-choice." He said, "Our Catholic prime ministers have been in the main a disgrace to the Church."
Archbishop Adam Exner of Vancouver said: "In conscience before God, one may not vote for a candidate who proposes policies and programs of action that are clearly immoral, that is, clearly contrary to the designs and laws of God. By voting for such a candidate, the voter becomes an accomplice in the evil policies and programs of action supported and promoted by the candidate. By voting for such a candidate, the voter becomes jointly responsible with him before God, jointly guilty and jointly liable to God's judgement".
Bishop James Mahoney of Saskatoon, wrote in his Pastoral letter of March 19, 1977: "Those who defend abortions whether legalized or not, or who refuse to make a clear commitment to defend the rights of the unborn or the aged and the ill, or who in other ways promote the corruption of family life, disqualify themselves from public office, no matter what their other qualifications may be. Conscientious citizens may not support such politicians."
Bishop James C. Timlin, D.D., of Scranton, U.S.A., wrote in "The Ballot and the Right to Life", Fall 2000: "Abortion is the issue this year and every year in every campaign... The taking of innocent human life is so heinous, so horribly evil, and so absolutely opposite to the law of Almighty God that abortion must take precedence over every other issue. I repeat. It is the single most important issue confronting not only Catholics, but also the entire electorate."
Now, here is a quotation from the 1974 Vatican Declaration on Abortion: "Whatever the civil law may decree in this matter, it must be taken as absolutely certain that a man may never obey an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law approving abortion in principle. He may not take part in any movement to sway public opinion in favour of such a law, nor may he vote for that law."
Finally, Pope John Paul II said on February 14, 2000: "There is no reason for that type of defeatist mentality which claims that laws opposed to the right to life — those which legalize abortion, euthanasia, sterilization and methods of family planning opposed to life and the dignity of marriage — are inevitable and now almost a social necessity. On the contrary, they are a seed of corruption for society and its foundations.
"No effort should be spared to eliminate legalized crime or at least to limit the damage caused by these laws, but with the vivid awareness of the radical duty to respect every human being's right to life from conception until natural death, including the life of the lowliest and the least gifted."