Text Size:
  • A
  • A
  • A

The Dignity of Every Human Life


by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson

On the eve of the World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis reaffirms the important connection between life ethics and social ethics

Carl A. Anderson

In my Columbia columns for January and April earlier this year, I reflected on Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae and its enduring messages on marriage and the gift of life — messages further discussed throughout this issue. The following month, on May 25, Irish voters repealed the Eighth Amendment to that country’s constitution, which for decades had protected the lives of countless unborn children from abortion.

Providentially, Pope Francis had the courage to place the World Meeting of Families in Ireland next month. He has set the stage for the meeting with the recent publication of his apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad).

There is much to reflect upon in Gaudete et Exsultate. In one section, the pope writes: “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly…. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in (the) world” (101).

No organization knows this better than the Knights of Columbus. We have been “clear, firm and passionate” in our defense of the dignity of every human life.

Our Ultrasound Initiative alone, which has sought to protect the lives of both mother and child by providing more than 950 ultrasound machines to qualified pregnancy resource centers, has already saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Pope Francis goes on to write in Gaudete et Exsultate, “We often hear it said that … the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian” (102).

The pope is right. These are not “secondary” issues because there are no “secondary” people. There are public issues that involve intrinsically evil acts, such as the intentional killing of an innocent human being as in the case of abortion. And there are other issues that involve prudential judgments about which reasonable people may disagree. But that does not mean such issues are “secondary.” In most countries, poverty and disease are the leading causes of death. In the United States, it is abortion: approximately 60 million since Roe v. Wade.

Here again, the Knights of Columbus has been a leader — during the last fraternal year providing more than $185 million and more than 75 million hours of volunteer service to charity.

St. John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae, explained the strong link between life ethics and social ethics: “A society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized” (101).

Catholics have a responsibility to insist that those responsible for the public good focus public debate where it belongs: on respect for the dignity of every human being and the sanctity of every human life.

This is why Pope Francis reminds us that holiness, evangelization, charity and human development are profoundly linked. And as will be apparent during the upcoming World Meeting of Families, all of these aspects of the Christian life find their home in the family.

The Order has always sought to evangelize and strengthen the spiritual life of our Catholic families.

We are now strengthening our Building the Domestic Church initiative through our new Faith in Action program model, which encourages councils to do even more in the areas of faith, family, community and life.

As Knights of Columbus we will more clearly live in a way that witnesses to the Christian call to holiness, evangelization, charity and social justice.

Vivat Jesus!