There is significant dispute between many so called “liberal” professional women and the so called “conservative” position taken by American Catholic bishops. American Catholic bishops have created a uniquely American expression of Catholic social thought principals by focusing on “life.” In his writings and presentations, Cardinal Joseph Bernadin from Chicago utilized the phrase “a consistent ethic of life.” This phrase has guided all political positions on behalf of the Catholic Church in the United States.
In truth, Catholic Social Teaching is not polarized by either liberal or conservative positions within U.S. political parties. Catholic Social Teaching cuts across all political parties in order to focus specifically on “a consistent ethic of life.”
For example, in today’s polarized political environment, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) would support President Trump’s position against abortion while rejecting his position to build a wall between the United States and Mexico thus further rejecting Hispanic immigration. Catholic Social Teaching considers the lives of the unborn and the lives of foreign refugees to be of equal value having equal intrinsic dignity. However, just as the political climate in the United States is divided on the importance of various issues, each bishop in the United States has the freedom to interpret which issues to stress when developing his understanding of the phrase “a consistent ethic of life.”
Some bishops choose to focus on defending life, which in the United States’ political realm means: fighting against the legalization of abortion and stem cell research, fighting against the legalization of euthanasia, fighting against capital punishment and war. Other bishops interpret the phrase “a consistent ethic of life” differently to mean: caring for the poor and marginalized in society through food pantries and homeless shelters, advocating for the homeless and the mentally ill to find quality health care, caring for and protecting the basic human rights of immigrants, prisoners, the unborn, etc. The first position is more abstract and focuses on broad policies and laws while the second position focuses more on the individual person.
Just like the Bible contains both the Gospel of Matthew (so called “conservative”) and the Gospel of Luke (so called “liberal”), both interpretations of the phrase “a consistent ethic of life” are correct and greatly needed. The first position portrays the firm hand of the father while the second portrays the nurturing hand of the mother. Therefore, both positions are necessary to maintain a balanced society. Either position is a valid interpretation for U.S. Catholics.
In today’s fragmented and polarized political world it is essential for professional women to learn something from the example set by U.S. Catholic bishops. It is productive and useful to be able “to agree – to disagree” with others. It is important to know who you are and remain steadfast in defining yourself and what you stand for; without diminishing the dignity of those who may disagree with your own position.
Being a light to the world means knowing where you stand and remaining steadfast in your commitments. Being a light to the world means honoring the dignity of every human life, especially the dignity of individuals who may be called to stand for something different. Being a light to the world means having the maturity to understand that there is value and purpose to every human voice.