Christians, like all people of good will, have a grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. [. . . ] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it.
A kind of cultural relativism exists today, evident in the conceptualization and defence of an ethical pluralism, which sanctions the decadence and disintegration of reason and the principles of the natural moral law. Furthermore, it is not unusual to hear the opinion expressed in the public sphere that such ethical pluralism is the very condition for democracy. As a result, citizens claim complete autonomy with regard to their moral choices, and lawmakers maintain that they are respecting this freedom of choice by enacting laws which ignore the principles of natural ethics and yield to ephemeral cultural and moral trends, as if every possible outlook on life were of equal value.
As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable. Among these the following emerge clearly today:
(a) protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death;
(b) recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage, and its defense from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role;
(c) the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Introductory Letter. . . . Our 2015 statement, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, sought to help Catholics form their consciences, apply a consistent moral framework to issues facing the nation and world, and shape their choices in elections in the light of Catholic Social Teaching. In choosing to re-issue this statement, we recognize that the thrust of the document and the challenges it addresses remain relevant today.
At the same time, some challenges have become even more pronounced. Pope Francis has continued to draw attention to important issues such as migration, xenophobia, racism, abortion, global conflict, and care for creation. In the United States and around the world, many challenges demand our attention.
The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed. At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.
49. Human dignity is respected and the common good is fostered only if human rights are protected and basic responsibilities are met. Every human being has a right to life, the fundamental right that makes all other rights possible, and a right to access those things required for human decency—food and shelter, education and employment, health care and housing, freedom of religion and family life. The right to exercise religious freedom publicly and privately by individuals and institutions along with freedom of conscience need to be constantly defended. In a fundamental way, the right to free expression of religious beliefs protects all other rights.
Moral Principles & Non-Negotiable Goods
Certain General Moral Principles, as well as principals of Catholic Social Teaching, apply to the question of non-negotiable moral goods. They are addressed briefly here, and in greater detail on the linked pages.
Each of the 3 non-negotiable values identified by Pope Benedict, involve essential or common goods which are necessary for the flourishing of human beings and human societies. Their violation involves intrinsic evils which can never be justified by good intentions or circumstances, including the particular good of individuals or groups.
As the Popes and the U.S. Bishops explain, these fundamental goods are prior to the policy choices that intend to realize them. If the essential good is violated, e.g. life, it is unreasonably to argue that one respects human dignity, even if the policies implemented incidentally do so. On the other hand, if one respects innocent human life, then the policies promoted in other areas should foster the dignity of that life.
“When an individual violates an essential good it is called sin. When the political authority does so, besides being gravely wrong for the individuals passing, defending or otherwise approving of such laws, it undermines the common good and constitutes political corruption.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church §411).
Such corruption undermines a democratic society. The willingness to violate common goods, such as life, is the ultimate character test, and betrays a willingness to violate any good or right that is opposed to the particular interests of those in power and their supporters.
“[T]he common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights – for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture – is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with the maximum determination.” (Pope St. John Paul II, Christifideles Laici 38)
“The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan.” (Pope Francis, Encyclical Lument fidei 52)
“The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good (cf. Spe Salvi, 24).”
“Few have understood this as clearly as the late Pope John Paul II. In reflecting on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in his native Poland and in eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows, time and again, that “in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation”, and a democracy without values can lose its very soul (cf. Centesimus Annus, 46). Those prophetic words in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent “indispensable supports” of political prosperity.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Address at the White House, 2008)
“[C]onstitutional limits should be set to the powers of government, in order that there may be no encroachment on the rightful freedom of the person and of associations. This demand for freedom in human society chiefly regards the quest for the values proper to the human spirit. It regards, in the first place, the free exercise of religion in society.” (Second Vatican Council, Dignatatis humanae 1)
Thu, only by protecting Freedom of Conscience––religious conscience, political conscience, and the freedom to express that conscience in speech, alone or in association with others, can other freedoms be preserved. If a government can command what we think, believe, speak and with whom we associate in order to do it, it can command or forbid anything whatsoever.