The first and foundational principle of all Catholic Social Teaching is the sanctity of human life and the inherent dignity of the human person from conception through natural death. Human life must be valued infinitely above material possessions. Pope John Paul II wrote and spoke extensively on the topic of the inviolability of human life in his watershed encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, (Latin for "The Gospel of Life").
Acts which are considered attacks and affronts to human life include abortion, euthanasia, and every other deliberate taking of life, and must always be opposed. In the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes (Latin for "Joy and Hope"), it is written that “from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care ." Genocide, torture, and the direct and intentional targeting of noncombatants in war or terrorist attacks are always wrong.
The U.S. Catholic Bishops' Statement on Capital Punishment of 1974, declared a commitment to the value and dignity of human life. Bishop John May, of Mobile, Alabama, proposed a brief resolution which said simply: "The U.S. Catholic Conference goes on record in opposition to capital punishment." Catholic teaching accepts the principle that the state has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime, and that the state may take appropriate measures to protect itself and its citizens from grave harm, nevertheless, the question for judgment and decision today is whether capital punishment is justifiable under present circumstances. The Catechism of the Catholic Church(no. 2267) states: "If...non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person".
War and the death penalty must almost always be opposed, the former being guided by the principles of just war doctrine and recourse to the latter is not excluded "if this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor." It is argued that the defense of lives includes the provision of deterrence and the establishment of justice. Both war and the death penalty must always be a last resort. In addition, each human, being made in the image and likeness of God, has an inherent dignity that must always be respected. Every human person "is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God." Racism and other forms of discrimination must then also be opposed. In 2007, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote:
Catholic teaching about the dignity of life calls us to oppose torture, unjust war, and the use of the death penalty; to prevent genocide and attacks against noncombatants; to oppose racism; and to overcome poverty and suffering. Nations are called to protect the right to life by seeking effective ways to combat evil and terror without resorting to armed conflicts except as a last resort, always seeking first to resolve disputes by peaceful means. We revere the lives of children in the womb, the lives of persons dying in war and from starvation, and indeed the lives of all human beings as children of God.
- ↑ Evangelium Vitae § 62.
- ↑ Evangelium Vitae § 65;,Catechism of the Catholic Church § 2277.
- ↑ Gaudium et Spes§ 51.
- ↑ Evangelium Vitae § 56.
- ↑ Catechism of the Catholic Church § 2267.
- ↑ see Genesis 1:26.
- ↑ Evangelium Vitae § 2.
- ↑ Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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