“Ask a Priest: Are We Supposed to Police Other People?”

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Q: What did Christ have to say about policing other people’s sins? I’ll be upfront here; I’m wondering about some Catholics’ “one issue voter” of the whole MAGA thing and the GOP’s goal of overturning Roe vs. Wade. I am against abortion, and wouldn’t have one (if I were a pregnant woman, of course). That said, I’m more concerned with my own actions and sin, than of my fellow person. If someone is of another religion, or no religion, and do not believe that is a sin, that is between them and God ultimately, and not my concern. Thoughts? – J.S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: You raise a few issues that are best dealt with separately.

First, we have a general obligation to avoid scandal – that is, an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. But we also have a positive obligation to witness to the Gospel in the world (see Canon 759 of the Code of Canon Law).

It’s good not to confuse witnessing to the Gospel with “policing” – the latter has the negative connotation of trying to run other people’s lives. There is a big difference between intruding into other lives and helping them to live better lives.

Scripture speaks positively about witnessing. “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

That exhortation can apply in many walks of life. We could say that as Catholics we have a duty to work for a just and peaceful world.

Now, in the case of abortion, a particularly insidious injustice is being done, since it involves killing the most innocent of human beings among us.

We can’t be indifferent to their fate; for us to remain silent could be scandalous.

Our duty to witness is binding, no matter what someone might think of abortion. For it is still objectively the killing of an innocent person.

A common mistake of modernity is thinking that morality depends on each person’s private views. It doesn’t. There are objective evils that can’t be justified by private beliefs.

At one time or another, certain groups considered slavery to be OK. To this day, some cultures tolerate the physical abuse of wives and daughters for the maintenance of family “honor.” And many people have no problem with pornography. Yet there are obvious victims in both cases: women and children who are exploited.

A scriptural task that might help is the parable from Matthew 25:31-45, about the sheep and the goats. The Son of Man says, “What you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (v. 45).

We could insert the word “abortion” into this parable. “I was in the womb, and you did nothing to protect me …”

For Christians to say that injustices around them don’t concern them is to neglect a basic principle of charity. We need to both feed the hungry and instruct the ignorant.

Again, this isn’t a summons to police those around us. But we do have the task of evangelizing the world somehow. People have a right to hear the truth as revealed by Jesus. This is a task that transcends partisan politics.

To refuse to help bring the Gospel message in some way to others can put our own souls at risk.

For more reading, you might turn to the U.S. bishops’ conference page the New Evangelization.


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