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California Bishops Issue Statement on Referendum and Initiatives Now Circulating in California

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November 20, 2015

The Executive Committee of the California Catholic Conference has issued the following statement on signature gathering efforts for a referendum to overturn the new physician-assisted suicide law in California and other initiatives dealing with parental notification before a minor receives an abortion and another on the use of the death penalty:

Dear Fellow Catholics and Friends,

As we celebrate the feast of Christ the King and prepare to open the doors on the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are compelled to share - as pastors and teachers - some reflections on three interrelated public discussions at play in our state.  

We are living in a moment when relationships in our families and our neighborhoods are being challenged and “reinvented" in an effort to make a deceptive notion of personal autonomy the preeminent value in law and practice.  This emphasis on an individual identity, separate and distinct from any meaningful social relationship, cuts us off from the support of our families, our communities and even from God. 

At a time when Californians need to foster right relationships with God and each other, we have laws that promote a skewed understanding of personal autonomy and freedom, severing the ties that bind us, losing the human connections that can save us.  The flawed thinking of these laws have us embarked on a path of growing  personal isolation and social indifference.

These three on-going debates in California touch on this radical redefinition of the individual and society:  a referendum on the new law legalizing physician assisted suicide; proposed initiatives which would support teens and parents by requiring parental notification prior to abortion; and an initiative addressing whether the use of the death penalty is necessary and right in our state.

As we enter a Jubilee Year of Mercy, in which we examine God’s mercy and compassion toward us, we reflect on Pope Francis' comment:

"The many situations of inequality, poverty and injustice, are signs not only of a profound lack of fraternity, but also of the absence of a culture of solidarity. New ideologies, characterized by rampant individualism, egocentrism and materialistic consumerism, weaken social bonds, fueling that “throw away” mentality which leads to contempt for, and the abandonment of, the weakest and those considered 'useless'.”  World Day of Peace, January 1, 2014

The Holy Father calls us to carefully examine the social fabric of California to see how we weave the virtues of solidarity and charity into our lives together in the Golden State.  

Instead of reaching out to the vulnerable terminally ill with proper care and companionship at the end of life, the new law legalizing physician assisted suicide inculcates the perception that those at the end of life are an unnecessary social burden.  As we have said before – and will continue to say – this is a “travesty of compassion.”  

Why should those dying in our midst be considered a burden and not an invitation to be a loving companion on their journey to life’s last juncture?  We should treasure the last moments in this life together in solidarity as we prepare for the next.

In the case of parental notification, for many years concerned citizens have sought to protect the right of parental involvement with their children during what can be one of the most vulnerable and confusing events of their young lives.  Current laws deny all parents the opportunity to compassionately support their daughters presuming some parents are not capable of doing so.

Instead of encouraging a vulnerable teen age girl to turn to her family during what is probably a very desperate and frightful time, California laws persuade her to separate herself from her family and those who most care for her.  These laws leave the young woman a prey to influences other than those who love her.  She is isolated during a life and death decision that will affect the rest of her life.

There are reasonable security measures to handle any tragic domestic threat to a child's well-being.  Why then, does California law undermine all families by denying parents their role in caring for their daughters?

Finally, in the case of the use of the death penalty in California, rather than strive for healing of victims and praying for the repentance and redemption of the perpetrator, we are asked to sanction the killing of one more human being, perpetuating a cycle of violence and the "throw-away" culture lamented so often by Pope Francis.  A flawed criminal justice system deludes victims with the hope that vengeance will bring healing and closure.  We know it will not.

All of these issues cause us to question how we reverence the human person and cherish our common life, our communion of life.  None of these current laws encourages solidarity.  None of these laws affirm the dignity of the human person or promote solidarity.  And all of them contradict the moral and religious teachings of the Lord Jesus.

In the coming weeks and months, all three of these issues will be before us in California.  You may be asked to sign petitions to place them on the ballot for November, 2016. Signing the petitions will give us, and all Californians, the opportunity to craft laws that truly serve the common good and build up the social fabric of California while enriching the life of all. 

We urge you to study these issues further.  Pray more fervently.  Judge with the heart and mind of Christ.  Act as a faithful disciple and citizen.  St. Paul reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven. (Phil. 3:20)  Our actions here on earth should already bear the mark of those who long for the heavenly city still to come.