By James Tillman

PHOENIX, AZ, October 20, 2009 (—In remarks delivered to the Phoenix Catholic Physician's Guild on October 16, 2009, Archbishop Chaput of Denver condemned moral indifference in the face of the culture of death as dishonesty towards God and ruinous to America.

The archbishop began by discussing a single facet of our society: its attitude towards children with Down syndrome.

“Currently about 5,000 children with Down syndrome are born in the United States each year,” he said.  “They join a national Down syndrome population of roughly 400,000 persons. But that population may soon dwindle.  And the reason why it may decline illustrates, in a vivid way, a struggle within the American soul.”

“That struggle will shape the character of our society in the decades to come.”

Prenatal testing for Down syndrome, he continued, rather than helping parents prepare to care for their child, has become a reason for parents to kill their child.  “Studies show that more than 80 percent of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome now get terminated in the womb.”

But this statistic, he continued, is but a symptom of the sickness that has spread throughout America.  The choice that the parents of an infant with Down syndrome make is the same as the choice society faces as a whole.

“The real choice in accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is between love and unlove; between courage and cowardice; between trust and fear,” he said. That's the choice we face when it happens in our personal experience.  And that's the choice we face as a society in deciding which human lives we will treat as valuable, and which we will not.

“Every child with Down syndrome, every adult with special needs; in fact, every unwanted unborn child, every person who is poor, weak, abandoned or homeless – each one of these persons is an icon of God's face and a vessel of his love.  How we treat these persons – whether we revere them and welcome them, or throw them away in distaste – shows what we really believe about human dignity, both as individuals and as a nation.”

Catholics can no longer excuse themselves from combating this disease by saying that their religion is private and separated from every other area of their life, he continued: religion is not simply a private thing.

“Catholic public officials who take God seriously cannot support laws that attack human dignity without lying to themselves, misleading others and abusing the faith of their fellow Catholics.  God will demand an accounting.”

“Catholic doctors who take God seriously cannot do procedures, prescribe drugs or support health policies that attack the sanctity of unborn children or the elderly; or that undermine the dignity of human sexuality and the family.  God will demand an accounting.

“And Catholic citizens who take God seriously cannot claim to love their Church, and then ignore her counsel on vital public issues that shape our nation's life.  God will demand an accounting.”

But the maintenance of public morality is not merely a duty to God but also to our nation, he continued.

To show this, he mentioned John Courtney Murray, an American Jesuit who believed that freedom, religious liberty, and democracy were congenial to the Catholic faith.

“But he had a caveat,” the Archbishop said. “It's the caveat George Washington implied in his Farewell Address, and Charles Carroll – the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence – mentions in his own writings.  In order to work, America depends as a nation on a moral people shaped by their religious faith, and in a particular way, by the Christian faith.  Without that living faith, animating its people and informing its public life, America becomes something alien and hostile to the very ideals it was founded on.”

This, Archbishop Chaput continued, is why Father Murray could write that our American culture, as it now exists, has become “the quintessence of all that is decadent in the culture of the Western Christian world.”

“It would seem to be erected on the triple denial that has corrupted Western culture at its roots: the denial of metaphysical reality, of the primacy of the spiritual over the material, [and] of the social over the individual … Its most striking characteristic is its profound materialism … It has given citizens everything to live for and nothing to die for.”

“And its achievement may be summed up thus:  It has gained a continent and lost its own soul.”

The Archbishop ended, therefore, by urging men truly to act as Catholics and thereby to change the world.

“Be the best doctors, nurses and medical professionals you can be,” he said.  “Your skill gives glory to God.  But be the best Catholics you can be first.”

(Read the full text of Archbishop Chaput's address here)