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The Rich Get Richer: “Ninety-five percent of all economic gains in the U.S. since the Great Recession went to the top 1 percent. What does our growing wealth inequality mean for the future of democracy? Economic inequality isn’t new. But this spring it became trendy, especially after Pope Francis dropped the tweet heard ‘round the world in April: ‘Inequality is the root of social evil.’ … the inequality gap should be of concern to everyone, whatever their income or ideology. The point is not the fact that there are differences in wealth – those exist in any human society. And it’s not necessarily helpful or productive to seek scapegoats or assign broad characteristics to particular classes; neither poor people in general nor rich people in general are inherently noble, lazy, or scheming – temptations may vary, but good and evil can be found in people of every economic status. What’s most important – and troubling – is the decades-long, systemic expansion of the economic distance between the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor, and the long, backward slide for the majority of those in-between. The gaps’ the thing. No matter what your favorite economic theory, this distance is a big problem.

“…Extreme wealth inequality carries the seeds of economic and social destruction: As more people are excluded from opportunity, the bulk of the economy as a whole slows and becomes less sustainable, and the social fabric strains and tears. Extreme inequality unravels participatory democracy and leads to the rule of the few over the many. It fails to uphold ethical standards of fairness and the common good. Instead of markets serving human needs and dignity, money becomes an idol, and people and values are sacrificed to serve what Pope Francis calls a ‘deified market.’ …But the stunning numbers around income inequality don’t represent the really big gap: wealth inequality. One percent of households in the U.S. own 35.4 percent of all our wealth, as of 2010.  Wealth, in this case, means all the stocks, houses, and cash that people own. Ten percent of households in the U.S. own 76.7 percent of all our wealth. (The bottom 40 percent of U.S. households carries ‘negative wealth’, or debt.)”

(From Sojourners, August 2014)

States Pursue Minimum Wage Hikes: “While Congress has stalled on adopting an increase in the federal minimum wage, steps are being taken across the country to boost the income of low-wage workers.  From Massachusetts and Vermont to Washington State and California, state legislators and city councils have either implemented or are negotiating minimum wage hikes.  Despite concern from opponents to any wage increase, most legislators have come to see that the likely benefit to workers outweighs the cost to businesses.  President Obama, not waiting for Congress to act, followed through on his February executive order by announcing on June 12 rules for raising the wages of workers under federal contracts to a minimum of $10.10 per hour.  Meanwhile, a new report from Oxfam America called for Congress to end the gridlock and adopt an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour, with an index to inflation.  The legislative actions and new round of advocacy come with one basic message: Anyone who works full time should not live in poverty.”

(From America, July 7-14, 2014)

Losing Bees to Pesticides: “On a fine morning last year at a Target store outside Portland, Oregon, customers arrive to a startling sight: The parking lot is covered with a seething mat of bumblebees, some staggering around, most already dead, more raining down from above. The day before, a pest-control company had sprayed a powerful insecticide on the surrounding Linden trees to protect them from aphids, but nobody warned the bees to stay away.  An estimated 50,000 perished.  The pesticide is from a fairly new family known as the neonicotinoids – neonics for short – developed a decade or so ago to replace organophosphates and carbamates, which are also highly toxic but dissipate far more quickly. Scores of plants – fruits, vegetables, ornamentals – are sprayed with neonics. 

“The chemical penetrates leaves and is taken up by the plant’s vascular system, making the plant poisonous to insects eating the leaves, pollen and nectar.  Alternatively, the plant’s seeds are soaked or the soil is treated with the chemical, with the same result.  This is convenient for keeping beetles off your roses; it is lethal for bees and other pollinators. And even if it doesn’t kill directly, as happened at the Target lot, sublethal doses interfere with the bees’ immune systems, making them vulnerable to pests.  They can also damage the bees’ ability to navigate back to the hive.  Several of the neonics, incidentally, are made by Bayer, the same Bayer that made the aspirin in your medicine cabinet.  Bayer is a German company; yet, since 2013, neonics may not be used on bee-attractive crops in Germany or in any other European Union country.”

(From Earthjustice, Summer 2014)

BP’s Damage to Gulf Continues: “Some four years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blew out in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are still discovering devastating environmental effects of the 87-day uncontrolled release of oil and gas. Scientists now estimate that 800,000 birds died in offshore and coastal waters – a significant increase from the 3,000 bird carcasses initially recovered.  ‘Prevailing wind and currents moved bodies away or they disappeared before coming ashore because of controlled surface oil fires, ocean scavengers and decay,’ says Chris Haney, Defenders’ chief scientist and co-author of the study, which relied on computer modeling to calculate the likelihood of these factors. ‘Common bottlenose dolphins in the spill zone also show steep health declines,’ he says. ‘And fish fared no better, exhibiting genetic changes in their gills.’ The spill also caused heart defects in larval fish, including the endangered bluefin tuna. ‘Accessing the full scope of harm from this unprecedented oil spill is a vital step to recovery,’ says Haney. ‘Otherwise, we will not know how to best deploy our resources to restore the Gulf and to protect the endangered sea turtles and marine fish that make this sea their home.’”

(From Defenders, Defenders of Wildlife, Summer 2014)

Holy Land Bishops Criticize Punishment of Palestinians: “Catholic leaders in the Holy Land called for an end to the cycle of violence and criticized Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and its collective punishment of Palestinians. ‘Using the death of the three Israelis to exact collective punishment on the Palestinian people as a whole and on its legitimate desire to be free is a tragic exploitation of tragedy and promotes more violence and hatred,’ said a July 8 statement from the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. ‘We need to recognize that the kidnapping and cold-blooded murder of the three Israeli youth and the brutal vengeance killing of the Palestinian youth are products of the injustice and of the hatred that the occupation fosters in the hearts of those prone to such deeds,’ the church leaders said, but added that the deaths ‘are in no way justifiable.’ …

“The ordinaries, who include Catholic bishops and the Franciscan custos of the Holy Land, called the situation in Gaza ‘an illustration of the never-ending cycle of violence in the absence of a vision for an alternative future.’ They criticized Israeli ‘leadership that continues to foster a discriminatory discourse promoting exclusive rights of one group and the occupation with all of its disastrous consequences.  Settlements are built, lands are confiscated, families are separated, loved ones are arrested and even assassinated.  The occupation leadership seems to believe that the occupation can be victorious by crushing the will of the people for freedom and dignity. They seem to believe that their determination will ultimately silence the opposition and transform wrong into right. Resistance to occupation cannot be equated with terrorism,’ they said. ‘Resistance to occupation is a legitimate right, terrorism is part of the problem.’ The church leaders said the[y] mourned all those, Israeli and Palestinians, who had died.”

(From Catholic News Service, July 9, 2014)

Made in Bangladesh: “Meet the woman who makes Walmart’s low-priced clothes.  She works 10-hour days for $103 per month. And her factory is one of the good ones. Amid the bustle of the factory floor, Nahar Akhter’s fingers move ceaselessly across the metal throat of her sewing machine, dragging seam after seam to completion.  It is quietly furious work, driven by the pressure of a daily quota, but for a young garment worker with a sick mother and a 5-year-old at home, it provides the daily bread. ‘My husband and I spend money for my mother’s medical treatment, provide for my son, and save a bit,’ Akhter says. It is work many in Bangladesh would like to have. Crowding more than158 million people into a country smaller in area than Iowa, Bangladesh is a nation beset by poverty, limited infrastructure, and corruption. An estimated 40 percent of the country’s residents live below the poverty line, driving millions each year from the lowland deltas of the interior to the crowded cities of Dhaka and Chittagong in search of work.

“There, many end up on the production floors of the estimated 5,000 garment factories that form the backbone of the country’s economy. …Six days per week Akhter works from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break. For that she is paid 8,000 taka per month – about $103 – well above the legal minimum wage of $68 per month set by the government of Bangladesh. And while the work is tedious, stitching the seams of hundreds of garments each day, Akhter knows she is luckier than others in the industry. ‘I have friends who work in other factories, and they want to come here,’ Akhter says. ‘This factory management pays our salary on time, while others pay late. The line chiefs in some places also scold, but here there is no scolding.’”

(From U.S. Catholic, July 2014)

Mexico’s Other Border Security: “Along the U.S.-Mexico border, especially in south Texas, authorities are stunned by a sudden wave of migrants from three Central American countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.  The U.S. Border Patrol is on track to apprehend over four times more citizens of these countries in 2014 than it did in 2011. An alarming number of them are unaccompanied children.  In the first eight months of fiscal year 2014, Border Patrol encountered 34,611 children from those three Central American nations traveling without adult relatives – up from less than 4,000 in 2011. …The real humanitarian emergency is not just in south Texas shelters and detention facilities. It runs along the entire migration route to the United States, from the violence-torn slums of Central America, to Mexico’s treacherous train lines and crowded detention centers, to the forbidding deserts on the U.S. side of the border where hundreds die each year. …On this southern border, [WOLA] found a sharp rise in migration from El Salvador, Guatemala, and especially Honduras.  Officials and migrant shelter workers are encountering dramatically more women, children, and families bound for the United States. …

“The migrants are being forced out of their countries of origin by unemployment, lack of economic opportunities, and some of the worst criminal violence in the world, including intolerable levels of homicide, extortion, abuse, and recruitment by street gangs.  Almost no migrants mention being motivated by any perception of changed U.S. immigration policy or lax border security. …Mexican border security toughens inland from the borderline. …The southern border has two lines of northbound cargo trains that are policed far less than the highways.  For tens of thousands of Central American migrants these trains are the main option for getting across Mexico. The long ride atop the train is physically dangerous, and the lack of security leaves migrants at the mercy of Central American gangs, Mexican cartels, bandits, kidnappers, and corrupt officials. …The stunning frequency of kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, rape, and homicide puts the plight of Central American migrants in transit through Mexico atop the list of the western Hemisphere’s worst humanitarian emergencies.”

(Excerpts from a Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA) publication as reported in NewsNotes, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, July-August 2014)

Detainees Held in “Iceboxes”: “On June 26, as part of the commemoration of Torture Awareness Month, a delegation of torture survivors (members of the Torture Abolition and Survivors’ Support Coalition, TASSC) visited the offices of members of Congress to urge them to support legislation that would stop the inhumane treatment of immigrant detainees through the use of ice box detention cells. One of the survivors, a man from Afghanistan who had worked as an interpreter with the U.S. Army before receiving death threats from the Taliban, told staff in Rep. Mark Meadows’ (R-NC) and Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) offices about his efforts to obtain asylum status in the U.S. Like many asylum-seekers, he was placed in detention; he was kept in a frigid short-term cell pejoratively called a hielera – Spanish for freezer or icebox – before being moved to a long-term detention center for 22 months. These “icebox” cells are kept at extremely cold temperatures in hopes to coerce detainees – who are not given blankets or warm clothing, but rather a thin sleeping mat – into agreeing to deportation. 

“Another TASSC member, Konjet from Ethiopia, described her horrific experience in an icebox: there was no privacy, no information about their immigration status, no blankets were given, a cold floor, the restroom was a hole in the middle of the floor, and they were only fed a small sandwich once a day.  Furthermore, detainees are not given any sort of medical attention or legal representation. …Part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] does not allow visitors to see these short-term detention cells.  Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) are pushing legislation to establish standards for the treatment of immigrants held in CBP facilities. Both Sen. Boxer’s Humane Short-Term Custody Act (S. 1817) and Rep. Roybal-Allard’s Protect Family Values at the Border Act (HR 3130) would require oversight of the CBP by having the DHS Inspector General examine the facilities every year.  These inspections would ensure that standards such as adequate climate control, potable water, access to toilets, access to medical care and special treatment for pregnant women, among other things, are being adequately met.”

(From  NewsNotes, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, July-August 2014)

Free Trade: Threat to Food Safety, Security: “Hunger is a daily reality for billions around the world.  Food security – or access to and the availability of nutritious food – for all people can only be achieved through good development policy that prioritizes local economies and sustainable food systems. In addresses to the Food and Agriculture Organization, both Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 and Pope Francis in 2013 asked us to examine and ensure policies that eliminate food insecurity, including support for small farmers and cooperatives. However current international trade policies actually are harming solutions to global hunger and food security.  Trade agreements remove preferences for local economies, and instead increase income inequality, displacement of farmers, and prioritize profit over the common good. The U.S. is currently negotiating two trade agreements, one with the European Union (EU) and the other with nations of the Pacific Rim, representing roughly 80 percent of the global economy and 1.3 billion people around the world.  The results of these agreements will affect food security as well as the safety of food globally.

“The Trans-Atlantic and Investment Partnership (TTIP) seeks to strengthen the political and economic bond between the U.S. and the EU.  However, because tariffs between the two continents are already so low, TTIP is really about developing trade rules that the U.S. and EU can agree upon for conceptualizing and implementing future trade agreements with developing nations. In the context of food policy, TTIP will focus on weakening food safety standards in Europe. …An influx of foreign foods and goods from the EU being imported at a lower price will also threaten ‘buy local’ movements occurring throughout the U.S. and the EU…The Obama administration is also negotiating the TransPacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement with 12 countries in the Pacific Rim. …Due to the inclusion of Canada and Mexico it is often seen as a way to renegotiate the North American Free Trade agreement (NAFTA.) Between the TPP and TTIP, we are seeing a trend of profits before people, a model that is monopolizing agriculture policy both in the U.S. and abroad.”

(From NewsNotes, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, July-August 2014)

To Understand Pope Francis: Think Like Latin Americans: “The main aim of Pope Francis’s pontificate is to draw the world’s attention to the poor and to change the global structures that lead to poverty, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in a long interview last week. Speaking to the Austrian Pontifical Missions magazine Alle Welt, Cardinal Gerhard Muller insisted that it was not possible to truly understand Pope Francis unless one could understand the Latin American ‘mindset’.  Cardinal Muller has long experience of Peru over several decades and is a close friend of the Peruvian liberation theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez. The western world would have to learn to see problems from the Pope’s point of view, which was very different from the European one, Cardinal Muller said. …It was very good for the world Church not always to see things through European eyes, the cardinal said, and to discover how other people saw Europe. The Church criticized the one-sidedness of both capitalism and socialism and supported a social market economy, as a synthesis that avoided the extremes, the CDF prefect said.

“When his interviewer remarked that for US Americans, including many US Catholics, the European social market economy was already ‘too socialist’, Cardinal Muller replied: ‘A balance must be found between freedom and social responsibility.  One cannot simply absolutise US individualism, which has had a formative influence on US culture.’ In words that will be seen as critical of earlier US administrations, he went on: ‘When the United States acts as the world’s policeman, the world does not become more peaceful.  One cannot compromise and say, ‘To be sure – I’m a Christian – but count me out as far as Christian social teaching is concerned.’’ To illustrate his point about the importance of changing structures, he said: ‘History had shown that it wasn’t sufficient to treat slaves well – but to abolish slavery… Both the structures and the mentality [that leads to poverty] must be changed so that an awareness of solidarity can emerge.’”

(From The Tablet, July 3, 2014)

U.S. Bishops: Protect Border Kids: “Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, called upon the Obama administration on July 2 to reconsider its request to Congress for ‘fast track’ authority to expedite the removal of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America.  ‘This is a very vulnerable population, which has been targeted by organized crime networks in Central America,’ said bishop Elizondo. ‘To return them to these criminal elements without a proper adjudication of their cases is unconscionable.’  Speaking before the House Judiciary Committee on June 25, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Tex., urged Congress to respond to the problem of unaccompanied minors at the border as if it were a humanitarian crisis, not an immigration control problem.  He suggested an interagency response, more funding for processing and placing unaccompanied migrants and an approach that seeks to pursue the best interests of individual children according to international humanitarian standards.”

(From America, July 21-28, 2014)

Turning Away from the Death Penalty: “A new poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News shows that, for the first time in the poll’s history, a majority of Americans choose life when given a choice between the death penalty and life in prison.  In the poll 52% of people chose life in prison as the preferred punishment, while 42% favoured the death penalty. However on the straight question ‘Do you support the death penalty?’, 61% continue to support the death penalty. Sister Helen Prejean, whose story was told in the film ‘Dead Man Walking’ has welcomed the news. She writes: ‘Changing hearts and minds. That’s what my life has been about ever since I walked out of the death house at Angola, the night Louisiana executed Patrick Sonnier. On that night, public support for the death penalty stood over 70% heading on its way to a high of 80%.’

“‘But Americans’ hearts and minds are changing.’ She points out: ‘There’s a vast gap by race; whites are more likely than nonwhites to support the death penalty, and to prefer it over life in prison, by 23- and 22-point margins.  The gaps are widest comparing whites to blacks, a group that’s justifiably skeptical of the criminal justice system. Among other groups, support for the death penalty peaks among evangelical white protestants and Republicans, with eight out of every 10 people in those groups showing support for the death penalty.’ But she concludes: ‘We as a people are gradually turning away from death and choosing life. Our words, our actions and our exposing of the facts about the broken death penalty system are making a difference. Take heart!’”

(From Independent Catholic News, July 7, 2014)

Catholic School Divests from Fossil Fuels: “The University of Dayton is divesting its $670 million endowment from fossil fuels. The decision came unanimously from the Marianist school’s board of trustees June 23, approving a new investment policy that would eliminate the $34 million – 5 percent of its investment portfolio – currently held in coal, oil and other fossil fuels. The process of divesting from domestic holdings has begun, with a second phase to address international holdings and explore substitute green investments. The school will review its progress in 18 months. ‘This is a path for the University of Dayton to move forward and live up to mission,’ Dayton President Daniel Curran said, one reflecting its commitment to environmental sustainability, human rights and the Catholic faith. Dayton is believed to be the first Catholic school to pursue fossil fuel divestment.  It also considered shareholder advocacy, but found its effectiveness unrealistic without a large contingent of investors.  Curran said he recognizes Dayton’s divestment will likely cause little ripple in the trillion-dollar energy industry, and at most levels is symbolic.”

(From National Catholic Reporter, July 4-17, 2014)

Pope Says Young People Need Jobs: “Job creation, respect for the environment and the second chances God grants to every sinner were recurring themes as Pope Francis visited the southern Italian region of Molise on Saturday. ‘We cannot resign ourselves to losing a whole generation of young people who don’t have the strong dignity of work,’ Pope Francis said during a meeting with the region’s young people in the town of Castelpetroso.  ‘Work gives dignity. A generation without work is a future defeat for the country and for humanity,’ the pope told the young people gathered under the hot sun outside the town’s Shrine of Our lady of Sorrows. … ‘Not having work does not just mean not having what one needs to live,’ the pope said.

“People can survive on charity and assistance, but ‘the problem is not being able to bring bread to the table and this takes away one’s dignity.’ Pope Francis called for a serious effort by national and local politicians, business leaders and workers to come up with some kind of ‘labor pact’ that would create jobs.” One man, a farmer, “told the pope about the importance of family farms in producing” food “while protecting the soil, water resources and biodiversity. In response, the pope said, ‘to stay and work the land is not to be stuck. It is to be in dialogue – a fruitful, creative dialogue with the land, making it flower.’ The pope said he ‘fully shares what was said about the importance of safeguarding the earth so that it bears fruit without being exploited. This is one of the greatest challenges of our age: to convert to a form of development that respects creation.’”

(From National Catholic Reporter, July 7, 2014)

A Vote for Peace: “The armed struggle has gone on for more than 50 years, with 220,000 lives lost, 5.7 million internally displaced people and over 20,000 disappeared.  These are not figures from Syria or the Congo but from Colombia, where violent conflict between the government and several factions – leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitary groups and criminal gangs – has dragged on since 1964.  President Juan Manuel Santos initiated peace talks with the largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in 2012.  His re-election on June 15 is widely seen as a mandate to continue negotiations. Mr. Santos narrowly defeated his challenger from the right, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who attacked the president for sacrificing justice for peace and promised to place tougher preconditions on negotiations with the guerrilla fighters.  While Mr. Zuluaga’s uncompromising position resonated with many Colombians, in the end a slight majority, 51 percent, voted to give peace a chance.

“‘I’m obligated to put my soul, life, and hat into this process,’ Mr. Santos said in the wake of his victory. He pledged, ‘This will not be peace with impunity – this will be peace with justice.’ Clinching a final deal, however, remains an uphill battle. The two sides have reached agreements on land reform, combatting the drug trade and the political participation of former rebels.  But major sticking points remain: how to compensate victims and how to prosecute combatants who have committed human rights abuses.  Displaced peasant farmers and indigenous people have suffered the brunt of this conflict, and the restoration of their livelihoods must be a top priority.  Still, both parties will have to compromise during a period of transitional justice.  As one reluctant supporter of Mr. Santos said, ‘I would rather have a flawed peace process than a perfect war.’”

(From America, July 7-14, 2014)

Japan’s Bishops Condemn Article 9 Reversal: “In a strongly worded statement addressed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japanese bishops have called on the government to ‘review and repeal the cabinet’s decision at once’ to allow Japan’s Self-Defense Force to carry out military operations with other nations. On July 1, Japan’s cabinet announced a reinterpretation of the nations’ constitution that would enable the country to exercise ‘collective self-defense’ involving military cooperation with other nations. The Standing Committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan (CBCJ) issued the bishops’ statement following their monthly meeting July 3. Seven bishops, including the archbishops of Tokyo and Nagasaki, signed the statement. In their statement, the bishops pointed out that previous governments had recognized that participation in collective self-defense was ‘constitutionally unacceptable.’

“The bishops claimed that the Abe government’s decision ‘trampled on the constitution’ and was ‘a denial of constitutionalism.’ The bishops said that for nearly 70 years since the end of World War II Japan’s citizens have respected and taken pride in the Preamble and Article 9 of the constitution that call for peace and renounce war. ‘We, the Catholic Church, are convinced that it is false to think that security can be ensured by military buildup and the use of force,’ said the CBCJ statement. The bishops went on to say, ‘Moreover, the latest backtracking on the principles of the Peace Constitution obstructs the easing of tensions in East Asia so that dialogue and trust among nations will be beyond our reach.’ The bishops emphasized that peace ‘can be built by sincere reflection upon history and apology followed by forgiveness’ and ‘We must not abandon the hope to avoid war and armed conflict through dialogue and negotiation.’”

(From Union of Catholic Asia News (UCAN), July 4, 2014)

SJB Friars Commit to Refugees, Migrants and Victims of Human Trafficking: The Franciscan Friars of St. John the Baptist Province based in Cincinnati, Ohio, held their 2008 Chapter at St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana May 19-23. Of the many proposals passed, the Chapter delegates affirmed a resolution to learn more about the issues of migrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking in order to better be able to respond to their needs. The resolution says:
 “We, the Franciscans of St. John the Baptist Province, commit ourselves to increase our awareness of issues surrounding refugees, migrants and victims of human trafficking in order to develop more proactive Franciscan responses on the provincial, friary and personal level.”
SJB Friars Commit to Non-violence: The Franciscan Friars of St. John the Baptist Province based in Cincinnati, Ohio, held their 2005 Chapter at the University of Dayton, May 23-27. Among the many proposals that were passed, the Chapter delegates affirmed a resolution introduced by their JPIC Office in which they committed themselves to “continued conversion to a life of Franciscan non-violence in support of a consistent ethic of life.” The complete resolution follows.
“As Franciscans, we affirm the sacredness of all human life and the inherent value of all creation. In a world where violence is rampant, we wish to be a sign of hope, actively promoting the preservation of life, peace among people and nations, justice for all and reconciliation. We commit ourselves to continued conversion to a life of Franciscan non-violence in support of a consistent ethic of life.”