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Piero Tozzi, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute – a United Nations watchdog group – received the Charles Carroll Award from the New York Catholic Lawyers Guild on February 5th. His acceptance speech is excerpted here.

As we survey the moral, social, legal and political landscape, we see a terrain that has become increasingly hostile to a Catholic vision of true human dignity.

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We see, for example, those who would assault the most vulnerable of humans – those at the beginning of life, and those at the end – and do so in the name of so-called “rights.”

These past few months have seen Washington State by referendum, and Montana by judicial fiat, enact “physician assisted suicide.”

And where does such “assisted suicide” – which purports to be the decision of the radically autonomous individual – lead?

Well, in Oregon, which passed an assisted suicide law nearly 15 years ago, we heard this past year how an insurance company sent a letter to a woman with cancer, whose doctor had prescribed drugs to treat her illness, refusing to pay for such drugs, but offering instead to pay for drugs that would allow her to end her life – cheaply, cost-effectively.

We have seen a new administration in our nation’s capital that, as one of its first acts, revoked a policy that had prevented taxpayer funds from going to organizations that provide abortions overseas, and a President, who as a candidate, said he hoped his first action would be to sign into a law a bill known as the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which among other things threatens the autonomy of Catholic hospitals.

Bad RHAPP

And even if attempts to pass such federal legislation were to fail here in New York State, efforts are underway to pass a bill that is perhaps closer to becoming a law – a bill called the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act (RHAPP) – that could likewise jeopardize the freedom of Catholic hospitals to operate in a manner consistent with Catholic moral teaching, as well as infringe upon the conscience rights of physicians and nurses who refuse to cooperate in the taking of unborn life.

This is a bill that I know very much concerns Cardinal Egan and the New York State Catholic Conference, and should concern all of us Catholic lawyers.

Indeed, while such a bill is considered in Albany, we have in New York an Attorney General – a Catholic – who has recently joined in a suit challenging federal regulations that seek to preserve the right of conscientious doctors to refuse to participate in abortion.

And though such regulations are federal, they mirror state statutory protections of the conscience rights of physicians. Yet we have the irony here of an Attorney General – obligated to protect the laws of New York State – actively involved in a suit that is the first step to challenging those very laws he is sworn to protect.

Leave aside for a moment the question of what are one’s duties as a Catholic involved in public affairs, and let’s ask simpler question, about one’s duties as an Attorney General.  Should an Attorney General be advancing litigation that is a preliminary step toward challenging the laws of the State he has sworn to uphold?

Let there be no equivocating about it, to be Catholic – to be a Catholic attorney – is to stand for life, from conception to natural death, and not to be a foot soldier advancing the Culture of Death.

Catholic Conscience

If there ever comes a day – a day which is not yet here, but may very well be upon us soon – where there is a conflict between our duties as confirmed Catholics, as Catholic attorneys, and our oaths to the state, then we should be clear about what choice it is that we must make, and where we take our stand, whatever the earthly consequences to such a choice may be.

Our patron St. Thomas More – patron saint of lawyers, patron saint of conscience – demonstrated this well for us.

Recall what exactly each of us undertook on the day of our Confirmation.  The Catechism tells us that Confirmation “gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.”

But are we living lives of integrity to the commitment we undertook at our Confirmation?

There is a reason that red is the color associated with Confirmation – I believe the same reason why the Cardinal wears red.

For red is the color of martyrdom – of St. Thomas More.

I think that increasingly we are going to be called to make a stand for our faith, where we are to be confronted perhaps not so much with a red martyrdom, but perhaps a white one – one that will affect our careers and our families if we decide to speak out for the faith.

From C-FAM’s perspective at the United Nations, we see negative trends internationally, particularly in Europe, that I suspect will be exported here within the next four years.

We see, for example, how the country of Slovakia, in entering into a concordat with the Holy See to protect the conscience rights of doctors not to perform abortions, has been attacked by certain UN treaty compliance committees.

These compliance committees have reinterpreted treaties that nowhere mention abortion, to include a purported right to abortion – and further, a right to force a doctor to perform abortions against his or her conscience, all in the name of “human rights.”

We are also witnessing the European Union advancing, through the UN system, a very radical agenda on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” based on a document called the Yogyakarta Principles.

How many people here have heard of the Yogyakarta Principles? You will hear of it in the future.

It is a statement, purportedly modeled after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, that actually undermines the true understanding of human rights that is set forth in that great document.

It affirms that no one may be denied their right to freedom of expression, or religion, or conscience based on their sexual orientation or gender identity – a principle we all agree with, since such rights are universal and shared by all, regardless of whether one has fallen, and we all have fallen, in one way or another. Yet the Yogyakarta Principles go on to assert that the state shall ensure that the exercise of freedom of expression, and religion and conscience does not violate “the rights of freedoms of persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.”

Well, what does that mean, as a matter of practice?

We have seen what it means in Sweden and Canada, where, in the past few years, preachers of the Gospel have been subject to prosecution by instruments of the state simply for preaching about the sinfulness of homosexual activity, in words alleged to be hate speech that are comparable in substance to what is contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Of course, here in the United States we have a First Amendment protecting the free exercise of religion that is more robust, though how robust may be challenged in the years ahead.

More likely, however, any silencing will be a self-imposed one, particularly in the halls of corporate America, and Big Law, where increasingly it seems that one must be politically correct and avoid causing “offense.”

Still, we must give witness to the Truth.

Love Speech

So, for example, we reiterate what the Church teaches about the family, and about marriage as being between a man and a woman, as God created them.

We thus speak critically of attempts to redefine marriage – charitably, but with clarity – and refuse by our silence to enable those who engage in behavior which is self-destructive.

Such is not hate speech, but love speech, for such speech calls upon all to realize the dignity, the Good News, of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

In this day and age, however, voicing such love speech may require a bit more of that gift of the Holy Spirit – courage, fortitude – than called for in days past.

For as laymen, we are called, as it says in that great decree on the Apostolate of the Laity of the Second Vatican Council “to take up the renewal of the temporal order as our own special obligation.”

And as lawyers, as Catholic lawyers, we are specially positioned to renew the temporal order, for law is where the temporal order and the moral order intersect.

The late, great Holy Father, John Paul II, used to repeatedly echo the words of the angels, who whenever they appeared in Scripture, spoke the words …. “BE NOT AFRAID.”

Allow me to finish with a true story.

Last year I was speaking to a young law student and started talking about some of the negative trends that exist at the UN and elsewhere.

And this student said, “Piero, that may be true. But what is truly true, you mustn’t forget, is that the Victory has already been won.”

The Victory has indeed already been won.

And we must not be afraid to live as if we truly believe what we profess – that the Victory has been won, by our Lord on the Cross at Calvary.

And though we, who exist in this particular moment in time, must soldier on with the task before us – for there are many souls at stake, souls in danger of being lost in what is at its core a spiritual war – we do so unafraid, with the confidence that the Victory has already been won.

And with that Victory secured, there is hope, for us and our salvation, for our families, and for all those we encounter in our daily activities – even those who seem quite lost, but need especially to hear the Good News, and God’s mercy, proclaimed.

And as such is the case, let us bear in mind that exhortation of St. Peter, “to never be afraid to give an account for the hope that resides within us” – yet we do so “with a gentleness, and with reverence.” [1 Peter 3:15]

St. Thomas More, pray for us.

For more information on the work of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, visit their website