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Chapter 29. Fifth Commandment: Promote the Culture of Life • 397

prisoners should be treated humanely. Exterminating people by ethnic

cleansing is an intrinsic and grave moral evil.

In 1983, the bishops of the United States formally rejected

nuclear war:

Under no circumstances may nuclear weapons or other instru-

ments of mass slaughter be used for the purpose of destroying

population centers or other predominantly civilian targets. . . .

We do not perceive any situation in which the deliberate initia-

tion of nuclear warfare, on however restricted a scale, can be

morally justified. (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,

The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response


nos. 147 and 150)


Terrorist attacks throughout the world have killed thousands of people.

We are aware, along with all people of good will, of the unmitigated evil

of such acts. These deeds have raised our awareness of similar acts of

terror around the world.

There can be no religious or moral justification for such acts. Such

claims by terrorists can be countered by the teachings of the world’s reli-

gions and by the constructive actions of religious believers. At the same

time, we are called to mitigate problems such as violations of human

rights and poverty, which cause widespread frustration and anger. While

never excusing acts of terrorism, we still need to address issues associ-

ated with poverty and injustice that are exploited by terrorists.


In its focus on the preservation of life, the Fifth Commandment also is

concerned with the care we show for each other’s moral life. A person

whose words or actions lead others to believe that evil or sinful behavior

is acceptable and not morally wrong is guilty of the sin of scandal.

Scandal can also be caused by laws or institutions that legitimize

sinful actions. An example from the history of the United States can be