The United States bishops issued a very helpful statement on June 18 entitled Catholics in Political Life. The statement shows fidelity to their responsibility to correct and admonish those who depart from the moral law, and an eagerness to offer personal dialogue and guidance to those who may be having difficulty adhering to that law. It is a statement, furthermore, that responds to the heartfelt concerns of so many Catholics, assuring them that the bishops have not been frightened into silence, either by the recent scandals in the priesthood or by the perennial threats of lawsuits from those who think "separation of Church and state" means the Church should be silent when the state does wrong.
The statement is a brief, clear, logical presentation and application of a few fundamental tenets of Catholic moral teaching. The bishops acknowledge that abortion is a unique problem among the multi-faceted moral concerns of Catholics in political life. While mentioning "human life and dignity, marriage and family, war and peace, the needs of the poor and the demands of justice," the document focuses on "the killing of an unborn child" and says that this act "is always intrinsically evil and can never be justified." This cannot be said about war, capital punishment, or particular policy decisions that do not contradict fundamental moral principles. Intrinsically evil means there can be no dispute regarding circumstances in which the act can be justified or allowed to continue. There are, in other words, no counterbalancing values that can relieve us of our obligation to work to totally eliminate all abortions.
The statement then goes on to make several important links. Abortion, being intrinsically evil, cannot be permitted by the state. A governing body that does permit it thereby cooperates in this evil. Noting, then, that this has in fact happened in the United States, the statement says that lawmakers commit sin if they do not work to correct the situation. By this point in the statement, the word cooperate has been used three times, with an emphasis on the gravity of the type of sin being described.
The bishops then point out that there is no "division between belief and public action, between moral principles and political choices." Returning right away to the theme of cooperation, the bishops express their pastoral concern for public officials who have become "cooperators in evil in a public manner." Later in the document, they link this to Holy Communion, preparation for which requires an examination of conscience. They point out, "This examination includes fidelity to the moral teaching of the Church in personal and public life." In other words, it's not enough that a person is right with God within the privacy of the person's own conscience; one must also be right with God in that arena that everyone can see: public actions.
We at Priests for Life are grateful for this statement. Now the ball is in our court. Let's encourage our spiritual leaders by making their statement widely known.