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Opposition to Abortion More Than an Article of Faith

By Bishop Paul S. Loverde
Special to the Herald (Arlington, VA Catholic Herald)
(From the issue of 10/21/04)

A recent response on the issue of abortion by a candidate for national office prompts me to offer these clarifications. I feel it necessary to correct what I consider to be a misstatement by this particular candidate on what an article of faith is, and what the duties of the faithful are. In fact, there are others as well, including legislators, judges, and ordinary citizens, who espouse a similarly erroneous approach.

A short time ago, when asked about his position on abortion, this candidate said, "I believe that I can’t legislate or transfer to another American citizen my article of faith. What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn’t share that article of faith."

Before addressing whether opposition to abortion is an "article of faith," let me repeat what my brother bishops and I said in June, 2004: "As bishops, we do not endorse or oppose candidates. Rather, we seek to form the consciences of our people so that they can examine the positions of candidates and make choices based on Catholic moral and social teaching" (Catholics in Political Life).

Opposition to abortion does not depend on a foundation of religious faith. Many people, who profess a variety of religious beliefs or even no religion, oppose the direct taking of innocent human life by abortion. There is an error inherent in the assertion that abortion is just an article of faith.

The error is simply this: the wrongness of direct abortion is decidedly not just "an article of faith." Rather, it is rooted in the natural law. Citing legislators who say "I am personally opposed to abortion, but I cannot impose my religious beliefs on others," my predecessor, Bishop John Keating, spoke clearly in words which I echo today, "The fallacy in this reasoning is simply that the morality of abortion is not a religious belief, any more than the morality of slavery, apartheid, rape, larceny, murder or arson is a religious belief. These are norms of the natural law of mankind and can be legislated even in a completely religionless society" (A Pastoral Letter on Morality and Conscience, 1994).

In this light, it is obvious why we bishops stated the following in Catholics in Political Life: "Failing to protect the lives of innocent and defenseless members of the human race is to sin against justice. Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work towards correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and sinning against the common good." As Pope John Paul II has said in Evangelium Vitae, "The real purpose of civil law is to guarantee an ordered social coexistence in true justice, so that all may ‘lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way’ (1 Tim. 2:2). Precisely for this reason, civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being" (71).

Prior to the 2004 presidential elections, the Administrative Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops published a small booklet entitled Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium, the purpose of which is to identify those issues which should be the concern of all Catholics. They include the protection of human life, the promotion of family life, the pursuit of social justice, and the practice of global solidarity. These four principles are just as important today in identifying the issues by which we should judge those who run for elected office.

The foundation for these principles is the first, the protection of human life, since without it the other three would be rendered meaningless. If we do not uphold and protect human life in its beginning at conception, there will be no life to uphold and protect thereafter. As we read in Evangelium Vitae, "We cannot simultaneously commit ourselves to human rights and progress while eliminating or marginalizing the weakest among us ….We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of any innocent human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem" (20, 21).

To be a faithful Catholic necessarily means that one is pro-life and not pro-choice. To be pro-choice essentially means supporting the right of a woman to terminate the life of her baby, either pre-born or partially born. No Catholic can claim to be a faithful member of the Church while advocating for, or actively supporting, direct attacks on innocent human life. In reality, protecting human life from conception to natural death is far more than a Catholic issue. It is an issue that cuts across denominational lines. It is an issue of fundamental morality, rooted in both the natural moral law and the divine law. Because of this, no other issue is objectively more important. Therefore, both as citizens and as Catholics, we can never give up our efforts to eliminate the killing of innocent, defenseless human beings.

Copyright ©2004 Arlington Catholic Herald. All rights reserved.

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