Catholic Church has made no exception regarding abortion since ancient times
Bishop W. Francis Malooly
Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware
Letter to the Editor published in The News Journal, Delaware
October 26, 2008
In his interview with The News Journal published Oct. 19, Sen. Joe Biden presents a seriously erroneous picture of Catholic teaching on abortion. He said, “I know that my church has wrestled with this for 2,000 years,” and claimed repeatedly that the Church has a nuanced view of the subject that leaves a great deal of room for uncertainty and debate.
This is simply incorrect. The teaching of the Church is clear and not open to debate. Abortion is a grave sin because it is the wrongful taking of an innocent human life. The Church received the tradition opposing abortion from Judaism. In the Greco-Roman world, early Christians were identifiable by their rejection of the common practices of abortion and infanticide.
The Didache, probably the earliest Christian writing apart from the New Testament, explicitly condemns abortion without exceptions. It tells us there is a “way of life” and a “way of death” and abortion is a part of the way of death. This has been the consistent teaching of the Church ever since.
It was also the position of Protestant reformers without exception. It was the teaching of Pope John XXIII as well as Pope John Paul II. It is the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI and the bishops of the Church, including me as shepherd of this diocese.
Some ancient and medieval theologians did see a difference between early abortions and ones that occurred later in term because with the limited medical knowledge of the time they did not know then what we scientifically know now: that a fetus is a living human being from conception.
Nevertheless, they universally condemned all abortions.
Of course, we now know that a fetus is a living human being from the very start. Thus, abortions take innocent human lives no matter when they occur. Since there is no gradation in the Church’s teaching on abortion, there is no way the medically obsolete division of pregnancy into three trimesters by Roe v. Wade can have any bearing on the rightness or wrongness of abortion. Taking an innocent life in the womb is wrong at any stage of pregnancy.
The Declaration of Independence lists life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as God-given rights. Life is listed first, and it is the principal function of the state to protect the lives of citizens. This understanding of the state’s primary obligation to protect human life is also fundamental to Catholic social doctrine to which the senator points. Without life all other rights are meaningless.
This Sunday, all the parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington will pray the Litany of St. Thomas More, martyr and patron saint of statesmen, politicians and lawyers. We will ask St. Thomas More to intercede so all statesmen and politicians may be courageous and effective in their defense and promotion of the sanctity of human life. We hope Sen. Biden will carefully listen to the Church’s 2,000 years of testimony on abortion and that he will join in the defense and promotion of the sanctity of life.
Most Rev. W. Francis Malooly, bishop, Catholic Diocese of Wilmington