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Faithful Citizenship: Abortion - September 2008

Bishop Thomas Wenski
Diocese of Orlando

In late August, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, appeared on Meet the Press. In order to justify her support of abortion as a Catholic, she misrepresented the history and the nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church on abortion. On behalf of all the bishops, Cardinal Rigali, chair of our committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop Lori, chair of our committee on Doctrine, issued a statement refuting Ms. Pelosi’s attempt to justify the unjustifiable. No one can legitimately argue that support for abortion can be reconciled with the moral teachings of the Church. In their statement, the bishops quote succinctly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.” (CCC # 2271)

Last month, I too had to issue a clarification by means of a letter to the editor that appeared in the Orlando Sentinel on August 16th concerning an article in that same newspaper on August 13th that suggested that “Catholic leaders” viewed the Democratic Party Platform’s “abortion plank” in a positive light. In fact, many would argue that the plank this year was more extreme than the party’s previous endorsements of “reproductive rights”.

I wrote: “….(the bishops) are the ones who speak as the leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States — and not political operatives for one party or another who happen to be Catholic. In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the bishops wrote that ‘opposing intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions’ and warned against a ‘moral equivalence’ that would make no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity.

As we bishops wrote: ‘The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.’”

Catholics in public life — whether they are Democrats or Republicans — must act seriously and responsibly on many important moral issues. Our faith has an integral unity that calls Catholics to defend human life and human dignity whenever they are threatened. A priority for the poor, the protection of family life, the pursuit of justice and the promotion of peace are fundamental priorities of the Catholic moral tradition which cannot be ignored or neglected. Yet abortion is a grave violation of the most fundamental human right — the right to life that is inherent in all human beings, and that grounds every other right we possess.

As Pope John Paul II wrote in Christifideles Laici, “…the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life…is not defended with maximum determination…The human being is entitled to such rights, in every phase of development from conception until natural death; and in every condition, whether healthy or sick, whole or handicapped, rich or poor (#38).

Bishops do not endorse candidates or parties. We do not tell people for whom they should vote. We say that Catholics should vote their consciences — and public officials who are Catholic should always act in accord with their own consciences. But, we insist that one’s conscience must be consistent with fundamental moral principles. As members of the Church, all Catholics are obliged to shape our consciences in accord with the moral teaching of the Church. That so many Catholics in public life hold positions on human life — like Representative Pelosi and Senator Biden — not coherent with their Catholic faith and yet, at the same time, declare themselves to be “good Catholics” is a scandal.

In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, we recognized that, while a Catholic may never vote for a candidate because of that candidate’s support for abortion, he or she might — for a serious and grave reason — vote for such a candidate. And there are a few Catholics with strong pro-life credentials who feel this way in the current campaign. — One such Catholic is Douglas Kmiec, former head of The Catholic University of America’s law school.

But the Democratic standard bearers — in reaction to the Sarah Palin nomination — are seemingly intent on making this election a referendum on defending abortion “rights”. If they do, a Catholic with a well formed conscience would be hard pressed to find any “serious” and “grave” reasons to justify voting for them.
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