CHOOSE LIFE, NOT DEATH!
A Pastoral Letter on Abortion and
The Most Reverend Rene H. Gracida, D.D.
Bishop of Corpus Christi
September 8, 1990
Purpose of This Pastoral Letter
The Dignity and Challenge of the Christian Life
The Knowledge of Faith as Our Guide
Pastoral Mission of the Church: Teach and Live the
The Church Teaches Authoritatively
The Attitude of Christ and His Church Toward Life
Current Church Law on Abortion
Appendix A: An Historical Review of Law Relating to
Appendix B: The Current Ecclesiastical Sanction Against
Appendix C: Formal and Material Cooperation
TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD OF THE DIOCESE OF CORPUS CHRISTI:
Grace and Peace in the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. As Bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, I have the responsibility to
present the teaching of Christ in a manner suited to the needs of our time, that
is, so that it may be relevant to those difficulties and questions which men and
women find especially worrying and intimidating (1).
2. Recent weeks have seen a considerable amount of public debate in our area
about the teaching and practices of the Catholic Church. This debate was
occasioned, in large part, by the public disclosure of my decision to formalize
the automatic excommunication of two members of the Catholic Church because of
their proximate cooperation with the destruction of innocent life in the womb.
While excommunication is an internal matter of the Church, the publication of my
action by one of the excommunicated persons elicited not a small amount of media
attention and public discussion.
3. I have chosen to address this pastoral letter to the Catholic Faithful of
this Diocese so that the teachings of the Church concerning the protection of
unborn life might be more calmly and clearly received. I also hope to place that
teaching in the broader context of our call in Christ to seek, in all things,
the will of God the Father. Finally, it is my hope that any misconceptions
concerning excommunication might be corrected by means of this letter.
THE DIGNITY AND CHALLENGE OF THE
4. At our baptism the Christian Faithful put on Christ, and became members of
His Body. By the merciful choice of God the Father we were given the grace and
power to share the image of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; we were made a new
creation of justice, holiness and peace. By this merciful election, God, the
Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, has made us heirs of the heavenly kingdom,
where, together with Christ our Head, we hope to rejoice in the glories which
mortal eyes have not yet seen nor heard -- nor ever imagined.
5. The Catholic Church is that body of believers, baptized into Christ Jesus,
sharing the Sacraments of the New Law, united in the same Spirit, carefully
observing the rule faith handed down to us through Sacred Scripture and
tradition and in peaceful communion with the successor of Saint Peter in Rome.
The Church has ever identified herself as the recipient of the Father's
bountiful mercies; we have ever understood our life as coming to us through
Redemptive Sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the Cross; we have always sought to
proclaim the hope held out for the entire human family through the glorious
resurrection of Christ from the dead; and we have never ceased placing our
confidence and hope in the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us into the
ever more perfect image of Christ Jesus the Son of God.
6. Sacred Scripture and the witness of the centuries testify to the Truth
that the Church is called to live in the midst of this world, and yet is called
to do so "with heart and mind renewed'' by the grace of Christ. Saint Paul's
admonition echoes through the ages, down to our own time: "Do not conform
yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that
you may judge what is God's will, what is good, pleasing and perfect" (Rom
7. Christians, therefore, seek to live the life of Christ. We seek, by the
grace and power of the Spirit, to be renewed in our understanding, so that we
might bear fruits of justice and holiness, in keeping with the desire and will
8. The Christian knows that whenever we encounter Christ the Son, whenever we
see with our mind's eye, and hear with graced ears the words of Christ in the
Gospel, we see and hear the manifest will of God and Father. We are bound by the
Truth that comes forth from the mouth of God.
9. For by the sublime condescension of the Son of God, He "came down from
heaven and became man," so that we might hear and see the Truth that sets us
free. We are no longer without a teacher and guide to lead us back to the
Father; we are no longer slaves to the constantly changing whims of human
inventiveness. We have been clasped and led by the hand of God Himself.
10. We are people set apart, a community of believers who strive to know the
"attitude of Christ" (Phil. 2:5); we labor in this life, seeking to "run toward
the prize to which God calls us -- life on high in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:14).
Saint Paul speaks for every Christian when he proclaims to the Philippians: "I
wish to know Christ Jesus, and the power flowing from His resurrection" (Phil.
THE KNOWLEDGE OF FAITH AS OUR GUIDE
11. Clearly, then, we are bound to seek after the mind of Christ in all
things, for by seeking to know Christ, we seek the good and wise will of God,
the merciful Father. This knowledge of the Father's will, communicated to us by
Christ, is our most precious heritage. This knowledge of faith is the source of
our hope for a new life, for the Savior came "that we might have life, and have
it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
12. This knowledge of faith serves as our guide in the midst of a troubled
and anxious age. It serves us as our beacon of hope, keeping us from losing our
way, as we seek to enter into the inheritance promised us by the Father. This
knowledge of faith serves us as the Pillar of Cloud served the ancient
Israelites, as they made their way to the land promised them by God.
13. It is this knowledge of faith that is carefully conveyed to us by the
Evangelists and Apostolic Writers of the New Testament; it has been faithfully
transmitted to us by the preaching, teaching and practice of the Faith through
the centuries. Indeed, the Spirit was promised to the Church, so that she might
continue to "bear witness to the Truth" (John 15:26-27).
14. Throughout her history, the Church has sought to propose to her members
the great and lofty call we have received in Christ. The Church has done this by
her preaching, by her Sacred Liturgy, her public prayers, by the solemn
teachings of the popes and bishops. With patient urgency, she has proposed the
doctrine of Christ as that doctrine which is taught, not with mere human
authority, but with divine authority.
15. Likewise, history shows that the Church, in every age, has had to defend
herself against those who would amend the Gospel to fit the passing fads of the
age. She has had to clarify and reaffirm her teachings whenever they have been
attacked or misrepresented.
16. Our own time is filled with the voices of those who would have us alter
the teaching of Christ. We are told that we must march to the beat of a new drum
in a new age, an age that no longer sees relevancy in Christ's call to humility,
justice, mercy, chastity and, above all, an unswerving commitment to the will of
God the Father. We have heard these voices before, and no matter how loud the
chorus becomes, we listen to a different voice singing a more harmonious and
peaceful refrain. The Church listens to the voice of Christ. We do not hear Him
changing His teachings in the Gospels when the people found His teachings too
much for them to bear (John 6:60 ff.). He resolutely spoke the truth; His life
was lived "in the Truth"; He Himself said "I am the Truth" (John 14:16). We,
imperfect and weak mortals that we are, are bound in conscience to hear Christ,
to take His saving words to heart, and to put them into action.
THE PASTORAL MISSION OF THE
TO TEACH AND LIVE THE GOSPEL
17. Seeking to continue the work of Christ on earth, the Church has been
given the sacred charge of preserving the Truth handed down to us by the Lord,
and His Apostolic Witnesses. But the Church has never understood her mission to
be only the preservation of the Truth; she is moved by the example of Christ
Himself to proclaim the Truth to all, "in season and out of season" (2 Tm. 4:2).
18. The public proclamation of the Gospel is addressed to every man and
woman, it is a saving invitation from God the Father, through Christ the Son, in
the power of the Holy Spirit. In every age, the Christian Faithful have sought,
through graced effort and persevering prayer, to live the Gospel of Christ. For,
having heard the invitation made to us in Christ, we know that we are daily
challenged to reform and renew our lives according to the image and likeness of
the Son of God.
19. It is also true that every age has seen its particular problems and
difficulties. Our generation, too, must seek to meet new challenges and
adversities. The Christian, clothed with the dignity of Christ the Son, must
struggle to implement the Gospel in the midst of changing circumstances and
situations. We are all aware that this latter half of the twentieth century is
marked by increasing complexity and instability. The advance of medical
technology, for example, raises moral questions and controversies undreamed of
only ten years ago. Likewise, the rapidly changing structure of the world
economy poses challenges centering around the just distribution of the earth's
goods. No one can deny, furthermore, that the economic pressures of our current
day, and the mobility of society, have placed enormous pressures on family life.
20. The Christian today must face these and other complex issues; it is our
responsibility, as members of Christ's body, to live the Spirit of Christ in the
world. It is our sacred obligation to propose just and Christ-like responses to
these vital difficulties. We cannot shirk our call to live Christ's life in our
21. In order to assist her members in the challenge that this age must face,
the Church is required to apply the Gospel to changing circumstances and
situations. To apply the Gospel of Christ requires a graced understanding of the
Gospel itself, as it was taught by the Savior, and as it has been faithfully
preached, lived and understood by the Church. Further, to apply the Gospel
requires that the Church involve herself in the very challenges and difficulties
that cause contention in the hearts of men and women.
22. If a member of the Church is asked why the Church must speak out on
economic, social, and medical issues, the Christian need only reply: "because
the Gospel is to be lived, not merely professed with the lips."
23. Let it also be clear to all in the Church that the call to apply the
Gospel to the changing circumstances of the times is by no means to be confused
with the call of some that the Church change the Gospel for the sake of new
circumstances. We are to be remade into the image of Christ; we are not to
remake Christ the Lord into our image.
THE CHURCH TEACHES AUTHORITATIVELY
24. Because the Lord knew that this world changes incessantly, He willed that
the Church be protected and guided by the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit
which "will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you" (John
14:26). Specifically, the obligation of handing down the Truth and the duty of
faithfully applying it to new circumstances was given to the Apostles and to
their successors the bishops. It was to them that the Lord commended the care of
His sheep. The Church's authority to teach in the name of Christ is made
possible by the manifest will of the Savior Himself, and by the promised
guidance of the Spirit.
25. In order to guide the Christian Faithful through the difficulties of
this, or any age, the bishops are charged with the obligation to search the
Gospel of Christ, reverently to inquire into the Sacred Tradition of Faith, and
to use the valid resources of reason. These lights, the greater being the
revelation of Faith in Scripture and Tradition, enable the bishops prudently to
guide the faithful in the midst of troubling and intimidating times.
26. The Teaching Authority of the Church does not invent new truths, nor does
it alter the Spirit that governs the Christian Life; rather, the Teaching
Authority applies the principles of the Gospel to the times within which we
live. This Teaching Authority, exercised in a Spirit of service to the whole
Christian people, assists and guides Catholics in the formation of conscience.
27. For their part, the Christian Faithful are obliged by their own interior
call in Christ to strive in sincere effort to "put on the mind of Christ" (Rom
13:14). In order to do this, they listen with attentive hearts to the teaching
of the bishop in union with the Pope. They are prayerfully to consider and
meditate upon the sources of this teaching. Hence, the Christian Faithful are to
recognize the voice of the Shepherd, Christ the Lord, as He addresses them in
the Scriptures, in the Sacred Liturgy, in the lived Tradition of the Church, and
in the guidance of the bishops.
28. We would be naive to think that the teaching of the bishops is always
received with automatic submission of intellect and will. There have been, and
there continue to be, disagreements concerning the proper application of the
Gospel proclaimed by the Church. Nevertheless, the burden of teaching in the
name of Christ falls in a special way on Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, and
on the bishops in union with Him. It is, indeed, a gift to the Church, willed by
Christ, that this teaching authority exist for the guidance of the faithful. For
the bishops to fail to speak out in defense of justice, for them to fail to warn
the Christian faithful of attitudes and practices that are contrary to the
Christian life, in short, for them to fail to lead the flock through dangers
that can threaten our union with Christ, would be a failure to fulfill their
responsibilities to the Good Shepherd.
29. One of the "burning" issues that creates great tension and high emotion
in our society is the issue of the identity, dignity and protection due to the
child in the womb. To this issue I will now address myself specifically, doing
so in the hope that the attitude of Christ and His Church will be expressed
clearly by me to all.
THE ATTITUDE OF CHRIST AND HIS
CHURCH TOWARD LIFE
30. The sources of the Church's teaching with respect to the protection of
the child in the womb are divine in character; they go back to the very attitude
and actions of Jesus Himself.
31. The Mystery of Faith, cherished in the hearts of Christians throughout
the world, teaches that men and women are saved through the Incarnation of the
Son of God. "The Word was made flesh, and He dwelt among us" (John 1:14). With
these words, Saint John plainly proclaims what was, and remains, a scandal to
nonbelievers. The Eternal Word of the Father, generated without beginning from
the heart of the Godhead, became (in time) one of us. "He became man", as the
Creed professes. There was no part of our humanity, save for sin, that He did
not take and unite to His sacred and divine Person. He accepted our weaknesses,
our vulnerabilities, our capacity to suffer and to die. All that is truly human
was assumed by the Second Person of the Trinity. We are taught of the dignity of
our lives by the willingness of God the Son to become one with us. And so, my
friends, the Catholic Church proclaims to all the Christian Faithful, and
indeed, to all the world, that human life is precious and worthy. We proclaim
this because God has forever united Himself to our nature.
32. The Word became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. For the Christian,
therefore, the womb has ever been a holy and sacred place. It is the vessel of
life; and it has been made holy by God's willingness to begin His human life in
the womb of Mary. As Saint Luke tells us in his Gospel, the Angel Gabriel told
the Blessed Virgin that "you shall conceive and bear a son and give Him the name
Jesus" (Luke 1:31). It was the conception in the womb of Mary that marked the
beginning of the eternal Son of God's entry into time. God's decision to begin
His saving work in the womb teaches us, without doubt, that all life in the womb
is precious and worthy of the highest dignity, and certainly worthy of
protection and respect.
33. During His public ministry, the Lord continued to show His esteem for
human life by His actions, and by His words. He always manifested a particular
concern for and attention to those in the world who were considered to be of
little worth. "Blessed are the poor," He said, and "Blessed too are the lowly"
(Mt. 5:3,5). Those who were considered outcasts and non-persons by society,
those whom the world had judged undeserving of protection and support of law,
these were the ones who most often sought and received the Lord's intervention
in their lives. Tax collectors, poor fishermen and children were to be
especially blessed in the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus. Indeed, Jesus placed a
child in their midst, and proclaimed that unless His hearers became like little
children, they would have no part of the Kingdom. Legally, of course, children
in first century Judea had the status of slaves, that is, they were not accorded
the rights and dignities of full membership in the community. Jesus, therefore,
specifically sought to manifest the Father's love and special approval of those
whom the world considered "outside the mainstream" of recognized persons.
Likewise, in calling us to become as children, He exhorts us to humility,
service and innocence.
34. Furthermore, let us not forget that Jesus gave us a firm prohibition
against violence to a fellow human being. "You have heard the commandment...
'You shall not commit murder' .... What I say to you is; everyone who grows
angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement." (Mt. 5:21-22). Jesus
sought to expand the law of the Old Covenant by commanding adherence to the
spirit of the Law. Thus, not only is violence rejected as a solution to life's
problems, but Jesus goes even further than the law, by definitively ruling out
anger and hatred as options for dealing with contentious times in life. Surely,
He knew that the human condition entails moments of disagreement, inconvenience
and hardship; nevertheless, He specifically told us which "solutions" to these
hardships were unacceptable in the eyes of God. As his followers, there are
other alternatives we are called to seek.
35. Clearly, then, no matter how difficult a situation may be, doing
violence, particularly to one of Jesus' "little ones," is a totally unacceptable
solution. The Christian knows this, and seeks, instead, a just and Christ-like
response to life's difficulties.
36. There can be no doubt that Jesus sought by His words and actions to
instill in us a deep reverence for all human life. Further, there can be no real
doubt that the Son of God was most especially anxious to teach His followers to
reject false solutions involving violence and hatred. Abortion is a violent act
perpetrated against the most defenseless of God's "little ones", and it is,
therefore, a heinous evil.
37. Based on their intuitive appreciation of the Mystery of the Incarnation,
and based on their Spirit-guided understanding of the attitude and intention of
Christ Jesus, the first generations of Christians instinctively realized their
obligation to protect and reverence human life, "made in the image and likeness
of God" (Gen. 1:27). The willful destruction of the life of a child in the womb
was considered, from the outset of the Christian Era, a most grave offense
against justice, and against the mind of Christ. This attitude on the part of
the Christian faithful, an attitude of respect for and protection of the life in
the womb, was normative in the life, customs and teaching of the Church from the
beginning. This teaching, therefore, constitutes a part of the Church's
Tradition of faith and practice.
38. The prohibition against Christian participation in the deaths of unborn
children was not a rule imposed by popes and bishops; but rather, it was a
teaching that was alive in the hearts of the first Christians, and which was
supported, clarified and articulated (with authority) by the popes and bishops.
Such an intuitive response from the Church in her earliest years was made with
the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who was promised as One who would "remind us"
of Jesus' Truth (John 16:14).
39. This attitude on the part of the early Church is attested to in the
DIDACHE, a document dating from the time of the generation immediately following
the Apostles. The text deserves to be quoted because it bears witness to the
Christian Community's early practice and teaching. It is all the more remarkable
because it clearly articulates a code of conduct that separates the Christian
from practices that were all too common in the larger, more numerous, pagan
40. "The second commandment of the Teaching: "Do not murder; do not commit
adultery"; do not corrupt boys; do not fornicate; "do not steal", do not
practice magic; do not go in for sorcery; do not murder a child by abortion or
kill a new-born infant ... Do not hate anybody; but reprove some, pray for
others, and still others love more than your own life"
41. This teaching was the commonly held Christian view, and it was repeated
throughout the age of the great Fathers of the Church (200 A.D. to 500 A.D.).
They taught that the violent interference with the life of a child in the womb
was equivalent to homicide. (More information on this period in church history
can be found in the appendices.)
42. The Christian Tradition on the issue was, and remains, constant. Despite
the fact that medical knowledge concerning the life and formation of the child
in the womb was highly imperfect, and in some cases erroneous, the Church never
wavered in her condemnation of the deliberate act of abortion. This was the
teaching of the Church.
43. While it is true that the Middle Ages of the Christian Era saw the
development of a dispute over the time within which the life in the womb becomes
a duly "formed" child, (i.e. with both body and soul), it is also true that the
philosophical dispute never caused the Church to waver in her absolute rejection
of abortion as an option for a Christian. The constancy of the tradition through
the Middle Ages is attested to in the various decrees of local Church councils,
in the teachings of the theologians, and in the legislation promulgated by the
Holy See of Rome. (Appendices A and B give more historical and canonical
information on these issues).
44. In our own time, the constant tradition of the Church has been stated
with particular urgency. Because of growing secularization and the movement to
negate the influence of the Gospel upon human society, the Church has found it
necessary to repeat her firmly grounded teaching about the worthiness and
dignity of the unborn child. The Second Vatican Council, in its decree entitled
"The Church in the Modern World", issued in 1965, spoke in particular about the
crimes perpetrated against the dignity of the human person:
45. "...This Council lays stress on respect for the human person ... The
varieties of crime [against the human person] are numerous: All offenses against
life itself, such as murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and willful suicide;
...all these and the like are criminal: They poison civilization; and they
debase the perpetrators more than the victims and militate against the honor of
the Creator" (3).
46. Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical letter to the whole Church entitled "On
the Regulation of Births" (1968), clearly restates the constant teaching of the
"We base our words on the first principles of a humane and Christian doctrine
of marriage when we are obliged once more to declare that the direct
interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, direct
abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful
means of controlling the birth of children" (4).
47. Again in 1974, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
issued a document devoted specifically to the recapitulation of the Church's
teaching on this crucial issue. In the "Declaration on Procured Abortion", the
Holy See carefully outlined the reasons for the Church's constant teaching, and
the reasons for which the teaching was not to be considered optional by the
faithful. Furthermore, the document called upon Catholics to work in the public
forum to promote the protection of the unborn child (5).
48. Most recently, in 1981, His Holiness Pope John Paul II repeated the
teaching of the Church against the "scourge of abortion". The Apostolic
Exhortation "On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World" restated
this position within the context of the Church's obligation to define the
foundations of Christian family life. (6)
49. And so, my friends, the words and actions of the Lord in the Gospel, as
well as the constant witness of the Christian Tradition up to our very own time,
all testify to the authority of our teaching. The teaching of the Church on this
matter is a sure and faithful guide for the Christian seeking to make his or her
way to the Father's promised inheritance. This teaching is also a manifestation
of the Father's will for the human family to build a more just and compassionate
50. All Catholics are to receive these teachings as authoritative
explications of the will of Christ. We are to see in the teaching of the Church
a light to guide us through this difficult age of conflicting and often violent
voices. With humility, let us seek to receive the teaching of Christ,
transmitted to us through the Church He established.
CURRENT CHURCH LAW ON ABORTION
51. The Roman Catholic Church continues to apply its beliefs and teachings to
the lives of its members by disciplinary regulations which provide norms for
community living. Church laws define the obligations and rights of members and
are intended to sustain and support the moral teaching of Jesus in the life of
52. From earliest times, however, a part of the Church's legislation has been
penal, that is, it involved the definition of and assignment of punishments for
crimes in the Church. A crime is an external or observable action which is
imputable (performed by a knowing and willing subject) and which is a violation
of a law which attaches a sanction or penalty to the action.
53. Within the Christian Tradition, some crimes have been considered so
heinous as to deserve severe censure, requiring sincere and public repentance.
These acts were seen as being diametrically opposed to Christian life, and as
effectively cutting the Christian off from the saving effects of Christ's
sacrifice on the Cross.
54. Penal law has its roots in the writings of the Evangelists and the
Apostles. Matthew (18:15-18), relates to us the Lord's instruction on the
process of for settling disputes in the Church. St. Paul (I Corinthians 5:1-5)
calls upon the Christian Community at Corinth to exclude from their fellowship a
person who had committed a very serious sin. Certain values were judged to be so
important to the well being of the Catholic Community, that acts against these
values were deemed to necessitate punishment. For this reason, as a severe
remedy required by the severity of the evil, the Church gradually developed
certain laws which carefully spelled out penalties resulting from grave sins.
55. Not every serious sin had a penalty attached to it. Only those sins which
seriously attacked the basic values of the Church were penalized. Flagrant abuse
of sacraments, gross mismanagement of office, heresy, simony, bigamy, for
example, have long been crimes or punishable offenses in the Church. Such has
also been the crime of abortion, viewed as tantamount to a Christian's
repudiation of Christ Himself.
56. Among the penalties developed by the Christian Tradition, excommunication
was imposed upon Christians who cooperated directly in the death of the unborn
child. Excommunication meant simply that a Christian's actions were gravely and
directly opposed to the faith he or she professed and resulted in separation
from communion with the Body of Christ.
57. The value of weak innocent life is of extreme importance to the Church.
It is the basis of other values which the Church holds dear. In the case of
abortion, an automatic penalty of excommunication is incurred (Canon 1398)
because it is a "particularly treacherous offense" (Canon 1318). It appears that
one of the reasons why abortion is so penalized is because defenseless human
life is involved which is totally dependent upon another person for its very
58. It was the Lord Himself who had stated to His first disciples that "none
of those who cry out 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of God, but only the
one who does the will of my Father in Heaven" (Mt. 7-21). The Church, in
enforcing the Christian opposition to the practice of abortion, was faithfully
requiring that members of the Church do as well as speak the will
of the Father.
59. An excommunication brings with it certain effects. An excommunicated
person is unable to receive any sacraments, including Penance, and may not have
any participation in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist or in any other
ceremonies whatsoever of public worship. He or she may not discharge any
ecclesiastical offices, ministries or functions whatsoever, or place any acts of
governance. In addition, this person may not acquire a dignity, office, function
or pension in the Church. Finally, an excommunicated person is deprived of
60. It has been argued that very few Catholics who procure abortions think of
themselves as automatically excommunicated or cut off from the Church.
Nevertheless, the fact is that such persons actually are out of communion with
the Church, if they sinned with culpability. Crass ignorance does not take away
from the application of the penalty. (For a more extensive treatment of
canonical legislation concerning excommunication see Appendices
B and C).
61. Because of the Roe vs. Wade decision of the Supreme Court and consequent
social and legal developments following it, the Church desires to inform,
remind, encourage and support its own members concerning the reverence due to
human life, and responsible action with regard to it, even in the earliest
states of development. Catholics are challenged more than ever to create and
maintain a genuinely Christian ethos in what is becoming an increasingly
62. Excommunication, however, was (and remains) a call to conversion, issued
by the Church, to a member who has strayed from Christ's will to such an extent
that their salvation is threatened. To forbid someone to receive the Sacraments
of the Church because of public and deadly sin, is to call such a Christian to
"turn around," to "come back again" to the will and mind of Christ.
63. Conversion back to Christ is the proper response of a person warned of
the possibility of excommunication from union with the Church and the saving
grace of the Sacraments. The Church, in her tradition, has always been most
anxious to receive back someone who has erred but is willing to return with a
64. In order to be able to return to the reception of the sacraments, an
excommunicated person must repent, confess the crime which brought about the
excommunication and receive absolution from the excommunication. The reconciled
person can then receive absolution in confession from all sins of which he or
she is aware and return to the sacramental life of the Church.
65. To help contextualize present Church law on abortion, it would be helpful
to review the history of ecclesiastical legislation on this subject as presented
in Appendix A of this pastoral letter.
66. Each year, during the month of October, Catholics all over America are
once again called by their bishops to reflect on the value of human life and to
defend all those whose lives are endangered.
67. It has been alleged by many persons, both those who are pro-life as well
as those who are pro-abortion, that the Church speaks, preaches and teaches
about the sanctity of life and against abortion, but does very little to
promote, protect and defend life, whether born or unborn. Nothing could be
further from the truth. Most dioceses have invested considerable resources, for
many years, in programs which help all those persons in the human family whose
lives are threatened by death, hunger, disease, homelessness and violence. The
Diocese of Corpus Christi is certainly among those dioceses which seek to do all
that can be done to help the weak, defenseless and afflicted members of our
human family, whether born or unborn. (A listing of the programs which the
Diocese of Corpus Christi supports, directly and indirectly, appears in
Appendices D and
68. We respect human life because we are all children of the Father whose
creative love for us is the reason we exist. He sent his only Son to show us how
much He loves us, and to teach us how important it is that we love one another
as he loves us.
69. Christians have endeavored throughout the ages to show outstanding
commitment to Christ's Sermon on the Mount in helping the poor and the sick, the
defenseless and the helpless, the very young and the very old. We are called to
continue that tradition in countless ways in our daily lives.
70. Respect for human life also grows out of the most fundamental truths of
human nature and of our American society. With our Founding Fathers,
71. "...We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,
that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
72. This historic statement recognizes the fact that all human beings,
regardless of race or color, size or age, health or handicap, are by nature
equally human, hence equal in their human rights, including the first of all
natural rights, the right to life itself. Our Second Diocesan Synod spoke of
73. "[It] is at the heart of all morality and is the natural law and is the
foundation of just civil law, as our Declaration of Independence clearly states.
Asserting this right to life no more legislates one religious preference than do
laws against child abuse, racial discrimination, or murder. Hence Catholics must
not be intimidated by claims that their defense of human life is an imposition
of their morality on others. Anyone who says, "I am personally opposed to
abortion, but cannot impose my personal or religious preference on others," is
confused about this vital issue (7).
74. As objective human beings respectful of the truth, we must accept it
regardless of the sacrifices it may bring. As caring human beings and as
Christians, we must respond to it. We must take a stand. The November 1989
"Resolution on Abortion" by the Catholic Bishops of the United States declared:
"No Catholic can responsibly take a "pro-choice" stand where the "choice" in
question involves the taking of innocent life" (8).
Because the Church is Jesus present in the world today, she is a strict teacher
willing to fly in the face of pagan practices, political parties and media
propaganda in upholding the crucial importance of respect for all human beings
from conception to natural death.
75. During his pastoral visit to the United States, Pope John Paul II
eloquently stated why respect for human life is the key to our success as a
76. "The best traditions of your land presume respect for those who cannot
defend themselves. If you want equal justice for all, and true freedom and
lasting peace then, America, defend life! All the great causes that are yours
today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life
and protect the human person.
Feeding the poor and welcoming refugees; reinforcing the social fabric of
this nation; promoting true advancement of women; securing the rights of
minorities; pursuing disarmament, while guaranteeing legitimate defense; all
this will succeed only if respect for life and its protection by law is granted
to every human being from conception until natural death.
Every human person -- no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how
young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how
useful or productive for society -- is a being of inestimable worth, created in
the image and likeness of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she
exists, the condition for her survival -- yes the ultimate test of her greatness
-- to respect every human person, especially the weakest and the most
defenseless ones, those as yet unborn (9)."
77. I ask all Catholics to renew their respect for human life from conception
to natural death and to commit or recommit themselves through daily prayer and
sacrifice to active involvement in one of the many activities or movements of
human life. This life "is one of God's greatest gifts. For each one of us has
infinite value as a person made in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by
Jesus Christ" (10).
78. And so, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us together implore
Almighty God to keep us faithful to this teaching, so central to our Faith. Let
us ask Him, who is the giver of every good gift, to help us be good stewards of
His gift of life. Let this be our prayer, let it be in our hearts, let it be in
our daily endeavors, so that we might merit, one day, to hear the words of the
gentle and just Judge: "Come! ... inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the
creation of the world... I assure you, as often as you [served] one of my least
brothers, you did it for me" (Mt. 25:31-46).
A HISTORICAL REVIEW OF LAW RELATING TO ABORTION
79. In accordance with the divine precept, "Thou shalt not kill," (the fifth
of the Ten Commandments), the Catholic Church has constantly maintained a firm
and clear teaching on the sacredness of human life. But even prior to the
founding of the Church by Jesus Christ, ancient societies also dealt with the
offense of abortion by prescribing various penalties for it. For example, the
CODE OF HAMMURABI (c. 1800 B.C.) fined the man who destroyed an unborn child by
striking a pregnant woman. The amount of the fine depended not upon the
deliberateness of the act, as in the SUMERIAN CODE (c.2000 B.C.), but upon the
social status of the mother (11). In
the ASSYRIAN CODE (c. 1500 B.C) infliction of the lash and public service were
imposed upon the man who caused an abortion by striking a woman with child
(12). It is worth noting that in both the CODE OF HAMMURABI
and the Assyrian law, an unborn fetus was considered a human being.
80. In the VENDIDAD of ancient Persia, (not older than 600 B.C.), the woman
with child was admonished not to destroy the fruit of conception because of
shame and human respect. If she failed to heed this warning, both she and the
father of the child were held to be guilty of willful murder The guilt of the
crime was imputed also to the person who supplied the abortifacient drugs
(13). The Persian law is perhaps the first to embody a clear
and express application of penalties for all those who cooperate in the
destruction of the unborn child.
81. The Old Testament, the inspired books and writings the chosen people of
Israel, and the heritage of the Catholic Church as well, also condemned killing
innocent human life (Exodus 20:13). In the book of Exodus 21:22-23, a fine is
placed upon a man who strikes a woman and causes her to miscarry. The Old
Testament teaches that God is the author of life and that all human beings are
accountable to Him in their treatment of other human beings.
GREEK AND ROMAN LAW
82. No specific law prohibiting abortion can be found in the legal codes of
ancient Greece. However, there is evidence that abortion was forbidden and even
penalized by the lawyers Lycurgus of Sparta (9th century B.C.) and Ion of Athens
(638-558 B.C.) (14). Hippocrates
(460B.C.), in the famous Hippocratic Oath, forbade making abortifacients
available to women who were bearing children (15).
83. In Roman Law the earliest legal reference to abortion is said to date
from the days of the Monarchy (753-510 B.C.). A husband was permitted to divorce
his wife if she had been guilty of deliberate abortion
(16). However, abortion as a crime in its own right was not
punished during the Republic (510-27 B.C.) nor during most of the period of the
Empire (27 B.C. - 305 A.D.) (17).
Several decades before the Emperors ruled the Roman state, Cicero (43 B.C.)
seems to have censured this as legal laxity (18).
84. At the close of the second century, Septimus Severus (193-211 A.D.)
issued a rescript punishing a mother who deliberately procured an abortion. This
rescript pronounced exile upon the wife who deliberately deprived her husband of
children (19). In a fragment
attributed to Ulpian (228 A.D.), the PRAESES of the province was instructed to
punish with exile the woman who employed force to cause an abortion to herself
(20). These prescriptions seemed to express more a concern
for the rights of the husband rather than a concern for the child.
85. Roman law did not treat the intrinsic immorality of abortion nor the
right to life of the unborn. The principle found in Roman law that the unborn
child was not a human being was rooted in the Stoic theory that the human soul
was infused only at the time of birth (21).
86. With the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, the sacredness of human
life receives particular emphasis in His teaching and ministry. Jesus Himself
taught the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament. In harmony with Jesus Christ's
respect for the human nature that He received when He was conceived in his
mother's womb, the Church has consistently condemned the practice of abortion.
The DIDACHE (100 A.D.), an early Christian manual of discipline, for example,
states: "Thou shalt not kill the fruit of the womb by an abortion"
(22). The early Church Fathers likewise strongly condemned
abortion as the killing of innocent human life. Athenagoras, writing to Emperor
Marcus Aurelius about 177 A.D. stated that Christians considered women who
procured abortion guilty of homicide, and added that they would have to render
an account to God for the destruction of the unborn child which is the object of
His divine care (23). Tertullian
(25), and St. John Chrysostom (26)
all teach that the killing of the unborn child is murder. St. Augustine, in his
DE NUPTIIS ET CONCUPISCENTIA, severely condemned any deliberate interference
with the life of the unborn child (27).
These writings of the Fathers of the Church were widely known, highly respected,
and were often quoted as normative for Christian life.
87. The early councils of the Church, consisting of gatherings of local
bishops, enacted legislation against abortion. The Council of Elvira, (305 A.D.)
is generally thought of as the first council to do so. This Spanish council held
that a woman who aborted a child, even though it may have been conceived in
adultery, was not to be given communion even at the end of her life
(28). The Council of Ancyra (314 A.D.), the first Eastern
council to legislate against abortion, states, in canon 21 that "women who
prostitute themselves, and who kill the children thus begotten, or who try to
destroy them in their womb, are by ancient law excommunicated to the end of
their lives. We, however, have lessened their punishment and condemn them to the
various appointed degrees of penance for ten years"
(29). The Council of Ancyra stipulated a lesser period of
penance but clearly extended punishment to the killing of any child in
the womb (not only adulterine offspring). This conciliar rule was apparently
recognized and ratified, at least in a general sense, by the Ecumenical Council
of Chalcedon (450 A.D.) (30).
88. The Three Canonical Letters of St. Basil the Great (379) were often cited
in the early councils of the Church, especially those of the East. St. Basil
notes that "a woman who deliberately destroys a fetus is answerable for murder.
And any fine distinction as to its being completely formed or unformed is not
admissible amongst us." St. Basil is referring to the opinion held by some that
a fetus is not fully a human being until it reaches a certain state as Aristotle
had proposed centuries before (31).
At this time in history, the scientific understanding of human reproduction was
extremely limited, and it was held by some that the soul is not infused into the
forming embryo until it reaches an advanced stage of development. However, this
"fine distinction" was used by some not to condone abortion, but to lessen the
penalty in the case where the child was "unformed". The Council of Lerida Spain
(524 A.D.) affixed penalties to persons who tried to kill the unborn child in
the womb of the mother.
89. The various collection of synodal legislation up to the 12th century
generally listed the references mentioned above against abortion. The original
positions were repeated over and over again with some additions, and they
reappeared in disciplinary compilations in all parts of the Christian world.
90. It was not until the 11th century, when Ivo of Chartres (1093)
included certain statements of the Fathers relative to an interpretation of
Exodus 21:22-23 into his collection of legal decrees, that the problem of
whether the fetus was formed or non-formed was introduced into Church
legislation with respect to the severity of Church penalties for abortion
(32). Yet, in all the debate about whether the fetus was
formed (animated) or non-formed (non-animated), the condemnation of abortion was
91. John Gratian, a Camaldolese monk, in his DECRETUM GRATIANI or CONCORDANCE
OF DISCORDANT CANONS (1140), a private collection of church laws, following Ivo
of Chartres, offers his opinion that abortion is not murder if the soul has not
been infused into the fetus (non-animated) (33).
That is, he accepted this distinction as the basis for different kinds of
penalties to be applied in the case of abortion. To kill a fetus which was
"animated" meant a harsher penalty in law. Yet, Gratian does not indicate the
time of animation. Early commentators on Gratian's work maintain consistently
that one who commits abortion is guilty of serious sin. The theory of a fetus
being formed or nonformed or "animated" or "nonanimated" was used in the
canonical writings to make clear that when the human soul was present, abortion
can be reckoned as murder and the penalties for homicide can be applied. For
clerics who brought about an abortion, there was also an irregularity imposed
which deprived them of their office and use of their sacramental powers, if they
92. The Decretals of Pope Gregory IX, the first collection of church laws
promulgated with papal authority for the universal church in 1324, list one
canon which designates as a "murderer" one who causes an abortion
(34). The decretals kept the notion of "formed" and
"nonformed" to determine the kinds of penalties to be applied for this crime.
93. During the 13th and succeeding centuries the particular councils of the
Church strongly condemned abortion. The Synod of Riez (1234), for example,
penalized both abortion and murder with an excommunication to be incurred IPSO
FACTO, absolution from which was reserved to the Holy See. The excommunication
was incurred by all who knowingly cooperated by assisting, advising, or
suggesting, by selling, or otherwise providing deadly drugs to effect the
abortion or the murder (35). Many
councils either adopted this norm from Riez or issued similar norms
94. The first significant papal legislation, issued MOTU PROPRIO to invoke
penal sanctions against abortion was the Constitution "EFFRAENATAM" of Pope
Sixtus V (1585-90) of October 29, 1588. This constitution listed severe
penalties against the crime of abortion of an unborn child without any reference
at all being made to the distinction of whether the fetus was animated or
nonanimated. Pope Gregory XIV in his Constitution "SEDES APOSTOLICAE" (1591)
slightly altered the constitution of Sixtus V to apply the harsh penalties only
to those cases which involved the abortion of an animated fetus. However, his
constitution still taught the grave seriousness of the offense of any abortion.
95. Pope Pius IX, on October 12, 1869, by his Constitution "APOSTOLICAE
SEDES", reorganized penal legislation, including that concerning abortion.
Overturning the legislation of Pope Gregory XIV and returning to the policy of
Pope Sixtus V, he did away with the old rule of "animated" or "non-animated" and
made it clear that any abortion of an unborn child is murder and anyone who
culpably commits this crime is subject to automatic excommunication reserved to
the local bishop.
96. In 1917, Pope Benedict XV promulgated the Code of Canon Law for the Roman
Rite of the Catholic Church. The Code states that those who effectively procure
an abortion, the mother not excluded, incur an automatic excommunication
reserved to the ordinary (canon 2350.2). The 1983 Revised Code of Canon Law,
promulgated by Pope John Paul II, states in canon 1398 that those who
successfully procure an abortion incur an automatic excommunication, absolution
from which penalty is not reserved to anyone, unless it has been formally
"declared" by the local bishop.
THE CURRENT ECCLESIASTICAL SANCTION AGAINST ABORTION
97. To understand the Church's sanction against abortion in the present Code
of Law, it is necessary to approach it from several perspectives. First, canon
1398 of the Revised Code of Canon Law is found in Book VI which treats of
ecclesiastical sanctions. Sanctions in Church law are penalties which are
attached to the commission of some sin or crime. These sanctions can be
medicinal or expiatory. A medicinal penalty or censure is inflicted on
Catholics, who violate a certain law, in order to help them realize the gravity
of their action and to encourage them to repent and to return to good standing
in the Church. When a person does repent, the effects of the censure can be
removed first by absolution from the censure, and then from the sin which caused
it, by a bishop or priest empowered by Church authority to remit the censure.
For their interior peace, such individuals can regain grace by making an act of
perfect contrition. In external affairs, however, their spiritual rights and
privileges are restrained until they have been absolved of the censure (canon
1331.1). An expiatory penalty is one inflicted on Catholics to either right a
wrong or to protect the good name of the Church in some particular case. An
expiatory penalty may be issued for a determinate period of time or perpetually
and must be carried out even if the guilty person is repentant.
98. As mentioned earlier, the Church has deemed the right to life so
important as to protect the unborn child by means of a severe censure. This is
the value being upheld in canon 1398. The penalty inflicted upon anyone who
effectively procures an abortion, is excommunication from the Church. The
penalty of excommunication may be removed by sincere repentance for the wrong
done and expressed to a bishop or priest endowed with the authority to remit the
excommunication and the sin which caused it. A person must first be absolved
from the excommunication before they can be absolved from their sins in the
sacrament of confession.
PERSON SUBJECT TO THE PENALTY
99. Who is subject to this excommunication? To answer this question one must
first realize what the Church is. The Church is both a divine and a human
institution consisting of people who have been baptized into Jesus Christ and
who seek to follow Him and to do His will. Catholics have a serious
responsibility of remaining in union with the Church (canon 209). This union is
kept by believing in the teachings of Jesus as expressed by the Church,
receiving sacraments worthily and obeying the moral laws and the disciplinary
laws established for the peace and order of the Church. Any Catholic who
violates a law of the Church to which a penalty is attached can be subject to
100. In order for a penalty to be incurred, there must be an external
violation of a law to which a penalty is attached, and the crime must be gravely
imputable to the person, either by virtue of malice or culpability (committing
an act knowingly and willingly). In other words there must be an actual crime or
offense committed which has a penalty attached to it as specified in law. If
there is no verifiable crime, there is no penalty. Secondly, the person who
commits the crime must have a deliberate intent to either violate the law
(malice) or is culpable. Culpability means that a person knowingly and
willingly, without duress or grave fear, with intention, deliberation and moral
responsibility, committed a crime. To provide clarity regarding this issue, the
law states a presumption which applies to the violation of any penalized
offense: Unless it is otherwise evident, imputability is presumed whenever an
external violation has occurred (canon 1321.3). This presumption could be
overturned with proof to the contrary but, otherwise, it does apply in the case
101. In recognition of the legal concern not to inflict penalties when any of
the above factors are absent, the law does exclude certain persons from being
subject to penal sanctions. The exclusion of persons from these penalties in no
way overlooks the moral responsibility for these actions. The law simply states
that the penalty may not be applied to this particular person. The law makes no
statement about the sin committed. Canon 1323 excuses the following persons from
1. A person who is below the age of 16.
2. A person who without fault was unaware of violating a law or precept
of the Church.
3. A person who acted out of the pressure of physical force.
4. A person who violated the law accidentally which accident could
neither be foreseen nor prevented when foreseen.
5. A person who acted out of grave fear, even if only relatively grave,
or out of necessity or out of serious inconvenience unless the act is
intrinsically evil or verges on harm to souls.
6. A person who, for the sake of legitimate self defense, or defense of
another, acted against an unjust aggressor with due moderation.
7. A person who lacks the use of reason.
8. A person who without fault thought that the circumstances in #4 and #5
alone were verified.
102. Of these exclusionary factors especially concerning canon 1398, it must
be noted that abortion is an intrinsically evil act and brings harm to a human
being so that #5 above would not directly apply. In addition an unborn baby is
nowhere in Church teaching looked upon as an "unjust aggressor," but as innocent
human life which is independent of the mother yet relies upon the mother for its
life. Therefore #6 would not have direct applicability in the case of abortion.
Even if the mother's life is threatened due to a pregnancy, everything must be
done to save both lives. Direct killing of innocent human life is never
103. The penal sanction is certainly to be inflicted on the person who
culpably committed the abortion. This would obviously include the mother who
subjects herself to an abortion and the person who performs the abortion.
Accomplices are also subject to the penalty of excommunication if the abortion
would not have been committed without their efforts (canon 1329.2). In assessing
this factor, the bishop must consider the degree of collaboration in the
abortion. It would certainly involve persons who physically forced the abortion
to be done, persons who by moral persuasion directly caused the abortion,
persons who work in a facility which has the sole purpose of doing abortion
(i.e., an abortuary). For persons who work at a hospital which performs morally
acceptable operations in addition to abortion, the principles of material
cooperation and formal cooperation would have to be applied to determine whether
or not the person is subject to the abortion penalty. (See Appendix
TEMPERING THE PENALTY
104. In addition to the exclusionary factors mentioned earlier, the law also
notes that a penalty set by law must be tempered, or a penalty substituted in
its place if the offense was committed by persons who for various reasons were
lacking either in full knowledge or free will concerning the act. Reasons noted
in canon 1324 temper the application of the penalty. The penalty may be
moderated when it is committed:
1. By a person with only the imperfect use of reason.
2. By a person who lacked the use of reason due to drunkenness or another
similar mental disturbance which was culpable.
3. By a person in the serious heat of passion which preceded and impeded
all deliberation of mind and consent of will, as long as the passion itself
and not been voluntarily stirred or fostered.
4. By a minor who is between the age 16 and 20 years of age.
5.By a person who was forced through grave fear, even if only relatively
grave, or through necessity or serious inconvenience, if the offense was not
intrinsically evil or verged on harm to souls.
6. By a person who, for the sake of legitimate self defense or defense of
another, acted against an unjust aggressor but without due moderation.
7. By a person who acted against one gravely and unjustly provoking it.
8. One who without any fault was unaware that a penalty was attached to
the law or precept.
9. By one who acted without full imputability provided grave imputability
was required for the infliction of the penalty.
105. These psychological and moral factors guide the bishop or judge in
determining either what penalty should be imposed, or how to temper the penalty
set down in law. These factors do not necessarily take away the penalty. In the
case of abortion, the bishop or judge must give due attention to all these
factors, and, if any are present, he should adjust the penalty imposed
accordingly. Since the sin of abortion is penalized by an automatic
excommunication, the presence of any of these factors may mitigate its
application. However, the law notes that crass, supine or affected ignorance
does not take away culpability for a crime (canon 1325). The same is true for
drunkenness or other mental disturbances if they are deliberately induced to
commit or excuse the offense (canon 1325). In some cases the bishop or judge may
impose even more severe penalties than indicated in law (canon 1326).
106. Because penalties in Church law are to be strictly interpreted (canon
18), all the conditions specified in canon 1398 must be present for it to be
operative. There must first be a pregnancy and a subsequent abortion which has
taken place. The term "abortion", derived from ABORIOR, in its strict
etymological sense means death. Abortion has come to signify the delivery of an
immature or non-viable baby. A non-viable baby is one that cannot survive
outside the womb even with medical assistance. If the unborn baby is viable and
survives outside the womb, an abortion is not committed. Abortion is understood
to be the intentional ejection of a non-viable baby from the womb of the mother.
Any method or technique which is used to effect the abortion, even if its
indirect purpose is to act as an abortifacient, comes within the scope of the
107. The killing of a viable baby would not be an abortion, but formal murder
in Church law. The mere fact that the baby sometimes lives for a short while
after its ejection does not necessarily indicate viability. If the subsequent
death is due precisely and solely to its insufficient development, then the baby
is non-viable, consequently, its removal implies an abortion, not a premature
delivery. On the other hand, if a baby is ejected at a time when it is judged to
be non-viable; but after delivery continues to live, this is unquestionable
evidence that it is viable and therefore abortion is not verified.
108. At which point in its development is an unborn baby considered viable?
Obstetrical authorities commonly place the minimum age for viability between 26
to 28 weeks. For practical purposes one could follow this practical rule: If an
unborn baby is ejected before the 26th week and lives, there is no crime of
abortion. If the baby dies, however, it must be considered non-viable, unless
there are positive indications that its death was due to other circumstances
than extra-uterine existence. In this latter case, the penalty of
excommunication would be incurred.
With the progress of medical science, viability is bound to occur earlier.
But even with progress in this area, the important considerations of the
anatomical and functional development and the weight and length of the unborn
child as well as other factors, will help determine viability.
109. The fetus must be living prior to the abortion. The expulsion of a fetus
which dies of natural causes in the womb is not an abortion. A natural
miscarriage is not an abortion. As mentioned earlier, a fetus or unborn baby can
be said to be present with moral certitude once pregnancy is determined. Moral
certitude excludes all prudent and positive doubt. The unborn baby is considered
a human from the moment of conception and impregnation. The old speculative
theory regarding the animation of the fetus no longer has any application in the
crime of abortion. Science and medicine have proven clearly that human life
begins at conception (37). It is
certainly biologically alive and despite its dependence upon the mother, it is a
distinct living being, not a mere part of the mother. The unborn baby sustains a
life proper to itself, dependent upon yet distinct from that of the mother.
110. Concerning the aborted fetus, the pastoral practice the Church enshrined
in law calls for the baptism of the expelled fetus. Canon 871 of the Revised
Code states that aborted fetuses are alive, they are to be baptized if this
possible. The animated- inanimate distinction is absent here too, and leading
commentators on the 1917 Code of canon law explain this norm as based upon the
"more common" view that the human fetus has a rational soul from the first
moment of conception (38). Even if
the theory of immediate animation is not an abiding conviction in the Church,
the pastoral practice of baptizing a fetus expelled at any age is soundly
established as the safer course of action. If a human is present, the Christian
community will try to extend the saving power of Christ to him or her through
the sacrament of baptism.
DECLARING AN AUTOMATIC EXCOMMUNICATION
111. The Crime of abortion brings about an automatic excommunication from the
Church. A person who procures an abortion automatically brings about his/her
excommunication from the Church. This presupposes, of course, that they are
morally culpable. This automatic excommunication takes place provided there is
not a mitigating factor present, which would excuse one from the penalty.
However, although its effects are immediate, an automatic excommunication can
also be formally declared by the bishop when there is reason to warrant such a
declaration. Such reasons would include cases of serious injustice, grave
scandal or serious damage to the good name of the Church. If the automatic
excommunication is formally declared, then the law reserves to the bishop or
ordinary who imposed it the authority to remit the penalty (canon 1355).
112. In order to validly declare an automatic excommunication, a bishop must
follow the procedure set down in law. First, serious effort must be made to
encourage the person to rectify his or her spiritual standing in the Church. The
person should be instructed why abortion is a serious sin and that it is
unconscionable for any Catholic to be directly involved with it. If the person
is recalcitrant and not open to reform by fraternal correction, rebuke or other
ways, then the bishop may utilize either a judicial or an administrative
procedure formally to declare the excommunication.
113. In every case, however, the person must be warned in advance that the
excommunication will be formally imposed unless they reform. If after this
warning, the guilty party refuses to change their attitude and behavior, they
can be declared to have incurred excommunication by formal decree. If a judicial
procedure is used, then the decree of excommunication would be issued (if it is
warranted) at the time of the sentence.
FORMAL AND MATERIAL COOPERATION
114. Cooperation in the sins of others is any physical or moral concurrence
with a principal agent in a sinful deed. A cooperator in this sense is the one
who a) assists in the execution of the sinful deed, b) who makes available the
means, or c) who gives advice and necessary information, etc. Cooperation does
not give rise to the sin of another; it only assists a principal agent, who is
already determined to do the evil deed previous to the cooperation.
Traditionally, there has been a distinction between formal and material
cooperation in the sins of others.
115. Formal cooperation occurs when one externally concurs in the sinful deed
of another and at the same time internally assents to it. This kind of
cooperation is always sinful. Formal cooperation is often distinguished into
explicit formal and implicit formal cooperation. Explicit formal cooperation
takes place if the sin of the other is directly intended by the cooperator, as
e.g. the workers in an abortion clinic directly intend the sin of child murder
together with the doctor performing the actual abortion procedure. Implicit
formal cooperation occurs when the cooperation offered is of such a nature that
it is necessarily joined in the sinful deed of another, even if there is a
personal intention by the cooperator against the sinful deed. The assistant
physician in a case of abortion implicitly consents to the sin by their
participation in the operation, even if he or she internally abhors it.
116. Material cooperation is present when one externally concurs in the
sinful deed of another without internally consenting to it. Material cooperation
may be immediate or mediate. It is immediate if one participates in the sinful
deed itself, as e.g. the abortion clinic nurses, supporting staff, etc. It is
mediate if one provides the means and other help for the evil deed, without
joining in the evil act itself, as e.g. the providers of medical supplies for
abortion clinics and the "escorts" for abortion clinic clients. Mediate
cooperation is often further sub-divided into proximate and remote depending on
whether or not according as it is more or less closely connected with the evil
deed. Yet there is no strict, clear-cut separation between these two forms of
immediate and mediate, and the transition from remote to proximate cooperation
is fluid. Material cooperation in sinful deeds of others is in general illicit,
since the evil of sin should not be supported by any means, but on the contrary,
should be opposed and suppressed.
117. On the other hand, one often cannot escape some cooperation in the sins
of others in order to avoid still greater evils. This has led to the following
principles: Material cooperation is permissible if two conditions are verified:
1) The act by which cooperation is rendered may not be sinful in itself. 2)
There should be sufficient cause for granting an assistance which is to serve an
evil purpose. Under these conditions, the principles for actions with double
effect apply to the cooperation: An action not sinful in itself having at the
same time both a good and an evil effect may be permitted if the good effect
outweighs the evil effect, and it is the good effect which is intended, and the
evil effect which is foreseen but not intended.
PRO-LIFE PROGRAMS SPONSORED AND CARRIED OUT BY THE PRO-LIFE
118. RESPECT LIFE PROGRAM - organized by the National Council of Catholic
Bishops and carried out in this diocese through the Pro Life Center. Its goal is
to increase respect for human life among Catholics in all its forms and stages.
119. THE APOSTOLATE OF PRAYER - mindful of the centrality of prayer in the
life of a Christian, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament takes place every
Thursday from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel on Ocean
Drive. Every Friday from noon to 1:00 p.m., a rosary is prayed for pro-life
intentions at St. Patrick's Church in Corpus Christi. The Apostolate of Prayer
newsletter is send quarterly to over 1,000 persons.
120. JANUARY 22nd, reparation for the crime of abortion - each year a special
educational program is offered on this day for 6th grade Catholic school
students. This program is followed by a Mass of Reparation at the Cathedral.
121. MOTHER'S DAY PROGRAM - takes place in Laredo, and includes Mass at
Blessed Sacrament Church for all mothers, followed by an educational 3-hour
ORGANIZATIONS AND PROGRAMS INITIATED BY THE PRO LIFE CENTER AND PARTIALLY
SUBSIDIZED BY THE DIOCESE
122. BIRTHRIGHT - Corpus Christi, Rockport and Laredo. Birthright is a
national organization offering pregnancy counseling and referral services. Its
Corpus Christi, Rockport and Laredo chapters, which opened respectively in 1978,
1985 and 1990, offer free pregnancy testing, provide emotional support, and give
material help to any pregnant woman. The Pro Life Center, one of the main
referrals for information, remains in very close contact with the volunteers and
provides training. The three Birthright chapters assist more than 1,200 clients
123. HOPE HOUSE - founded in 1986 by the Pro Life Center and Lutheran Social
Services, is an incorporated, independent 501-C-3 organization. It provides
emergency and late pregnancy shelter for homeless, pregnant women. The Pro Life
Center admits clients and helps them apply for governmental programs and medical
124. WOMEN EXPLOITED BY ABORTION - is a national organization which provides
a reconciliation program for women who have had abortions and need help to
recover. The local chapter was founded in 1986 by the Pro Life Center. It holds
therapeutic-support group meetings at the Pro Life Center, gives many witness
talks to civic and youth groups, and provides counseling to women considering
abortion. The Pro Life Center maintains ongoing communication with this
125. COLLEGIANS FOR LIFE - started by the Pro Life Center in 1987 at Del Mar
College. The Pro Life Center provides speakers and disseminates literature at
the college level.
RECEIVING PARTIAL FINANCIAL HELP FROM THE DIOCESE AS WELL AS ASSISTANCE FROM THE
PRO LIFE CENTER
126. CHRISTIANS FOR LIFE CLUB AT INCARNATE WORD ACADEMY - active since 1986.
Every year the Pro Life Center assists the Club in organizing Respect Life Week.
127. LAY MARYANS - This group conducts sidewalk counseling at abortion
clinics, provides speakers and organizes an annual Walk for Life. The Pro Life
Center supplies further counseling as well as medical and financial assistance
to all women coming from abortion clinics.
128. NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING - an educational program that assists couples to
understand the natural methods of pregnancy planning. The Pro-Life Center refers
clients to NFP.
129. UNDERSTANDING SEXUALITY PROGRAM a program for adolescents geared to the
teaching of human sexuality within the context of spiritual and moral values.
OTHER ORGANIZATIONS WHICH ARE
NOT ELIGIBLE FOR FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM THE DIOCESE BUT WHICH TAKE A PRO LIFE
130. CORPUS CHRISTI RIGHT TO LIFE AND LAREDO RIGHT TO LIFE - The primary goal
of these organizations is to educate the public on pro-life matters.
131. BODY OF CHRIST RESCUE - active group in Corpus Christi since 1989. It
sponsors rescues, does sidewalk counseling, provides speakers to civic, church
and youth groups.
132. THE HUMAN FAMILY COMMITTEE - initially founded to add an amendment to
the charter of the City of Corpus Christi, which will recognize that human life
begins at conception and continues until natural death.
133. SOUTH TEXANS FOR LIFE - a Protestant group which does counseling,
provides speakers and organizes activities to create public awareness.
134. OFFICERS FOR LIFE - founded in 1990, unites law enforcement personnel
interested in protecting life, especially that of pre-born infants.
135. LAWYERS FOR LIFE - founded to promote a change in the pro abortion stand
of the American Bar Association.
136. PROJECT GABRIEL - a project of Catholic and Protestant churches to
provide spiritual, emotional and financial support to pregnant women who might
otherwise consider abortion.
137. PROJECT RACHEL - a reconciliation program, currently in the planning
stages, for Catholic mothers who have killed their pre-born children.
FAMILY LIFE PROGRAMS AND ACTIVITIES
138. In promoting the respect and reverence for unborn life, the Church gives
particular attention to the key role of the family. In our diocese, the Office
of Family Life and the Family Life Commission address the need to strengthen the
stability of marriage and family relations through the following programs:
139. PRE-CANA - a program of marriage preparation.
140. ENGAGED ENCOUNTER - gives engaged couples an opportunity, in a retreat
setting, to grow in their understanding of what their relationship will be after
they enter their marriage and to best prepare themselves for that new
141. MARRIAGE JUBILEE MASSES - annual diocesan recognition of silver and
golden Jubilee of marriage couples.
142. MARRIAGE ENCOUNTER - A retreat designed to strengthen the marriage bond,
primarily through improved communication.
143. MOVIMIENTO FAMILIAR CRISTIANO - This movement offers weekend workshops
called Encuentro Conyugal in Spanish.
144. SCHOENSTATT FAMILY MOVEMENT - A movement designed to strengthen family
unity through prayer.
145. DIVORCED/SEPARATED MINISTRY - a program which seeks to heal and support
divorced and separated Catholics.
146. COUNSELING - Catholic Social Services offers a wide variety of
counseling services in support of family needs.
LEADERSHIP TRAINING FOR MINISTRY
147. SPONSOR COUPLE TRAINING - Offered in Corpus Christi and Laredo. This
marriage preparation is conducted in the home parishes at the pastors' and
148. FAMILY LIFE COMMISSION - The members of the Commission provide input on
family and concerns from the different deaneries that they represent. The
Commission deliberates on the programs and policies relative to the three
standing committees and is sometimes active in the program as well. More active
service from these Commission members will be asked for and expected in the
months to come as family ministry gains higher visibility in our diocese.
149. OFFICE OF FAMILY LIFE - a Diocesan office which coordinates, assists and
channels activities, programs and needs relative to marriage and family life. It
also undertakes the training of leaders and facilitators for the various
Teachings of the
Magisterium on Abortion
[Return to top of page]
1. "Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the
Church" Vatican II, CHRISTUS DOMINUS, 28 October 1965. cf number 13. Taken from
VATICAN COUNCIL II, Vol. I THE CONCILIAR AND POST CONCILIAR DOCUMENTS; Austin
Flannery, O.P., General Editor: Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1984.
2. DIDACHE 2,2-7.: "Didache: a Church Manual", in EARLY
CHRISTIAN FATHERS, newly translated by Cyril C. Richardson, Macmillan Publishing
Co., Inc. New York, 1970, p. 172.
3. "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World" Vatican II, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 7 December 1965, number 27. Taken from
VATICAN COUNCIL II, Vol. 1, THE CONCILIAR AND POST CONCILIAR DOCUMENTS, Austin
Flannery, O.P. General Editor p. 928.
4, "Encyclical Letter on the Regulation of Births," Paul
VI, HUMANAE VITAE, 25 July 1968, number 14. Taken from VATICAN COUNCIL II, Vol.
II, MORE POST CONCILIAR DOCUMENTS, Austin Flannery, O.P., General Editor:
Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1982, p.404.
5. "Declaration on Procured Abortion," Sacred
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, QUAESTIO DE ABORTU, 18 November
1974. Taken from VATICAN COUNCIL II, Vol. II, MORE POSTCONCILIAR DOCUMENTS.
Austin Flannery, O.P. General Editor, pp. 441-453.
6. "THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY IN THE MODERN WORLD"- John Paul
II, FAMILIARIS CONSORTIO, 22 November 1981. Taken from VATICAN COUNCIL II, Vol.
II, MORE POST CONCILIAR DOCUMENTS, Austin Flannery, O.P., General Editor, pp.
7. "Social Justice" Second Synod of the Diocese of Corpus
Christi, promulgated by The Most Reverend Rene H. Gracida, Bishop of Corpus
Christi, 22 June 1988. Published by the Catholic Diocese of Corpus Christi,
1989, number 34, p. 224.
8. "Resolution on Abortion" National Conference of
Catholic Bishops, 7 November 1989, in Baltimore. Catholic News Service,
9. Pope John Paul II, remarks upon the conclusion of his
pastoral visit to the United States, 19 September, 1987, November 3. Taken from:
POPE JOHN PAUL II: BUILDING UP THE BODY OF CHRIST. National Catholic News
Service, Ignatius Press, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, 1987. p. 223.
10. "Social Justice"' Second Synod of the Diocese of
Corpus Christi. 22 June 1988, number 33, p. 224
11. 209-214 English trans. by D.D. Luckenbill in Smith,
THE ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF HEBREW LAW (Chicago: the University of Chicago Press,
193 1, pg. 211.
12. Part 1, 21,49-52, Smith OP. CIT., pp. 226, 235, 236.
13. VENDIDAD, FARGARD XV (on Sin), II, nn. 11-14 -THE
SACRED BOOKS AND EARLY LITERATURE OF THE EAST, Charles F. Horne et al. editors
(14 vols., New York & London: Austin, and Lipscomb, Inc., 1914), VII, ANCIENT
PERSIA, pp. 121-122.
14. Pseudo-Galenus, AN GUOD IN UTERO EST SIT ANIMAL, 5;
GALENI OMNIA QUAE EXSTANT OPERA (7vols, Venetiis, 1572),1,67; LYCURGUS, 111,
2-3, in PLUTARCH'S LIVES, trans. by B. Perrin, Loeb Classical Library (I I vols.
New York: The Macmillan Co. and G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1914-1926), 1, 211.
15. The Latin text of the Oath may be found in Eschbach,
DISPUTATIONES PHYSIOLOGICO -THEOLOGICAE (3rd ed., 3 fasc. in I vol., Romae:
Desclee, 1913),11, 74.
16. Plutarch, ROMULUS, XXII, 3; PLUTARCH'S LIVES, edited
by B. Perrin, 1, 161 and 163.
17. Mommsen, LE DRIOT PENAL ROMAIN, trans. by J.
Duquesne (4 vols. Parish, 1907) 11, 353-354.
18. PRO CLUENTIO, cap. 11, n. 32.
19. D. (47.11) 4.
20. D. (48.8) 8.
21. Cf. Beck, ROEMISCHES RECHT BEI TERTULLIAN UND
CYPRIAN, p. 121, footnote n. 1.
22. Didache, 2,2; J. P. Audet, LA DIDACHE, INSTRUCTIONS
DES APOTRES (Paris, 1958).
23. LEGATIO PRO CHRISTIANIS, cap. 35; Migne, PATROLOGIAE
CURSUS COMPLETUS, series graeca (161 vols., Parisis, 1856-66), VI, 969.
(hereafter to be cited as MPG)
24. APOLOGETICUS, cap. 9, n. 8; Migne, PATROLOGIAE
CURSUS COMPLETUS, series latina, 221 vols., Parisii, 1858-1864. (hereafter cited
25. REFUTATIO OMNIUM HAERESIUM, edit. Wendland (also
known as Philosophoumena), lib. IX, cap. 12, n. 25.
26. COMMENTARIIS IN EPISTOLAM AD ROMANOS, HOMILIA XXIV,
n. 4; MPG, LX, 626.
27. Lib. 1, cap. 15 CORPUS SCRIPTORUM ECCLESIASTICORUM
LATINORUM (hereafter to be abbreviated as CSEL (Vindobonae, 1866-), XLII, 230.
28. Canon 63 of the council states: "If a woman shall
have conceived in adultery while her husband was absent, and afterwards shall
have killed the conceptus (child conceived); she shall not be given communion
even at death, because she did this twofold wicked deed." Council of Elvira, -.
63; J. D. Mansi, SACRORUM CONCILIORUM NOVA ET AMPLISSIMA COLLECTIO, (Mansi),
29. Council of Ancyra, c. 21, Mansi, 2, 520.
30. Council of Chalcedon, c. 1, CONCILIORUM
OECUMENICORUM DECRETA, Alberigo, Joannou, Leonardi, Prodi, editors, (Friburg:
Herder, 1962), p. 63.
31. ON THE GENERATION OF ANIMALS, Bk. 2, chaps. 14.
32. IVONIS CARNOTENSIS DECRETUM, 10, 27, 55-88, and
181-3; P.L. 140, 931-34, and 972.
33. DECRETUM MAGISTRI GRATIANI, ed. Richter-Friedberg,
Corpus Iuris Canonici (Leipzig, 1879), c. 710, C. XXXII, q. 2; cf. also C. 20,
C. 11, q. 5 and C. 48, D.L.
34. DECRETALES GREGORII IX, C. 20 and C. 5, X, V, 12,
ed. Richter-Friedberg, Corpus Iuris Canonici (Leipzig, 1879), vol. 11.
35. Can. 14; Mansi, XXIV, 58 1. It is not clear on what
authority a particular synod could reserve a censure to the Holy See.
36. See Roger J. Huser, THE CRIME OF ABORTION IN CANON
LAW (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1942), ppgs.
58-59, n. 35.
37. For excellent photography of the very beginning of
life, see Lennart Nilsson, "The First Days of Creation", LIFE Vol. 13, August
1990, pgs. 26-46.
38. F. Cappello, TRACTATUS CANONICO-MORALIS DE
SACRAMENTIS (Rome: Marietti, 1953), N. 159; FX Wernz and P. Vidal, IUS CANONICUM
(Rome: Gregorian Univ., 1934) vol. IV, n. 33, 111; M. Conte a Coronata,
INSTITUTIONES IURIS CANONICI, DE SACRAMENTIS (Turin: Marietti, 1951, vol. 1, n.