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Every Catholic is Obliged to Oppose Abortion

John Cardinal Krol

Former Archbishop of Philadelphia

October 1992

Through the centuries, it has been the constant teaching of the supreme doctrinal authority of the Church that human life is sacred and must be protected both in its beginnings and at every stage of its course. There call be no licit dissent from the Church's clear teaching on abortion, and anyone who would make an exception to permit some direct abortion does not reflect authentic Church teaching.

The Second Vatican Council expressed this teaching in these words: "From the moment of its conception, human life must be guarded with the greatest care, while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes" (Gaudium et Spes, 51). Speaking at the Mall in Washington, D.C., Pope John Paul II said: "All human life is sacred -- a precious gift from God. And so we will stand up every time that human life is threatened, when the sacredness of life before birth is attacked, we will stand up and proclaim that no one has the authority to destroy unborn life."

Yes! Every Catholic is obliged in conscience to oppose abortion both as a personal decision and as a policy in society.

This authentic teaching is not a debatable view or opinion. It is all undeniable truth based on the fact that the right to life is a primordial right of every human being and on the fact, established by genetic scientists, that from the very first moment of conception there exists a unique, individual human being. Those who question these truths and the teaching of the Church on the sacredness of all human life are like those to whom the Lord said: "I speak the truth, and for that very reason you do not believe me. ....If I speak the truth, why do you not believe me?" (John 8:45-46).

The Church has no proper mission in the political, economic or social order. Her mission is a religious one. But out of this religious mission itself comes a function, a light and an energy which can serve to structure the human community according to God's law. As Catholics and as citizens, we have the right and the duty to participate fully in the democratic processes of our country. We have the right and duty to promote equal justice for all, and to defend human dignity and human rights. We must not be intimidated by the canard "No religious group has the right to impose its personal moral values on other people in a pluralistic society." Religious toleration does not mean religious sterility. Ours has been a religious nation in origin, history, tradition and culture. Yes, we must respect the religious convictions of all other believers and even nonbelievers, but it does not follow that the latter are not obliged to respect the convictions of the religious majority, or are free to force that majority to give up its history and traditions.

Nor should we be cowed by the metaphor of "the wall of separation between Church and state." Jefferson, who coined this metaphor, also asserted: "The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the just and only legitimate object of good government." Both statements of Jefferson should be heeded. Granting the separation of Church and state, the legitimate object of government is to protect and not to destroy human life.

The right to life is at the heart of all morality, and morality is the ultimate foundation of legality. Abortion is a justice issue, and all citizens in a democratic society are obliged to use the democratic process to work for justice for all. The Church upholds the rights of the unborn to life, not as sectarian doctrine, but as a right essential for the good of secular society itself. To assert and defend this right no more enshrines one religious viewpoint than do laws against murder, child abuse, racial discrimination or pornography. For this reason the statement "I am personally opposed, but . . ." is not logical or acceptable any more than would be a statement of personal opposition to child abuse while allowing others the option to abuse their children. Abortion is the ultimate form of child abuse. No commitment to promote other human rights can outweigh a refusal to help end the legalized killing of the innocent and helpless unborn child.

As Catholics and as citizens, we have the right and the duty, as Pope John Paul II said, to stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life. We must stand up and use the democratic process to restore legal protection to our inalienable and God-given right to life.

May the Lord of life help us to carry out His laws and protect His precious gift of life by eliminating the unspeakable crime of abortion from our society.

Statements of Other Cardinals and Bishops about Abortion

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