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November 1984

Among the various contributions to this year's debate on abortion and public policy was a statement issued by a group which calls itself a "Catholic Committee on Pluralism and Abortion," and publicized by "Catholics for a Free Choice."

This statement says it is mistaken to believe that the Catholic Church teaches that deliberately chosen abortion is morally wrong in all instances, and it suggests that abortion can sometimes be a legitimate moral choice.

As the Committee on Doctrine of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, responding to the general concern of our brother bishops, we want to affirm that such an opinion, however sincerely motivated, contradicts the clear and constant teaching of the Church that deliberately chosen abortion is objectively immoral. It is not a legitimate moral Choice.(1)

The assertions contained in the statement of the Committee on Pluralism and Abortion which imply that Church teaching about abortion has not always been clear and constant are not correct, and are not substantiated by scholarly research. For example, the statement appeals to philosophical discussions about "ensoulment," and to canonical discussions about when the person who commits the sin of abortion also incurs the penalty of excommunication, as if these discussions provided a basis for legitimate diversity of opinion. But such philosophical and canonical discussions have always presumed the Church's constant teaching about the immorality of abortion. The Committee also appeals to principles of moral theology, such as probabilism, religious liberty, and the centrality of informed conscience, as justifying its opinion. But Catholic theology does not allow the application of the theory of probabilism in cases which contradict Church teaching or where the risk of taking life is present. Furthermore, legitimate freedom of conscience requires the responsible formation of conscience in accord with the truth of the Gospel message as handed on in the constant teaching of the Church.

The members of the Committee on Pluralism and Abortion present a personal opinion which directly contradicts the clear and constant teaching of the Church about abortion, a teaching which they as Catholics are obliged to accept.

At the same time, the Committee on Doctrine reaffirms its confidence in the many theologians who explore and present the implications of moral teaching in fidelity to the Catholic tradition.



(1)This teaching was cogently reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council, which referred to abortion as an "abominable crime" (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, no. 51); it has been authoritatively explained in the Declaration on Procured Abortion of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1974), and has frequently been restated by the Bishops of the United States in various Pastoral Letters (e.g., Human Life in Our Day in 1968, no. 84; To Live in Christ Jesus in 1976, nos. 637-65; The Challenge of Peace in 1983, nos. 286-289), and numerous other statements.


Other Statements of the Bishops on Abortion

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