Abortion and Other Issues

Abortion and Other Issues in an Election Year

Bishop William Murphy
Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York

This week, the same mail brought me two letters. The first was from a parishioner asking me why my brother priests and I are not speaking out about those in public life who do not defend life but are instead “pro-choice” regarding abortion on demand. The second, critical of Church leadership on a number of issues, ended by wondering that the Church would try to “influence the election” by threatening to “excommunicate Catholics” who want to vote for Mr. Obama.

All too often — and once is too often — the Church is accused of being a “single issue” faith community concerning public issues. A glance at the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church as well as the U.S. bishops’ statement, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, puts that lie to rest. So let’s all agree that the Church and Church leadership are not guilty of being single issue.

What the Church does teach is the truth that the first and foremost issue is that of human life. It is the central issue of human living, and it is the most important measure of a healthy society. How we treat all human life, but especially vulnerable human life whether in the womb or at the last moments of earthly life, does determine whether or not we will have the moral vision to guide the choices we make in our families and communities, in our nation and the world.

We, United States bishops, address many issues, but we insist as the teachers of the Church that the priority task of every Catholic is to form one’s conscience correctly by attending to the teaching of the Church as an integral and necessary component in a well informed conscience. The Church teaches that “human life is sacred.” Following the clear teaching of Pope John Paul II, the U.S. bishops echoed his teaching saying that “abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human life and dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental good and the condition of all others. Abortion, the deliberate killing of a human being before birth, is never morally acceptable and must always be opposed.”

The platform of the Democratic Party for this election year was adopted at the first day of the convention in Denver. Here is how it reads on this issue: “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to undermine that right. The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby reduce the need for abortions. The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.”

The day before, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was interviewed on Meet the Press by Mr. Tom Brokaw on this issue. She responded as a Catholic defending the unequivocally pro-abortion position of her party. As a Catholic she said she had studied the issue and then suggested that the doctors of the Church have not been able to make the definition that life begins at conception and then suggesting that it is only in the past 50 years or so that the teaching of the Church has stated that human life begins at conception. She adds, “And Senator — St. Augustine said three months. We don’t know. The point is it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose.”

Within 24 hours, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops through Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the USCCB Pro-Life Committee, with Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, chairman of the Doctrine Committee, issued a statement refuting Ms. Pelosi’s incorrect statements about Church teaching. They said “procured abortion” is a “grave … moral evil … the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.” Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver each added their own comments reinforcing the constant and unambiguous teaching of the Church on abortion, a teaching that is morally binding on the consciences of all Catholics. Such teaching has been constant in the Church because it corresponds to an undeniable and indisputable fact: the direct procuring of an abortion is the destruction of innocent human life. While the Church as early as the Didache of the first century has always maintained this, it is a truth that binds not just Catholics. It binds any and everyone whose conscience has been informed by right reason. Only if you can justify the direct killing of innocent human life — and how that can be done is beyond my ability to understand — can you even countenance the evil of the abortion of the innocent child in the womb.

My aim is not in any way to discredit anyone. Speaker Pelosi, however, objectively misstated the Catholic Church’s teaching and claimed as fact things that are not. I am sure she is a fine person and I know she is a woman of talent. The platform of the Democratic Party stands or falls on its own words, although it has eliminated the word “rare” as one of their goals about abortion and it continues to propagate the false idea that more contraception leads to fewer abortions. The fact is exactly the opposite, as Pope Paul VI correctly foresaw.

May I close by urging one and all to read the U.S. bishops’ statement, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. In addition, I am happy to inform you that on Sunday, September 28, the diocese is sponsoring an afternoon on this document to be held from noon to 4 p.m. at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School, West Islip. Bishop Lori will be the keynote speaker. It promises to be a stimulating and informative day for all who can participate.

From The Long Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, 8/27/08