Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, have issued the following statement:
In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.
In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.” (No. 2271)
In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.
These mistaken biological theories became obsolete over 150 years ago when scientists discovered that a new human individual comes into being from the union of sperm and egg at fertilization. In keeping with this modern understanding, the Church teaches that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with respect for the fundamental right to life.
More information on the Church’s teaching on this issue can be found in our brochure “The Catholic Church is a Pro-Life Church”.
A Statement by the Most Reverend Michael J. Sheridan Regarding the Evil of Procured Abortion
Colorado Springs, CO – Tuesday, August 26, 2008
In light of recent confusing statements by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi suggesting that Catholic teaching allows for procured abortion in certain circumstances, it is important for all Catholics to understand the teaching of the Church regarding abortion.
From the first century the Church has taught that abortion is gravely immoral. “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2271, quoting Didache 2, 2). The procuring of an abortion is always and in all circumstances intrinsically evil. (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2271). It is murder of the most vulnerable and innocent human beings. Speaker Pelosi’s outrageous attempt to present what she considers the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding abortion is simply wrong and should be disregarded by every faithful Catholic.
All other rights are useless if one is denied the right to live. Our founding fathers recognized this when they enumerated life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as unalienable human rights. They also recognized that these three rights are not equal in importance. Pursuing happiness means little if one is a slave. And freedom means nothing to someone who has been denied the right to life.
Pope John Paul II echoed these sentiments when he wrote “The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights . . . belong to human nature and are inherent in the person . . . from the moment of conception until death.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2273, quoting CDF, Donum vitae III).
The teachings of the Church on abortion are consistent and unambiguous, and it is very disturbing to hear someone who claims to be a Catholic distort these teachings and sow seeds of confusion among the faithful by attempting to relativize the right to life.
There can be no compromise on this issue. “Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2272). “Those who are excommunicated . . . and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” (Code of Canon Law 915).
Those Catholics who take a public stance in opposition to this most fundamental moral teaching of the Church place themselves outside full communion with the Church, and they should not present themselves for the reception of Holy Communion.Most Reverend Michael J. Sheridan
Bishop of Colorado Springs
ON THE SEPARATION OF SENSE AND STATE: A CLARIFICATION FOR THE PEOPLE OF THE CHURCH IN NORTHERN COLORADO
To Catholics of the Archdiocese of Denver:Catholic public leaders inconvenienced by the abortion debate tend to take a hard line in talking about the “separation of Church and state.” But their idea of separation often seems to work one way. In fact, some officials also seem comfortable in the role of theologian. And that warrants some interest, not as a “political” issue, but as a matter of accuracy and justice.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is a gifted public servant of strong convictions and many professional skills. Regrettably, knowledge of Catholic history and teaching does not seem to be one of them.
Interviewed on Meet the Press August 24, Speaker Pelosi was asked when human life begins. She said the following:
I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition . . . St. Augustine said at three months. We don’t know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose.”
Since Speaker Pelosi has, in her words, studied the issue “for a long time,” she must know very well one of the premier works on the subject, Jesuit John Connery’s Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective (Loyola, 1977). Here’s how Connery concludes his study:“The Christian tradition from the earliest days reveals a firm antiabortion attitude . . . The condemnation of abortion did not depend on and was not limited in any way by theories regarding the time of fetal animation. Even during the many centuries when Church penal and penitential practice was based on the theory of delayed animation, the condemnation of abortion was never affected by it. Whatever one would want to hold about the time of animation, or when the fetus became a human being in the strict sense of the term, abortion from the time of conception was considered wrong, and the time of animation was never looked on as a moral dividing line between permissible and impermissible abortion.”
Or to put it in the blunter words of the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer:”Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed on this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.”
Ardent, practicing Catholics will quickly learn from the historical record that from apostolic times, the Christian tradition overwhelmingly held that abortion was grievously evil. In the absence of modern medical knowledge, some of the Early Fathers held that abortion was homicide; others that it was tantamount to homicide; and various scholars theorized about when and how the unborn child might be animated or “ensouled.” But none diminished the unique evil of abortion as an attack on life itself, and the early Church closely associated abortion with infanticide. In short, from the beginning, the believing Christian community held that abortion was always, gravely wrong.
Of course, we now know with biological certainty exactly when human life begins. Thus, today’s religious alibis for abortion and a so-called “right to choose” are nothing more than that — alibis that break radically with historic Christian and Catholic belief.
Abortion kills an unborn, developing human life. It is always gravely evil, and so are the evasions employed to justify it. Catholics who make excuses for it – whether they’re famous or not — fool only themselves and abuse the fidelity of those Catholics who do sincerely seek to follow the Gospel and live their Catholic faith.
The duty of the Church and other religious communities is moral witness. The duty of the state and its officials is to serve the common good, which is always rooted in moral truth. A proper understanding of the “separation of Church and state” does not imply a separation of faith from political life. But of course, it’s always important to know what our faith actually teaches.
+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archbishop of Denver
+James D. Conley
Auxiliary Bishop of Denver