Catholic bishops on abortion

Not too long ago I resolved to avoid discussing abortion in this space. It’s more political than religious and my primary purpose here is to provoke new reflection about religious beliefs. This political campaign threw me into the abortion issue again. I hope this is my last post on it but, “never say never.”

I agree with the Christian right that abortion is wrong, but radical pro-lifers fail to consider difficulties surrounding the issue and insist it’s black and white, abortion is murder, and we have to vote for candidates who want to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Catholic bishops quoted in the National Catholic Reporter seem to disagree. In an article headlined “Antiabortion imperative more complex than acknowledged,” John Allen writes that most bishops consider abortion a grave evil but "also recognize that a specific court decision or piece of legislation can never be an article of faith . . . there are other ways, perhaps even better ways, to oppose abortion. . . . The desire to deny Communion . . . is held only by a minority of bishops."

Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles countered the perception that abortion must trump other issues for Catholics, saying that fellow bishops insist, “We’re not a one-issue church.”

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk says about “people who want simple answers with complete surety . . . [they] have to realize that these are complicated questions to which bishops may not all have the same answer and that our Catholic faith is not a whole series of black-and-white positions.”

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., says, “What the church should be focusing its energies on is changing the thinking in order to lead people not to choose abortion.” Now we’re getting somewhere. I hope this means pro-lifers are shifting toward the common ground of reducing the number of abortions, as I’ve noticed the pro-choice side doing.

I wish the two sides would join in campaigning to ensure access to contraception for all women. Right-to-lifers object that some forms of contraception are really forms of abortion. I don’t buy it; it’s a stretch to say that an embryo a few days old is a human individual with rights equal to the mother. John McCain courts the right wing by declaring that life begins at conception but he supports stem cell research—a contradiction.

The Catholic Church undermined its opposition to abortion by also opposing the best way to reduce the rate of abortions—contraception. Dismissing the Church’s unreasonable stand on birth control, the left also dismissed the Church’s valid moral argument on abortion. It is science that changed its rhetoric about abortion. I’m thinking about the striking photo of a baby’s tiny hand sticking out of a pregnant woman’s uterus during surgery. This and other information about the developing fetus put an end to claims that what’s growing inside a woman is merely a blob of tissue.

Pro-choice advocates need to admit that abortion kills babies. I fault them for not facing that reality and for claiming that a woman’s decision whether to abort is her business alone. Society has a stake in this issue as much as in other forms of killing.

There is no reason for pro-lifers to hate Democrats as they do. As I stated in my previous post, Democratic policy could actually result in fewer abortions than recent actions by Republicans. They didn't even try to overturn Roe v. Wade when they had both the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress. At you can read the letter of an Evangelical Christian who believes, “For religious leaders to continue to blame Democrats for Republican actions is wrong.”

And at you can read about Justice Samuel Alito’s reluctance to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Douglas Kmiec, a former official in the Reagan White House who worked on briefs seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade, announced his support for Barack Obama: "I believe him to be a person of integrity, intelligence and genuine goodwill. . . . he wants to return the United States to that company of nations committed to human rights."

I agree.
Obviously this post on election day doesn’t aim to influence anyone's vote, but I feel compelled to correct the perception that Catholics are obligated to base their votes on one issue alone.


Leigh said…
Excuse me...but yes...Catholics ARE obligated to vote on this ONE ISSUE ALONE. You're entitled to your beliefs but don't reinvent Church Doctrine.

I'm dismayed with many of my fellow Catholics who parted with their faith to elect the most staunch, unapologetic, pro-abortion president in our nation’s history. What's more, I'm furious with our Church leaders who were, with a few vocal exceptions, barely audible on this cornerstone issue. Those who did weigh in did so far too late in the game.

Here is the bottom line: a vote for Obama is an overt affront to the belief in the sanctity of life. Under his leadership, untold numbers of pre-born citizens will have no legal protection and will literally be discarded like garbage. If we choose to remain silent or complacent on this issue, we are tacitly complicit in the commitment of egregious sin. So, please...let's start our work immediately. Let us embrace John Paul II's plea to disavow any affiliation to politicians or to parties which promote a culture of death. Take our local and national Church leaders to task when they fail to speak in audible, timely, and courageous tones. Ensure that your local parish embraces the right to life as a prominent aspect of its social justice ministry. Create such a ministry where none exists. Never accept the reality with which we are now faced as an insurmountable status quo.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, do not be misled by our future president's eloquence or by his compassionate stances on other issues. Do not be deceived: His active support of abortion is a perpetuation of great evil.

Tonight, I pray for the miraculous influence of God’s Grace--upon Mr. Obama and upon all of us. Please help us find the wisdom and the words to change the hearts and minds of those who lead. Give us the tools to re-inspire those among us who have grown apathetic in the struggle to protect human life at all stages. Let us not be lulled into weary tolerance of repeated wrongdoing; we ask for insight to discern and to counter this insidious evil, cloaked in the disguise of popular will, clouded in the banality of day-to-day life.

On this issue above all others, we are losing our way. I pray for God’s strength and love to lead our citizenry away from befuddled judgment, cultivated and perpetuated by persuasive, popular leaders.
Anonymous said…
Apparently, Leigh has greater authority to interpret Church doctrine than the bishops. She’ll have to take it up with them.

Obama’s words and actions refute Leigh’s accusation that he gives “active support” to abortion. As my posts indicate, overturning the Supreme Court decision may not be the best way to reduce the rate of abortions.

Leigh doesn’t address the fact that politicians whose anti-abortion rhetoric for the purpose of garnering votes does not translate into anti-abortion action from them.
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
Well put Leigh. The non-Catholic Blonigen would never advocate voting for someone for president whose voting record was 100% racist but said his/her policies would reduce racism. Absurd. I can't wait for the contorted spin from Blonigen when Obama signs the Freedom of Choice Act and appoints pro-Roe judges.
Jeanette said…
This assumes, incorrectly, that Obama is 100% pro-abortion and as fixated on it as anti-abortion advocates are on their position. Absent the fixation, the argument shrivels and ambiguity enters.

And so we have Republican appointees to the Supreme Court legalizing abortion and upholding that decision. When you hold a position of high responsibility, you realize that black-and-white thinking no longer suffices. As reported in the October 31 issue of the National Catholic Reporter, Catholic bishops now demonstrate this ability to see the larger picture.
Leigh said…

With all due respect... Can you site even ONE bishop or cardinal who has voiced an ambiguous position regarding the Catholic OBLIGATION to vote for the pro-life candidate? Recently, the Archbishop and Bishop of Kansas City issued a joint press release which included the following:

Could a Catholic in good conscience vote for a candidate who supports legalized abortion when there is a choice of another candidate who does not support abortion or any other intrinsically evil policy? Could a voter’s preference for the candidate’s positions on the pursuit of peace, economic policies benefiting the poor, support for universal health care, a more just immigration policy, etc. overcome a candidate’s support for legalized abortion? In such a case, the Catholic voter must ask and answer the question: What could possibly be a proportionate reason for the more than 45 million children killed by abortion in the past 35 years? Personally, we cannot conceive of such a proportionate reason.

Jeanette--Can you conceive of such a proportionate reason?

Good Lord...why are fellow Catholics even debating this issue?
Leigh said…
Jeanette--one more thing...Obama HAS INDEED taken an active role in the pro-abortion cause. I live in Illinois and I know his voting record as a state senator. Do you? I have to think not because if you did, you would know that he has a track record in this regard. He voted against the Illinois Born Alive Infants Act. If you want more info, go to If this isn't evidence of a staunch position, what is?
Jeanette said…
My original post cites several, not only one, Church leader who voiced an ambiguous position. As to why Catholics debate the issue, I specifically direct Leigh to Archbishop Pilarczyk's comment. For more information, Leigh and other readers can refer to the October 31 issue of NCR.

Now regarding Obama's position. I hope Leigh does what I just did--read my two posts again. I did not find any statement suggesting that I like Obama's record on abortion legislation. I did give reasons in both posts for thinking a Democratic win could result in fewer abortions than a Republican win. I also found fault with the pro-choice position.

The fact is that Barack Obama is the president-elect. So be it. If pro-lifers want to influence the incoming administration on this issue, I hope they do so in a thoughtful and cooperative way.

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