Bishops promote life, refrain from voting instructions
By Albert de Zutter
Catholic Key Editor
The U.S. Catholic bishops have once again sensibly refrained from telling Catholics how to vote, while reaffirming their own right as teachers to proclaim the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death.
The bishops restated the fundamental Catholic teaching that the direct killing of an unborn child is instrinsically evil and can never be justified.
"If those who perform an abortion and those who cooperate willingly in the action are fully aware of the objective evil of what they do, they are guilty of grave sin and thereby separate themselves from God's grace," they wrote in their June 18 statement.
It goes without saying that the same obligation to respect the life of an unborn child applies to every child and every human being, namely, the 6 billion people on this earth who have been born. This, of course, includes the innocent victims of war, starvation, malnutrition, genocide, pandemic disease and abuse of every kind.
The necessity of making a statement at this time arose from the actions of a few bishops and the extremist demands of organizations like the American Life League and others who insisted that bishops excommunicate or publicly ban from the Eucharist any Catholic in public office who does not espouse their position on abortion.
The idea of collectively banning politicians from Communion was rejected by the bishops. The more drastic measure of telling Catholic voters to abstain from Communion if they voted for a "pro-choice" politician was not even discussed, according to a reliable source.
Nevertheless, the bishops acknowledged in their statement that individual bishops "can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action" with regard to Holy Communion. "We recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles," they said.
They reaffirmed the established teaching that "all must examine their consciences as to their worthiness to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord." They cautioned, however, against the misuse of Catholic teaching and sacramental practice "for political ends."
The bishops reaffirmed their commitment to change the policies that make "abortion on demand" the law of the land. In so doing they implicitly harkened back to their 1989 Resolution on Abortion in which they called upon Catholics to "commit themselves vigorously" to a pastoral plan that represented the bishops' best prudential judgment of how to reduce the number of abortions and support for the "pro-choice" position. The plan consisted of education and public information, pastoral care for pregnant women and their children, and "a public policy program in defense of human life in all its stages, especially the unborn."
Their stated goals were:
Constitutional protection for the right to life of unborn children.
Federal and state laws and administrative policies restricting support for and the practice of abortion.
Continual refinement and ultimate reversal of court decisions that deny the inalienable right to life.
"Supportive legislation to provide morally acceptable alternatives to abortion, and social support for low-income women and their children."
The goal of care for pregnant women and their children gets little or no attention from pro-life organizations, especially those that have no official connection with the Catholic Church.
Similarly, many public office holders, including Catholics, who proclaim themselves "pro-life" take an extremely restricted view of what that phrase really means.
Catholics in general - and the U.S. bishops in particular - do not need constant dunning on the objective evils of abortion, especially from sources outside the church.
A frequently cited reason for abortion is a feeling of desperation or a perception of being all alone. Politicians and organizations declaring themselves to be pro-life would be more credible if they were as passionate about promoting programs that offer women alternatives to abortion as they are about moralizing and condemnation.
A true pro-life stance would incorporate advocacy for programs to help low-income women and their children by making sure they have adequate food and shelter as well as health care and child care, parenting education, counseling, and preparation for a useful occupation. Such advocacy would provide some assurance that the pro-life cause was not being used for partisan political ends.