Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In light of the recent leak of a draft decision of the Supreme Court and the ensuing public debates about the issue of abortion – including the call from radical pro-abortion groups to disrupt Catholic Masses last weekend (fortunately, the number of disruptions at Catholic churches was very small) – I would like to present the Catholic Church’s teaching on the dignity and beauty of human life. It is important for us to keep in mind that these teachings are not partisan, but are rather based in reason and on divine revelation. The moral teachings of the Church reflect theological truths about the human person in relation to God. Regardless of one’s partisan political affiliation, our faith as Catholics is clear that the human person, created in the image and likeness of God, is worthy of respect, dignity, and protection.
On the issue of abortion, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the following:
l 2258 – “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”
l 2270 – “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”
l 2271 – “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.”
l 2272 – “Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,” “by the very commission of the offense,” and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.” Please note: the Church very clearly teaches that God’s infinite mercy is always available, no matter the sin one has committed. Many women carry a burden of guilt after abortion. Please know that God’s mercy is always available to you!
l 2273 “The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:
“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”
“The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.”
l 2274 – “Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, presenting the Church’s teaching on abortion, says, “Given the scientific fact that a human life begins at conception, the only moral norm needed to understand the Church’s opposition to abortion is the principle that each and every human life has inherent dignity, and thus must be treated with the respect due to a human person. This is the foundation for the Church’s social doctrine, including its teachings on war, the use of capital punishment, euthanasia, health care, poverty and immigration. Conversely, to claim that some live human beings do not deserve respect or should not be treated as “persons” (based on changeable factors such as age, condition, location, or lack of mental or physical abilities) is to deny the very idea of inherent human rights. Such a claim undermines respect for the lives of many vulnerable people before and after birth.” In their document on Catholics in political life, the US Bishops further state, “Catholics who bring their moral convictions into public life do not threaten democracy or pluralism but enrich them and the nation. The separation of church and state does not require division between belief and public action, between moral principles and political choices, but protects the right of believers and religious groups to practice their faith and act on their values in public life.”
The months to come will likely be full of partisan arguing about this issue. As Catholics, we stand on the foundational principle that the first right is the right to life. From this flows our responsibility to protect and defend the dignity of human life. The Church is clear in teaching that the right to life is the first right, and that from this teaching, as the Bishops note above, flows our doctrine about any number of other social issues. As Catholics, we are called to protect the unborn, to work for justice for the poor, to care for the vulnerable, and broadly, to make our society one of justice founded on truth. We will find that no political party agenda fully or perfectly corresponds to the moral teachings of our faith, but we ought not be discouraged. Rather, we should continue to allow our Catholic faith to inform how we engage with the world around us, so that we can always and in all areas of our lives, be witness to the dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God.