Abortion is not a “Catholic” issue. It is a matter of fundamental human rights. In fact, I believe it is the foundational issue of our time. Because it is so important, the church has spoken clearly about it and believes it is an essential aspect of the Catholic faith. Unfortunately, however, in the last few months some of our leading Catholic politicians have chosen very public platforms to make misleading statements about it.
One of the misleading arguments is that the question of when life begins is “a matter of faith.” I think that modern biology clearly shows us that human life begins at conception. Embryologists can show us that within just a few weeks the embryo has developed recognizable features, including his or her face, arms and legs. And the Servant of God John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (No. 60), very accurately quoted from a declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. This has always been clear, and ... modern genetic science offers clear confirmation.
It has demonstrated that from the first instant there is established the programme of what this living being will be: a person, this individual person with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization the adventure of a human life begins, and each of its capacities requires time — a rather lengthy time — to find its place and to be in a position to act.”
It is confusing then, that Senator Joseph Biden, who is Catholic, said that while he was “prepared to accept the teachings of my church,” he refuses to “impose” his views on others by seeking to “criminalize” abortion. This opinion both ducks the hard business of governing in a democracy and reveals a blindness to the gravity of the abortion issue.
Let me be clear. I’m not questioning Mr. Biden’s character or public service. But I am challenging his moral reasoning on a grave matter of our life together as American citizens — the routine and ongoing destruction of more than a million innocent human lives each year, a destruction permitted by our laws and carried out with the complicity of many sectors of our society, from politicians and judges to doctors and nurses, and members of the media.
I repeat: Abortion is not only a Catholic issue or a “matter of faith.” It concerns the most fundamental questions in any human civilization: Who gets to live and who doesn’t — and who gets to decide this question? Can one’s rights or freedoms include the right and freedom to extinguish the life of one who is weaker?
The Catholic Church’s position on these questions is clear. Our Savior chose to come among us as each one of us came into this world, by spending nine months in a mother’s womb. Blessed Mother Teresa used to talk about this a lot. She reminded us that our religion begins with the story of two pregnant women and their unborn children. And it was an unborn child, John the Baptist, who was the first to proclaim Christ’s presence — when he leapt in his mother’s womb at the Visitation. (Luke 1:39-45)
And the rejection of abortion has been a basic element of Catholic identity since the church’s earliest days. The Didache, a manual of church morals written even earlier than the later writings of the New Testament, condemns abortion as infanticide. Athenagoras, a catechist, wrote to the Roman emperor in 177 A.D. that the church considers abortion “murder” because “the fetus in the womb is a created being and therefore an object of God’s care.”
This tells us that opposition to the abomination of abortion is more than a partisan political position. For the Catholic, this belief goes to the heart of the mystery that Christ came into this world to reveal to us. This mystery is reflected in our country’s founding document, which speaks of our being endowed by our Creator with rights that no one can take away from us or pretend that we don’t have — the first of these being the right to life.
All of this has implications for our participation in the political process. A Catholic must be prepared to live and defend the truths that Christ came into this world to die for. A Catholic is duty-bound to ask: Is a candidate fit to hold office if he or she believes it should be legal to kill even a fully developed child in the last weeks of a pregnancy for undefined “health” reasons? And again, can we accept candidates who support experimentation with the stem cells of human embryos, or cloning, or euthanasia? Can we make real progress on any of the critical issues that we face as a nation if we can’t agree to protect the smallest and most defenseless among us?
To ask these questions isn’t to impose Catholic beliefs on other Americans. This is the political contribution that a morally mature people must make in a democracy. This is a bearing witness to the truths that Jesus has revealed to us — truths that, again, are enshrined in our country’s founding document.
Catholics are obliged to seek leaders who have the courage to stand up for these truths. Leaders who aren’t ashamed or afraid to pursue peaceful and democratic means to persuade our fellow c
itizens of this essential natural truth that it is also a foundational aspect of the teachings of the Catholic faith.
May Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother, continue to intercede for us that we will be “people of life” bringing the “Gospel of life” to our world.
October is Respect Life Month in the Catholic Church. For information on the activities that will be held in the archdiocese, check the archdiocesan Web site www.archsa.org.