From the USCCB, Pro-Life Activities:
All persons, not just Catholics, can know from the scientific and medical evidence that what grows in a mother’s womb is a new, distinct human being. All persons can understand that each human being — without discrimination — merits respect. At the very least, respecting human life excludes the deliberate and direct destruction of life — and that is exactly what abortion is.
Catholics are also pro-life because our Christian tradition is pro-life. As Pope John Paul II says, Christians believe that “all human life is sacred, for it is created in the image and likeness of God.” Aborting an unborn child destroys a unique creation which God has called specially into existence.
Christian teaching also obliges us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who spoke and acted strongly and compassionately in favor of the most despised and vulnerable persons in society. Jesus touched lepers, spoke with prostitutes, and showed special mercy and tenderness to the sick, the poor, and children. Our society today has many vulnerable persons — including women in crisis pregnancies as well as unborn children whose lives may be legally ended at any time during pregnancy and for any reason. In the tradition of Jesus Christ, Catholics have a responsibility to speak and act in defense of these persons. This is part of our “preferential option” for the poor and powerless.
The Church’s mission to defend human life applies over the entire course of life, from conception to natural death. And so the Catholic Church has been a strong supporter of the civil rights movement and a leader in international relief and development efforts. Catholic hospitals and other health-care facilities form the largest network of private, not-for-profit health care providers in the United States. Catholic Charities USA — one of a number of Catholic charitable groups — is currently the single largest provider of social services to all Americans, regardless of race, creed or national origin.
The Catholic Church strives to be a prophetic voice, speaking out to protest injustices and indignities against the human person. Catholics will continue in this work, whether our words are popular or unpopular.
Since its beginnings, Christianity has maintained a firm and clear teaching on the sacredness of human life. Jesus Christ emphasized this in his teaching and ministry. Abortion was rejected in the earliest known Christian manual of discipline, the Didache.
Early Church fathers likewise condemned abortion as the killing of innocent human life. A third century Father of the Church, Tertullian, called it “accelerated homicide.” Early Church councils considered it one of the most serious crimes. Even during periods when Aristotle’s theory of “delayed ensoulment” led Church law to assign different penalties to earlier and later abortions, abortion at any stage was still considered a grave evil.
When biologists in the 19th century learned more about the process of conception, the Church altered its legal distinction between early and late abortions out of respect for reason and biology.
Since that time, science has only further confirmed the humanity of the child growing in the womb. Official Church teaching insists, to the present day, that a just society protects life before as well as after birth.
The reasons are not difficult to understand. One official Church document on the subject puts it this way:
“The first right of the human person is his life . . . It does not belong to society, nor does it belong to public authority in any form to recognize this right for some and not for others; all discrimination is evil. . . Any discrimination based on the various stages of life is no more justified any other discrimination. . . . In reality, respect for human life is called for from the time that the process of generation begins. From the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor of the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth.”Declaration on Procured Abortion, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1974), paragraphs 11-12.
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From Archbishop Chaput:
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
“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.
Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archbishop of Denver
Denver, CO – Monday, August 25, 2008
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