By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

BILLINGS, March 4, 2008 ( – In a statement issued last week, Montana bishops Michael W. Warfel and George Leo Thomas said the Montana Catholic Conference will not endorse Constitutional Initiative 100 (the Montana Personhood Amendment) that would establish conception as the beginning of life by placing a personhood amendment on the state’s 2008 ballot.

Moe Wosepka, executive director of the Montana Catholic Conference said that although “the bishops agonized over this decision for several months, and did not take this decision lightly,” they determined that even if voters approved it, the ballot initiative would be ineffectual.

The bishops’ official statement said they were “disallowing support for CI-100 in our parishes and church sponsored organizations, be it through endorsement, financial support, signature gathering, or distribution of promotional materials,” though individuals were free to give their support to the initiative.

The statement went on to explain that while the bishops praised the intention of CI-100 for eliminating abortion, the initiative was not “the most beneficial venue to pursue necessary change.”

“We are currently working to develop a broad-based coalition to examine alternatives that offer a more realistic approach to the protection of human life,” the statement said. “We, the Roman Catholic Bishops of Montana, remain dedicated to the protection of life from conception to natural death.”

The amendment is sponsored by Rep. Rick Jore, a Constitution Party member for Ronan, MT, who explained that “while CI-100 merely defines ‘person’ as used in the Montana Constitution, it gets right to the heart of the abortion debate. The fact that human life begins at conception is the only sure foundation of the pro-life argument. We cannot, we must not, buy into the notion that human life begins at some arbitrary time that seems convenient to us.”

A report in the Great Falls Tribune said Jonathan Martin, chairman of the Constitution Party of Montana and one of the main proponents of CI-100, was “saddened” by the bishops’ unwillingness to support the CI-100 campaign. “I think far too often today that we make decisions based on pragmatism rather than right and wrong,” he said.

Martin continued, “This initiative creates no laws, it legislates nothing, it outlaws nothing. It establishes a constitutional principle, and that is recognizing the personhood of the unborn child. If it gets the necessary signatures (to qualify for the ballot) and is approved by the voters of Montana, it will then be up to the Legislature to sit down and reason out legislation to implement.”

According to an article in the Bozeman Chronicle, Montana Right to Life Coalition Director Greg Trude said his group is not supporting nor endorsing the measure. Mr. Trude was not available to comment on the statement.

The Montana bishops’ statement follows on the heals of similar statements from Bishops’ Conferences in Colorado and Georgia, where requests for support for personhood amendment proposals were rejected.

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Bishop J. Kevin Boland of Savannah said in a Jan. 8 statement that the proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would establish the rights of personhood for embryos from the moment of conception “does not provide a realistic opportunity for ending or reducing abortion in Georgia,” although the bishops said they have “admiration and respect for those who have crafted this legislation.”

In Colorado, Catholic Conference Executive Director Jennifer Kraska said that the bishops “commend the goal of this effort to end abortion, and individual Catholics may choose to work for its passage. At the same time, we recognize that other people committed to the sanctity of life have raised serious questions about this specific amendment’s timing and content.”

“It’s a political, gutless position,” said Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, in a report by the Denver Post. “As a Catholic, it’s the most scandalous thing I’ve ever heard. I can’t believe that any bishop wouldn’t want to be out in the front lines helping the petitioners. The sanctity of life is a fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church.”

You may contact Montana Catholic Conference Executive Director, Moe Wosepka at:
[email protected].