By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman and Steve Jalsevac

Baltimore, November 16, 2007 ( – The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has affirmed the primacy of human life issues in modern American politics in a new and lengthy statement on the obligations of Catholic voters, entitled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” (see full document at: The statement is being praised for its new emphasis on the life issues in voting. Others, however, are dismayed that this seems to be neutralized by the practical equivalent emphasis also given to many other issues and the fact that the document omits the issue of communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

  The 44 page document, which examines a variety of political issues facing the United States, strongly emphasizes that human life is the highest of all political values, and that among human life issues abortion is the most pressing.

“There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor” Forming Consciences says. “Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called ‘intrinsically evil’ actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned.”

“A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. In our nation, ‘abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others’ (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 5). It is a mistake with grave moral consequences to treat the destruction of innocent human life merely as a matter of individual choice. A legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed.”

Forming Consciences further states that the “preeminent threat” of abortion cannot be treated as equal with other issues, denouncing “a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.”

“Human life is sacred. The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Direct attacks on innocent persons are never morally acceptable, at any stage or in any condition. In our society, human life is especially under direct attack from abortion. Other direct threats to the sanctity of human life include euthanasia, human cloning, and the destruction of human embryos for research,” the document observes.

  However, Forming Consciences strangely neglects to address the particular duties of legislators and other politicians with regard to supporting or enforcing legislation that contradicts the right to life. In fact, politicians are only mentioned once, very briefly, despite the fact that many Catholics hold prominent positions in all three branches of the U.S. federal government and many have persistently supported anti-life policies, including abortion. Among such politicians are Senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Edward Kennedy and House leader Nancy Pelosi.

  Judie Brown of American Life League, who has struggled for years to elicit a clear statement from the Catholic bishops that would deny communion to politicians who support abortion and other anti-life policies, gave an initial mixed review of the document. “My response is both positive and negative,” she told LifeSiteNews Wednesday. “The positive is that they finally seem to have brought themselves to the point of being able to admit that abortion is a fundamental question and it should not be tied into other  ‘issues’.

“I suppose that’s encouraging except they failed to say anything about pro-abortion politicians who are Catholic and the obligation that they as bishops have to deny Holy Communion and I am terribly distraught about that and generally it’s sort of a milk toast kind of a document.” On her American Life League blog Thursday, after having read the full document, Brown went further and gave additional observations to indicate why she is “so disheartened by the new USCCB document”.

  Brown notes that in Forming Consciences“abortion is mentioned by name 15 times, but war is mentioned 21 times and poverty is mentioned 17 times”.  She indicates that this seamless garment type strong emphasis on many other issues deflates the impact the bishops’ otherwise excellent statements on life issues might have had.

  Phil Lawlor of Catholic World News also expressed concerns about Forming Consciences in a commentary yesterday on Catholic World News. Lawlor indicates the document is far too long and shares Judie Brown’s dismay at the emphasis on a large variety of issues.

  Lawlor notes, the bishops say “that certain key issues involving the defense of innocent human life are paramount” but then “the USCCB proceeds to list a menu of issues that you could treat as morally equivalent.” He concludes, “In practice, in the political realm, where these questions are played out, the USCCB statement will have a net impact of zero.”

  Father Richard Neuhaus, writing in First Things today, does not share the critics’ view of the document. He states, “The document repeatedly and emphatically gives top priority to the protection of innocent human life in instances such as abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research.” Summing up the document Neuhaus states, “Faithful Citizenship” is a carefully considered reflection on political responsibility, the difference between “intrinsic evils” and prudential judgments, and the ways in which conscience is rightly formed.”

  Related Links:

  Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship

  The Bishops’ Conscience Clause – Fr. Neuhaus in First Things

  Archbishop Burke: Bishops Must Discipline Pro-Abortion Catholic Politicians

  Bishop Blasts Rudy Guiliani Position on Abortion as “Pathetic”, “Confusing”, “Hypocritical”

  Bishop: Denying Communion to Obstinate Pro-Abortion Catholic Politicians “in many cases becomes the right decision and the only choice”

  U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference Says Pro-Abortion Politicians Should be Shunned.


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