According to O’Brien, the bishops’ “fact sheet” reaffirms their “desire to place themselves at the center of the political discussion on abortion.” However, in doing so, “they do not reflect the fullness of Catholic teaching on abortion, nor do they represent what Catholics actually believe.”
Following is the text of O’Brien’s September 3 statement.
It is simply not true that the Roman Catholic church’s position on abortion has remained unchanged for 2,000 years. While members of the Catholic hierarchy have consistently opposed abortion, their reasons for doing so and the teachings they espoused to the faithful have varied continually.
In fact, in seeking to show a continuity in church teachings, the USCCB has shown the opposite: There is a big difference in “rejecting abortion” or stating that it is “gravely wrong,” as leaders in the early church did and the current situation where the bishops regard it as an “intrinsically evil act that can never be morally right.”
It is disingenuous, for example, for the USCCB to claim that the Didache (an early Christian document) reveals continuity in church teaching. The Didache was lost for more than a millennium and only rediscovered in the late 19th century. In the interim, many different positions on abortion emerged, were discarded, re-adopted and rejected again.
It is also telling that the USCCB omitted to mention that no pope has proclaimed the prohibition of abortion an “infallible” teaching. This means that there is much more room for debate than is usually thought, with opinions among theologians and the laity differing widely. In any case, Catholic theology tells individuals to follow their personal conscience in moral matters, even when their conscience is in conflict with hierarchical views.
The reality that the bishops are trying to overcome is that the majority of Catholics do not agree with them on abortion, or on their role in political life.
In a recent poll by Belden Russonello and Stewart, 69 percent of Catholics said they were not obligated to vote against candidates who support abortion. Seven in ten (70%) said that the views of Catholic bishops are unimportant to them in deciding for whom to vote and a similarly large proportion (73%) says they believe Catholic politicians are under no religious obligation to vote on issues the way the bishops recommend. These figures reflect a significant rejection of the bishops’ desire to play a prominent role in political life, and one that should be heeded by both candidates and voters.
Rather than seeking to claim continuity in Catholic teachings, the bishops would be better acknowledging the truth: as circumstances changed, so did the Catholic teaching. However, that is not the bishops’ way. Catholics are increasingly aware of this and have consequently rejected Catholic teachings on this and many other issues.
Recommended Off-site Links:
Bishops Get in Wrong on Biden - Jon O’Brien (Catholics for Choice, September 10, 2008).
Study: Social Support Linked to Abortion Rate Drop - Tom Roberts (National Catholic Reporter, August 27, 2008).
Pro-Choice Catholicism 101 - Jon O’Brien and Sara Morello (Conscience, Spring 2008).
When Does Human Personhood Begin? - ReligiousTolerance.org.
Feed the Sheep - Ad Dominum (September 19, 2008).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Church’s Teaching on Abortion: Unchanged and Unchangeable?
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 1)
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 2)