Why is Abortion the Number One Issue for Catholics?

Abortion and Catholic Social Teaching by Rev. Thomas D. Williams, L.C. (Word DOC)

Statement on Political Action

Catholic Leadership Conference, an annual gathering of the leaders of over 100 Catholic organizations. October 28, 2005

We Catholic voters acknowledge the following ten obligations and guidelines. These principles should be a part of Catholic educational programs at every level utilizing all the means of social communications.

  1. "In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral obligation. Every believer is called to faithful citizenship, to become an informed, active, and responsible participant in the political process."[1] An informed vote by a Catholic is one that is guided by the authentic moral and social teaching of the Catholic faith.
  2. Catholics should recognize that not all moral and social teachings have equal weight in determining how to cast their vote. Some teachings are directly binding and some are guided by individual prudential judgment.
  3. The first obligation of government is the protection of innocent human life from conception[2] to natural death. The Church teaches that justice requires this protection. This truth can also be known through reason unaided by revelation. On the specific "life issues" in law and public policy - direct abortion[3], euthanasia, and the killing of unborn life for medical research, Catholic teaching is unequivocal; the defense of innocent human life is an imperative.
  4. Catholic voters must first make decisions about their votes based on the moral issues that are non-negotiable. First among these are the life issues.[4]
  5. On prudential matters that affect the common good, Catholics of goodwill can disagree. Though there are Catholic principles such as compassion, justice and charity that we should share, there is no single "Catholic" policy on issues like taxes, education, foreign policy and immigration reform.
  6. A similar distinction was made by the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, His Emminence Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, to the American Bishops when he stated: "There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."[5]
  7. Catholic priests and bishops first and foremost are shepherds of souls. The role of these shepherds is to instruct and to remind voters, candidates and public officials of the moral obligations and social principles that should guide their political action.
  8. All Catholics, especially the laity, have a right and duty to be heard in the public square. Catholic moral teachings should be publicly espoused in such a way that they can inform law and public policy and not be artificially limited to the private domain of individual belief.
  9. In their political participation, Catholics must not compromise these principles even though, at times, prudential judgment will require accepting imperfect legislation as a means of incremental progress.[6]
  10. The ultimate political goal for Catholics must be the achievement of public policies and laws that result in the legal protection of all innocent human life and that promote the dignity of each human person without exception and compromise.

[1] Faithful Citizenship, USCCB
[2] Conception, as the Church traditionally teaches, means the earliest moment of biological existence.
[3] Direct abortion is any procured abortion whether chemical or surgical.
[4] There are other non-negotiable matters that are not a part of the current political debate. For example no serious candidate is advocating decriminalization sexual assault.
[5] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger Letter to Theodore Cardinal McCarrick for USCCB
[6] Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae

Criteria that Catholics should keep in mind when voting

One can say that the Catholic isn't a single issue voter. However this doesn't mean all issues are the same weight - one can't compare apples and oranges, so we can't support a candidate who promotes the killing of innocent human beings, even if we like their other positions. But if two candidates are equally pro-life, then we can look at other issues. Here I have ranked some of what I see as the more important issues, based on Catholic social teaching.

Read the Catholic Answers: Serious Catholic Voter Guide

Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship

1. Life: Innocent life must be defended in "every moment of its existence." This requires complete rejection of all forms of abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, cloning, research which destroys embryos and immoral population control. Respect for human life includes all its stages, irregardless of one's "quality of life" - including the unborn and elderly.

2. Family: "Founded on matrimony", it cannot be compared to other forms of living together or homosexual unions. Laws should support marriage and the family, e.g. fiscal aid (tax credit) to couples and marriage support and education programs.

3. Rights: which stem from human dignity, first the fundamental right to life, then rights "to those things required for human decency—food and shelter, education and employment, health care and housing, freedom of religion and family life." The right to exercise religious freedom publicly and privately by both individuals and institutions along with freedom of conscience must be constantly defended.

4. Poor: "those who are weak, vulnerable, and most in need deserve preferential concern." This includes a special love for unborn children, persons with disabilities, the elderly and terminally ill, and victims of injustice and oppression.

5. Workers: to uphold the dignity and rights of workers: to productive work, to decent and just wages, to adequate benefits and security, to organize and join unions, to the opportunity for legal status for immigrant workers, to private property, and to economic initiative.

6. Solidarity: our love of neighbor includes eradicating racism, addressing extreme poverty, promoting peace and pursuing justice both at home and abroad.

7. Environment: being good stewards of God's creation, we want to ensure a safe and hospitable environment for human beings, and share responsibility for the future of the earth.

In Sum: How can we build a better and safer world - one that is more just, more secure, more peaceful, more respecful of human life and dignity?

Fr. Coulter notes that this is not an exaustive list, there are many other issues of concern for Catholic voters, such as:

Parity between public and private schools: full and concrete support of private education and parental choice of schools, through vouchers, scholarships or tax credits.

Immigration: "Acceptance" to guarantee a "worthy integration" with respect of values and norms that regulate coexistence, especially overcoming racism, bigotry and discrimination.

Security: It is necessary to be firmly opposed to "all criminal and illegal acts," respecting the "principles and guarantees of the state of law." This includes defense, the combating of dangers "stemming from violations of realities on which our life depends."

Subsidiarity: Reform of institutional and centralized executive government, allowing local autonomy and intermediary social bodies to have adequate roles.

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These pages are a personal viewpoint, while made by a Catholic priest, no endorsement by the Catholic Church is implied.