Washington (June 21, 2004) -- Saying that "those who formulate law" are obliged in conscience "to work toward correcting morally defective laws," the United States of Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called on Catholics in public life to protect the unborn and oppose legal abortion "lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good."
The bishops also pledged to counsel Catholic public officials who act "consistently to support abortion on demand" that this support "risks making them cooperators in evil in a public manner."
The statement, "Catholics in Political Life," was adopted by a vote of 183-6. It came after the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians made an extensive interim report at the USCCB's special assembly, held in Denver, June 14-19, 2004.
In the statement, the bishops highlight:
- the need "to continue to teach clearly" and help other Catholic leaders to do so about their "unequivocal commitment to the legal protection of human life from the moment of conception until natural death." The statement notes that Catholic "teaching on human life and dignity should be reflected" in all parishes and all "educational, health care and human service ministries."
- the need to do more "to persuade all people that human life is precious and human dignity must be defended." The bishops also welcome "conversation initiated by political leaders themselves
- the need for Catholics "to act in support of these principles and policies in public life."
- "the Catholic community and Catholic institutions" should not honor those "who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles" with awards, honors, or "platforms which would suggest support for their actions."
- the bishops are committed to maintaining communication with public officials "who make decisions every day that touch issues of human life and dignity."
The statement notes that "the question has been raised" whether it is necessary to deny Holy Communion to Catholics in public life who support abortion on demand.
"Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment" in this serious matter, the bishops state that they "recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with established canonical and pastoral principles."
Noting that "bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action," they express their shared "unequivocal commitment to protect human life and dignity."
The bishops conclude their statement by saying that respect for the Holy Eucharist "demands that it be received worthily and that it be seen as the source for our common mission in the world."
Washington archbishop, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, chairman of the Task Force, said, on the release of the statement, that "it reflects the bishop's role as teacher, pastor, and center of unity. We address the moral issues that our society faces without endorsing parties or candidates."
Cardinal McCarrick added that "last September, the USCCB's Administrative Committee outlined the principles for moral participation in political life and described the USCCB positions on numerous issues in its statement `Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility.'"
The text can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bishops/catholicsinpoliticallife.shtml.