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A Teachable Moment? (Update)

Archbishop Charles Chaput issued a statement today, challenging Speaker Nancy Pelosi's understanding of the Catholic doctrinal tradition which she had enunciated during yesterday's "Meet the Press" appearance.Here is part of the Archbishop's statement:

Interviewed on Meet the Press August 24, Speaker Pelosi was asked when human life begins. She saidthe following:"I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time.And what I know is over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that def-inition . . . St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't havean impact on the woman's right to choose."Since Speaker Pelosi has, in her words, studied the issue "for a long time," she must know very wellone of the premier works on the subject, Jesuit John Connery's Abortion: The Development of theRoman Catholic Perspective (Loyola, 1977). Here's how Connery concludes his study:"The Christian tradition from the earliest days reveals a firm antiabortion attitude . . . The condemna-tion of abortion did not depend on and was not limited in any way by theories regarding the time offetal animation. Even during the many centuries when Church penal and penitential practice was basedon the theory of delayed animation, the condemnation of abortion was never affected by it. Whateverone would want to hold about the time of animation, or when the fetus became a human being in thestrict sense of the term, abortion from the time of conception was considered wrong, and the time ofanimation was never looked on as a moral dividing line between permissible and impermissible abor-tion."

Interestingly, Chaput also cites the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose judgement is categorical:

Or to put it in the blunter words of the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer:"Destruction of the embryo in the mother's womb is a violation of the right to live which God hasbestowed on this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with ahuman being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended tocreate a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. Andthat is nothing but murder."

The full statement is here: Welborn posted earlier on the Pelosi interview, with interesting links and some fascinating readers' comments. One comment is by a Bill Bannon (whom I do not know) on the views of Augustine and Jerome.[Apologies that the transcription from a pdf file is uneven, but I think the message comes through.]Update:Here is a statement released by the Conference of Bishops and posted on their web page:

-Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Bishops Committee on Doctrine, have issued the following statement:In the course of a Meet the Press interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, 2008, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.The Church has always taught that human life deserves respect from its very beginning and that procured abortion is a grave moral evil. In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Churchs moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.These mistaken biological theories became obsolete over 150 years ago when scientists discovered that a new human individual comes into being from the union of sperm and egg at fertilization. In keeping with this modern understanding, the Church has long taught that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with respect for the fundamental right to life.


Commenting Guidelines

In the final analysis, I don't think the contributions of others, famous or otherwise, is important. Discussion can offer different perspectives. Debate puts human life up for grabs. Neither discussion nor debate, however, ultimately sees the basic issue for what it is: the protection of human life at the very earliest stage(s) of biological development. Simple fact is that each of us was lucky to make it to this point in life. What gives each of us the right to discuss or debate the future existence of another human life? In the final analysis.

I think the first thing that becomes clear as you read Archbishop Chaput's statement is that he is quite angry. Maybe he could have saved the anger for the closing rather than the opening, or maybe he should just have watched his tone throughout.

"Simple fact is that each of us was lucky to make it to this point in life. What gives each of us the right to discuss or debate the future existence of another human life?"Hear, hear, Joseph. IMO you've stripped away the scholarly jargon and rationalizations and have gotten to the nub of the issue.

Hello All,As he often does, Joseph cuts quickly to the heart of the matter. But some might find the following observations of interest.Ive also studied the issue for a long time, perhaps as long as Speaker Pelosi. (Ive needed to partly because I regularly teach courses that address moral issues connected with abortion.) I havent studied the work Archbishop Chaput cites by John Connery but the quoted passage says nothing I did not already know. The ancient Christian churches, which continue to include the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches, have indeed always condemned abortion. However, abortion has not always been considered a special case of homicide.Pelosi might be referring to differing views regarding when a human fetus first has a soul. Some of the most important figures in the history of Catholic thought have claimed that a human fetus receives her/his soul some significant time after conception. Pelosi cites Augustine. A more chauvinistic position comes from none other than Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas claimed that a male human fetus receives his soul at forty days gestation and a female fetus receives her soul at eighty days gestation. I would laugh at such claims if I did not see some of the most eminent people I know in the academic profession appeal to the authority of Aquinas in defense of their claims that abortion is morally acceptable in the early stages of pregnancy.Aquinas and other greats from the past based their views on abortion and contraception on the faulty biology of Aristotle. The official position of the Roman Catholic Church now appears to be that a human is a person (which includes having a soul) once she/he has been conceived. (I say appears because this is what fundamental church documents such as the documents of Vatican II and JP IIs Gospel of Life seem to assume when they speak of all abortions as crimes against justice. I do not know if what Im calling the official position has been explicitly stated in any authoritative Church document.) I agree with my colleagues at Notre Dame that had Aquinas known what we know of contemporary biology, he would agree with the official position. (And I agree with the official position myself.)So, if you are still with me, I think the bottom line is that one cannot appeal to the authority of greats like Augustine and Aquinas in arguing for a moral right to abortion. (I have seen some interesting attempts to show that on Thomistic grounds one can argue that abortion should be legally permitted even though it is always immoral.)

Hello again all,A very quick follow-up to my last post (and you may laugh at me for quoting myself!):"I do not know if what Im calling the official position has been explicitly stated in any authoritative Church document."If anyone knows of any relevant documents that explicitly state "the official position", I'd appreciate being clued in.

Here is the most authoritiative document I can find, The Declaration on Procured Abortion: assume it is "official."It dances around the ensoulment question in this carefully parsed language:"7. In the course of history, the Fathers of the Church, her Pastors and her Doctors have taught the same doctrine - the various opinions on the infusion of the spiritual soul did not introduce any doubt about the illicitness of abortion. It is true that in the Middle Ages, when the opinion was generally held that the spiritual soul was not present until after the first few weeks, a distinction was made in the evaluation of the sin and the gravity of penal sanctions. Excellent authors allowed for this first period more lenient case solutions which they rejected for following periods."Again, there is some carefully parsed language regarding the specialized term "direct abortion" because the Church reconizes the need for certain medical procedures that meet the widely accepted definition of abortion (indirect abortions are OK?). The Church cannot ever concede that it does recognize the necessity for abortion in at least a few circumstances. It maintains the the apparent absolute prohibition against abortion by careful definition. In reality there are exceptions.The Declaration still appears to be the best overall discussion of the Church's position on abortion. The Declaration appears to be more open to thoughtful consideration (see its section on the advisability of criminalizing abortion and the recognition thatlegal bans on abortion may be ineffective). In short, the Declaraation makes the effort to tackle the difficult questions that Archbishop Chaput seems eager to avoid.

Having Tom Brokaw and Nancy Pelosi discuss "ensoulment" and Aquinas on "Meet the Press" doesn't seem like the most enlightening forum for such an issue. Wouldn't the discussion more proper to that venue be about public policy on abortion? Archbishop Chaput sets out Catholic teaching. But he does not address public policy. Should each be confined to their own sphere--the pol and the prelate? There must be some cross-pollination. Yet how does that occur?Worthy of note, I think, is Archbishop Donald Wuerl's statement re Pelosi: says: "We respect the right of elected officials such as Speaker Pelosi to address matters of public policy that are before them, but the interpretation of Catholic faith has rightfully been entrusted to the Catholic bishops. Given this responsibility to teach, it is important to make this correction for the record."He then goes on to cite the relevant texts.

Thanks to the above "commenters" for a singularly focused discussion.The one proviso that I would add is the statement that "Archbishop Chaput seems eager to avoid" the "difficult questions."I think that his statement was a limited, but needed, correction of some very flawed observations on the Speaker's part (whom he acknowledges to be a gifted public servant of strong convictions and many professional skills").I appreciate David's link to Archbishop Wuerl's statement which I had not seen. It would be interesting to check the time-line of each statement and whether there was any co-ordination.As for how "cross-pollination occurs:" that may well be the $64 question, and would seem to be a topic worthy of in-depth consideration by Catholic periodicals and universities. The late Tim Russert was scheduled to address the issue of "Faith and Public Life" at the annual Philip Murnion Memorial Lecture of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative in Washington last June. Alas, his most untimely death prevented it.But the conditio sine qua non of any genuine "cross-pollination" (at least as regards Catholic discussion) is accuracy regarding the Church's teaching. Hence the prompt statements of the Archbishops are, in my opinion, important contributions. I again refer readers to the links on Amy Welborn's post for further resources.

I think the question is far more nuanced and complicated than the way Welborn frames it--but then, I find her somewhat muddled generally. We need to make some distinctions. It's true that the Church has long taught that procured abortion is impermissible. The question is always, on what grounds? For it to count as a homicide, then abortion has to entail killing a human being, not merely a "potential" human being. If one works within the Aristotelian framework, the key question is when "ensoulment" takes place. The Church is rather agnostic on this question. If one works in a more contemporary idiom, the question is when we have a distinct member of the species homo sapiens among us. This is a question whose answer is informed by the latest scientific knowledge. So, since the discovery of the egg and the sperm, the Church has taught that "fertilization" is the moment. But the Church has no special competency in science--it cannot freeze embryology in the 1860's.Right now, of course, there is a debate about whether fertilization is the key moment at which to identify the beginning of a new human life, or (say) the end of the period where twinning is possible. One has to make one's best scientific judgment. What would follow from that judgment that an individual human life didn't begin until the end of the totipotent phase--well, the belief that abortion before that point was not homicide. It would not follow, however, that abortion before that point wasn't wrong, or seriously wrong. But then, the question becomes why abortion is wrong if it is not a type of homicide (that's why all those eminent ethicists pay attention to Aquinas and ensoulment --it's not so much that anyone wants to go back to hylomorphism). If abortion is not a species of homicide, s there justification for banning it in a liberal, pluralistic democracy?We need to pay attention to warrants as well as conclusions. The Church can teach moral propositions, but if all the broadly plausible warrants for the propositions disappear, it 1) becomes much harder to claim that what one is teaching accords with the natural law (this is what happened, over time, with the prohibition against usury), and 2) more generally, it contributes to the sense that Catholicism offers an ethic of obedience to its followers, rather rather than an ethic of (transformed, elevated) reason to the world. It's not that the Church can't hold theoretically to its moral claims--it could say, for example, that reason is darkened by sin pervasively in this Culture of Death. But then, we're really moving closer to a natural law ethic embraced by the Protestant thinkers, because this is a pessimistic account of human reason not generally associated with our moral tradition.The Church, participating in the public square, puts forward its teachings on issues pertaining to morality and law as reasonable to all, not merely to Catholics. That stance requires defense of reasons, not merely of conclusions. People like Robby George try to do this--but their argument in the public square stands or falls on the basis of their reasons and the soundness of their arguments.An interesting saga is Leslie Tentler's book on Catholics and Contraception. As Bob, I'm sure, knows well, the teaching about contraception is a teaching of natural law--as such it was meant to be accessible to and binding on all rational persons, not merely to Catholics. And on that basis, the Catholic Church fought, mightily, to keep contraception illegal in Massachusetts--and for a while, only a while, it succeeded. Now, it strikes me, that many of the arguments put forward against contraception are akin to holiness-based arguments--meant to bring devout Catholic couples closer to God. They are not meant to be arguments accessible to everyone. And despite the sturm und drang of the 40th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae, I haven't seen anyone proposing to make it illegal again.Why does all of this matter? In a society where all are immoral and illegal, one does not need to be precise about the lines between contraception, early abortion (non-homicidal--if there is such a category) and abortion (homicidal). All are wrong, all are prohibited. But in our society, contraception is accepted as a constitutional right (some who want to overturn Roe don't want to overturn Griswold v. Connecticut), it's a different matter. So the fertilization question will receive more scrutiny, even if Roe is over- turned.

Welborn was clarifying an issue where both Pelosi and Obama took refuge in muddling. The political issue is when society should give rights or protections to developing life. Many politicians are reluctant to speak clearly even about their conclusions. There can be different grounds on which politicians and voters base their positions; they may not have thought them out, as Obama suggested in his pay-grade remarks, or they may be very confused about the warrants, like Pelosi. Chaput is saying (1) that Pelosi should get her premises in order; and (2) she is making no effort to educate or persuade the public that their might be warrants for the Catholic proposition about abortion. Democrats are not hesitant to persuade on other moral issues, and pro-abortion rights Democrats do engage in moral suasion from the reproductive rights perspective. Catholic Democrat politicians punt or muddle.

Dear Prof. Kaveny,Thank you for your post. It helped me understand the nuances better.That said, even if the end of the totipotent phase were in some ways more significant than fertilization, isn't the embryo still human and alive before then? It has human DNA and is growing. I don't think any scientists are arguing that fertilization isn't the beginning of life.

Just a quick note of thanks as well--good discussion. (Though Father Imbelli, I think inflation has made this a $64 MILLION question...Alas.) James Englert's last comment also raises this issue for McCain, I think, as he believes "life begins at conception" but also backs stem cell research. Maybe he is positing an Aristotelian calculus of conception? Or not. But it bears exploring. As does the widely accepted exceptions for the progeny of rape and incest; if they are exempted from protection, does that make one pro-life? Pr children of mothers who would die? Tough decisions. And at our pay grade, whether we like it or not.

If abortion is not a species of homicide, is there justification for banning it in a liberal, pluralistic democracy?With all respect, this strikes me as a "muddled" way to frame the question. You concede that abortion could be "seriously wrong" without necessarily rising to the level of homicide, and liberal pluralistic democracies certainly ban and regulate many actions that fall into that category (wrong but not homicide).

David G, you're right about McCain's inconsistency. I think he's operating on the too-small-to-see calculus.

Addendum: Also of note is that the full text of Pelosi's answer is often not cited. While her moral theology may raise questions, she also had this to say about her role as a public official:"REP. PELOSI: I understand. And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy. But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And we want abortions to be safe, rare, and reduce the number of abortions. That's why we have this fight in Congress over contraception. My Republican colleagues do not support contraception. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, and we all do, we must--it would behoove you to support family planning and, and contraception, you would think. But that is not the case. So we have to take--you know, we have to handle this as respectfully--this is sacred ground. We have to handle it very respectfully and not politicize it, as it has been--and I'm not saying Rick Warren did, because I don't think he did, but others will try to."Interesting that none of the church statements (that I have seen) take issue with her subsequent remarks on contraception and public policy and the like. Transcript here:

On Sunday, Nancy Pelosi said, "The point is, is that it [when life begins] shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose."She doesn't care whether abortion is a species of homicide. She wants it to be legal regardless.Does anyone think she'll change her mind after a reasoned discussion on twinning and totipotency?

Stuart, good question! Thanks for asking it! The church's current opposition to legal abortion is based on the belief that it is an form of unjustifiable homicide. Thereby it involves an act of injustice, and a violation of rights, creating a prima facie case for the intervention of the law.If a certain class of abortions are not homicide, upon what basis should it be made illegal? Not everything that is seriously morally wrong should be illegal, even by the Church's lights. Fornication, adultery, contraception, homosexual acts are all considered seriously wrong by the Church. They all used to be illegal. No one, not even the Church argues that they should illegal now. Furthermore, and separately, in secular terms, they all involve a right to privacy (Griswold/Eisenstadt) that many people believe should be recognized as having moral status if not constitutional status. So, if there is indeed a class of abortions that are not homicidal, why should the be treated like homicide rather than fornication, adultery, contraception, and homosexual acts? That's the question.

Re David Gibson's 8/26, 6:05 am post, with which I concur:First, I have long found it regrettable that, in our society, so many people, including political leaders, talk as though legality and morality are coextensive, indeed synonymous. In the issue at hand, namely abortion, the legal right afforded by Roe and Casey amounts to a grant of immunity from prosecution. That's all. I recognize that some of the judicial opinions, e.g., Justice Blackmun's Roe opinion, make much more sweeping claims.But simply having immunity from prosecution obviously doesn't mean that it is morally permissible to perform the action in question. Pro-choice politicians, including those Catholics like Pelosi, Biden, etc. are rightly challenged when they talk as though the "right to abortion" amounts to saying that if one decides to have one, then it's morally permissible.If, instead, these politicians, and the rest of us, kept the focus on the immunity to prosecution, then the exchanges between bishops and public figures could well lead to enlightened policy decisions.

Like David Nickol, I'm uncomfortable with Chaput's tone. His statement reads like an attack ad, where the statements from the USCCB and Wuerl are simply corrections. Of course, while we're talking tone, I also bridle a bit at this phrasing of Wuerl's: We respect the right of elected officials such as Speaker Pelosi to address matters of public policy that are before them, but the interpretation of Catholic faith has rightfully been entrusted to the Catholic bishops." It sounds too much like he's saying, "Non-bishops shouldn't presume to think and talk about difficult things like theology." After all, it's certainly possible that Pelosi, or another "elected official" in her position, could have understood and articulated the Catholic teaching on this issue. But obviously Pelosi didn't, so the bishops were right to clarify... But Chaput's partisan approach makes it seem like he was just waiting for the opportunity.I wonder, is Pelosi unwittingly closest to stating actual Church teaching when she concludes, "The point is, is that it shouldnt have an impact on the womans right to choose"? That's essentially what the bishops replied -- pinpointing the moment life begins doesn't change the basic truth that abortion is wrong. That's not what Pelosi meant, of course, but parsing out what she did mean is a bit chilling...

If a certain class of abortions are not homicide, upon what basis should it be made illegal? Not everything that is seriously morally wrong should be illegal, even by the Churchs lights.Again, this seems like a false dichotomy to me. Why must an activity be either: A) homicide, or B) something that might be morally wrong but that shouldn't be illegal? I don't think you're quite as strict a libertarian as this dichotomy would suggest. Interesting point about adultery. It actually still is illegal in some states (see ), although prosecutions seem to be rare or nonexistent. Adultery certainly seems at least as socially destructive as, say, using a bald eagle feather improperly, or selling a toilet that uses too much water, or tearing the tag off of a mattress, or even using marijuana.

The church's current opposition to legal abortion is based on the belief that it is an form of unjustifiable homicide.Settling the question of when abortion is homicide does not settle the question of when abortion is immoral, much less the question of when it should be illegal. Let's not exaggerate the political importance of scientific and philosophical issues many if not most people don't actually care about.

Stuart, you need a reason to make something illegal. What counts as a sufficient reason depends upon your legal theory. So someone who advocates a form of perfectionism (e.g., Robbie George in his book Making Men Moral) will consider the fact that an act is immoral, in that it deforms the character of the perpetrator, to be a good prima facie reason to make it illegal. Even in Thomas Aquinas' virtue - centered approach to law, however, you need to connect criminal prohibitions to the virtue of justice and the common good. So Stuart, what would be your argument for making non-homicidal abortion (if there is such a category) illegal, that would not also touch contraception.? (I ought to have pointed out, and someone can read Noonan on this if they want more info, that the lines between contraception and abortion were much blurrier in the early church too.)

you need a reason to make something illegalAnd if you're not a strict libertarian, that reason doesn't have to be very weighty at all. All sorts of things are "illegal" in this country that fall short of homicide. As for your question: The ground would be that after conception (but not before), we know that something is there which is precious and worth preserving (even if it can't be proved to be a human "person" quite yet; the law protects many things that aren't human "persons"). I'm not saying that's necessarily my view, but it's a rather obvious answer.

Making a statement regarding the Catholic Faith that is not consistent with the teaching of the Magisterium would be in legal terms, misrepresentation. There is a class of abortion that is not homicidal and is referred to as spontaneous abortion or miscarriage. It is important to note in regards to homicide, God did not give us The Ten Suggestions but rather The Ten Commandments.The Catholic Church teaches and modern Science confirms, that Human Life begins at conception. This is why both abortion and embryonic stem cell research are not consistent with the teaching of the Magisterium which reflects the Deposit of Faith as Christ Has entrusted it to His Church.I think it is important, simply because Christ Has entrusted The Deposit of Faith to His Church, that the Faith is always stated clearly and consistently. When statements are made by someone who professes to be Catholic that are not consistent with the Faith, the Church has an obligation to correct them least the Faith becomes "muddled."

Stuart, you need to distinguish between to sorts of "need." Obviously, anyone with power can pass a law that does just about anything.The question is, what is a just law? Pretty much all schools of jurisprudence would say, however, that justifiable law must meet more criteria than that it can be passed. As you surely know (didn't you go to Harvard) , all valuing of liberty is not equatable with "libertarianism". Aquinas (have you ever read his treatise on law) values liberty. He's no libertarian.I don't think your answer works, for two reasons. Contraception very surely, in fertile people at least, prevents that something from coming into existence. Germain Grisez and John Finnis argue that contraception is "contra-life" --it is an act against that very baby who might or could come into existence. Second, given the commitment to bodily integrity and autonomy already embedded in our contraception and sexual jurisprudence, why a woman would have an obligation to carry something precious is something that's not obvious at all to me. Given the strong recognition of the interest in bodily integrity throughout our law, I don't think you can do it with just this. The debate e over abortion we have today is structured by Roe, whose basic analysis went like this: 1) The fetus is not a person; therefore, 2) the woman's autonomy right trumps. Pro-lifers have taken the argument more or less at face value, though one could (I haven't seen it from you yet) argue that 1) the fetus is not a person; and 2) the woman's autonomy right doesn't trump (which is what the church's position functionally was for a long time) or 1) the fetus is a person, and 2) the woman's autonomy right trumps (JJ Tompson).

"As for how cross-pollination occurs: that may well be the $64 question, and would seem to be a topic worthy of in-depth consideration by Catholic periodicals and universities. ... But the conditio sine qua non of any genuine cross-pollination (at least as regards Catholic discussion) is accuracy regarding the Churchs teaching. Hence the prompt statements of the Archbishops are, in my opinion, important contributions."Yes, I agree.Surely it is one of the the primary roles of the laity, of whom politicians are a subset, to bring into public life reasons, enlightened by faith, for living a holy life - a life pleasing to God. For a person, such as Speaker Pelosi, who considers herself bound by the truth-claims of the Catholic Church, that would seem to be straightforward. I applaud the bishops for their public fraternal correction - because surely that, in turn, is their proper role. Sometimes this stuff actually works as advertised :-).

Mollie, I have exactly the opposite reaction to Wuerl's statement, We respect the right of elected officials such as Speaker Pelosi to address matters of public policy that are before them, but the interpretation of Catholic faith has rightfully been entrusted to the Catholic bishops. The amount and degree of casuistry in this thread under the guise of learned expertise makes Wuerl's statement a huge relief to me.

Contraception very surely, in fertile people at least, prevents that something from coming into existence. Preventing something from coming into existence in the first place isn't the same as killing something once it's there. Again, it seems rather "muddled" to miss such a fundamental distinction. Second, given the commitment to bodily integrity and autonomy already embedded in our contraception and sexual jurisprudence, why a woman would have an obligation to carry something precious is something thats not obvious at all to me. Given the strong recognition of the interest in bodily integrity throughout our law, I dont think you can do it with just this.The reference to "strong recognition . . . throughout our law" is question-begging. The question on the table is why the law should be as it is. It's obviously no answer to say, "Well, the law is as it is, and therefore shouldn't be any different." As for the first sentence there, do you recognize the possibility of this category: "precious and worth protecting as a nascent human life even if it doesn't have cognition quite yet"?

If we reached a consensus that abortion was not some kind of homicide, out goes the whole rationale of the right-to-life movement, They are interested in standing up for the rights of the unborn and stopping the killing of babies. They aren't arguing about the kind of preciousness we would try to preserve in, say, a landmark building, a pristine wilderness, or a bald eagle. And of course if the unborn child is not a person, but is considered precious, it seems to me you have to answer, "To whom is it precious?" Obviously not the the person who wants to have the abortion. So if abortion is not homicide, on whose behalf would you be passing legislation to prohibit it on some other, non-homicide grounds?Another related question, it seems to me, would be the following: "If the United States passed strong legislation that actually reduced the number of abortions sharply, what would be the benefit, and to whom?" If you assume that life begins at conception and the unborn are persons with rights, then they are the ones who benefit from fewer abortions. But if you don't assume the personhood of the fetus, who benefits when it is not aborted, even though those are the wishes of the woman carrying it?

There has been an interesting shift over the last few years in how many pro-choice Catholic politicians have chosen to engage this issue. There was a time when most, following the lead of Governor Cuomo, stated that they did not dispute the teaching on abortion, but only whether they were obligated to impose it on those who did not accept it. That was Cuomo's position, of course. Gov. Tom Ridge also made an interesting observation at one point when he stated "I realize the church hasn't created the problem. I have, because I've parted company with my church on this." In recent years, though, I've seen a tendency for Catholic politicians to quarrel with the teaching itself, as Pelosi has done. When Gray Davis was challenged by Bishop Weigand here in CA a few years ago, his spokesperson famously asked whether it was Bishop Weigand's place to criticize the governor's interpretation of his faith! One can argue (and I do) with the "Cuomo doctrine" (see Ken Woodward's effort on this score at However, whatever the failings of this approach, they pale compared to the difficulties entailed in setting yourself up as an alternative magisterium, as Pelosi has arguably done here. Not a smart move on her part.

J. Peter Nixon,Excellent observation. Elsewhere, I wrote what I thought Pelosi should have said . . . "Even my Church doesn't pretend to know the exact moment a person comes into existence, but it has clear teachings against abortion that I am personally bound by. But I don't believe it is right for me as Speaker of the House in a country with people of many different faiths to make laws that would compel them to act in the way my Church requires me to act."It just kind of didn't strike me that she didn't say that because that's not her position.

What a lot of amateur theologizing in these postings! It seems however pro-choice is for me but not for thee. We may note a minor example in the row about smoking. But nowhere is it remarked that a woman cannot "get" pregnant without an active other participant. Of the inherent shallowness of the pro-choicers, one may note Peter Singer's defense when he suggests the propriety of a woman choosing to abort an unwanted child because it would interfere with her ski vacation. The twinning argument seems to arise with those who are not embryologists. A reading of the article on twinning in the McGraw Hill Encyc of Science might be enlightening. Whether something immoral ought to be illegal is not a matter for lawyers or politicians to decide. They are too easily swayed by money. It is a question of whether we wish our society to be as moral as possible; and whether our society can stand the strain of prosperity. As Belloc pointed out, it was in rich and prosperous societies like Tyre and Carthage that the sacrifice if children became habitual. Whether Abp. Chaput's tone was aggressive seems to depend on the ear of the hearer, or perhaps on the disposition of the hearer. Sinners begrudge being reprimanded. . From Augustine, one knows that the U.S. will not be the City of God. But there is no reason for it to be the City of Satan.

Excellent analysis and questions going back and forth. Allow me to add some suggestions and thoughts:a) like a few of you, it continues to sadden me that Chaput and now others use tones and statements; quotes from the church's fathers, etc. that do not "teach" but rather "correct" honest, faithful Catholic politicians (whether you agree or disagree with their positions). There is also a game going on here - each side picks quotes, excerpts, etc. to justify their position;b) a couple of you articulated an valuable insight - in the last 40 years, the Vatican has moved and posited that life begins at conception (can not find any dogmatic statement on that) - this simply bypasses hundreds of years of church history, theology, and morality around human life, the genetics/biology of when sperm/ovum unite and then implant (40-50% never survive); then the history of life and personhood. Chaput basically skips over all of this and posits that life begins at conception. Like Cathy, this has serious ramifications on other church teachings - contraception, family planning, consience and moral choices, etc. We do have a parallel example - the Vatican has all but moved to declaring the death penalty as immoral in any and all circumstances (this is an evolution of church moral/historical thought). c) my concern again is one bishop taking on public officials - here is a quote from John Carr who works for the USCCB and produced Faithful Citizenship: "In the end, what our Bishops say about the Church is, I think, a good description of what the task is for Catholic institutions: We are called to be political, but not partisan, not to be cheerleader for any candidate, chaplain for any party or advocate for any administration but to challenge them all. We are to be principled, but not ideological. We are not going to compromise on the fundamentals: on life, on war, on peace. But we can work with others to advance these principles in different ways. We need to be civil, but not soft. We need to make our case clearly, but not impugn anyones motives. We shouldnt be calling people baby killers or war criminals. We are in the persuasion business, and that is probably not the best way to persuade. We need to be engaged but not used. We need to have relationships with our political leaders, but they ought to be around our priorities and principles, not their political needs. We need opportunities to discuss our concerns for the unborn, poor children and families and immigrants, not just pose for a photo op. Over time the consistent life ethic became a major framework and metaphor. This document never referred to the seamless garment. It has regularly talked about the consistent ethic of life, which does not treat all issues as morally equivalent, nor does it reduce Catholic teaching to one or two issues. I would argue that the seamless garment is neither. It is not seamless; it involves different issues with different moral reasoning and different consequences. It is not a single garment; it is not a way to throw a cloak over all the decisions we made. It is not a menu, a scorecard. It is not an escape or excuse for those who want to ignore abortion or want to ignore the poor." Not sure that Chaput's comments meet this level of sophistication;d) Here is some additional input from other thinkers and traditions that have not jumped to the language that abortion is "intrinsically evil" at all times - quoted from David Hollenback, SJ:"I have myself argued at some length that an ethic based on the single value of tolerance is not enough to sustain the common good of American and global society today. Indeed my book on The Common Good and Christian Ethics contains a chapter entitled Problems Tolerance Cannot Handle that sets forth a proposal for how to revitalize active commitment to the common good in the United States today (Hollenbach: chap. 2). However, my proposal on how to pursue this revitalization does not in the first instance call for the passage of legislation that would coercively ban practices judged morally unacceptable in the official teachings of the church. Rather, I call for serious engagement among those who hold different assessments of these issues in an effort to understand each others position so that, perhaps, new agreement might be reached. This is the virtue I have called intellectual solidarity. It is the virtue that calls us to develop better understandings that reach across cultures through listening as well as speaking in a genuine dialogue with those who are different. It requires intellectual commitment that seeks to understand each other, as well as pursuit of insight into the ways the structures of our society are working and what they are actually doing to the most vulnerable. It calls for developing well-rounded proposals on how to transform the institutional centers of decision-making in our increasingly interconnected societies so they serve all members of the human race. In short, it calls for long-term, serious work that takes commitment to the common good as its loadstar.Intellectual Humility as a Condition of Public Effectiveness[24] But note well, this virtue of intellectual solidarity can only be developed in an atmosphere of respect for freedom and from a stance of intellectual humility. Nothing will prevent its development more surely than the view that one already knows all that one needs to know to develop coercive legislation that will genuinely serve the goods of all members of society. To move quickly and without the required dialogue to categorizing broad categories of actions as intrinsically evil and to be banned by coercive law as soon as this can realistically be achieved is not to respect the freedom nor to assume the posture of humility required by intellectual solidarity. [25] I fear this lack of respect and humility can be discerned in some aspects of church teaching today. One can ask whether the level of certitude that characterizes some contemporary church teaching about how to approach abortion, euthanasia, and a number of other issues through the legislative and political processes may not amount to a form of hubris. If this is so, it may be part of the explanation for the high rate of departure from Catholic church membership in the United States today." My conclusion is that Chaput does not meet the intellectual humility standard proposed by Hollenbach nor does he accept the recent approach laid out by Kmiec;e) Personal story that articulates where many ordinary Catholics are today on abortion: Shortcut to: All though many reject his positions, here is an excerpt from Daniel Maguire's letter to all 270 bishops: Since there is no infallibly defined position on abortion, a similar modesty would enhance episcopal teaching. The Second Vatican Council wisely said: "Let the layman not imagine that his pastors are always such experts, that to every problem which arises, however, complicated, they can readily give him a concrete solution, or even that such is their mission (The Church in the Modern World, n. 43). It should cause no wonder that the laity do not take it as obvious that celibate bishops are necessarily more reliable "experts" on sexual and reproductive issues than the laity, "anointed as [the laity] are by the holy One"(Constitution on the Church, n. 12) and experienced as they are in their grace-filled lives. This modesty would acknowledge, with the previous code of Canon Law, that "the bishops, whether teaching individually or gathered in particular councils, are not endowed with infallibility" (Canon 1326). The canon asserts that bishops are veri doctores seu magistri. [the bishops are teachers] That teaching ministry would best be conducted by recognizing that modesty is called for when one teaches in areas where infallibility is not an issue, where the teachers have no privileged expertise, and where good people from all faiths reasonably disagree.Cardinal Dulles made a crucial theological point, deserving close attention at this time. Avery Dulles, S.J., in his Presidential address to The Catholic Theological Society of America said that the Second Vatican Council "implicitly taught the legitimacy and even the value of dissent" ("Presidential Address: The Theologian and the Magisterium," Proceedings of the Catholic Theological Society of America 31 (1976). The council, says Dulles, conceded "that the ordinary magisterium of the Roman Pontiff had fallen into error, and had unjustly harmed the careers of loyal and able theologians." He mentions John Courtney Murray, Teilhard de Chardin, Henri de Lubac, and Yves Congar. Dulles says that certain teachings of the hierarchy "seem to evade in a calculated way the findings of modern scholarship. They are drawn up without broad consultation with the theological community. Instead, a few carefully selected theologians are asked to defend a pre-established position." Dulles aligns himself with those theologians who do not limit the term "magisterium" to the hierarchy. He speaks of "two magisteria-that of the pastors and that of the theologians." These two magisteria are "complementary and mutually corrective." (He neglected the third magisterium, the sensus fidelium, the experience-fed and graced wisdom of the faithful.) The theological magisterium may critique the hierarchical magisterium. Dulles concludes: "we shall insist on the right, where we think it important for the good of the Church, to urge positions at variance with those that are presently official...[i.e. taught by the hierarchy]." These are not the words of some fringe theologian; these are the words of a theologian who is now a cardinal of the Catholic Church and nothing in his subsequent writings refutes these basic and broadly accepted assertions.g) Link to Gudorf's research on the abortion history of the Church: Shortcut to: Excerpt from Chaput's statement: "In short, from the beginning, the believing Christian community held that abortion was always, gravely wrong.Of course, we now know with biological certainty exactly when human life begins. Thus, today's religious alibis for abortion and a so-called "right to choose" are nothing more than that - alibis that break radically with historic Christian and Catholic belief.Abortion kills an unborn, developing human life. It is always gravely evil, and so are the evasions employed to justify it. Catholics who make excuses for it - whether they're famous or not - fool only themselves and abuse the fidelity of those Catholics who do sincerely seek to follow the Gospel and live their Catholic faith." Even giving him the benefit of the doubt, he plays fast and lose with historical facts; he makes definitive statements when there is no foundation for that; he uses name calling "alibis that break radically with historic Catholic belief" - exaggeration at best.Another excerpt: "Ardent, practicing Catholics will quickly learn from the historical record that from apostolic times, the Christian tradition overwhelmingly held that abortion was grievously evil. In the absence of modern medical knowledge, some of the Early Fathers held that abortion was homicide; others that it was tantamount to homicide; and various scholars theorized about when and how the unborn child might be animated or "ensouled." But none diminished the unique evil of abortion as an attack on life itself, and the early Church closely associated abortion with infanticide." Compare that to the research and interpretation of Gudorf - someone has overstated or misinterpreted the historical record???i) finally, respect the role of teacher in the job description of bishop - but credibility is a significant part of this. Yet, currently we have Francis Cardinal George (deposition revealing "criminal impropriety" in covering up sexual abuse); Wilton Gregory (on trial today in Belleville, IL for not sharing complete personnel information with his own board overseeing priest pedophiles); Chaput's own recent settlement in Colorado with more pending and this after his 2007 fight against statutes of limitations (isn't this a pro-life issue?); William Lori (who joined Chaput in his abortion statement against Pelosi) - that Lori who hid pedophiles and then in court tried to call his priests "free agents not connected to him and thus he/diocese was not liable or responsible for their behavior; etc.

Cathleen, if a fetus is not a person, than what exactly is it?

All though many reject his positions, here is an excerpt from Daniel Maguires letter to all 270 bishops . . . By coincidence, I ran across an article by Daniel Maguire this morning when I was Googling topics in this thread. All the rest of this message consists of quotes from the article. teaching on contraception and abortion has been anything but consistent. What most people--including most Catholics- think of as "the Catholic position" on these issues actually dates from the 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii of Pope Pius XI. Prior to that, church teaching was a mixed and jumbled bag. The pope decided to tidy up the tradition and change it by saying that contraception and sterilization were sins against nature and abortion was a sin against life. As Gudorf says, "both contraception and abortion were generally forbidden" in previous teaching but both were often thought to be associated with sorcery and witchcraft. In the fifteenth century, the saintly archbishop of Florence, Antoninus, did extensive work on abortion. He approved of early abortions to save the life of the woman, a class with many members in the context of fifteenth century medicine. This became common teaching. For this he was not criticized by the Vatican. Indeed, he was later canonized as a saint and thus as a model for all Catholics. Many Catholics do not know that there is a pro-choice Cathlic saint who was also an archbishop and a Dominican.In the sixteenth century, the influential Antoninus de Corduba said that medicine that was abortifacient could be taken even later in a pregnancy if required for the health of the mother. The mother, he insisted, had a jus prius, a prior right. Some of the maladies he discussed do not seem to have been a matter of life and death for the women and yet he allows that abortifacient medicine even in these cases is morally permissible. Jesuit theologian Thomas Sanchez who died in the early seventeenth century said that all of his contemporary Catholic theologians approved of early abortion to save the life of the woman. None of these theologians or bishops were censured for these views. Note again that one of them, St. Antoninus, was canonized as a saint. Their limited "pro-choice" position was considered thoroughly orthodox and can be so considered today. In the nineteenth century, the Vatican was invited to enter a debate on a very late term abortion, requiring dismemberment of a formed fetus in order to save the woman's life. On September 2, 1869 the Vatican refused to decide the case. It referred the questioner to the teaching of theologians on the issue. It was, in other words, the business of the theologians to discuss it freely and arrive at a conclusion. It was not for the Vatican to decide. This appropriate modesty and disinclination to intervene is an older and wiser Catholic model.What this brief tour of history shows is that a "pro-choice" position coexists alongside a "no-choice" position in Catholic history and neither position can claim to be more Catholic or more authentic than the other. Catholics are free to make their own conscientious decisions in the light of this history. Not even the popes claim that the position that forbids all abortion and contraception is infallible. The teaching on abortion is not only not infallible, it is, as Gudorf says "undeveloped." Abortion was not the "birth limitation of choice because it was, until well into the twentieth century, so extremely dangerous to the mother." There was no coherently worked out Catholic teaching on the subject, as our short history tour illustrates and there still is not. Some Catholic scholars today say all direct abortions are wrong, some say there are exceptions for cases such as the danger to the mother, conception through rape, detected genetic deformity, or other reasons. Gudorf's sensible conclusion: "The best evidence is that the Catholic position is not set in stone and is rather in development."

Cathleen, if a fetus is not a person, than what exactly is it?Nancy, can you tell us why you think a fetus with a nervous system so underdeveloped that it cannot think or feel is a person? And especially can you tell us why you think a fertilized egg, without a brain or mind or head or heart is a person? I know you will want to say, "Because the Church tells us so, and the Church cannot make a mistake." But suppose you have to convince the majority of citizens in the United States who are not Catholics. What would you say to them?

Bill, with all due respect, the Church's teaching on abortion is not up for debate. The Church is not nor has it ever been pro-choice.Your attempt to discredit the credibility of those you consider to be your "opponents", will not change the Deposit of Faith. The Catholic Catechism is where you will find the doctrines of the Catholic Church that have been explicitly defined.The Church's doctrine on abortion can be found starting on page 391 of the Catechism. It begins with this statement: "From its conception, the child has the right to life." There is no "muddling" going on here. I would suggest that everyone who does not have a clear understanding of the Catholic Church's teaching regarding abortion, read the statement in the Catechism.

David, if you are trying to argue that a fetus is not a person, than my question is still the same except I will change it to: David, if you think that a fetus is not a person than what exactly is it?

Nancy,At the moment, I am not arguing anything. I just want to know how you would explain to someone who is not a Catholic the reason he or she should regard a fetus as a person. I have been so "generous" in sharing my own thoughts that I am sure people are sick of hearing what I think! So I am asking you, what do you think?

I am wasting my time but: Nancy, Nancy.....the church is not just the deposit of faith; it is much, much more than the catechism. It is even more than a list of its doctrines.You perfectly fit my definition of a cafeteria Catholic - you pick what you want and you reject everything else. Dissent, non-infallible positions, conscience, evolving doctrinal and historical trends have all been the history and tradition of the Church. Semper ecclesia reformanda. I proudly wear the label, cafeteria Catholic, but then I believe that every Catholic is this way because that is the Catholic Church.

Chapter 12 of David Albert Jones's book The Soul of the Embryo gives a somewhat more complete picture of the casuistry of abortion in the Church. the summary points:* "The discussion of abortion in the casuistic tradition focused on the case of abortion to save the life of the mother. Antoninus of Florence regarded even this sort of abortion as prohibited once the soul had been infused but allowed abortion to save the mother's life if it was certain that the soul had not yet been infused." [Emphasis added]* "The attempt of Tauer and others to appeal to the casuistic tradition in order to justify embryo experimentation and early abortion is unconvincing. The tradition developed from and assumed a consensus on certain cases. The tradition never accepted the deliberate killing of the embryo other than in the context of saving the mother's life."I'd add that appeals to the casuistic tradition in general seem to be highly selective, anachronistic, and full of unintended corollaries.

I urge fellow readers not to miss link (e) in Bill DeHass' comment above. I don't see this reading as evocative of "where ordinary Catholics are today." I experience "ordinary Catholics" as deeply ambivalent about abortion; I see the author as an unambiguous prochoice convert. The portion about the mother regretting not aborting her handicapped daughter is chilling.This link is very helpful in understanding the zeitgeist and its effect on progressive Catholics' views. The cognitive dissonance can be extraordinarily painful, with all the people we loathe fervently prolife and all the people we admire having gotten beyond repressive teachings. How to manage? Seizing on conservative hypocrisy does nicely.

Bill, you may choose not to believe the Church's doctrine regarding abortion, but this still does not change the fact that the Catholic Church is not, never was and never will be pro-choice.A fetus that is human has the Dna of a human. That would make a human fetus a human person.

Mr DeHaas,May I respectfully suggest that your long comment (very long comment) raises four or five discrete topics: each of which could provide matter for a focused discussion; but together will only lead into the wild blue yonder. It's not cafeteria, but Trimalchio's Banquet.

For the record, Maguire has been making these claims about St. Antoninus for some time. However, the facts don't support him. You can find them here:

Mike McG,I would agree with you that the author is unambiguously pro-choice. Actually, he seems to be pro-abortion, and I do think there's a distinction.However I have great sympathy for the mother who regretted not aborting her daughter. I have a glimmer about what it might be like for a whole family to devote itself to the care of a profoundly disabled child. My niece is severly disabled, and at times has had seizures every few minutes. The epilepsy (and perhaps the powerful drugs required to control it) severly interefered with her development. She attended one of the best high schools in the country (as a special needs student) but will never be able to read or write. She can never be left alone. I don't know that her life expectancy is drastically shortened, so it is very possible she will outlive her parents. She may be able to live in a group home if that happens, but how that will be arrange, I don't know.Now, I don't want to suggest in any way that my sister and brother-in-law could do it all over again, they would choose abortion. But also I would have to say that bad as the situation with my niece is, it could be a lot worse. My niece can walk and talk and bathe herself. A very disabled individual might not be able to express his or her own needs, handle basic personal care, and might not be mobile enough to get out of bed. Also, my sister and brother-in-law are reasonably healthy themselves, and financially comfortable (so far) and well insured. Imagine being poor, with more than one family member in ill health, without insurance, with a severely disabled child to take care of, a child who is not necessarily going to be cute and cuddly or ever really comfortable or possibly never shows signs of appreciating everyone's sacrifices. If you think dealing with that kind of situation might not break some people's spirits to the point where they could not help but regret having an abortion, it amazes me.

Regarding the statements of St.Thomas etc. as to the beginning of Life, we now know that YWHW, the Breath of Life, was present at conception.

Fr. Imbelli - apologize for the long quote and you are correct - I posited at least 5 different topics.Mr. McG, JC, Tom - you each make good points. Let me respond.....I provided the personal story link to highlight the ambivelance most Catholics not condone abortion but do not want to criminalize. Would agree that this story's main character swings too far but my focus was to capture the emotion around abortion decisions (est. 80% of all US abortions happen to folks that are below the US standard economic levels) Yes, Maquire can polarize and he has a tendency to use "old" information but so do certain bishops.Looking for those who calmly seek the common ground e.g. Kmiec, Hollenbach,SJ, Jim Wallis. Rather than repeat old arguments, hoping to see more creative steps to address a gamut of needs - e.g. address the root causes of the economically disadvantaged, lack of education, continued racism, etc. that only lead to abortion. The Church needs to highlight and support these programs vs. wading into the language of condemnation, excommunication, wafer wars, and intrinsically evil descriptions.I see myself as a typical Catholic - anti-abortion but do not want to criminalize; sympathetic to those facing that decision because they are single parent, lack sufficient education, poor family upbringing, etc. I also feel that current church positions on contraception only hinder the abortion issue. I am pained at the lack of US bishops who speak out against social evils or support a preferential option for the poor.

JC, There is absolutely no contradiction between what Maguire states about St. Antoninus and what is stated in the references Wellborn cites. They all say St Antoninus supported abortion to save the mother's life, but only before "quickening." Now, if you want to maintain that the Church has taught consistently the same thing about abortion because some of its greatest didn't have enough knowledge at the time to reject the notion of quickening, that's fine with me. But then I will maintain I am always right and consistent except when I don't have sufficient knowledge about the topic I am discussing, and in instance like those, what I say doesn't count.

We used to jokingly say that Powell, SJ never had an unpublished thought; we also said that Andy Greeley never had an unspoken thought.Would suggest, using one of Fr. K's quotes, "where there is doubt, freedom!" But, my sense is that Chaput and crowd never have had a doubt. Wish I could say the same.