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Voices Online Edition
Fall 2000
, Volume XV, No. 3 - Jubilee Year

Archbishop Curtiss on Life Issues ­

It is not a liberal cause to support abortion:
It is anti-life and anti-Church

The following article was first published in the August 18, 2000 issue of The Catholic Voice, Omaha's archdiocesan newspaper. It is reprinted here with permission. His Excellency Elden Curtiss is the Archbishop of Omaha, Nebraska.

After Hitler gained political power in Germany, he made the Jews the scapegoat for all the economic woes that assailed the country following its defeat in World War I; he persecuted believers who had the audacity to place religious values over those of the state when there was a conflict; he sought to control all youth movements through the state monopoly of education; he stifled political dissidents who would not accept total party supremacy; he sought to systematically eliminate everyone with physical and mental disabilities; he sought to control all non-Aryan peoples through enslavement and "selective breeding." This was survival of the fittest taken to its ultimate conclusion. It would have been the brave new world, the Nazi utopia, without racial strife, without undesirable people, without intellectual dissent, without religious interference and without population pressures from "inferior" peoples.

It is a good thing for most of us that the Allies were able to stop Nazi military power before Hitler conquered the world. But this does not mean that certain Nazi ideas and policies have not survived to our present day.

Official support for partial-birth abortion
A disturbing example of current state-sanctioned elitism is the determination of our present federal administration and the majority of justices of the Supreme Court to refuse to let states ban partial-birth abortions. Infanticide ­ the deliberate killing of babies outside the womb ­ has been condemned by the moral law (you shall not kill) and most societies in the world throughout recorded history. When the killing of innocent human beings by other human beings is justified by law then, in the long run, no one is safe from violence, and the good order of society is undermined. In time, following the same logic, babies totally outside the womb will be in danger, especially if they have some physical or mental defect. If a woman has the right by law to destroy her baby even when it is partially out of the womb, then why should she not have the right to destroy the baby when it is totally out of the womb if she decides she cannot care for it, or it will cause her emotional stress, or the baby is defective in some way? The issue of abortion is not simply a religious issue but a human life issue.

We are entering into a culture of death that has its roots in a discredited political system. We are allowing by law the wanton destruction of beginning human life in the womb and partially out of the womb. We are beginning to encourage the sick and elderly to end their lives (so-called death-with-dignity laws) if they become burdens to themselves or to others. We are continuing to limit medical care to people most in need of protection. Our administration promotes population control to limit birth rates, especially among Third World peoples, so that populations will stabilize. But what our government means by stabilization is zero population growth. Already in some countries the elderly are outnumbering the young. This is the reason that euthanasia will gradually become the preferred method of population control instead of abortion.

Strange reversal of roles
It is a strange reversal of roles these days for people who call themselves liberal to be supporters of abortion while those who are opposed to abortion are called conservative. Traditionally liberals have championed the cause of people in need, people who fall through the protective social net provided by government. Liberals have supported the working poor and those who cannot compete in the marketplace. They have championed individual rights against economic and political pressure, and provided a voice for those who were voiceless in our society.

This is the reason that most immigrant Catholics were at one time members of the Democratic party in this country. This was the party that looked out for the interests of minority people and their security in a highly competitive society so that the gap between the wealthy and the poor would not continue to widen. This effort resulted in a coalition of different movements in this country: labor unions, liberal politicians, and social activists in the Church.

But then a strange development began to take place. Somehow the issue of women's rights became linked with the issue of abortion. It became a liberal issue to promote equal rights for women, and the right of a woman to control her own agenda and her own destiny and her own body. The Church was generally supportive of this liberal development, as long as Catholic women maintained objective moral standards regarding sexuality and human life. But the issue of abortion was another matter. Once a distinct living person is formed in the womb, the mother does not have absolute right over this separate person. The fetus is not just a glob of protoplasm or an "intrusive biological force," a term I heard the other day on the radio. It is a distinct living person with a soul. To say that this distinct person has no rights is not a liberal position, but an elitist one. To rid the world of unwanted people is a totalitarian principle, not a democratic one.

Party platform regarding abortion
And so for the first time, the platform of the Democratic party introduced a pro-abortion plank that was clearly anti-life and therefore anti-Catholic. The protection of pre-born human life, the most vulnerable of all human life, was discarded in favor of a woman's right to do whatever she wants with the developing human life within her because it is in her body. The party went on record discriminating against a group of human beings babies in the womb who had no protection and in fact could be destroyed at any stage of development (witness Clinton's refusal to support state laws against partial-birth abortion). Instead of promoting a liberal cause in support of birth mothers and their babies, the Democratic party embraced an elitist cause by promoting the destruction of pre-born and partially-born human life.

Catholic Democrats, therefore, have an obligation in conscience to do everything they can to reverse the pro-abortion policy of their party and to support those candidates who will protect human life in the womb.

Catholic Republicans, on the other hand, have the obligation in conscience to see that their party plank against abortion is acted upon rather than ignored in legislative processes across the nation.

Fidelity of Catholics to Church teaching
Abortion is a major issue for anyone who embraces the Church's teaching regarding the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death. To dissent against a major teaching of the Church regarding sexual morality is a serious breach for Catholics and a cause for scandal for people who become aware of it. Any Catholics who support direct abortion as a viable option for ending a pregnancy participate in the serious objective evil of abortion and give aid and comfort to the enemies of the Church regarding human life ethics. Their position needs to be publicly condemned by Church leadership so that the scandal does not continue to be compounded.

You can be assured that I will challenge any Catholic in Northeastern Nebraska who claims to be a member of the Church and at the same time supports abortion. It is not a liberal cause that is being supported but an elitist anti-Catholic one. There is no place for discrimination against pre-born or partially-born babies in the Catholic Church. Catholics who are against the Church on this important issue are in serious dissent against the Church. They and everyone else need to be clear about this breach with the Church. It is not a liberal cause to support abortion: it is anti-life and anti-Church.

We are Pro-Life

In September, Archbishop Curtiss issued the following pastoral letter to the people of the Archdiocese of Omaha regarding the obligation of Catholics to actively oppose direct abortion in all circumstances. "It is important for all our people to read what I have written rather than what is reported in the secular media", he said.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church outlines the official teaching of the Church regarding the evil of abortion and the responsibility of Catholics to protect beginning human life:

2270 - Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you" (Jeremiah 1:5).

2271 - Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or means, is gravely contrary to the moral law. "Your shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish" (Didache 2,2).

2272 - Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to the crime against human life. A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae ­ by the very commission of the offense (Canons 1314-1398) and subject to the conditions provided in Code of Canon Law (canons 1323-24). The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as the parents and the whole of society.

2273 - The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation.

"The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals not on parents: not do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death (Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Vitae III - 1987).

"The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined...As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be insured for the unborn child from the moment of conception the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child's rights." (ibid.).

2274- Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

Practical implications of this official teaching
To dissent against the official teaching of the Church regarding the serious evil of abortion creates a breach between Catholics and the Church and causes a serious scandal when it becomes public. Catholics who actually participate in a woman's decision to have an abortion share in her alienation from the Church because they share in the destruction of a beginning human life which is forbidden by divine law and natural law.

Consequently, I ask the people of this Archdiocese to join me in challenging any Catholic who claims to be an active member of the Church and at the same time supports the right of a woman to have an abortion (pro-choice means essentially support for the right of a woman to terminate the life of her pre-born or partially-born baby). Such a person either does not know the clear teaching of the Church or is indifferent to it. This means an incorrectly formed conscience or ignorance of the law or rejection of Church Teaching. In any case, these people are at loggerheads with the Church over a major doctrine of faith. They need conversion and reconciliation with the Church and a new heart.

I ask all our people to pray and fast in reparation for all the innocent lives that are destroyed daily by abortion.

I ask all our people to pray for the women and their families who suffer the personal tragedy of abortion. Pray for their reconciliation with the Church, with Jesus. Support Project Rachel and all similar efforts to help women overcome the impact of abortion in their lives.

I ask all our people to pray for abortionists and those who assist them so that their hearts of stone may be turned into human hearts before they face the God of life.

Be steadfast
The Catholic Church is the main supporter of human life from conception to natural death in the world today. Despite public media which for the most part support abortion as the right of women over their own bodies without any concern for the rights of their pre-born babies -- despite massive opposition from a multimillion dollar abortion industry which has Planned Parenthood as a front -- despite Supreme Court decisions which continue to leave pre-born and partially-born babies vulnerable to painful deaths -- we Catholics must not cease our efforts to declare abortion in our cities and neighborhoods. We must not cease our efforts to pray for an end to abortion on demand and the barbaric procedure called partial-birth abortion.

If we are constant in our prayer and steadfast in our opposition to abortion privately and publicly -- if we continue to make our case for the continuum of human life from conception until birth from the scientific evidence -- if we continue to proclaim the sacredness of human life from the Scriptures and the long tradition of the Church -- then we will be able to change the minds and hearts of many people who are hesitant to grant inalienable rights to pre-born babies because of cultural pressure.

We must never give up on this sacred crusade to protect innocent human life in the womb. If we grow tired of the struggle or want to be free of the hassle, then the culture of death will continue to spread across our nation. It is up to us to make the case for the rights of pre-born babies based on God's revelation to us about the sacredness of human life. It is a duty no Catholic can shirk.

The Church is consistently pro-human life from conception until natural death. This is the reason that we oppose the death penalty as well as euthanasia and abortion. However, Catholic teaching does not weigh opposition to capitol punishment the same way it weighs opposition to abortion. The thousands of innocent pre-born babies killed every year by abortion constitute a greater evil than the execution of a few convicted felons by the state ­ not only because of the sheer number of deaths, but because of the gravity of the act itself.

Therefore opposition to abortion must be a prority for Catholics who support the Church's teaching about the sacredness of all human life.

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