On June 1, Bishop John Myers of Peoria, Illinois, issued what may well become a landmark pastoral letter on abortion. It explains in detail the Catholic teaching on supporting abortion.

The bishop states that “striving for legal abortion is radically inconsistent with the Catholic faith.” Catholic politicians, voters, and especially theologians, priests and religious, who help “to make abortion more widely available,” or teach “that it ought to be available,” are guilty of injustice against the unborn and give scandal to the faithful. “They seriously weaken their own relationship with the Church,” he said.

The bishop restates that human life begins at conception and that “the teaching that abortion is gravely immoral and, where done with sufficient awareness and freedom of the will, mortally sinful, is certain.”

Formal cooperation

Bishop Myers points out that formal participation in an abortion brings automatic excommunication, if a person involved knows that such a sanction exists.

The bishop then speaks of formal cooperation or formal complicity in abortions. He explains that “all formal cooperation in abortion is gravely immoral,” and gives examples of such behaviour.


Formal cooperation is involved if a politician “votes for legislation even partially for the purpose of making abortion available.” And here, he explains, there is no difference between making abortion available and encouraging someone to have an abortion, between being “pro-choice” and being “pro-abortion.”

“A Catholic legislator may vote for legislation which does not fully protect the rights of the unborn [only] if the alternative is legislation which even more seriously jeopardizes those rights.”


Voters cooperate formally if they vote “for a candidate even partially on the basis of his or her pro-abortion positions.” Catholics may not vote for a pro-abortion candidate except if all the other candidates have more extreme pro-abortion positions. As the American Bishops’ Conference has declared, “no Catholic can responsibly take a pro-choice stand when the choice in question involves the taking of innocent human life.”

As for all persons in public office who get involved in abortion matters, “the must be able to stand before the Lord with a clear conscience and say they defended the rights of all human beings, at every stage of existence, to the best of their ability. They must never take refuge in the specious arguments that they must enforce the law, whatever it may be.

Persons of good conscience must refrain from seeking office if the price of holding office is the enforcement of evil laws which allow the killing of the innocent.”

Counselling is formal cooperation

Formal cooperation is found not only when one performs an abortion or has an abortion, but also when one counsels it, facilitates it, or makes it available. This includes providing abortion facilities through legislation and/or funding.

What is the consequence of a Catholic refusing to accept the Church’s teaching on abortion?

“For a Catholic to refuse, knowingly and willingly, to form his or her conscience in accord with these authoritative norms,” the bishop says, “is to withhold part of his or her heart, mind, and soul from union with Christ and His Church. Such people exclude themselves, in important respects from Christian life and the Catholic community…They have freely chosen by their own actions to separate themselves from what the Catholic Church believes and teaches…For such persons to express ‘communion’ with Christ and His Church by the reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist objectively dishonest.

The teaching of the pastoral presented here is but a small part of the total message. Indeed, the pastoral covers every aspect of social teaching on abortion.

Those wishing to read the pastoral letter in its entirety will find it in the monthly magazine Crisis (June 19) or the weekly documentation service Origins (June). The Interim will bring a new comprehensive summary with detailed quotes and references in its next issue.