This month, Update – Religion brings an update on the U.S. Catholic scene. The source of much of this information is the U.S.  Catholic weekly, the Wanderer.

Call for discipline

On September 3, Chicago pro-life activist Joseph Scheidler, President of the Pro-Life Action League, and 33 other Catholic met in Rome to present a petition to Pope John Paul Ii, requesting disciplinary action against U.S. Catholics in public life who claim to be practicing Catholics, but who support abortion.

The petition requests more than simply a general declaration that such officials act according to the Catholic faith and thereby give scandal.  The petitioners also ask that the actions and statements of such people be censured and that it be demanded of them to retract their statements and discontinue their acts, even to the point of denying them access to the Eucharist if they prove hard hearted.

The petition is framed according to Canons 1417 and 1442 of the Code of Canon Law, permitting any of the lay faithful to introduce their case personally before the Pope.

(The Interim has touched upon this issue, and the complications which flow from it, in previous issues.)

The issue appeared for example in the story “Risking Hell” (see The Interim, March 1990), when New York Auxiliary Bishop Austin Vaughan warned Governor Mario Cuomo that his pro-abortion policy endangered his eternal salvation).

At that time, The Interim also drew attention to some Canadian politicians who fall into the same category.

Sin and Crime

In late summer, the Boston Globe published a survey showing that 56 per cent of Catholic legislators assert that the laws of the state supercede Church teaching.  (I have no information about the survey’s reliability or its range).

On October 10, apparently in response to this survey, Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law and his Episcopal council issued a pastoral Letter entitled Human Life is Sacred.

The letter declares that abortion is “utterly against the dignity invested by God in every human being,” and that it is “not only a sin but a crime.”  The letter then reaffirms the age-old prohibitions against procuring an abortion, performing one, assisting at one, and justifying one with an appeal to choice.

“Public advocacy of abortion…conflicts fundamentally with the fidelity that each member of the Church owes to the teaching of Christ.  So there is a direct contradiction between participation in the sacramental and public life of the Church and supporter acceptance of the continued end of abortion.”

“Therefore, no Catholic may plead that responsibilities to a human institution – whether civil, political, educational, or commercial, or at any sort whatsoever – diminish the duty to oppose the destruction of human life by abortion,” the letter concluded.

It couldn’t be put any clearer.

Nevertheless, a spokeswoman for Catholics for a Free Choice countered that the Church’s teaching on abortion is not infallible, implying thereby that Catholics are free to do as they wish.

The contemporary idea that Catholics are only required in conscience to accept and believe those statements of faith which have been solemnly promulgated by the Holy See as “infallible,” derives from the statements public dissenters such as theologians, Hans Kung, Charles Curran, Richard McBrien and others trying to justify their dissent.

In reality the Church teaches that the faithful must accept in conscience the teaching on faith and morals of the ordinary, not just the infallible, teaching authority of the Church.

The condemnation of abortion falls under this teaching.

The Holy Innocents

Sixteen thousand Catholic pro-lifers in California have petitioned the Vatican to declare the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which falls on December 28, a special day of prayer and atonement for the sin of abortion.

On this day of the Church calendar the liturgy recalls the murder of the innocents slain by Herod when he discovered that the wise men form the East had not returned to tell him where and when the Saviour had been born (Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 2).

The petitioners are inviting others to join them in the request.

Georgetown University

New York Cardinal John O’Connor has stated that the administration of the Catholic University of Georgetown in Washington, D.C., was totally wrong in accepting the abortion group “GU Choice” last March.

The [Jesuit] administration of the university formally recognized the group, gave it funding of $1,000 and has defended its actions ever since.

The decision, the Cardinal said, is a serious and irreconcilable conflict with numerous expressions of the Church’s grave concern” over abortion.

In late September, James Cardinal Hickey of Washington, D.C., received a petition of over 1,100 students, faculty and alumni calling on him to take away the University’s title “Catholic.”

NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League), a U.S. pro-abortion organization has declared the university’s acceptance “a victory of enormous significance.”

It claims to have infiltrated the campuses of 16 Catholic colleges.

Earlier, Cardinal Hickey had described the Georgetown decision as “most regrettable.”

Now that the administration is persisting in its action, many alumni are demanding action against it.


Father Richard McBrien, a leading American dissenter on Catholic moral and doctrinal teaching, has declared that it is now certain that Pope John Paul II and his Roman advisors are playing the same role vis-à-vis the reforms of Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) as did the hard-line KGB personnel in September’s failed coup against USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Fr. McBrien addressed the “Future of the American Church Conference” in Washington on September 22.