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Bishops Say All Catholic Lawmakers Must Work to End Abortion

c. 2006 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Top U.S. Catholic leaders on Friday (March 10) told Democratic lawmakers there is no wiggle room in church teaching on abortion, and that they are duty-bound to work against “the destruction of unborn human life.” The statement by three top leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops […]

c. 2006 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ Top U.S. Catholic leaders on Friday (March 10) told Democratic lawmakers there is no wiggle room in church teaching on abortion, and that they are duty-bound to work against “the destruction of unborn human life.”

The statement by three top leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is a response to 55 Catholic Democrats in the House who issued a public statement Feb. 28 asking for room to disagree on abortion.

The bishops, in turn, said they were willing to work together on issues affecting the “poor and vulnerable,” but would not budge on church teaching that says abortion is gravely immoral.

“While it is always necessary to work to reduce the number of abortions … Catholic teaching calls all Catholics to work actively to restrain, restrict and bring an end to the destruction of unborn human life,” the bishops said.

The three bishops who signed the statement were Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, head of the bishops’ Pro-Life Activities Committee; Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, who heads a task force on Catholic politicians; and Bishop Nicolas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, chairman of the bishops’ Domestic Policy Committee.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who spearheaded the letter on Capitol Hill, said in a statement she appreciated the bishops’ response but did not address the bishops’ rejection of Catholic lawmakers’ request to respectfully disagree with the church on abortion.

“I agree with the bishops that ours is a partnership to promote human life and dignity and advance the common good,” she said. “Their statement confirms that we can create an open and meaningful dialogue between public officials and the church’s leadership.”

In their recent “statement of principles,” the Catholic lawmakers said they acknowledged the “moral leadership” of the church but said the “primacy of conscience” led many of them to support abortion rights.

The Democrats also promised to work to reduce the number of abortions, and said flatly that “we do not celebrate its practice.”

The bishops, in their response, suggested that standing on conscience was illegitimate if their position was contrary to church teaching.

“It is essential to remember that conscience must be consistent with fundamental moral principles,” the three bishops said. “As members of the church, all Catholics are obliged to shape our consciences in accord with the moral teaching of the church.”

The public tussle was reminiscent of a battle from the 2004 elections when some Catholic politicians _ especially Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry _ found themselves at odds with church leaders over abortion rights.

McCarrick, who serves as an informal church liaison to both Congress and the White House, said he expects his task force to wrap up its work this summer and submit a final report and recommendations to the bishops’ meeting in June.

MO/PH END ECKSTROM