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Catholics for Choice Statement on the Common Good: Five Inconvenient Truths for the Bishops

November 12, 2008

Washington, DC—Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, issued a statement today in response to discussions about abortion at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops fall assembly.

“It is by now well-known that the majority of Catholics disagree with the dictates of the Catholic hierarchy on matters related to sexual and reproductive health. In addition, the vast majority of Catholics do not believe they are under a religious obligation to vote on issues the way their bishops recommend. The election of President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden proves this. Despite attempts by about two dozen bishops to make this election about abortion and abortion alone, the exit polls showed Catholics voted 54 percent for the prochoice Democratic nominee and 45 percent for antichoice Republican nominee, Senator John McCain.

“In the coming months and years, we would like to see the bishops focus on a pastoral approach to the common good that speaks to the majority of Catholics who voted in favor of a president who shares their values on sexual and reproductive health—as well as many other issues.

“In doing so, the bishops conference should consider the following inconvenient truths:

  1. Despite the fact that a few bishops, less than 10 percent, tried to make this election about abortion, Catholics ignored them and voted, as did the rest of the country, with a firm eye on the economy, affordable health care and the two wars. The vast majority of bishops either stayed silent about abortion or issued statements in support of the bishops’ 2007 document, Faithful Citizenship. They were right not to politicize the issue of Communion and the ultra-conservative bishops should follow their lead.
  2. As the conservative bishops who rejected Faithful Citizenship showed, the USCCB does not have the final word on how Catholics should approach elections and other important decisions. While Faithful Citizenship is not a binding document, it is a relatively moderate and thoughtful approach, an approach that some bishops may need to consider if they are not to further alienate American Catholics.
  3. Catholic voters and prochoice Catholic policy makers understand the importance of the church’s teaching on conscience in guiding them on the most important matters. In voting the way they do in elections and when making policy, Catholics follow their own consciences and respect the consciences of others.
  4. As does the country, the bishops need to move on from the divisiveness of the election, recognize why they had so little impact and not seek to spin their way out of it by blaming an uninformed and distracted electorate.
  5. Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, want to see policies that reduce the need for abortion. The question is not how many abortions there are, but about providing the support that women need, whether they chose to continue a pregnancy to term or not. Bishops need to support the common good and focus on reducing the need for abortion by encouraging comprehensive sex education and access to reproductive health care, including contraceptives and condoms. A vital first step would be to start lobbying the Vatican to reopen the debate on family planning and the use of condoms to prevent HIV.

“The last thing we need is for a war of words over abortion to dominate the conversation. There is change in the air. More and more public officials recognize that the views of the hierarchy do not reflect the views or votes of their constituents. There is a lot of work to be done and the bishops can play a helpful role in this if they acknowledge their mistakes, understand their strengths and move forward with a constructive and cooperative mindset.”