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Vatican Guidelines for Catholic Politicians Likely to Fall on Deaf Ears

January 17, 2003

Doctrinal Note lacks sufficient respect for diversity of views on key moral questions

The Vatican attempt to force Catholic lawmakers to set public policy according to its guidelines is unlikely to be successful, said Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice.

“While the insights of official leaders of the Roman Catholic church on moral issues and political life is always welcomed, those insights need to be evaluated by democratic policy makers in the light of their responsibilities under the constitutions and laws of their countries,” said Kissling. “In a world in which people of many different faiths and no faith share responsibility for developing public policy, the distinctly sectarian views of one religion cannot be considered to be an appropriate legal expression of values.”

“The Doctrinal Note released Thursday as a guide to Catholic lawmakers seems to be a throw-back to a pre-Vatican II conception of the relationship between the Roman Catholic church and the state. It asserts that on issues that involve concepts and definitions of the human person, no opinions other than those of the Catholic church can be asserted as relevant to the formulation of public policy. This assertion of an absolute truth, owned by the Roman Catholic magisterium, flies in the face of modern science and theological studies.”

Continued Kissling, “As the Note states, civil society faces new and complex questions and challenges. Medical science makes possible opportunities for research and cures derived from very early stem cells, pre-embryos and embryos; infertile couples face new possibilities through advanced assisted reproductive techniques. Women who have been raped now have the option of preventing pregnancy or of early abortion. The church’s fear that such decisions will be made in a climate of cultural relativism and its effort to close the door to political and medical inquiry and study cannot become the lead factor in how Catholic political leaders participate in the public debate,” she said.

“The views of the Roman Catholic leadership on these issues are closed to even thoughtful debate of differences,” said Kissling. “The Doctrinal Note leaves no room to explore and no respect for the views of other religions on the meaning of human life and the ways in which thoughtful people will balance respect for pre-natal life against other values such as the preservation of the life and health of those already among us.”

Said Kissling, “It is sad that the Catholic church, which possesses such a rich history of ethical and moral questioning, offers so little in the way of answers. The complexity of the ethical questions that face us requires of the church more than “no” if it wishes to be taken seriously in the policy arena. The current Doctrinal Note is likely to create an even greater rift between the church and science, in addition to the rift between church and state that already exists.”

“Happily,” she said, “Catholic policy makers and lay people are better educated in their moral and public responsibility than this document presupposes. They have rejected in the past church demands that they slavishly apply church positions to public policy. This document will not change that respect for essential freedom of inquiry and individual conscience that policy makers have and cherish.”