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To: Prochoice Catholic Policy Makers
From: Frances Kissling, president, Catholics for a Free Choice
RE: Attacks on Prochoice Catholic Policy Makers

Last year, the Vatican issued a statement directed at Catholic bishops and politicians discussing the responsibilities of Catholics in political life and informing politicians of their duty to vote against prochoice legislation. The US bishops followed the Vatican’s note with the publication of guidelines urging Catholic politicians to promote laws protecting human life from conception. Four bishops went so far as to prohibit prochoice Catholic lawmakers in their dioceses from receiving communion.

Also in 2003, an anti-choice group called American Life League (ALL) launched a campaign targeting prochoice Catholic US lawmakers. What began as a narrow censure of a targeted group of US senators has since grown to a large-scale condemnation of lawmakers both in Congress and state houses nationwide. ALL listed the names of over 400 US prochoice Catholic politicians on their website, making claims about their status as Catholics and indicating that they have failed to live up to their obligations. While ALL asserts that canon law, the law of the Catholic church, supports their position and urges all US bishops to deny prochoice Catholic policy makers communion, neither ALL nor any other individual or organization of laity has the right under church law to judge who is or is not a Catholic—church teaching says this designation comes through baptism.

What is canon law? Canon law:

  • underscores the right and duty of Catholics to act freely and not succumb to threats.
  • does not allow for a sweeping prohibition of your reception of communion.
  • does not call for the excommunication of lawmakers who have voted for or support the legalization of abortion. For more information, read Catholics and Abortion: Notes on Canon Law No. 1 (Catholics for a Free Choice, 2003).

While a bishop or the pope has the authority to restrict the rights and take punitive action against prochoice Catholic policy makers, these actions must be administered through rule of canon law. To our knowledge, none of the lawmakers named in ALL’s materials has been officially punished.

As president of Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC), I want to state that while we believe that the Catholic church has a right to behave as does every other interest group—a right to present their opinions to elected officials in an attempt to influence public policy—individuals, as Catholics, also have rights granted by the same church that is now applies sanctions for the practice of those rights. And while prochoice Catholic policy makers have a responsibility to respect the rights of the church lobby, they also have a responsibility to their constituency to legislate based on the common good.

CFFC does not want to give the bishops’ sanctions or ALL’s weak arguments more attention than they deserve. However, CFFC wants policy makers to understand their rights as Catholics. We seek to convey the reality versus the fiction in this election year by making the public aware that the bishops’ position on reproductive rights does not reflect the views of the majority of US Catholics.

We wonder why the bishops have singled out one very divisive issue. The church has not admonished lawmakers for their stances on other issues of concern to the Catholic church, such as the death penalty or welfare. Since a small minority of the bishops have taken action, perhaps most recognize the accepted bounds of their influence and do not want to limit the participation of Catholics in the legislative process. To do so would surely result in unintended limits on the church’s ability to participate in public policy on other matters, something that the church should not want to risk.

CFFC will continue to provide information throughout this election year and address charges levied against prochoice Catholic lawmakers.


Frances Kissling

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