As you know, there are three basic issues in the recent public debate. The first is empirical: does the current legislation permit the funding of abortion beyond the restrictions imposed by the Hyde amendment, that testimony to a faithful Catholic politician from Illinois that has been the firewall keeping public money out of funding almost all abortions and out of insurance plans that fund abortion? What we have is legislation that, by vote, first in the Senate and then confirmed in the House, explicitly removed the Hyde amendment restrictions from this federal law. Lay people who carefully analyzed the contents of the legislation as it was being torturously crafted freed us, the bishops, to make the necessary moral judgments. Some have protested that the legislation is complicated and we therefore shouldn’t pretend to judge it. If you will excuse my saying so, this implies either that no one can understand or judge complicated pieces of legislation, in which case it is immoral to act until sufficient clarity is obtained, or it is to say that only bishops are too dense to understand complicated pieces of legislation! In fact, developments since the passage of the legislation have settled the empirical issue: our analysis of what the law itself says was correct, and our moral judgments are secure and correct. Throughout this public debate, the bishops kept the moral and intellectual integrity of the faith intact, and I thank in your name those who helped us in exercising our obligations as moral teachers in the Church.
The second issue is ecclesiological: who speaks for the Catholic Church? We bishops have no illusions about our speaking for everyone who considers himself or herself Catholic; but that is not our job. We speak for the apostolic faith, and those who hold it gather round. We must listen to the sensus fidei, the sense of the faith itself in the lives of our people, but this is different from intellectual trends and public opinion. The faith has its own warrants in Scripture and tradition, and we consult them and listen to the apostolic voices of those who have gone before us as carefully as we must listen to those whom the Lord has given us to govern on our watch, in our day, as they strive to work out their salvation in the midst of contemporary challenges. The bishops in apostolic communion and in union with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, speak for the Church in matters of faith and in moral issues and the laws surrounding them. All the rest is opinion, often well-considered and important opinion that deserves a careful and respectful hearing, but still opinion.
The third issue is practical: how should faithful Catholics approach political issues that are also moral?
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