I read a shocking pro-choice document. It said that women should choose for themselves whether or not to use birth control or have abortions. If the document had been published by Planned Parenthood, it's pro-choice message wouldn't be surprising at all. But the document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship was published by the Catholic Church. I found it in a literature rack in the foyer of a Catholic church I visited on Sunday, and it is available online at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/forming-consciences-for-faithful-citizenship-title.cfm
The publication was a booklet that talked about how Catholics should be engaged in governing our society. It said that on issues such as war, torture, the environment, abortion, and many others, Catholics should become informed and should participate in the public decision-making process, including elections. It also says that Catholics should respect the choices that other people make.
The booklet had an obviously religious orientation. It said that Catholics should be guided by their faith in making decisions about all of the issues of the day. It said that, as part of living their lives according to the teachings of Jesus, they should make choices about public policies that are consistent with God's will. Nothing that was said would seem out of place in most Christian churches. Nor would these central teachings of the booklet seem inappropriate in Jewish or Muslim congregations either, if the references to Jesus were simply removed.
The only surprising thing was the clear emphasis on the individual's right and responsibility to make choices. Actually, there is nothing surprising about that at all, if one considers the orientation of the modern Catholic Church in America. Personal choice is, as far as I can discern, a central tenet of that religion.
But I was surprised, because that profound message which says that personal choice is a religious obligation is not what so many of the vocal critics of abortion, including some Catholics, emphasize. Instead, what these people tend to advocate is that laws should be passed that will prevent women from making their own choices.
We are being told by many anti-abortion advocates that not only should women choose not to have abortions, but that abortion should be illegal or impossible for poor women to get. That message is not contained in the booklet I read. To be sure, that booklet had a lot to say about abortion being wrong and against God's will. It said that people should not have abortions. But it did not say that Catholics should try to prevent anyone, even other Catholics, from getting abortions. Rather, it emphasized that Catholics should recognize the dignity of all people and the sanctity of all life.
There is probably some tension between the strong anti-abortion message of the Catholic Church and the strong overarching message which that same church has adopted, which demands that individuals make their own choices. I am hardly the one to suggest how this tension can be resolved. I am just someone who wandered into a Catholic Church and was intrigued and delighted to be reminded of the rich, complex, and deep body of teachings of that church. I left with hope that some day we will all be able to discuss the important issues of the day and reach resolutions which will afford everyone the respect which the Catholic bishops argue for. I think they are telling us that we are the ones who will have to choose to find this peace among ourselves.