WASHINGTON – The church needs to examine whether Catholic "pro-choice" politicians' views are in heresy regarding church teaching against aborting unborn human life, said Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Baker, Ore.
"I think there is suitable reason to consider the possibility that there is a right-to-murder heresy," he told Catholic News Service.
The bishop spoke by telephone to CNS March 22 about a column he wrote in the diocesan newspaper, Catholic Sentinel, raising the question as to whether the views of Catholics who believe a woman has a right to choose abortion are in heresy.
Bishop Vasa told CNS that he is not in a position to state whether a "right-to-murder heresy" exists.
"I'm raising the question. I'm not a theologian," he said.
The bishop said the question goes beyond Catholic legislators and "could extend to other Catholics who believe that it would be OK to be pro-choice and Catholic."
Since the column appeared Feb. 17, Bishop Vasa said, he has received about 400 e-mails. About four were critical while the rest were "encouraging and commended the stand," he said.
"There is a hunger among Catholics for clarity on this issue," he said.
In the weekly column, Bishop Vasa questioned whether Catholics who support keeping abortion legal were violating the Fifth Commandment against killing.
"Those who maintain that any and all decisions about the disposition of pre-born human beings are exclusively the right of the mother or the parents, at least implicitly, reject the clear and consistent teaching of the church," he said.
This raises the issue "about whether those who openly profess to be 'pro-choice' are, in fact, holding to a heretical position," he said.
The bishop added that U.S. society protects human life through laws and this "is accomplished, or fails to be accomplished, by those whom we elect."
He advised "a great deal of caution and care" before concluding that someone's views are heretical.
"It would not be proper to imply that anyone who votes for an anti-life politician is denying some truth of divine and Catholic faith," he said.
"Yet, if that candidate receives the vote precisely because he maintains that he has no duty to protect or defend innocent human life in the womb, then a vote cast for him is a type of declaration that the teaching of the church, indeed the validity of the Fifth Commandment itself, is rejected," he said.
"One brave soul has termed this present rejection of responsibility for one's pre-born brother or sister the right-to-murder heresy," he said.
Bishop Vasa told CNS that the person referred to in the column who uses the term "right-to-murder heresy" is Marc Balestrieri, a California canon lawyer who supports ecclesial lawsuits to excommunicate Catholic politicians favoring legalized abortion.
During the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign, a Vatican official denied Balestrieri's statement that he had received a formal response from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith saying that Catholic politicians who say there is a right to abortion are automatically excommunicated.
Dominican Father Augustine DiNoia, undersecretary of the congregation, told CNS in 2004 that the congregation "has had no contact with Mr. Balestrieri."
The U.S. bishops' formed a Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians led by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington in 2003 to examine the relationship between Catholic teachings and public policy. It has considered the issue of whether Catholic politicians who favor legalized abortion and those who vote for them could receive Communion, without drawing a conclusion.
The task force has not publicly discussed the issue of heresy.
A March 10 statement by Cardinal McCarrick, Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Policy, favored dialogue as the way to influence Catholic politicians "on how faith and public service can work together to promote human life and dignity and advance the common good."
Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops