Correcting confusion generated by the recent statement of a Vatican official, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a statement today confirming that so called “therapeutic” abortion “has not been and can never be” accepted as Catholic teaching.

The document is a response, it says, to the “manipulation and instrumentalization” of an article by Bishop Rino Fisichella published in L’Osservatore Romano on March 15, 2009 about the case of an abortion procured for a 9 year-old Brazilian girl who had been impregnated by her stepfather.

In his article, Fisichella seemed to criticize the local Brazilian archbishop, José Cardoso Sobrinho, who sparked criticism from the secular media when he reminded everyone that, according to the teachings of the Church, all those involved in the abortion, with the exception of the girl, were excommunicated.

The softer position of Bishop Fisichella created a wave of articles and editorials—especially in Latin America—claiming that the Church had allegedly “softened” its position on abortion. The article was even used by pro-abortion activists in Nicaragua who were trying to reverse a ban on all forms of abortion.

In response to the Fisichella letter, the CDF says it received several letters, “including some from top personalities of political and ecclesiastic life, that have informed us of the confusion created.”

“In that regard, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reconfirms that the Church’s doctrine on procured abortion has not changed and cannot change. Such doctrine has been expressed in numbers 2270-2273 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

The CDF document quotes the numerals in its entirety:

2270: Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you."

“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth."

2271: Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

"You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish."

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.

2272: Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae," "by the very commission of the offense," and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

2273: The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

"The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death."

"The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child's rights."

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The CDF says that “Pope John Paul II has reaffirmed such doctrine with his authority as Supreme Pastor of the Church; and quotes the encyclical “Evangelium vitae”: 'by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops—who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine—I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.'”

The CDF document also adds that “when it comes to procured abortion in some difficult and complex situations, the clear and precise teaching of Pope John Paul II still stands.”

The note of clarification then quotes again from “Evangelium Vitae”: “It is true that the decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful for the mother, insofar as the decision to rid herself of the fruit of conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but out of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a decent standard of living for the other members of the family. Sometimes it is feared that the child to be born would live in such conditions that it would be better if the birth did not take place. Nevertheless, these reasons and others like them, however serious and tragic, can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.”

The CDF explains that two “very different circumstances” can be involved in some medical treatments aimed at preserving the health of the mother. “On the one hand, an intervention that directly provokes the death of a fetus, sometimes inadequately called ‘therapeutic’ abortion, which can never be licit since it is the direct murder of an innocent human being; and on the other hand an intervention not abortive in itself which can have, as collateral consequence, the death of the child.”

Finally, the document says that health care workers must also bear responsibility for their actions. The CDF's clarifying note says “it is necessary to remember the words the words of Pope John Paul II,” who wrote in “Evangelium Vitae,” “Their profession calls for them to be guardians and servants of human life. In today's cultural and social context, in which science and the practice of medicine risk losing sight of their inherent ethical dimension, health-care professionals can be strongly tempted at times to become manipulators of life, or even agents of death. In the face of this temptation their responsibility today is greatly increased. Its deepest inspiration and strongest support lie in the intrinsic and undeniable ethical dimension of the health-care profession, something already recognized by the ancient and still relevant Hippocratic Oath, which requires every doctor to commit himself to absolute respect for human life and its sacredness.”