Our responsibility to speak out against Amendment 2
By Bishop Robert W. Finn
Kansas City-St. Joseph
I recently met with our priests, deacons, and parish respect-life coordinators concerning the church's strong and clear opposition to Amendment 2, a State Constitutional Amendment proposal that would establish a pre-eminent right to embryonic stem cell research and human cloning. Here is part of a letter that I have addressed to the clergy of the diocese.
Dear Brother Priests and Deacons,
Our responsibilities as teachers of the Gospel include teaching the Catholic faithful about our call to love one another as God loves us. God's love is infinite and unconditional, and it most readily embraces and lifts up those who are weakest and most vulnerable. Our call, in turn, to show a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable extends not only to our private lives but also to our lives in the faith community and the wider society. Therefore raising our voices on threats to human dignity in the public sphere is an integral part of our core mission to preach the Gospel.
It is especially important for us to remember these truths in light of the human cloning initiative, known as Amendment 2, on which Missourians will cast their votes on Nov. 7. This deceptively worded measure claims to be a ban on human cloning, but is exactly the opposite. It would create a new constitutional right to clone human embryos and destroy them for their stem cells - a Roe v. Wade of human cloning, if you will. Far from banning the cloning process, it would authorize that practice but prohibit any effort to allow cloned humans to survive and be born - thus defining, for the first time in our state's history, a class of fellow human beings it is a crime not to destroy by a certain stage.
As a state with a strong pro-life legacy - and as a state that was at one time the epicenter of the struggle over slavery and the moral and legal status of enslaved human beings - Missouri has especially strong reasons to say loudly that no class of human beings should ever again be denied basic constitutional protection, or turned into mere commodities for the use of others.
Tragically, the real moral issue raised by this initiative is ignored or denied by many of our secular news media, as well as by a multi-million-dollar campaign waged from within the boundaries of our own diocese, by cloning supporters. Those sources want our people to ignore their moral qualms and vote for the miraculous "cures" that may come from embryonic stem cells and cloning. However, the promised "cures" are only distant speculations, and there is good reason to believe they may never emerge at all. More fundamentally, any technical progress along these lines would be bought at too high a price - the complete abandonment of our respect for each and every member of the human family as a child of God.
I believe some priests, while understanding the importance of our moral message, may be concerned that preaching and teaching on the issue will smack of "politics." Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. The fundamental God-given dignity of each human person, and the need for human society to respect that dignity, transcends all partisan or political categories. This dignity is the core value at the heart of our Catholic social teaching, and an integral aspect of the Gospel message we are called to teach.
Some may also be concerned about possible legal consequences from our active role in educating Catholics and others on this issue, in terms of the Church's tax-exempt status. However, this concern as well rests on a misunderstanding. From the viewpoint of the law, the fact that the people of Missouri will vote on Amendment 2 directly, rather than through their elected representatives in the legislature, is of no importance. The key fact is that, this is a legislative (and in this case constitutional) proposal, not a person running for public office. Therefore it is governed by the same rules as when we encourage our parishioners to call or write their state legislator or congressional representative on a piece of legislation. It is "issue advocacy," not partisan political activity or electioneering for any candidate.
Federal tax law requires only that tax-exempt organizations like ours not devote a "substantial" percentage (sometimes estimated at between 5 percent and 15 percent) of our total budget to such advocacy. In light of what our parishes and institutions spend on salaries and infrastructure alone, of course, there is no danger of our approaching this limit, regardless of how actively we educate the faithful on the dangers of Amendment 2.
As priests and as moral teachers, acting on behalf of the Catholic Church, we should not discuss candidates' names or platforms in conjunction with our strong encouragement to Catholics to vote against Amendment 2. Much more detail on what is legally acceptable for the Church in an election year can be found on the Web site of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, at www.usccb.org/ogc/guidelines.shtml.
As individuals, of course, adult Catholics are called to evangelize the culture and to vote. Lay Catholics may participate in political life even more fully - by their involvement in political parties, and even at times by running for public office themselves. Our task as pastors is to provide the moral guidance they need to enter the political sphere armed with the truth.
Dear brothers: No concern about being misconstrued as a "political" body, no fear of being contradicted or disliked, no pressure from powerful financial or political interests can or should lead us to retreat from our call to speak the truth in love about the sanctity and dignity of each and every human life. Thank you in advance for your loving commitment and cooperation.
In Christ and Mary,
Most Reverend Robert W. Finn
Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph