Controversies in Conversation

An Invitation to Share Our Beliefs

Here I invite us to an Unofficial Dialogue so that we may share with one another:

  1. Our understandings of what our Faith Traditions teach or Philosophies Uphold
    1. (Please Provide Sources)
  2. Our Personal thoughts and Feelings about what our traditions teach or Philosophies uphold
  3. What We Personally Believe with Respect and Reverence for one another and respect for our respective institutions.

True Multi-Faith Dialogue invites us to clarify for one another our respective Tradition’s beliefs and moral codes, and share our own responses to those doctrines and/or sensibilities — however, UNCOMFORTABLE this may be for each of us. But I trust all who are committed to multi-faith dialogue are willing to share our perspectives without rancor, but instead, respect the ways the human heart and brain function as infused with each person’s particular faith, culture, and perspectives on personal autonomy. Therefore, in response to the recent United States Supreme Court Decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, I invite you to offer your Faith or Denominations’ perspectives on Right to Life and Abortion. (I have begun to compile a SAMPLE of the various religious institutions’ and their representatives’ statements on the Court’s decision, and I welcome you to add your statements in comments there as well. See the item entitled SAMPLE OF RELIGIOUS STATEMENTS that will soon be another post in this blog.) Let’s give a civil conversation a try! 

I will start us off with my explanation of the Roman Catholic position contextualized with my personal understanding of why this topic remains a difficult one.

A Humble Attempt at a Catholic Explanation of The Right to Life from the Moment of Conception

Presented by Rev. James M. DiLuzio CSP (A Catholic priest –not a formal Catholic Theologian, Ethicist, or Official Spokesman)

The Catholic Church upholds the belief that human life begins at conception and therefore society must protect it. Not all Christian churches agree. Not all Faith Traditions agree.  Part of the issue’s complexity is rooted in the different foundational premises people have as they enter the abortion debate. Generally, Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, and Pentecostal Christians start with life in the womb. Protestants, and other faiths often, but not always, start with each woman’s right to bodily integrity. While the former groups insist a woman’s “right to choose” begins and ends with her decision to engage in sexual intercourse along with her choices regarding family planning and contraception, the latter groups extend each woman’s rights of self-determination to any point including her pregnancy be it wanted or unwanted.  Some traditions limit the designation of “the right to choose” as “a moral choice” to specific stages in pregnancy.

In the hope of maintaining focus, I invite us to take one premise at a time. Therefore, in this first piece I will offer my best expression of the Roman Catholic beliefs regarding the life in utero.  

# 2270: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his (sic) 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. (Source: CDF — Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith document Donum vitae) [1]

       Biblical References: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you.”  (Jeremiah 1: 5)    “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139: 15)  [2]

# 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 whether 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.”[3]

       “God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men (sic) 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.”[4]

Science classifies many stages in the conception process. Let us first look at the natural process of conception and growth along with Catholic catechetical statements printed in BOLD.

My first source Fetal development: MonthByMonth Stages of Pregnancy (clevelandclinic.org):  “(An) Ova / female gamete is fertilized by male sperm in the fallopian tube of a woman’s ovaries. At the moment of fertilization, your baby’s genetic make-up is complete, including its sex. A fertilized ova is classified as a zygote.”                                                                       

# 364: “The human body shares in the dignity of ‘the image of God’: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit. [5]

# 365: “The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body: [6] i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body, spirit, and matter, in man (sic), are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.”

This last statement that the soul and material body are inseparable, makes the Catholic sensibility that God, The Creator, infuses the immortal soul as sperm and ovum together create a zygote more tenable. Of course, the moment of ensoulment is unverifiable. As far as I know, neither the Roman Catholic Church nor any Christian denomination or Faith offers as an Institutional Body, any pronouncement, dogmatic or otherwise, as to exactly when God infuses the immortal soul in the human person in the womb. Truly there is mystery here.7 But, again, this fact does not mitigate the Catholic position that life begins at conception, and that humanity must respect every child’s right to develop and prosper. 

For the complete Catholic position with reference to ensoulment, here is the statement from the Pontifical DECLARATION ON PROCURED ABORTION from Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on June 28, 1974

“It is not within the competence of science to decide between these views, because the existence of an immortal soul is not a question in its field. It is a philosophical problem from which our moral affirmation remains independent for two reasons: 

  • supposing a belated animation, there is still nothing less than a human life, preparing for and calling for a soul in which the nature received from parents is completed,
  • on the other hand, it suffices that this presence of the soul be probable (and one can never prove the contrary) in order that the taking of life involve accepting the risk of killing a man, not only waiting for, but already in possession of his soul.”[7]

Let us return to what information Science gives us: 

“Within 24 hours after fertilization, the egg begins rapidly dividing into many cells. It remains in the fallopian tube for about three days after conception.   

“Within 24 hours after fertilization, the egg begins rapidly dividing into many cells. It remains in the fallopian tube for about three days after conception.  

The cell of the zygote continuously divides, eventually forming a hollow ball of cells called the blastocyst. . . . The blastocyte continues to divide as it passes slowly through the fallopian tube to the uterus. The blastocyst stays in their uterus for several days before it implants in the inner lining of their uterine wall (endometrium). It continues to make new cells, which separate into layers.” [8]

Now some proponents of abortion and abortive contraception (those that prevent a fertilized ova to attach to the uterus wall) is morally justifiable because, in the natural course of events, attachment of blastocyte to uterus occurs as infrequently as 30% of the time.[9] However, Catholicism insists there is a marked difference between what occurs in nature and what the human person “wills.” Human “Will” is subject to moral and ethical evaluation, and these are based on Biblical and Church Tradition norms. 

My Now let’s bring this science segment to its conclusion by returning to my First Source:  Fetal development: Month-By-Month Stages of Pregnancy (clevelandclinic.org)

“In these first few weeks, a primitive face will take form with large dark circles for eyes. The mouth, lower jaw and throat are developing. Blood cells are taking shape, and circulation will begin. The tiny “heart” tube will beat sixty-five times a minute by the end of the fourth week.”

 And so it is that the Roman Catholic Church finds support of its teachings on when human life begins in the way science documents each body’s distinctiveness at the onset of gestation and its evolving readiness to exist beyond the confines of the womb. Nevertheless, Roman and Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, Orthodox Christian Churches and other Christian denominations have failed to convince society of the validity of this belief. Therefore, the conversation on human life, abortion and all the related issues of human sexuality and responsibility, maternity and paternity, women’s and men’s health and dignity, remains open. Of course, for all of this, the health and safety of pregnant women remains paramount. See Appendix B as an introduction to that essential topic. 

And, for all this, it is time to insist our nation provides greater resources for families, fathers, mothers, and children– far more than our government currently provides. We must also consider the number of single parent families, and of grandparents raising grandchildren, absent fathers, and all the realities of people not taking joint responsibility for their children.

If the choice for abortion is to become truly “rare,” Americans must reclaim our responsibility to form healthy families. Sure, this will mean government programs and higher taxes, but taxes put to this purpose will strengthen our society now and for the future. Time for a New “New Deal.”  I invite you to read my MODEST PROPOSAL To Eliminate and/or Greatly Reduce the Need for Abortion. Go to: https://frjamesdiluzio.com/2022/07/05/a-modest-proposal/

As always, All Comments Welcome! 

PS: I found this article presenting Islam’s view of When Does a Human Life Become Human by Hamza Yusuf is a leading proponent of classical learning in Islam. He cites “Do not sever the bonds of the womb.” – Qur’an 4:1 and. Do not kill your children from fear of poverty. – Qur’an 17:31. Go to: https://renovatio.zaytuna.edu/

Father James DiLuzio is a Paulist Father and Director of the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Multi-Faith Relations centered in New York. APPENDICES to this article appear on the following pages.

APPENDIX A

Biblical Quotations Used in Pro-Life & Pro-Choice Debates

A Conflict in Christian Interpretations. (New American Bible, Revised Edition NABRE)

The Call of the Prophets:

These passages are open to debate: Were these conceptions a priori in the mind of God bestowed on the prophets alone or everyone?  Is ensoulment the same as to “be filled with the holy Spirit?” The Roman Catholic position is that these passages refer to every human being (in part via Psalm 139 cited below); other denominations disagree.

Call of Jeremiah 1: 4-7

  • The word of the LORD came to me:
  • Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
  • before you were born, I dedicated you,
  • a prophet to the nations I appointed you. 

Isaiah 49: The Servant of the Lord[a]

1 Hear me, coastlands, listen, distant peoples. Before birth the LORD called me, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. 

Psalm 139: 13-16

13 You formed my inmost being;
    you knit me in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, because I am wonderfully made;
    wonderful are your works!
    My very self you know.
15 My bones are not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
    fashioned in the depths of the earth.[e]
16 Your eyes saw me unformed;
    in your book all are written down;
    my days were shaped, before one came to be.

Deuterocanonical Book of Sirach 49: 7

(aka Ben Sira and Ecclesiasticus 49:7)

As foretold by Jeremiah. They mistreated him
    who even in the womb had been made a prophet . . .

Deuterocanonical Book of Sirach 50: 1, 22 ff. Simeon, Son of Jochanan

Greatest of his family, the glory of his people,
    was Simeon the priest, son of Jochanan,[a]
In whose time the house of God was renovated,
    in whose days the temple was reinforced . . .

22 And now, bless the God of all,[b]
    who has done wonders on earth;
Who fosters growth from the womb,
    fashioning it according to his will!

23 May he grant you a wise heart
    and abide with you in peace;
24 May his goodness toward Simeon last forever;
    may he fulfill for him the covenant with Phinehas
So that it may not be abrogated for him
    or his descendants while the heavens last.

Luke 1: 13-15 The Announcement of the Conception of John the Baptist  13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid,[e]Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of [the] Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink.[f] He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, 16 and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 

The Annunciation

PURPOSEFULNESS PRIOR TO CONCEPTION Luke 1: 30-33

30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,[k] and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33 and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

The Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians 1: 15-16

 15 But when [God], who from my mother’s womb had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles,

Ambiguity in Texts:  Exodus 21: 12 – 15 and 22 -23 

Personal Injury. 12 [e]Whoever strikes someone a mortal blow must be put to death. 13 However, regarding the one who did not hunt another down, but God caused death to happen by his hand, I will set apart for you a place to which that one may flee. 14 But when someone kills a neighbor after maliciously scheming to do so, you must take him even from my altar and put him to death. 15 Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death[10]

22 [h]When men have a fight and hurt a pregnant woman, so that she suffers a miscarriage, but no further injury, the guilty one shall be fined as much as the woman’s husband demands of him, and he shall pay in the presence of the judges. 23 But if injury ensues, you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Taken together, these passages imply that the biblical authors did not judge life in utero as equal to that of a human living beyond the womb. The penalty for a homicide was death, but the recompense for an injured pregnant woman who miscarried is merely a fine. Some people cite these texts to justify their belief that a child in utero is not yet a human being. However, note that the biblical text refers to an accident toward a bystander, not a willful attack on a person as in the case of the adversarial men. The Scriptures do not address a violent act against a pregnant woman who subsequently miscarries here or elsewhere. Therefore, the assumption of the lesser value of the child in utero is a false one.

APPENDIX B 

RELATED ISSUES: 

“Saving the Life of a Mother in Crisis Pregnancies”

Here is a brief look at the Catholic understanding in assessing crisis situations in which both the life of a mother and the child in utero are in jeopardy. 

Catholic Moral Teaching insists that all medical means are permissible in saving a woman’s life providing one does not willfully intend to terminate the life of a child in utero. 

“The Principle of Double Effect in the Church’s moral tradition teaches that one may perform a good action even if it is foreseen that a bad effect will arise only if four conditions are met: 1) The act itself must be good. 2) The only thing that one can intend is the good act, not the foreseen but unintended bad effect. 3) The good effect cannot arise from the bad effect; otherwise, one would do evil to achieve good. 4) The unintended but foreseen bad effect cannot be disproportionate to the good being performed.

This principle has been applied to many cases in health care, always respecting the most fundamental moral principle of medical ethics,primum non nocere, “first, do no harm.”

Source: Clarifying ‘Double Effect’ (catholiceducation.org)

See Also: https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/principle-double-effect-and-proportionate-reason/2007-05

For Additional Reflection on Catholicism’s perspective in response to the American LIBERTY issue, see Jesuit magazine AMERICA’s article written by Father Sam Sawyer, S.J. 

I support overturning Roe. But pro-lifers need to understand why so many Americans fear this decision. | America Magazine. https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2022/05/06/roe-wade-overturn-fear-242941

Don’t have time to read the article?  Here’s the essence of it cited from Fr. Sawyer’s closing remarks: 

“The pro-life movement has frequently been co-opted for other political goals and often happily colluded in them; politicians have used the lives of the unborn as moral cover for ignoring other calls for justice and to protect the common good. Many defenders of Roe v. Wade, meanwhile, have obscured and evaded the moral question about when life begins and what duties we owe to unborn children. Our country has, as a consequence of all these failures, not offered women a better choice than abortion, while it has accepted the lie that autonomy and freedom can only be guaranteed by the option to destroy an innocent life. “

See the following Survey on American Opinions: Most Americans believe unborn children have rights; poll shows (aleteia.org)

See the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Supreme Court Ruling Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization: https://www.usccb.org/news/2022/bishop-chairman-responds-executive-order-abortion-access

See this Official Statement by the Catholic Bishops of New York State: BishopsStatement-Dobbs2022.pdf (archny.org)

As Pope Francis asked ‘“I ask: ‘Is it licit, is it right, to eliminate a human life to resolve a problem?’ It’s a human life, that’s science,” the pope said. “The moral question is whether it is right to take a human life to solve a problem,

Here’s a bit of SEX EDUCATION available right now from the New York Times that can clarify facts to be used in the dialogue. .


[1] Donum Vitae is the “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation” which was issued on February 22, 1987, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It addresses biomedical issues from the Roman Catholic Church ‘s perspective. See: Instruction on respect for human life (vatican.va)

[2] Additional Biblical References on the Life in the Womb appear in an APPENDIX A at the end of this article.

[3] The Didache 2:2 See: Didache Wikiwand and other Church sources

[4] GS 51 S. 3 Gaudium et spes See: Gaudium et spes (vatican.va)

[5] GS 14 s 1  See : Gaudium et spes (vatican.va)

[6] Council of Vienne (1312) document (DS 902 – “DS”) is The Enchiridion (full title: Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum). It is a compendium of all the basic texts on Catholic dogma   and morality since the Apostolic Age. It has been in use since 1854 and has been regularly updated since. It is sometimes referred to as Denzinger, after its first editor, Heinrich Joseph Dominicus Denzinger. 7 Catholic attempts to bring in Thomas Aquinas’ writings on this issue prove inadequate as Aquinas utilized Aristotle’s philosophies in conjunction with all the limitations of Medieval Science. With an understanding that, once conceived, a human being’s essence must go through stages from a vegetable, unanimated state, to an animal stage, and ultimately, a human state, he envisioned ensoulment to take place somewhere between to 40 to 80 days beyond conception) See St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 12251274) | The Embryo Project Encyclopedia (asu.edu) and What Did St. Thomas Aquinas Believe about “Ensoulment?” | Catholic Answers  and Declaration on procured abortion, 18 November 1974 (vatican.va)

[7] Declaration on procured abortion, 18 November 1974 (vatican.va)        

[8] Fetal development: MonthByMonth Stages of Pregnancy (clevelandclinic.org)

[9] Natural human embryo mortality is high, particularly during the first weeks after fertilization, with total prenatal losses of 70% and higher frequently claimed. See: Early embryo mortality in natural human reproduction: What the data say PMC (nih.gov)

[10] The verb used most often signifies a violent, sometimes deadly, attack. The severe penalty assigned is intended to safeguard the integrity of the family.

A Modest Proposal:

What Society Owes its Citizens in Order to Eliminate or Greatly Reduce the Desire or Need for Abortion

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NOW IS THE TIME for MORE Conversation and Debate on the Role of Religious and Educational Institutions, Behavioral Sciences, Businesses, and Society-at-Large Regarding:

  • Advancing SOCIETY’S RESPONSIBILITY toward Families including Universal Health Care that includes Subsidies for 
    • Pre-Pregnancy, Pregnancy, and Post-partem Health Care for All Regardless of Economic and Marital Status and Sexual Orientation
    • Expanding WIC (Women, Infants and Children) programs for All Single Parents, Male and Female
    • Paid Maternity and Paternity Leave for all Parents. I suggest we follow the European Model of Six Months or MORE as bonding is an essential dynamic for raising healthy children.
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  • Universal, Professional Child Day Care for infants and children of all Working Women and Men whether he or she works inside or outside of the home.
  • Greater Public Educational Offerings in Parenting, Child Care and Child Development especially in High Schools and GED Programs.
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  • Expanding Education K through Twelve to offer
    • Age-Appropriate Classes in All Schools on HOW TO BE A HEALTHY FAMILY, including such items as
      • Healthy Expressions of Anger
      • Ways to address fears, insecurities
      • Age-appropriate forms of Affection
      • Conflict Resolution
      • Healthy Diets
      • Home Economics
      • Ethics and in Health and Sexual Education including: The Psychology of Sexual drives, thought, feelings and decision-making
      • In-depth understanding of layers of social pressures regarding sexual expression  
      • Clarity and Specificity in situations when individuals reject sexual overtures
    • Expanding After-School Programs in Visual Arts, Crafts, Music, Theatre, and Sciences, especially where local school systems cannot afford such essential needs to healthy human development
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  • Sponsoring Ongoing Local, State, and National PUBLIC FORUMS to Develop a Consensus on Universal Guidelines (NOT LEGISLATION) for Promoting Co-Responsibility for Sexual Activity and its Consequences for both Men and Women. Special attention must be given to educate men in proper attitudes toward women as equals and co-partners in mutually agreed upon relationships including clarification of all of Men’s moral / social responsibilities toward their partners before, during and after their partners become pregnant.
  • These PUBLIC FORUMS should include representatives from all faith traditions, experts in Behavioral Sciences, Sociologists, Economics and more. Our nation needs to cultivate greater awareness of the consequences of our actions, the complex needs families have, and the family’s impact on society.
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  • Compare and Contrast Various Religious, Humanist, Philosophical, and Psychological approaches regarding sexual activity in human relationships (Inviting Multi-faith and Secular Perspectives) Amplifying and/or modifying these norms for Teenagers and their parents. Teenagers need to be much better informed of the dynamics of their changing bodies and all the associated feelings and drives. Psychology reminds us the human brain does not have all of its full adult capacities until age 25! Teenagers and parents need lots more information! See https://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/02/18/at-what-age-is-the-brain-fully-developed/
  • Commission and Popularize Psychological Studies of psychological and emotional impact on sexual activity and abstinenceInside and outside of Marriage for
    • Inside and Outside of Marriage
    • On Teenagers
    • On College Students
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  • New Dialogues with Medical Professionals and Behavioral Scientists with Religious Institutions on Sexual Behaviors and Psychology, including the mental and emotional dynamics of Access to, and use of Non-Abortive Forms of Contraception.
    • Special Attention to Conversations with Religious Institutions Opposed to All Forms of Artificial Contraception, especially those like the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, among many others,, that ask all single individuals to abstain from sexual activity until marriage. Everyone could benefit by exploring further the many spiritual, psychological, and emotional dynamics of this prescription. 
  • Public Health and Safety Service Announcements as to the Best Non-Abortive Forms of Birth Control for those whose faith and ethics permit them. Churches and Other Religious Institutions could offer their exemptions / rejections such as “The Roman Catholic Church finds these forms of artificial birth control morally objectionable.”
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Here’s a bit of SEX EDUCATION available right now from the New York Times.