Santa Fe, N.M. — Comments made by Catholic legislators in New Mexico in support of abortion and physician-assisted suicide "do not represent" church teaching and "may be confusing to the Catholic faithful," said the state's Catholic bishops.
"It is not appropriate for elected officials to publicly invoke their Catholic faith and to present their personal opinions as official church teaching," the bishops said in a statement. "This misrepresents church teaching and creates a public scandal for the faithful. Furthermore, this action publicly separates a person from communion with the Catholic faith."
"We the bishops of the state of New Mexico speak for the Catholic Church," they said. "We work to uphold the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death through our pastoral ministries and through our legislative advocacy via the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops."
The bishops said they "encourage individuals to live and proclaim their faith. However, they must be steadfast in stating they speak for themselves and do not speak for the Catholic Church."
The March 6 statement was signed by Archbishop John Wester and retired Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe; Bishop Oscar Cantu and retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces; and Bishop James Wall of Gallup. It was issued by the state Catholic conference, the bishops' public policy arm.
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The bishops' statement did not name any lawmakers, but the Albuquerque Journal daily newspaper reported March 9 on remarks made by Democratic Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero of Albuquerque, a Catholic, at a March 5 hearing on a measure that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Its supporters include the Catholic Church.
The paper said Roybal Caballero first described her Catholic upbringing and education, then said it was her Catholic faith that informed her opposition to the bill, which was under consideration by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.
She was quoted as saying "that our Catholic faith teaches that women and men have the right to make their own decisions — their own moral decisions — based on the dictates of their own consciences." She helped defeat the measure in committee 3-2; she also voted with the same majority to defeat a bill mandating doctors notify the parents of minors seeking an abortion.
Another state lawmaker who describes himself as "a faithful Catholic," Democratic Sen. Gerald Ortiz Pino has introduced a Senate bill that would repeal religious exemptions for participating in abortions. He also is one of the Democrats backing a physician-assisted suicide bill.
Ortiz Pino is chair of the Democratic-controlled Senate Public Affairs Committee that voted on a measure March 3 to legalize assisted-suicide. The Catholic Church and Gov. Susana Martinez oppose the bill, which now has to go to the full Senate.
Currently, New Mexico law makes it a felony for doctors to help end the life of a terminally ill patient. Last June, the state Supreme Court in an unanimous ruling refused to overturn the law.
In their statement, the New Mexico bishops acknowledged that "there are Catholic legislators who advocate and vote for some issues that are of moral importance to Catholics, including concern for poor people and immigrants. We applaud their work giving voice to the voiceless."
However, they said, they "are concerned by public statements by some legislators that seem to say that a faithful Catholic can support abortion or doctor-assisted suicide."
"Support for abortion or doctor-assisted suicide is not in accord with the teachings of the church, they said, because "these represent the direct taking of human life, and are always wrong."
"Proclaiming and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most effective way to change hearts and minds so that one day the scourge of abortion will be eliminated," the bishops said. "Our message is consistent: All human life is sacred, from the moment of conception to natural death, and must be protected."
They quoted Pope Francis: "Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God's creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect."
"It is not morally permissible for a Catholic to support abortion or doctor-assisted suicide," the bishops said.
At the same time, God forgives those involved in any way with abortion, they continued.
"God's forgiveness is always available to us if we seek it, so that we may heal our soul and be reconciled with God, the church and others. This is the case with abortion," the bishops said. "Those who have had an abortion, participated in an abortion, or otherwise supported an abortion need to seek reconciliation with God and the church through the sacrament of reconciliation."
They pointed to the Catholic Church's Project Rachel, which "offers this hope for healing and reconciliation to men and women who have had or participated in an abortion."
The New Mexico bishops said that as those who speak for the Catholic Church in their state, they "continuously preach Jesus' Gospel of life in public and in private meetings with legislators." Through the state Catholic conference, the bishops "are here to aid in the formation of consciences," they added.
"We take the Gospel to the public square in public meetings and hearings as well as in private meetings and conversations with elected officials," they added.
They said they also visit the New Mexico Legislature when there are opportunities to make the church's priorities known to its members about upholding the dignity of the human person and a consistent ethic of life from conception to natural death.