Document 32: Catholics for a Free Choice, "A Diversity of Opinions Regarding Abortions Exists Among Committed Catholics," advertisement, New York Times, 72 (7 October 1984), E7.

Document 32: Catholics for a Free Choice, "A Diversity of Opinions Regarding Abortions Exists Among Committed Catholics," advertisement, New York Times, 72 (7 October 1984), E7.


   Several incidents in the first half of the 1980s, including the Agnes Mary Mansour case (see Document 31), indicated the Vatican's commitment to curtailing feminism. The most highly publicized crackdown against feminists occurred in 1984 when the Catholic pro-choice group Catholics for a Free Choice sponsored an advertisement in the New York Times, signed by nearly 100 prominent Catholics. The advertisement emphasized two points: that some Catholics supported abortion rights, and that American Catholics were pluralistic. The Vatican used the advertisement to provoke a showdown over feminism. Officials threatened the lay signers with a host of reprisals if they failed to recant, but the priests and religious in the group faced dismissal from their orders and defrocking. Several sisters and the few priest signers quickly recanted, leaving a group of women religious known as the "Vatican 24" to stand their ground. The frustrating and emotional confrontation took two years of negotiation among the signers, their congregational leadership, and the Vatican. In the end, only two sisters resigned from their orders; the rest reached compromise positions allowing them to remain.



   Continued confusion and polarization within the Catholic community on the subject of abortion prompt us to issue this statement.

   Statements of recent Popes and of the Catholic hierarchy have condemned the direct termination of pre-natal life as morally wrong in all instances. There is the mistaken belief in American society that this is the only legitimate Catholic position. In fact, a diversity of opinions regarding abortion exists among committed Catholics:

  • A large number of Catholic theologians hold that even direct abortion, though tragic, can sometimes be a moral choice.
  • According to data compiled by the National Opinion Research Center, only 11% of Catholics surveyed disapprove of abortion in all circumstances.

These opinions have been formed by:

  • Familiarity with the actual experiences that lead women to make a decision for abortion;
  • A recognition that there is no common and constant teaching on ensoulment in Church doctrine, nor has abortion always been treated as murder in canonical history;
  • An adherence to principles of moral theology, such as probabilism, religious liberty, and the centrality of informed conscience; and
  • An awareness of the acceptance of abortion as a moral choice by official statements and respected theologians of other faith groups.

   Therefore, it is necessary that the Catholic community encourage candid and respectful discussion on this diversity of opinion within the Church, and that Catholic youth and families be educated on the complexity of the issues of responsible sexuality and human reproduction.

   Further, Catholics — especially priests, religious, theologians, and legislators - who publicly dissent from hierarchical statements and explore areas of moral and legal freedom on the abortion question should not be penalized by their religious superiors, church employers, or bishops.

   Finally, while recognizing and supporting the legitimate role of the hierarchy in providing Catholics with moral guidance on political and social issues and in seeking legislative remedies to social injustices, we believe that Catholics should not seek the kind of legislation that curtails the legitimate exercise of the freedom of religion and conscience or discriminates against poor women.

   In the belief that responsible moral decisions can only be made in an atmosphere of freedom from fear or coercion, we, the undersigned*, call upon all Catholics to affirm this statement.


Anthony Battaglia, Ph.D., Associate Professor, California State University · Roddy O'Neil Cleary, D. Min., Campus Ministries, University of Vermont · Joseph Fahey, Ph.D., Professor, Manhattan College · Elizabeth Schüssler Florenza, Ph.D., Professor, University of Notre Dame · Mary Gordon, M.A., author of Final Payments and Company of Women · Patricia Hennessy, J.D., New York City · Mary Hunt, Ph.D., Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual · Frances Kissling, Executive Director, Catholics for a Free Choice · Justus George Lawler, Executive Editor, Academic Bookline, Winston-Seabury Press · Daniel C. Maguire, S.T.D., Professor, Marquette University · Marjorie Reiley Maguire, Ph.D., Fellow in Ethics and Theology, Catholics for a Free Choice · J. Giles Milhaven, Ph.D., Professor, Brown University · Rosemary Radford Ruether, Ph.D., Professor, Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, IL · Thomas Shannon, Ph.D., Professor, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, MA · James F. Smurl, Ph.D., Professor, Indiana University


Agnes P. Albany, M.A., Chestnut Hill College, PA · Everett Ballmann, Minot State College, ND · Michael H. Barnes, Ph.D., University of Dayton, OH · Barbara Bemache-Baker, Ph.D., Loomis Institute, CT · Kathryn Bissell, Wider Opportunities for Women, MD · Mary C.I. Buckley, S.T.D., St. John's University, NY · Ronald Burke, Ph.D., University of Nebraska at Omaha, NB · Mary J. Byles, Ph.D., Maryville College, MO · Ann Carr, Ph.D., University of Chicago Divinity School, IL · Rev. Joseph M. Connolly, S.T.L., pastor, Archdiocese of Maryland, MD · Margaret Cotroneo, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, PA · Patty Crowley, Chicago Catholic Women, IL · Barbara A. Cullom, Ph.D., Quixote Center, VA · Maryann Cunningham, S.L., Colorado · Mary Louise Denny, S.L., MO · Daniel DiDomizio, Marian College, WI · Maurice C. Duchaine, S.T.D., San Francisco, CA · Emmaus Community of Christian Hope, NJ · Margaret A. Farley, Yale Divinity School, CT · Darrell J. Fasching, Ph.D., University of South Florida, FL · Barbara Ferraro, Sisters of Notre Dame, WV · Maureen Fiedler, Ph.D., S.L., Catholics for the Common Good, MD · Silvio E. Fittipaldi, Ph.D., Pastoral Institute of Lehigh Valley, PA · George H. Frein, Ph.D., University of North Dakota, ND · Lorine M. Getz, Ph.D., Somerville, MA · Kevin Gordon, Director, Consultation on Homosexuality, Social Justice and Roman Catholic Theology, CA · Jeannine Gramick, School Sisters of Notre Dame, NY · Christine E. Gudorf, Ph.D., Xavier University, OH · Terry Hamilton, Woodstock/ St. Paul Roman Catholic Community, NY · Jack Hanford, Th.D., Ferris State College, MI · Kathleen Hebbeler, Dominican Sister of the Sick Poor, OH · Patricia Hussey, Sisters of Notre Dame, WV · Caridad Inda, Council of Women Religious, MD · Dorothy Irvin, S.T.D., Dunbar, NC · Fr. Jerry Kaelin, O.F.M., Cincinnati, OH · Janet Kalven, Loveland, OH · Elizabeth Nelson Keating, Yale University, CT · Pat Kenoyer, S.L., Loretto Women's Network, MO · Joseph E. Kerns, S.T.D., Center for Christian Living, VA · Paul F. Knitter, Th.D., Xavier University, OH · Joseph A. LaBarge, Ph.D., Bucknell University, PA · Eleanor V. Lewis, Ph.D., Baltimore, MD · Wayne Lobue, Ph.D., Gilmour Academy, OH · Agnes Mary Mansour, Ph.D., Lansing, MI · Roseann Mazzeo, S.C., NJ · Bro. Ray McManaman, F.S.C., Lewis University, IL · Kathleen E. McVey, Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary, NJ · John A. Melloh, S.T.L., Milwaukee, WI · Joe Mellon, M.A., University of Notre Dame, IN · Diane Neu, M. Div., S.T.M., Co-director Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual, Washington, DC · Jeanne Noble, National Assembly of Religious Women, MD · Sr. Margaret Nulty, Sisters of Charity of New Jersey · Kathleen O'Connor, Ph.D., Maryknoll School of Theology, NY · Margaret A. O'Neill, Ed.D., Sisters of Charity of New Jersey, NJ · Ronald D. Pasquariello, Ph.D., Marist Brothers, Washington, DC · Richard Penaskovic, Ph.D., Auburn University, AL · Gerald A. Pire, M.A., Seton Hall University, NJ · Stanley M. Polan, S.T.L., Franklin Pierce College, NH · Dolly Pomerleau, Catholics for the Common Good, MD · John E. Price, S.T.L., Evanston, IL · Donna Quinn, National Coalition of American Nuns, IL · Jill Raitt, Ph.D., University of Missouri, MO · Maureen Reiff, Chicago Catholic Women, IL · John G. Rusnak, Ph.D., Phoenix, AZ·Mary Savage, Ph.D., Albertus Magnus College, CT·Jane Schaberg, Ph.D., University of Detroit, MI·Mary Jane Schutzius, Federation of Christian Ministries, Association of the Rights of Catholics in the Church, MO·Ellen Shanahan, Ph.D., Rosary College, IL·Emily Ann Staples, University of Minnesota, MN·Marilyn Thie, Sisters of Charity of New Jersey, Colgate University, NY·Sr. Rose Dominic Trapasso, Lima, Peru·Sr. Margaret Ellen Traxler, National Coalition of American Nuns, IL·Marjorie Tuite, Church Women United, NY·Alan F. Turner, Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, Valley Forge, PA·Judith Vaughan, National Assembly of Religious Women, CA·E. Jane Via, Ph.D., J.D., University of San Diego and Superior Court of San Diego, CA·Gerald S. Vigna, Ph.D., Pennsauken, NJ·Ann Patrick Ware, M.A., National Coalition of American Nuns, NY· Sallie Ann Watkins, National Coalition of American Nuns, CO·Mary Jo Weaver, Ph.D., Indiana University, IN·Virginia Williams, S.L., MO·Arthur E. Zannoni, Ph.D., University of Notre Dame Extension Program, IN


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