The nation's Roman Catholic bishops, seeking to regain momentum in the bitter debate over legal abortion, today declared no Catholic "can responsibly take a pro-choice stand."
Acting unanimously during the second day of the four-day annual meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishops also called on "public officials, especially Catholics, to advance these (anti-abortion) goals in recognition of their moral responsibility to protect the weak and defenseless among us."
The abortion vote was the first time the full body of 300 Catholic bishops have spoken out on the volatile moral, political and health issue since the Supreme Court ruled in July that states have wide latitude in restricting the termination of pregnancy.
"The unborn child still is not recognized as a legal person in the Constitution, and the decision to have an abortion is still constitutionally protected," said Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
Bernardin said the court ruling "places us in a new and more challenging situation with regard to our longstanding effort to advance respect for unborn human life in our country."
The resolution expressed a certain bitterness with the way the political debate has been framed since the July ruling in the Webster case.
Supporters of abortion "have formed new political arms and have intensified efforts to defeat politicians who do not support permissive abortion," the resolution declared.
The resolution indirectly took note of Catholics--both elected officials and others--who support legal abortion.
"No Catholic can responsibly take a 'pro-choice' stand when the 'choice' in question involves the taking of innocent human life," the resolution declared.
The bishops also elected Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati to be the new president of the conference and its action arm, the U.S. Catholic Conference. Pilarczyk, 55, currently vice president of the conference, is a witty, good-humored prelate who is considered a moderate liberal in the internal life of the church.