The Vatican today exhorted Roman Catholic politicians to oppose laws permitting abortion, gay marriage, mercy killing and scientific work that involves human embryos and to be guided by "non-negotiable ethical teachings" that no Christian can ignore.
There was nothing new in the positions laid out in the "Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life," a 17-page document approved by Pope John Paul II. What was unusual was the direct appeal to politicians and the insistence that they closely follow Vatican teachings concerning social and scientific trends the pontiff considers alarming.
"Democracy," the document said, "must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society."
The document also attacked moral "relativism," which it defined as an attitude in which "every possible outlook on life" is "of equal value."
In effect, the Vatican outlined its own legislative agenda. Opposition to abortion and euthanasia were at the top of the list. Homosexual liaisons, described in the document as "other forms of cohabitation," can in "no way be placed on the same level as marriage, nor receive legal recognition as such."
The document also warned against laws that would permit cloning of people , "heedless of the consequences for the existence and future of human beings." The statement called on politicians to grant parents the right to educate children as they wished, evidently a reference to Catholic schooling, and to fight child drug abuse and prostitution.
In the past, the Vatican has ordered lawyers not to arrange divorces and physicians not to perform abortions. But in these cases, as in today's document, no punishment was prescribed. There was no mention of excommunication, the denial of church sacraments and privileges.
Vatican officials said the paper was issued to coincide with an international Catholic antiabortion gathering called the World Meeting of Families, set for Jan. 22 in the Philippines. One official pointed out that it was issued just a week before the 30th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that lifted antiabortion laws in the United States.
Catholic antiabortion organizations in the United States are gearing up campaigns to promote their causes in both houses of the new Congress, now Republican-controlled. The new Senate majority leader, Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has said he opposes abortion. President Bush has pledged to sign bans on late-term abortions if legislation is passed by Congress.
Along with today's document, the Vatican released a statement by Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, saying he hoped the guidelines would help Catholic politicians to "respect the most essential moral values of our human nature."
But the document appears not to be directed just at the United States, whose reproductive, scientific and social practices have drawn Vatican opposition. The Netherlands, for instance, permits euthanasia and gay marriage, and abortion is a common practice across Europe.
The document called on all politicians to practice a "vigilant commitment" to peace. No mention was made of current events at a time when the Bush administration's policy of preemptive warfare to head off threats to the United States has begun to draw pointed criticism inside the Vatican.
Today, the Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica, whose editorial pages are approved by the Vatican's secretary of state, attacked preemptive war. "If every country that feels threatened attacks first in order to prevent the threat of being attacked, there would be war without end on the whole planet," it said.
La Civilta Cattolica expanded on the pope's recent declarations against the expected war against Iraq, saying the reasons for attacking Iraq were "not cogent enough or sufficient to justify a war. . . . One can foresee destabilization of the entire Middle East" and a "flare-up of terrorism against the United States and against allied Western countries."