National Catholic Register


CDF Official Notes Differences Between Abortion and Euthanasia

BY Cindy Wooden

July 12, 1998 Issue | Posted 7/12/98 at 2:00 PM


VATICAN CITY—Believing that abortion is legitimate and permissible is heresy because it directly contradicts natural and biblical law and the constant teaching of the Church, said Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone.

The archbishop, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke about the differences between Church teaching on abortion and on euthanasia in a July 2 interview with Vatican Radio.

Unlike advocating abortion, he said, advocating euthanasia is not heresy because, although it is “absolutely illicit,” euthanasia is a “human act of our times” and therefore was not condemned by the Church from its very beginning.

Questions arose about the different levels of Church teaching following the June 30 publication of Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter, Ad Tuendam Fidem (To Defend the Faith).

Canon law defines heresy as the refusal to believe and affirm the divinely revealed truths taught by the Church, such as the statements in the Creed. Those teachings of the Church, which either have been constantly taught or solemnly declared to be divinely revealed, are referred to as belonging to the “first level” of truths which Catholics must believe.

The papal letter amended canon law to establish penalties for those who do not hold the truths of the “second level.” These include “truths founded on faith in the Holy Spirit's assistance to the magisterium and on the doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium,” Archbishop Bertone said.

Euthanasia belongs to the second level and abortion belongs to the first, he said.

While both abortion and euthanasia involve killing an innocent human being, the archbishop said, the teaching on abortion “has the confirmation of Church tradition from the very beginning, an explicit condemnation by the apostolic community, while euthanasia is a problem which is a crime and a human act of our times” without an explicit biblical condemnation.

However, Pope John Paul's condemnation of euthanasia in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) must be accepted by Catholics, Archbishop Bertone said.

The Pope's position flows from “the commandment to safeguard human life not only from the moment of its conception, but until its natural end,” he said.

One who understands the Church's teaching on euthanasia, yet contradicts it, is denying “a doctrine, a truth proposed as definitive and unchangeable,” the archbishop said.

“Knowingly opposing” the Church teaching, he said, “places one outside the communion of the Church.”

The Pope's recent addition to canon law does not establish a specific penalty for denying truths of the second level, he said.

“It says that he or she must be punished with a just ecclesiastical penalty, naturally always remembering that penalties are aimed at correction of the offender and, therefore, at the return to full communion with the Church and a full adherence to the teaching of the Church,” Archbishop Bertone said.

—Cindy Wooden