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Bill Duff wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Why doesn't the Pope, using his infallible power, declare the fetus as a person?

Thank you,


  { Why doesn't the Pope, using his infallible power, declare the fetus as a person? }

John replied:

Hi, Bill —

The Church already has done so as part of its infallible moral teaching that life begins at conception. It further has said that from the moment of conception there is a not only biological life but a soul as well, thus there is a person in the womb. The pope has reiterated this fact many times over. It is not necessary for the Pope to issue an ex-cathedra when the matter is already settled as an infallible moral teaching of the ordinary Magisterium. (the teaching authority of the bishops in union with Rome.)

Further, anytime the Pope speaks on matters of faith or, in this case, morals, he is speaking as the universal pastor of the Church and holds all Catholics bound.  The teaching is protected by the Holy Spirit from error, and is de-facto already considered infallible.

In other words, this has already been done many times over.

I hope this helps

John DiMascio

Bill replied:

Hi, John —

Thanks for your e-mail reply of August 31, but something doesn't compute.

First, When the Pope traveled the United States back in the 90's, the official Catholic spokesperson for the T.V. coverage, a nun, was asked directly, by the anchor, why didn't the Pope call abortion, murder. Her answer was:

There is no Biblical reference to the unborn as persons and therefore, the Pope couldn't, and consequently, he uses the phrase "respect for life".

Second, I've never heard the Pope or any official pro-life Catholic spokesperson since, say that abortion is murder but constantly refer to the "respect for life" phrase.

While, I don't disagree with abortion being murder, I still maintain that the official position of the Church is as above, and I am trying to nail it down.

Thank you,


John replied:

Hi, Bill —

I'd like to know what the source of your quote is.

  • Which T.V. anchor?
  • Which network and how much of the interview was edited out?

But let's get back to the question. If you have a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
you will find an entire section on abortion in the morality section: The Ten Commandments — specifically under the fifth Commandment : "You shall not kill".

These are Paragraphs 2270 through 2275 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.

2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves.Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.

2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae," "by the very commission of the offense," and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

"The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death."

"The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child's rights."

2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, "if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safe guarding or healing as an individual. . . . It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence."

2275 "One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival."

"It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material."

"Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity"85 which are unique and unrepeatable.

I suggest that you read the entire section to get the entire context. However, just from these excerpts we see that the fetus, the Latin word meaning offspring, is referred to as an human being, an individual and a person.

The Catechism contains the ordinary and extraordinary moral teaching of the Church. As I said in my previous reply, both of these are to be held as infallible by Catholics.

The position of the Church is quite clear. Having said that, in the past several decades, the Church has adopted a language which emphasize the positive rather than the negative. In other words, She uses the phrases " Respect for Life" or "Pro-Life" as opposed to anti-abortion. This is in keeping with Christ's approach in the Beatitudes, which expound on positive aspects of the prohibitions found in the Ten Commandments.

Now, if I had my way, the Church would be a bit harsher in its pronouncements against politicians, abortion providers, etc. By definition, those who support and promote abortion are excommunicated without the need of a declaration. I wish the Church would go further and declare, in a big public way, the excommunication of all Catholics who support legalized abortion.  I wish she would also specify those politicians who publicly vote for or otherwise give support for abortion.

This would send a stronger message. However, the fetus has already been defined as a person,
a declaration by the Pope, as such, would reinforce this, but it would not add anything to the already existing infallible teaching.

Finally, if you don't own a copy of the Catechism, I suggest you get one. It is one of the best source documents available.


John DiMascio

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