The Five Non-Negotiables: For Catholics, some political issues are much more important than others.

Abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell experimentation, human cloning, and same-sex marriage have been called non-negotiable issues in certain Catholic circles.  Why?  Because they involve intrinsic evils that government can never legitimately authorize. They involve issues on which all Catholics are obliged, as Catholics, to agree.

Most other concerns—even very important ones such as capital punishment or the Iraq war—are subjects about which Catholics can legitimately disagree.

Not so with the five non-negotiable issues.   On these issues there is such a thing as the Catholic position, whether or not certain Catholics choose to embrace that position.

Cardinal Ratzinger made this point recently in connection with abortion and euthanasia on the one hand and capital punishment and war on the other.  In his letter, “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,” he set out general principles regarding reception of the Eucharist by those who support abortion rights and euthanasia.

Ratzinger wrote, “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia.  For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage way, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion.  While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment.  There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

Given the nature of embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, the same absolute prohibition that applies to abortion and euthanasia applies to these things.  Likewise, Catholic teaching requires an absolute opposition to same-sex marriage.

Catholics have an obligation to form their consciences according to the teaching of the Church.  That teaching allows a wide range of conscientious judgments on a number of important, political issues.   Abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell experimentation, human cloning, and same-sex marriage are not among those issues.  On these subjects there is but a single legitimate “Catholic position.” When it comes to legal support for these issues, one can be Catholic or “prochoice,” but not Catholic and “prochoice.”

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