“Our Preeminent Priority”

A few weeks ago, Bishops from across the country met in Baltimore for their annual United States Conference of Catholic Bishops “plenary assembly.” The Bishops discussed and voted on various matters, such as causes of canonization for – God willing – future saints, liturgical developments, the problem of racism in America and leadership positions within the USCCB.

Among the issues discussed and voted on were updates to the Bishops’ teaching document on political responsibility entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. This document – particularly pertinent during election season – provides Catholics a primer on why they should be involved with politics and voting, what are the fundamental principles of Catholic social teaching and how to apply these principles in the moral action of voting.

In voting on a new introduction and materials to accompany Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, there was a vote over the phraseology of the abortion issue.

In the draft document received by the Bishops, the language identified abortion as “a preeminent priority” of the U.S. Bishops. This language has the implication of treating abortion as a key issue, but one of several key issues. An amendment was offered which read: “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks our most vulnerable and voiceless brothers and sisters and destroys more than a million lives per year in our country alone” (emphasis mine). This subtle but important amendment makes it clear that abortion is the top political concern of the Bishops because of the grave threat it is to countless human lives.”

The amendment was easily adopted by the Bishops.

When you read Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, there are several places in the document where the “preeminent” issue of abortion is discussed, and they are worth reviewing:

“In our nation, ‘abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental good and the condition for all others’ … A legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed.”

“This culture of life begins with the preeminent obligation to protect innocent life from direct attack and extends to defending life whenever it is threatened or diminished: ‘Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing and health care … If we understand the human person as the “temple of the Holy Spirit” – the living house of God – then these issues fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation.’”

“We hope Catholics will ask candidates how they intend to help our nation pursue these important goals: Address the preeminent requirement to protect the weakest in our midst – innocent unborn children – by restricting and bringing to an end the destruction of unborn children through abortion by providing women in crisis pregnancies the supports they need to make a decision for life.”

With this vote, the U.S. Bishops were simply affirming a fundamental truth they articulated for years. This truth is by no means a “free pass” for not caring about other important issues that threaten the dignity and sanctity of human life and the common good. This truth allows us to put things in their proper order, which is something we – as Catholics – love to do.

As we think about why abortion is the preeminent issue, we need look no further than our own backyard. With the collapse of Roe v. Wade, Nebraska had the opportunity to protect more babies than ever from the evil of abortion. While legislation was introduced to protect babies with a heartbeat, this measure failed by one vote. This resulted in legislation that was passed into law, which protects babies at 12 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. This protection – while a step forward – is a far cry from the protections that all unborn babies deserve by virtue of the fact that they are human beings made in the image and likeness of God.

Yet, in Nebraska, with this 12-week law (with various exceptions), abortion advocates are attempting – through a ballot initiative – to liberalize Nebraska’s abortion laws. This proposal would legalize abortions well into the late second trimester and third trimester. It would also strip the Nebraska Legislature’s authority to institute common-sense public health and safety protections for women. The adoption of this ballot proposal will inevitably lead to the killing of many more innocent human lives in our state.

Given the Bishops’ affirmation of the preeminence of abortion and what we are seeing here – boots on the ground – in Nebraska, there is no question about the grave threat abortion is to human life.

My prayer is that Nebraskans, in these next 11 months, will know in their hearts and minds how serious a threat this ballot proposal is to innocent human life. Nobody is more vulnerable than preborn babies. And nobody deserves more love and support than a mom in a challenging, difficult or crisis pregnancy. I hope you’ll join me in praying and fasting against this ballot initiative effort as we seek to instill an authentic culture of life and civilization of love in Nebraska!

Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at

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