Here’s the Bishops’ Latest Statement

13 11 2009

Because the Colorado Catholic Conference Website is still listing the 2008 statement as the last statement issued on the subject of Personhood, I am posting here, the statement received by all Priests and Deacons last month.  Note that this letter is much more open to participation than the 2008 letter listed on the Colorado Catholic Conference website.October 1, 2009

Dear Father/Deacon:
You may have recently become aware of a petition drive to collect signatures that seeks to place a constitutional amendment on the November 2010 ballot here in Colorado. This ballot initiative would define personhood as beginning at the moment of biological development. The term biological development is a vague term and it will be up to a court or the legislature to determine its meaning.
As you may recall a similar initiative was run in 2008 that defined personhood as beginning at the moment of fertilization.
This letter is intended to explain why we the Bishops of Colorado, acting through the Colorado Catholic Conference, are not participating in the gathering of signatures for this ballot initiative. We
affirm the principle that life begins at conception and therefore we affirm the personhood of the unborn. However, while we share the ultimate objective of this effort to bring about an end to legal
abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade, we do not think that this strategy will provide a realistic opportunity for reversing Roe. Such a strategy will divert valuable resources away from other more constructive efforts in defense of human life such as enacting a fetal homicide law or an ultrasound and informed consent law.

The decision to allow signature collection at your parish is one we are leaving to the judgment of the pastor. If you are approached by people in your parish wishing to collect signatures for this ballot initiative, and you feel it is pastorally appropriate for your community, we will trust your decision.
The Catholic Church in Colorado has a long and active history of working, through state legislative efforts and other community initiatives, to protect life from conception to natural death. We will
continue through every realistic means to work toward this end and we will keep you informed about our efforts at the state level so that your parishioners can be involved.
Thank you for everything you do to support the sanctity of human life.
In Christ,
+Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

+Most Reverend James D. Conley, S.T.L.Archbishop of Denver

Auxiliary Bishop of Denver+Most Reverend Arthur N. Tafoya, D.D +Most Reverend Michael J. Sheridan, S.T.D.Bishop of Pueblo Bishop of Colorado Springs

1535 Logan Street
● Denver, CO 80203-1913 ● Office: 303-894-8808 ● Fax: 303-894-7939E-mail: ● Website:


Imagine the Educational Impact the Church Could Have Through Personhood!

28 10 2009

The Colorado Independent just published this story yesterday: Personhood Initiative Lining up Friends and Foes

In it, Johnathan Van Blerkom, professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said “You would find in this state, myself included, that embryo research would freeze. If there were criminal penalties or you were lumped together with abortionists for looking at embryos that are discarded because they are abnormal and you want to know why they are abnormal … no one is going to do it.”

Van Blerkom who works at a fertilization clinic as well, said that in-vitro fertilization would likely end in the state. He explained that the very process of fertilization can kill the embryo if more than one sperm gets into the egg. He said legal liability would loom over all procedures.

“It’s criminal liability. So would any program want to freeze an embryo in the state of Colorado? If the embryos die, as they frequently do when they are thawed, is that your responsibility? Is it an act of God? An act of science?”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our church chimed in?  With millions of human persons at the embryonic stage being sacrificed every year, would this be as, Jenny Kraska of the Colorado Catholic Conference has written, “a waste of resources”?  Or is it a unique opportunity that the church is squandering to change our culture of death?

The Gospel of Life and Personhood

19 10 2009


Pope John Paul the Great made the proclamation of the Gospel of life one of the central aspects of his papacy.  It is little wonder that the theme of the 1993 World Youth Day celebrated in Denver, Colorado, in 1993 was: “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full.”

Pope John Paul II was painfully aware of the moral tailspin into which Colorado had led our nation and the world when it legalized the killing of innocent children in the womb and deprived them of their personhood.  He never shied away from proclaiming the Truth of the Gospel of life and taught us that “in the proclamation of this Gospel of life, we must not fear hostility or unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity which might conform us to the world’s way of thinking (Rom 12:2).  We must be in the world but not of the world (Jn15:19; 17:16), drawing our strength from Christ, who by his Death and Resurrection has overcome the world (Jn 16:33).”

As the proponent of the 2010 Personhood Amendment and a fellow Catholic, I feel called to fight a battle that, except for the light of Christ, is filled with discouragement, division, uncertainty, and darkness.  I ask you to join me in the fight against the culture of death by getting personally involved in gathering signatures to put the amendment on the ballot in 2010.

A Personhood Amendment is an ideal approach to carry the Gospel of life to our brothers and sisters for several reasons: it is unambiguously true, it is above all educational as opposed to legalistic, it requires the direct participation of the faithful, it restores the proper relationship between Divine law, the government, and the people, and it directs our hope not to a politician or judges, but to Christ on the cross.

In order to achieve these important goals we need you to reach out to your fellow Catholics and help us collect 76,047 signatures by February of 2010.


Personhood is a concept, which holds that 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.” (Evangelium Vitae)

Why do we insist on using the word “person” in our fight against the attacks on human dignity?  Why not define when life begins, or what a human being is?  To understand this, we must first understand what the meaning of the word “person” is.

The word “person” has different meanings depending on the context in which it is used.

In a theological context the word “person” refers to the union of the physical and the spiritual, in other words the body and the soul.  In Evangelium Vitae, John Paul the II quotes Cardinal Ratzinger and asks the rhetorical question: how could a human individual not be a human person?  In other words, the Catholic notion that a human individual is also a human person is a self evident truth.

Within the context of an atheistic philosophy, the term “person” is defined by a set of utilitarian qualities: is the human being self aware? Does he or she have the capacity to reason?  Can he or she live independently and develop relationships?  All of these are the complete opposite of what our faith teaches.  Human dignity comes not from our differing abilities and qualities, but from our brotherhood as children of the same Father.

In a legal context, a proper definition of the word “person” is of extreme importance.

The United States Constitution uses the word “person” 49 times, on the other hand it never uses the word “human being” or “human life” or even “human.”  The reason is quite simple; the constitution is primarily concerned with rights, and the way to refer to one who is recognized by law as the subject of rights and duties, is by use of the word “person.”

In the Case of Colorado v. Lage (2009), a man who crashed his car head on to the car of an eight and a half month pregnant woman and child, was able to avoid being charged with killing the child in the womb because the court felt “compelled by the legislature’s definition of a “person,” which only considered a child to be a “person” after birth.  Clearly, the constitutional definition of the word “person” is critical to the defense of preborn children.


Some issues have been raised regarding the practicality of a personhood amendment.  Typical arguments against personhood are: we need to wait to have more supportive justices on the court, the amendment already lost a popular vote once, such efforts divert attention and resources away from more achievable measures, and even if the amendment were to pass, it would have a negative legal effect.

A detailed refutation of each of these arguments is available at the website of Personhood Colorado,; I encourage all of you to consider both sides.  But more eloquent than all of the rational and legal arguments that I can offer are the deeply insightful and inspired words of our beloved John Paul the Great.  The great defender of life wrote, “as I have frequently stated, when freedom is detached from objective truth it becomes impossible to establish personal rights on a firm rational basis; and the ground is laid for society to be at the mercy of the unrestrained will of individuals or the oppressive totalitarianism of public authority.”

These words answer all the arguments against personhood.  They highlight the need to disengage from corrupt and unjust laws – which are no laws at all – and establish a solid foundation for real freedom based in Truth.

The great defender of life asks us to “focus on the formation of consciences and the recovery of the necessary link between freedom and truth.”  In other words, focus on education, focus on the principle.

The Personhood Amendment is first and foremost aimed at a cultural transformation which will form consciences “with regard to the incomparable and inviolable worth of every human life.”  In that light, the pessimistic arguments against the personhood amendment are transformed into the very reasons why we must participate in it.  The darker our culture, the greater in need of the bright light of Truth.

Although personhood is about principle, it also has a solid legal basis.  While some lawyers disagree with the practicality of personhood amendments, prestigious Catholic law firms such as the Thomas Moore Law Center, and renown Catholic legal scholars such as Notre Dame Professor Emeritus of Law Charles Rice strongly support personhood efforts describing them as “prudent, timely, and positive.”  Professor Rice explains that personhood amendments are “an affirmation of the federalism embodied in the general structure of the United States Constitution and the Tenth Amendment.”

Pro-lifers should know that the state personhood amendment approach to prohibiting abortion has never been tried, and has thus, never failed.  Isn’t it worth a shot?

Yet for all the legal strategizing, personhood is fundamentally about principle, a Catholic and universal principle that all human beings must have the rights of person from the very first moment of his or her existence.  Unless we establish this principle, no amount of legal strategies will ever set our hearts straight; and unless our hearts are changed the law will be devoid of meaning.


“But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

Approaching a complete stranger in a public venue and talking to him about abortion is one of the most uncomfortable things you can ask a person to do.  Even door to door salesmen are treated better than pro-life missionaries.  Yet, as Christians, we know that our calling is to follow in the steps of Jesus Christ, who was rejected and despised but was faithful even unto death!

John Paul the Great asked us “to bring the Gospel of life to the heart of every man and woman and to make it penetrate every part of society.”  Taking a petition and engaging everyone regardless of their appearance or station in life is almost an act of faith.  While gathering petitions at the Colorado State Fair I learned the value of approaching every person regardless of their appearance.  Many people who wore large crucifixes “had no time,” or would “do it another day.”  Yet young men and women with tattoos and immodest clothing would stop and talk about abortion, and often, they would sign our petition.

Having an active presence in the legislature to represent Catholic moral beliefs is important, but it is no substitute for the personal evangelical calling of every Catholic.  Changing laws does not necessarily change hearts, personal example and personal sacrifice does.

The Colorado Personhood Amendment is in keeping with the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which holds that functions of government, business, and other secular activities should be as local as possible.  Individual Catholics, Catholic families, and Catholic parishes should not leave to larger organizations what can be done by them.  The initiative process affords individuals the power to shape their own constitution, this is both a privilege and a responsibility.  Subsidiarity encourages personal responsibility and consequently a concurrent personal transformation.

In my own experience, the act of gathering signatures has been one of the most transformative in my life.  By making myself the advocate for the voiceless preborn child, and on occasion, accepting the rejection of friend and foe alike, I have grown closer to Christ, experiencing that redemptive suffering which makes us grow in our love for God.

The battle against the culture of death is a difficult one.  “To be truly a people at the service of life we must propose these truths constantly and courageously from the very first proclamation of the Gospel, and thereafter in catechesis, in the various forms of preaching, in personal dialogue and in all educational activity.”  These words are John Paul the Great’s.  His life was an example of living the Gospel of Life.  It is our calling as Catholics to follow Christ’s example as faithfully as our beloved popes.  I believe the Colorado Personhood Amendment offers us as Catholics an unrivaled opportunity to do so.

As Mother Teresa said, let us strive to be faithful, not to be successful, for the way of the faithful Christian turns defeat into victory, and death into life.

“Death with life contended: combat strangely ended!  Life’s own Champion, slain, yet lives to reign.”

Pursuing Holy Grail of Pro-life Legislative Advocacy

19 10 2009

Though controversial in some quarters, ‘personhood amendments’ being pushed in several states would end abortion in one fell swoop.

By Russell Shaw, Our Sunday Visitor

Like a knight of the Middle Ages questing for the Holy Grail, like a medical researcher seeking a cancer cure, like a big league pitcher hoping to put together back-to-back perfect games — like these and others who pursue great goals, some pro-lifers dream of ending abortion by one simple step: getting the law to recognize the unborn as persons, with all the legal rights of personhood, including the right to life.

From a pro-life point of view, it’s a great idea. In confirmation of that, those who support it can cite no less an authority than the late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, the man who wrote the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade.

In that 1973 ruling legalizing abortion throughout the United States, Blackmun acknowledged that if the personhood of the unborn is accepted as a matter of law, the legal case for abortion “collapses” because “the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed” by the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment.

But how to accomplish it? That’s the question personhood amendments to the federal and state constitutions are supposed to answer.

A proposed personhood amendment to the U.S. Constitution, advocated by a national organization called the American Life League, declares the right to life to be “the paramount and most fundamental right of a person.” Then it adds:

“With respect to the right to life guaranteed to persons by the 5th and 14th articles of amendment to the Constitution, the word ‘person’ applies to all human beings; irrespective of age, health, function, physical or mental dependency or method of reproduction, from the beginning of their biological development.”

Split support

Besides the American Life League, the cause also is championed by a recently formed group called Personhood USA.

Not surprisingly, personhood amendments are opposed by pro-abortion groups, who deride them as “egg-as-person measures.” The issue also has split the pro-life movement, with some pro-life groups judging the amendment a bad idea that distracts attention from more immediate and achievable goals — such as keeping government-funded abortion out of a national health care plan.

However that may be, most current activity relating to the amendment is taking place at the state level.

In Florida, supporters began efforts on Sept. 18 to collect the 676,811 signatures needed to put an amendment on the ballot there next year. Colorado backers launched their drive to secure the 76,047 signatures required in that state in August. Similar efforts are under way in Mississippi, Montana, Oregon, California and some other states.

Early approval of an amendment anyplace is probably unlikely. In Colorado, a ballot initiative on the amendment was rejected last year by a margin of more than 3-1.

Prudential judgment

Supporters aren’t deterred by that. They see what they’re doing as a way of keeping the personhood issue alive and visible, educating people on the subject, and giving grassroots pro-lifers something to rally around.

The co-chairman of the Colorado campaign, Gualberto Garcia Jones, describes the pro-amendment campaign as “a calling to educate people.”

Noting that the amendment received half-a-million votes in the state last year, Garcia called that outcome “a great victory,” and said, “We’re looking for making that number a little bit bigger this time.”

Political observers say the state has moved rightward since then. According to veteran Washington Post political writer Dan Balz, Colorado “remains a purple state politically, especially given the size of the unaffiliated vote that can shift with the tides.”

Backers of the amendment also take encouragement from an Aug. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier upholding a provision of an informed consent law — not a constitutional amendment — adopted by the South Dakota Legislature in 2005.

The measure requires doctors to tell women seeking abortions “that the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.” The law was challenged by Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

In the debate before the vote on the amendment last year in Colorado, the Catholic bishops of the state declined to take sides on the proposal. A spokeswoman said the bishops considered being either for or against the measure to be a prudential judgment that Catholics had to make for themselves.”We commend the goal of this effort to end abortion,” Jennifer Kraska of the Colorado Catholic Conference said.

“Individual Catholics may choose to work for its passage. At the same time, we recognize that other people committed to the sanctity of life have raised serious questions about this specific amendment’s timing and content.”

‘Scientific fact’

But in Oregon, one of the states where pro-amendment activity is taking place this year, Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Baker recently spoke up strongly on behalf of giving legal recognition to the personhood of the unborn.

Writing in his diocesan newspaper, Bishop Vasa said personhood isn’t a matter of religious belief but “the acceptance of a biological and scientific fact. That which is essential to the definition of a human being is already present from the moment that human ovum is fertilized by human sperm.”

In the wake of Roe v. Wade, he added, the state of the law in regard to the unborn rests upon “a faulty legal fiction … that human beings are not really human beings unless the Supreme Court passes judgment on them and declares them to be so.”

Harry Blackmun would have understood.

Personhood push

There are efforts under way now in a number of states to collect significant signatures to get a referendum on personhood amendments on fall ballots.

Let’s Offer up a Prayer for John Paul the Great to Intercede on Behalf of the Personhood Amendment

30 09 2009

“O Blessed Trinity, we thank you for having graced the church with Pope John Paul II and for allowing the tenderness of your fatherly care, the glory of the cross of Christ, and the splendor of the Holy Spirit, to shine through him.

“Trusting fully in your infinite mercy and in the maternal intercession of Mary, he has given us a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and has shown us that holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life and is the way of achieving eternal communion with you.

“Grant us, by his intercession, and according to your will, that the Personhood Amendment will change the hearts and minds of people to protect the most innocent children among us, h

oping that he will soon be numbered among your saints. Amen.”


10 08 2009

Praise God for bold and courageous leaders.  Bishop Vasa of Oregon recently wrote this article in support of a federal personhood amendment.  The title should be a warning to the Colorado Catholic Conference that continues to equivocate about the need to protect all human beings as persons.

Make sure you contact our church leaders to urge them to support a Personhood Amendment in Colorado:

Archbishop Chaput:

The Catholic Conference: Exec. Dir. Jennifer Kraska:

Print Edition: 08/06/2009 Catholic Sentinel

Americans are confused about life

By Bishop Robert Vasa

BEND — I had the good fortune while listening to a Christian television station to hear a congressman from Georgia who was talking about the Sanctity of Human Life Act. This is a bill introduced in November, 2007, that defines human life as beginning at fertilization and would protect all human life even that life created by human cloning or in-vitro fertilization. This is not at all new news, but hearing the congressman speak gave me a renewed sense of just how complacent and confused we are in the United States about the worth and dignity of human life.

The language of the bill is both instructive and challenging: “The right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being, and is the paramount and most fundamental right of a person. No one in these United States could take exception to this. The congressman talked about the relativistic and rather arbitrary method of determining just who is that person worthy of the protections guaranteed by the Constitution. Certainly that “person” is every human being whose birth process has been completed. There is nothing, however, in the birth process that changes anything of the nature of the one who is brought to birth. Thus the person who is fully delivered is the same “person” he or she was three or five minutes earlier. That which is essential to personhood, having the nature of a human being, is not changed by birth. What changes is what philosophers identify as the “accidents.” For instance, a doll possesses the “nature” of a doll. A doll is, for the sake of this discussion, a miniature human creation resembling a human being. You may put that doll in a box where no one sees it and it is still, by its own nature, a doll. That doll may be loved or completely neglected and it is still a doll. You may dress it in red, yellow, orange or blue and it is still a doll. You may even paint it a variety of colors and even disfigure it but it still remains a doll unless it is nearly destroyed. If you do not believe this try to take a beloved “doll,” which has long since lost its clear appearance as a doll, from its child owner. The doll’s location, relationship with persons, dress color or type, skin color, size and even general physical condition are all accidents, not essentials. None of these things change the “nature” of the doll. We know this now, though it was not always known or believed, in relation to the color of a person’s skin. That color or the national origin of a human being does not alter that which is essential to being a human being.

Unfortunately, by a kind of legal sleight of hand the Supreme Court has managed to overlook what is essential about a human being, his or her human nature, and make a distinction of personhood based on accidents of location, relationship, size, appearance, and degree of dependence. None of these things changes the nature of a human being and so none of these things should be used as ploys to grant or deny basic human rights. Yet, this is precisely what the Supreme Court has done.

The congressman’s bill seeks to correct this erroneous distinction by focusing precisely on that one thing which is essential. The only pertinent question should be: Is this a metabolizing biological entity of human origin with the genetic makeup of a human being? The bill incorporates this essential definition into law: “The life of each human being begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent . . . at which time every human being shall have the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood.”

In making his case to his fellow congressmen, the bill’s author said: “We have a moral and constitutional obligation to protect and defend every precious soul that comes into existence.” The use of the word “soul” in this context refers more to human being than a specific spiritual reality we in the Catholic Church would identify as one’s “immortal soul.” It would not be proper to try to put into civil law this spiritual understanding of the nature of man. Identifying the nature of a human being, however, is not an attempt to impose anyone’s religious belief on someone else. It is rather the acceptance of a biological and scientific fact. That which is essential to the definition of a human being is already present from the moment the human ovum is fertilized by human sperm. Everything else is accident.

In keeping with this proper understanding of that which is essential to the human being, the Sanctity of Human Life Act declares that: “the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being, and is the paramount and most fundamental right of a person; and the life of each human being begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent, irrespective of sex, health, function or disability, defect, stage of biological development, or condition of dependency, at which time every human being shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood.” This is not a statement of religious belief but rather the logically consistent application of sound philosophical and biological reasoning.

Some new human entity is created when the human sperm and human ovum unite. That new entity begins a whole new form of living from the moment of fertilization. That new entity does not evolve into something else over the period he or she develops. He or she does not evolve from plant matter to animal matter or to a human being after passing through the birth canal. He or she undergoes no essential changes from what he or she possesses at the beginning. That which is granted to the baby who has been fully born is based legally on a number of accidents when it ought to be based on that which is essential.

The Sanctity of Human Life Act does not seek to introduce some inane legal fiction, but rather seeks to overturn a faulty legal fiction. The fiction, in which we are presently living, inanely pretends that human beings are not really human beings unless the Supreme Court passes judgment on them and declares them to be so. African slaves were always human beings and the Supreme Court decisions said or did nothing to change that. It simply recognized the truth. The Sanctity of Human Life Act seeks legal recognition of the same truth.