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The Catholic Peace Fellowship Takes a Stand, Quits United for Peace and Justice over Abortion Support

United for Peace and Justice is a major “umbrella group” whose primary purpose is ending and avoiding war. The “Justice” part of its name also covers other issues such as civil liberties or whatever its steering committee decides is appropriate.

Shortly before the so-called “March for Women’s Lives” in April 2004, the Catholic Peace Fellowship, which was a member organization of United for Peace and Justice, discovered that UfP&J was major sponsor of the March.

After a few phone calls, the Catholic Peace Fellowship delivered the following letter of withdrawal to the national office of United for Peace and Justice:

Leslie Cagan
United for Peace & Justice
Dear Leslie and Staff:

At the behest of Father Michael Baxter, National Secretary of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, Box 4232 South Bend, IN 46634, I write this for hand-delivery

The Catholic Peace Fellowship is forced to terminate membership in United for Peace and Justice because of UfP&J’s endorsement of the “March for Women’s Lives” scheduled for 25 April 2004 in Washington, D.C. Our constituency and our Church leadership would have no faith in our integrity otherwise. More fundamentally, we hold that: “No one has the right to choose life or death for another; to assume such power has always been recognized as the ultimate form of oppression.” (From CPF Statement on Abortion, June 28, 1974.)

UfP&J has a statement of purpose, the Unity Statement. That is the basis upon which we joined. Nowhere in that document is there mention of “reproductive rights” or the “freedom” to choose to kill. In future printings of your literature and in postings on the web, please delete reference to the Catholic Peace Fellowship as a member organization.

Our opposition to the war against Iraq, and against all war, remains clear, firm and resolute. We wish you the best in pursuit of the goals in your Unity Statement.

Thomas C. Cornell
for Michael Baxter, C.S.C., National Secretary, CPF

The Catholic Peace Fellowship was founded more than 40 years ago. Its primary work has always been support for Conscientious Objectors, and education on the conscience issues of participation in war. Since the end of the draft, most of it’s work has been supporting members of the armed forces whose attitudes and consciences changed after enlistment, and who have been seeking legal discharges as conscientious objectors. With at least two bills in Congress to bring back the draft, CPF’s focus is again more and more education.

The Catholic Peace Fellowship is not a membership organization, but depends on the support of like-minded individuals. Of the two major Catholic peace groups (the other is Pax Christi) in the United States, the CPF has usually been considered the more “radical”. Many of the people affiliated with the CPF have been associated with the Catholic Worker movement. Many of them also have criminal records (and prison records) for acting nonviolently in defense of their religious beliefs.

The Catholic Peace Fellowship Statement on Abortion, referenced in the above letter, is as follows:


The January 22, 1973 Supreme Court decision on abortion deprives all unborn human beings of any protection whatever against incursions upon their right to life and has thus created a situation we find morally intolerable, and one which we feel obliged to protest.

In issuing this statement in the name of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, we wish to make it clear that we do not speak for the Fellowship of Reconciliation with which we are affiliated. The FOR has not to this point taken an official position.

From the point of view of biological science the fetus is an individual human life. The social sciences may attempt to define “fully human” in a variety of ways, but their findings are inconclusive and, at best, tentative and certainly supply no basis for determining who is or who is not to enjoy the gift of life. No one has the right to choose life or death for another; to assume such power has always been recognized as the ultimate form of oppression.

A primary obligation of civil society is to protect the innocent. A legal situation such as now exists in the United States, making abortion available upon demand, is an abdication of the state’s responsibility to protect the most basic of rights, the right to life.

We make this statement to protest a policy and a practice, not to condemn any individual for a tragic decision she or he may have felt forced to make, just as in our protest against war and its destruction of human life we pass no judgment upon the individual who acts in good conscience.

But just as we urge our leaders to institute policies that will put an end to the constant threat of war, so we call upon them, in particular our legislatures and courts, to undertake a prudent and thorough reassessment of the abortion issue in all its ramifications and to develop a policy that will extend the rights and protections afforded by the Constitution, and inherent by nature, to the unborn, and at the same time to provide every support and assistance to those who might otherwise be driven to consider abortion as a solution to real and demanding personal problems.

We reject categorically the Supreme Court’s argument that abortion is an exclusively private matter to be decided by the prospective mother and her physician. We protest the thoroughly logical and perhaps inevitable extension of a practice which, though first argued in a personal context, has rapidly become a social policy involving publicly funded clinics and supportive agencies.

This is not a “Catholic issue,” and to dismiss it as such is to deny the dedication and the contribution of those of other religions and of none. Nor is this simply a matter of one group of citizens imposing its own moral-ity upon others, any more so than our conscientious resistance to the war in Viet Nam, to con-scription, etc. Indeed, we insist that these positions are all of one piece, stemming from what Albert Schweitzer called, “reverence for life,” and the conse-quent obligation to oppose any policy or practice which would give one human being the right to determine whether or not ano-ther shall be permitted to live.

For many years we have urged upon our spiritual leaders the inter-relatedness of the life issues, war, capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia and eco-nomic exploitation. We welcome the energetic leadership our bishops are giving in the abortion controversy and we are proud to join our voices with theirs. At the same time we must point out that, ultimately, the sincerity of our words and theirs on any of these issues will be measured by our readiness to recognize and deal with the underlying social problems which turn many people to these deadly alternatives, to condemn all forms of social and economic injustice and to work for their elimination and the establish-ment of a social order in which all may find it easier to be “fully human.”
Signed Dorothy Day, Eileen Egan, Hermene Evans, Joseph Evans, M.D., Thomas C. Cornell, James H. Forest, Gordon C. Zahn 6/28/74

Pioneers in the Consistent Ethic of Life

The Catholic Peace Fellowship has always been a “seamless garment” organi-zation, reflecting the “consistent ethic for life”. In fact, it has been so since well before the late Cardinal Bernardin coined the term (hence the reference, above, to Dr Schweitzer). The Catholic Peace Fellowship is usually seen as extremely orthodox in its religious beliefs, as are most religious peace organizations, whether Catholic or not. Some attribute this to a strong reliance on the pre-Constantinean Fathers of the Church.

The Catholic Peace Fellowship is unwavering in its defense of the lives of babies yet in their mothers’ wombs.

The Catholic Peace Fellowship web site is at www.catholicpeacefellowship.org.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXIV, No. 5, Sept.-Oct. 2004