Pope John Paul II decried a spreading "culture of death"
Thursday in a new encyclical that U.S. church leaders say puts the
anti-abortion movement back on the moral offensive.
The 11th encyclical of John Paul's 16-year papacy represents
the Roman Catholic Church's broadest and most forceful condemnation
of abortion and euthanasia. The pontiff also harshly denounced the
death penalty in his encyclical but refrained from a blanket
condemnation of executions.
"It is this century's Magna Carta proclaiming and defending
human life," said Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, chairman of
the U.S. Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
But Patty Brous, the director of Planned Parenthood of Greater
Kansas City, called the document "harsh and cruel."
"He dehumanizes women in the name of his religion. He denies
women the ability to manage their own fertility," Brous said. "It
is more valuable to carry a fetus to term than protect the health
of the woman."
The world's 960 million Catholics are expected to obey the
teachings of an encyclical, the highest form of papal writing.
The 189-page encyclical declares that abortion and euthanasia
are crimes that no human laws can legitimize and informs the
world's Catholics that they have "a grave and clear duty" to oppose
The pope praised anti-abortion movements that "act resolutely,
but without resorting to violence." But he did not specifically
address the anti-abortion activists who have killed abortion
Responding to a reporter's question on why John Paul did not
specifically condemn killings of abortion doctors in the United
States, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said at the Vatican, "It is
obvious that the pope condemns killings carried out in the name of
life because it is a paradox and an absurdity and he condemns all
In the United States, the slayings and other violence at
abortion clinics have created a backlash against the anti-abortion
movement. And President Bill Clinton's loosening of abortion
regulations and Oregon's enactment of a doctor-assisted suicide law
have further put the church on the defensive.
"A lot of this encyclical is directed at the United States,
make no mistake about it," said the Rev. Richard McBrien, a
theology professor at the University of Notre Dame.
In the encyclical, the pope declared: "We are facing an
enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life,
the `culture of death' and the `culture of life. …