SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico’s Roman Catholic bishops this week issued a written admonishment advising state lawmakers not to “publicly invoke their Catholic faith and to present their personal opinions as official Church teaching,” particularly to justify their votes against anti-abortion measures favored by the church.
The statement was prompted by comments made by a state representative on Sunday who said her Catholic faith informed her decision to oppose a bill supported by the Catholic Church that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, spoke during a five-hour, often-emotional, legislative committee hearing. She began by describing her Roman Catholic upbringing and education.
“Thank you for reminding me that our Catholic faith teaches that women and men have the right to make their own decisions – their own moral decisions – based on the dictates of their own consciences,” she then told bill supporters.
Roybal Caballero’s opposition helped block House Bill 220 by a 3-2 party-line vote in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. She also voted with the same 3-2 majority Sunday to block House Bill 221, which would have required a doctor to notify a child’s parents if a minor seeks an abortion.
“I firmly believe that these personal, complex decisions must remain with the woman, her doctors, her family and her faith, and certainly not in the chambers of government,” she said.
Shortly after, her statement generated a strong response from the House floor by Allen Sánchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops. He was at the hearing as a registered lobbyist to speak on behalf of the bishops in favor of both bills.
Sánchez said Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester was watching the live-streamed committee hearing and spoke with Sánchez by phone after hearing the comments.
Sánchez told the committee that contrary to Roybal Caballero’s statement, Catholics must use a “formed conscience” based on the teachings of the church, “especially when a public or elected person identifies themselves as Catholic, and uses that to justify a vote for abortion.”
Roybal Caballero said through a spokesman Wednesday that her schedule would not allow her to respond to the Journal’s request for comment about the apparent rebuke and referred a reporter to a recording of her comments on Sunday.
Wester and other bishops followed up Sanchez’s comments with a written statement saying that elected officials who identify as Catholic should make it clear that “they speak for themselves and do not speak for the Catholic Church.”
Diocese of Gallup Bishop James Wall and Diocese of Las Cruces Bishop Oscar Cantú also signed the statement posted Monday on the dioceses’ websites.
“Support for abortion or doctor-assisted suicide is not in accord with the teachings of the church,” the bishops wrote. “Individuals and groups do not speak for the Catholic Church. As bishops, we do.”
The statement doesn’t identify Roybal Caballero or any other elected officials.
But it goes on to say: “It is not appropriate for elected officials to publicly invoke their Catholic faith and to present their personal opinions as official church teaching. Furthermore, this action publicly separates a person from communion with the Catholic faith.”
Sánchez said that the statement regarding communion with the Catholic faith does not imply that legislators who vote against church-favored bills will be denied the Eucharist or other sacraments.
“We’re not talking about the Eucharist when we talk about communion,” he said Wednesday. “The bishops in this statement aren’t excommunicating anybody.”
Sanchez said that when Catholic lawmakers cite the church in making statements contrary to church teachings, they are “separating themselves.”
“What somebody has to do to repair that, they’ve got to be contrite,” he said. “It could be a public correction of the statement,” and possibly confession to a priest.
The bishops are not seeking a public statement from Roybal Caballero, he said.
for the taking of life, that’s contrary to the teaching,” he said.”When you say that the church has formed you, and that causes you to vote against life and