The Perils of Promoting Personhood

January-February 2012By James T. McCafferty

James T. McCafferty is a Catholic husband, father, writer, and lawyer in Jackson, Mississippi. He completed a Master’s in Theological Studies this past May. Of all the states in the union, Mississippi has the lowest percentage of Catholics.

In last November’s general election, the voters of Mississippi were presented with a bill that would have made theirs the first state to define legal personhood as beginning from the moment of conception. The pro-life measure, commonly called the personhood amendment, appeared on the ballot as Amendment 26. It was defeated by a solid margin, garnering less than forty-five percent approval.

An initiative to amend the state’s constitution, Amendment 26 was spearheaded by Personhood Mississippi, a citizens’ group affiliated with Personhood USA, a grass­roots organization that has assisted in similar campaigns across the nation. According to the group’s website, the purpose of the amendment was “to protect all life, regardless of age, health, function, physical or mental dependency, or method of reproduction.”

The amendments backers’ aim was to overturn Roe v. Wade by striking at what they perceive to be its soft underbelly: the lack of a legal definition of the word “person.” Drafted by Leslie Riley, a pro-life activist in Mississippi, the language of the amendment, as it appeared on the November 8 ballot, was as follows:
Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Mississippi: SECTION 1. Article III of the constitution of the state of Mississippi is hereby amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION TO READ: Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” This initiative shall not require any additional revenue for implementation.
Although authored by a Protestant, in the most Protestant state in the country, the amendment would have conformed this part of Mississippi’s constitution to the Catholic teaching that “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. 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” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2270). Conspicuously absent from the coalition of pro-life advocates supporting Amendment 26, however, were the bishops of Mississippi’s two Catholic dioceses, Jackson and Biloxi.

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The lack of support from the two Catholic Bishops in Mississippi is both shocking and disappointing. It is another example of the corrupting influence of the US brand of secular and politically correct thinking that has seemingly permeated a large percentage of the US Church’s leadership. To decline endorsing the Personhood petitions at the Mississippi state level because it would somehow harm efforts to overturn Roe vs. Wade at the federal level makes no sense whatsoever. It is time for the Church leadership in the US to stop shirking their responsibility in the name of political expediency, political correctness, or bridge building. Rather it is time for them to step up and do their job, which is to lead and set an example that everyone can clearly see and understand. In the case of the two Mississippi Catholic Bishops, they should have been personally engaged in wholeheartedly supporting the Person petition while at the same time forcefully articulating the Church’s fundamental teachings on the sanctity of life. Posted by: dagbat
January 25, 2012 02:49 AM EST
Jim McCafferty did a wonderful job, but the situation is even worse than he described. Bishop Latino's Diocesan newspaper is so bad that I refuse to have it in my household. Furthermore, he has let me know that it doesn't matter what a priest might say in his parish church; Latino won't make a move to stop any errant teaching.
I used to think that the Catholic Bishops were simply uninformed, but that was naive thinking. They are quite informed; they just choose to align themselves with Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. Why do you think a large percent of them voted for Obama? And 53% of so-called Catholics in this country did the same thing...sheep without shepherds.
Bishops Latino perpetrated a public scandal by helping to defeat the Personhood Amendment. Now he must atone publicly.
Posted by: wfm9999
February 20, 2012 09:04 PM EST
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