Vatican Releases Compendium of Catholic Beliefs

On Monday, Oct. 25, the Vatican released a 524-page compendium of the Catholic Church’s doctrine on social issues, including abortion, war, death penalty, globalization and the free market. While observers questioned the political motives behind the book’s release – which was scheduled only a week before the U.S. presidential election campaign – Vatican officials said the book was meant purely as an informational and referential handbook for “business leaders, politicians and other agenda-setting figures.”

The handbook, which drew from the teachings of the incumbent Pope John Paul II as well as a handful of past pontiffs, largely tackled the “horrendous crime” of abortion as well as the immorality of a preventive war.

Numerous U.S. Catholic bishops have criticized the Democratic candidate John Kerry for his defense of legalized abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Several of those bishops also released statements that said communion should be denied to people who, such as the Catholic senator John Kerry, support such “horrendous crimes.”

The recent compendium took a similar stance on the issue, calling abortion a “dangerous threat to a just and democratic social existence."

According to the Associated Press, when a reporter asked if Catholics could vote for a politician supporting legalized abortion, the Vatican spokesman said “the Holy See never gets involved in electoral or political matters directly."

“It would be up to local bishops in each country if they felt the need to illuminate the consciences of faithful with ethical elements so they can make a judgment" about candidates,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, the handbook also criticized “preventive war” under the heading, “legitimate defense.”

"International legitimacy for the use of armed forces, on the basis of rigorous assessment and with well-founded motivations, can only be given by the decision of a competent body that identifies specific situations as threats to peace and authorizes an intrusion into the sphere of autonomy usually reserved for a state," the handbook said in apparent reference to the United Nations.

"Engaging in a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions," the book said in probable reference to the war against Iraq.

The compendium, according to Vatican officials, took six years in the making.