October 10, 2008


Abortion and politics

As the news stories in this issue report, our archdiocese observed Respect Life Sunday on Oct. 5. It wasn’t just our archdiocese that did it. It was observed by Catholic churches throughout the United States.

We don’t promote respect for life only once a year either. Catholics always comprise a large part of the March for Life every January in Washington, and we participate in Right to Life organizations throughout the country.

Popes and bishops frequently speak out against abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, assisted suicide and capital punishment. Last week, The Criterion published its annual Respect Life supplement.

How, then, can any Catholics be unaware of the Catholic Church’s teachings about abortion and the other life issues? In a nutshell, it is simply that every life is sacred from the moment of conception until natural death.

Or, if they are aware of the Church’s teachings, how can they justify ignoring them when it comes to politics?

Obviously, but unfortunately, this comes up every four years during presidential campaigns. This year, it came up because of statements made by Sen. Joseph Biden, who is running for vice president, and by Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, who is supporting Sen. Barack Obama and Biden in their bid for the White House. Both Biden and Pelosi are Catholics, but both are also strongly pro-choice on the abortion issue.

Pelosi told Tom Brokaw on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Aug. 24 that Catholic Church leaders for centuries had not been able to agree on when life begins. The very next day, she was answered by Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairmen of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life and doctrine committees, respectively. They couldn’t let such a statement go unchallenged.

Later, as we reported in our Sept. 12 issue, Pelosi agreed to meet with Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco, who invited her to have a conversation with him about the Church’s teaching on abortion and the formation of conscience.

As for Biden, he made the tired excuse for being pro-choice by saying that he couldn’t impose his personal beliefs on the public in a pluralistic society. He seems to have no hesitation about “imposing” his other beliefs; it is only on the matter of abortion that he hesitates to do so.

But the inability of the Church to get more of its laypeople to get serious about defeating abortion, and to defend the Church’s position on the other life issues, isn’t only during presidential campaigns.

For example, as Msgr. Owen Campion, who writes our “The Sunday Readings” column, pointed out in his column in Our Sunday Visitor that the 10 states with the greatest number of Catholics are Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Texas and Wisconsin. Of the 20 senators representing those states, 17 are consistently pro-abortion and 11 of the 20 are Catholics.

That is nothing less than scandalous. But each of those senators was elected and re-elected to office.

As Msgr. Campion wrote, “None of these U.S. senators invaded the halls of Congress and then seized a seat in the Senate.” Catholics obviously voted for them despite the fact that they are pro-abortion. How can they salve their consciences in order to do so?

Another issue that comes up every four years is the matter of refusing Communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians. The U.S. bishops are divided over whether it is prudent to refuse Communion to those who support the right to abortion, but they agree on the basic Catholic teaching that anybody aware of being guilty of unconfessed grave sins should not present themselves for Communion. Support for the right to abortion, by a politician or anyone else, is objectively a grave sin.

But here, too, the Church doesn’t seem to be able to get its message across. Many Catholics either don’t understand the Church’s teaching about the worthy reception of Communion or they think that refusing Communion to pro-choice politicians is a political matter. It comes up with politicians because they are so visible, and doing nothing about Catholic pro-choice politicians could be a source of scandal.

Why is it that so many Catholics obviously believe that they can flout the Church’s teachings about abortion when it comes to politics?

— John F. Fink

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