Michigan Christians for LifeMichigan Christians for Life

Position Paper of Catholics United for the Faith
Addressing the Problem of Catholic Politicians Who Publicly Advocate Abortion Rights

Abortion is the most flagrant and widespread offense against the basic
right to life of all human persons in the United States. A country that“legally”
kills over a million of its children each year is fundamentally disordered and,
despite any material or technological successes, cannot be considered
peaceful or just, let alone a moral authority in world affairs.

The recent election and consequent confirmation hearings brought into
even a clearer light a specific dimension of this problem: the complicity of
Catholics. Much has been written concerning the fact that a majority of those
who identified themselves as “Catholic” voted for a presidential candidate who
              unabashedly endorsed abortion rights. There currently are approximately 70
              Catholics in Congress who consider themselves “pro-choice.” What can be
              done to reverse this negative Catholic witness?

                    While there are many aspects to the abortion problem, this position paper
              is limited to addressing the particular issue of Catholic legislators who
              support abortion rights. We will first briefly review magisterial teaching on the
              subject. Then we will examine the particular situation in the United States and
              the U.S. bishops’ response. After that we will examine specific issues raised
              by the Ashcroft hearings and identify particular concerns voiced by our
              members. We will then conclude with some practical, constructive steps for
              lay people to take in addressing these serious concerns.

              I.    Church Teaching

                    The Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 2270-75) clearly spells out
              the Church’s perennial teaching that abortion is always and everywhere an
              abominable crime. Paragraph 2271 of the Catechism provides:

                    Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil
                    of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and
                    remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion
                    willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the
                    moral law:

                    The same paragraph of the Catechism also quotes Vatican II’s Pastoral
              Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), which
              similarly does not mince words:

                    God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of
                    safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner
                    worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost
                    care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide
                    are abominable crimes.

                    In his 1995 encyclical letter The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), Pope
              John Paul II confirmed “by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter
              and his successors, and in communion with the bishops of the Catholic
              Church,” that “the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human beingis
              always gravely immoral” (no. 57). It is a grave act of disobedience toGod, the
              author of human life, and “contradicts the fundamental virtues of justiceand
              charity” (ibid.). The Pope goes on to say that no authority can legitimately
              recommend or permit such an action.

                    In the specific context of legislation that favors abortion rights, theHoly
              Father writes:

                 In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting
                 abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to
                 “take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote
                 for it” (Evangelium Vitae, no. 73, quoting a 1974 document from
                 the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).

                    The Pope recognizes that upholding the right to life of the unborn maybe
              difficult for the Catholic legislator, perhaps even requiring “the sacrificeof
              prestigious professional positions or the relinquishing of reasonable hopesof
              career advancement” (Evangelium Vitae, no. 74). Even so, Catholic
              politicians who actively promote abortion rights are cooperating in evilactions.
              “This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect forthe
              freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits itor
              requires it” (ibid., emphasis added).

                    Much more can and must be said concerning the dignity and value of
              each human person, created in the image and likeness of God. We also
              affirm the absolute need to present this teaching charitably, sensitively,and in
              a way that promotes reconciliation and healing in the Church. However,for
              our purposes here, as will be set forth at further length below, we believeit is
              important to highlight at the outset the Church’s firm, unchanging moral
              teaching concerning abortion.

              II.  The American Context

                    With the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade (1973), as
              well as subsequent cases that have affirmed and expanded the ruling, such
              as Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and Stenberg v. Carhart (2000),
              abortion is considered a constitutional right. This situation is abhorrentto
              many Christians and others who recognize and value the right to life ofthe
              unborn child.

                    Sadly, many of the legislators and judges who have championed and
              upheld abortion rights publicly identify themselves as Catholics. We haveno
              desire to judge the sincerity of the thought processes or motives thatunderlie
              their position, nor do we fail to recognize some of the values these individuals
              seek to uphold in other areas. It is simply an empirical fact that thereare
              prominent politicians who publicly identify themselves as practicing Catholics
              who nonetheless support—some more zealously and completely than
              others—the “right” to abortion. In fact, they use their Catholic heritageto their
              political advantage while advancing the goals of their pro-abortion
              constituents.

                    This situation has far-reaching implications and the problem will only
              become more acute with each year that Roe v. Wade remains the law of the
              land.

              III. The Teaching of the U.S. Bishops

                    The prophetic stance of the U.S. bishops in response to this state of
              affairs has been increasingly clear. Individual bishops and bishops of
              individual states or regions have labored privately and publicly to formthe
              consciences of their flocks and to exhort wayward Catholic politiciansto
              defend the lives of the unborn. In 1997 there was the historic petitionto
              President Clinton signed by all the U.S. cardinals and then-NCCB President
              Anthony Pilla of Cleveland, imploring him not to veto legislation banningmost
              partial-birth abortions.

                    Even more to the point when it comes to the problem of Catholic
              politicians, the U.S. bishops published in 1998 a document entitled Livingthe
              Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics. This document had some
              important things to say to Catholic politicians:

                    In a special way, we call on U.S. Catholics, especially those in
                    positions of leadership—whether cultural, economic or
                    political—to recover their identity as followers of Jesus Christ
                    and to be leaders in the renewal of American respect for the
                    sanctity of life. . . .
 
                    Bringing a respect for human dignity to practical politics can be
                    a daunting task. There is such a wide spectrum of issues
                    involving the protection of human life and the promotion of
                    human dignity. Good people frequently disagree on which
                    problems to address, which policies to adopt and how best to
                    apply them. But for citizens and elected officials alike, the
                    basic principle is simple: We must begin with a commitment
                    never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of any
                    innocent human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled
                    or desperate that life may seem. In other words, the choice of
                    certain ways of acting is always and radically incompatible with
                    the love of God and the dignity of the human person created in
                    His image. Direct abortion is never a morally tolerable option. It
                    is always a grave act of violence against a woman and her
                    unborn child. . . .
 
                    [S]ome Catholic elected officials have adopted the argument
                    that, while they personally oppose evils like abortion, they
                    cannot force their religious views onto the wider society. This
                    is seriously mistaken on several key counts. First, regarding
                    abortion, the point when human life begins is not a religious
                    belief but a scientific fact—a fact on which there is clear
                    agreement even among leading abortion advocates. Second,
                    the sanctity of human life is not merely Catholic doctrine but
                    part of humanity’s global ethical heritage, and our nation’s
                    founding principle. Finally, democracy is not served by silence.
                    Most Americans would recognize the contradiction in the
                    statement, “While I am personally opposed to slavery or
                    racism or sexism I cannot force my personal view on the rest
                    of society.” Real pluralism depends on people of conviction
                    struggling vigorously to advance their beliefs by every ethical
                    and legal means at their disposal (original emphasis).

              IV. The Aftermath of the Ashcroft Hearings

                    We strongly desire that the Attorney General of the United States be
              pro-life. The recent confirmation process of John Ashcroft had several
              troubling aspects, which bring to the forefront the complicity of Catholic
              politicians in the promotion of abortion rights.

              (1)  It was clear to objective viewers of the evening news and congressional
              commentators alike that what was really fueling the opposition to Ashcroft’s
              nomination was his personal opposition to abortion.

              (2)  The opposition to Ashcroft’s nomination was led by several prominent
              Catholics—both on the Senate Judiciary Committee and in the Senate itself.
              Eight Catholic senators voted against Ashcroft’s nomination. A few other
              Catholic senators, known for their support even of the grisly partial-birth
              abortion procedure, reluctantly voted for Ashcroft’s confirmation.

              (3)  The opposition to Ashcroft made a point of using the confirmation
              proceeding as a show of strength. They vowed to block any Supreme Court
              nominee who opposed abortion, irrespective of his or her qualificationsor
              positions on any other issues. In other words, they would provide a
              pro-abortion litmus test that would derail the nomination, inter alia,of any
              nominee who took to heart the bishops’ 1998 teaching. It is ironic thatwhile
              those who support the right to life of the unborn are pejoratively dismissedas
              being “single issue,” the fact is that pro-abortion congressmen, including
              those who are Catholic, can be “single issue” when it comes to defendingthe
              abortion industry.

              (4)  The basis for their strong stance, according to one of the Catholic
              senators in question, is to uphold the right to choose abortion as a “core
              value” in our nation. This perverse logic is rooted in the eclipse of thesense of
              God and of man in our society. When we call “evil good and good evil,”our
              Holy Father writes, we are “already on the path to the most alarming
              corruption and the darkest moral blindness” (Evangelium Vitae, no. 24).

              (5)  Despite their apparent knowledge of the Church’s teaching onabortion
              and the frequent admonitions of the U.S. bishops, there are Catholic
              lawmakers who believe they can systematically block attempts to protect
              human life on Friday and worthily receive Holy Communion on Sunday. This
              duplicity has the ostensible blessing of the Church to the extent thissituation
              is permitted to continue unabated.

              V.  Concerns of Catholics United for the Faith

                    CUF members have several concerns with regard to Catholic politicians
              who support abortion. Before listing such concerns, we want to emphasize
              that they are completely divorced from partisan considerations. It is notour
              place as a lay Catholic apostolate to advocate affiliation with a particular
              political party (cf. Gaudium et Spes, no. 76) or to take a collective standon
              matters in which Catholics rightfully reflect a diversity of opinion. However,we
              see abortion as a pressing human rights issue and not as a
              liberal-conservative or Democrat-Republican issue. The Holy Father
              emphasizes our “moral duty” to oppose laws that legitimize the direct killingof
              unborn children and thus deny the equality of everyone under the law
              (Evangelium Vitae, nos. 72, 74). Given this context, we have the following
              concerns:

              (1)  The salvation of the Catholic politician. Our faith tells usthat Catholic
              politicians who aid and abet abortion on a massive scale are participatingin a
              grave offense against God and against human life. Again, we do not judgeany
              particular Catholic politician, but prudence and charity dictate that webe
              concerned about the state of his or her soul.

              (2)  The scandal to the faithful. Catholics who publicly championthe cause of
              abortion give grave scandal to the faithful. Obviously it is confusingto the laity
              to see a politician maintain such views while purporting to be a Catholicin
              good standing. Catholic students are taught one thing in their religionclass
              and then hear another message from their Catholic heroes or leaders.
              Eventually the faithful become inoculated to the discussion, and
              believe—along with their elected politicians—that it’s okay for a Catholicto
              favor abortion rights.

              (3)  Ecumenical and evangelistic concerns. When it comes to abortion,many
              Catholic politicians stand with the secularists over and against devout
              Christians who strive to instill a sense of morality in our culture. This,we
              believe, is exactly the type of counter-witness discussed in Gaudium etSpes.
              After identifying atheism as one of the most serious problems of our day,this
              Vatican II document says that “[b]elievers can . . . have more than a littleto do
              with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their
              instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even failin their
              religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather thanto
              reveal the true nature of God and of religion” (no. 19).

              (4)  Violence in society. A society that countenances the killingof one class of
              vulnerable citizens will surely set its sites on other classes as well,such as
              the elderly and handicapped, among others. At some point we must reverse
              the cycle of violence that manifests itself in so many ways today.

              (5)  Future generations. The threat of Catholic legislators to blockattempts to
              reverse or even minimize the scope of Roe v. Wade places at grave risk
              future generations of Americans who will be unjustly deprived of the
              fundamental right to life if these Catholic legislators are successful.

              VI.      Recommendations to our members

                    While we acknowledge the gravity of this situation, and the need for
              action, even more we recognize the plenitude of God’s grace and the needfor
              prayer. This outlook, shaped by the writings of CUF founder H. Lyman
              Stebbins and the rich spiritual tradition of our Catholic faith, enablesus to
              encourage all those who share our fundamental goals and concerns to take
              the following practical steps:

              (1)  Our founder rightly emphasized that our zeal must first of allbe directed
              to the renewal of our own hearts. We all need to be more deeply converted;
              we all need to strive for holiness. As helpful as pro-life judges, journalists,and
              legislators can be, even more we need more pro-life saints and heroes,such
              as St. Maximilian Kolbe and Pope John Paul II, Bl. Gianna Beretta Mollaand
              Mother Teresa. We exhort all our members to strive for holiness as theirfirst
              and foremost duty as Christians.

              (2)  We need to pray fervently and daily for all those in public office(cf. 1 Tim.
              2:1-4), especially for our fellow Catholics. We must resist the real temptation
              to harbor uncharitable thoughts about Catholic politicians who fail touphold
              the right to life, and instead we should offer extra prayers and mortifications
              for their conversion on this issue.

              (3)  Both the Holy Father and the U.S. bishops have emphasized therole of
              the laity—and particularly the family—in the political arena. For example,in his
              1981 apostolic exhortation on the role of the Christian family in the modern
              world (Familiaris Consortio), Pope John Paul II writes: “The social roleof
              families is called upon to find expression also in the form of political
              intervention: families should be the first to take steps to see that thelaws and
              institutions of the State not only do not offend but support and positively
              defend the rights and duties of the family” (no. 44).

                    This role can be manifested in many different ways, depending on one’s
              state in life, occupation, talents, etc. Certainly as Catholic laity weshould be
              involved—both formally and informally—in the education of society on life
              issues and foster an informed, responsible use of the right to vote. Evenmore
              in this context, we encourage the faithful to call and/or write Catholicsin
              public office, charitably but firmly expressing our disapproval of theirsupport
              of abortion rights, and calling upon them to support specific measuresand
              judicial nominees that will protect the lives of unborn children.

              (4)  We encourage pastors of souls who have pro-abortion Catholic
              legislators within their jurisdiction to exercise their moral and, if needbe,
              canonical authority to bear prophetic witness to the truth in a way orderedto
              the salvation of the Catholic legislator and indeed the good of all thefaithful
              entrusted to their pastoral care and protection. Canon 1371 of the Codeof
              Canon Law, particularly as amended by Pope John Paul II in Ad Tuendam
              Fidem (1998), provides that one who publicly repudiates Church teaching,
              and who does not retract after being legitimately warned, is to be punished
              with a remedial penalty. In this regard, the lay faithful play an importantrole by
              praying for their bishop and encouraging him with respectful communications
              to take appropriate, decisive action to protect the flock entrusted tohim.

                    It is our prayer that, united in Christ and ever faithful to His bride,we will
              help the “Gospel of Life” flourish in our beloved homeland, so that allpeople,
              without exception, may enjoy the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuitof
              happiness” which our Founding Fathers sought to guarantee for future
              generations.
 

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