26 August 2008

Archbishop Chaput's clear teaching

This week the Democratic Party convention is being held in Denver, Colorado, to confirm the candidacy of Barack Obama for the presidential election in the USA in November. Mr Obama holds extreme pro-abortion positions. He has chosen as his running mate Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, a self-described Catholic who goes to Mass on Sundays but who is also notoriously pro-abortion.

Some have seen it as an act of discourtesy to Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap of Denver that he has not been invited to the Democrats’ convention, even to give an invocation. From my neutral stance I would consider it a blessing that he hasn’t. He and auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley on 25 August issued a very explicit statement on the website of the Archdiocese of Denver, ON THE SEPARATION OF SENSE AND STATE:

Archbishop Chaput is a gracious man as this extract from the message in which he refers to another Mass-going Democrat ‘Catholic’, shows:

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is a gifted public servant of strong convictions and many professional skills. Regrettably, knowledge of Catholic history and teaching does not seem to be one of them.

Interviewed on Meet the Press August 24, Speaker Pelosi was asked when human life begins. She said the following:

"I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition . . . St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose."

Since Speaker Pelosi has, in her words, studied the issue "for a long time," she must know very well one of the premier works on the subject, Jesuit John Connery's Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective (Loyola, 1977). Here's how Connery concludes his study:

"The Christian tradition from the earliest days reveals a firm antiabortion attitude . . . The condemnation of abortion did not depend on and was not limited in any way by theories regarding the time of fetal animation. Even during the many centuries when Church penal and penitential practice was based on the theory of delayed animation, the condemnation of abortion was never affected by it. Whatever one would want to hold about the time of animation, or when the fetus became a human being in the strict sense of the term, abortion from the time of conception was considered wrong, and the time of animation was never looked on as a moral dividing line between permissible and impermissible abortion."

The Archbishop then quotes a martyr of World War II killed by the Nazis:
Or to put it in the blunter words of the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

"Destruction of the embryo in the mother's womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed on this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder."

Some comments on blogs seem to think that Archbishop Chaput speaks out of both sides of his mouth because he has elsewhere written about the dilemma that sometimes faces voters when all the candidates on offer support evil. He tackles, with some irony, ‘Catholics for Obama’ who have quoted the Archbishop in support of their cause, but who have left out part of what he said. I don’t think that Archbishop Chaput is being in anyway devious but I do find the idea of an ordained friar campaigning for a candidate, as the then Father Chaput did decades ago, rather strange.

Why do I mention this now? Earlier this spring a group called "Roman Catholics for Obama '08" quoted my own published words in the following way:

"So can a Catholic in good conscience vote for a pro-choice candidate? The answer is: I can't, and I won't. But I do know some serious Catholics -- people whom I admire -- who may. I think their reasoning is mistaken, but at least they sincerely struggle with the abortion issue, and it causes them real pain. And most important: They don't keep quiet about it; they don't give up; they keep lobbying their party and their representatives to change their pro-abortion views and protect the unborn. Catholics can vote for pro-choice candidates if they vote for them despite -- not because of – their pro-choice views."

What's interesting about this quotation - which is accurate but incomplete - is the wording that was left out. The very next sentences in the article of mine they selected, which Roman Catholics for Obama neglected to quote, run as follows:

"But [Catholics who support 'pro-choice' candidates] also need a compelling proportionate reason to justify it. What is a 'proportionate' reason when it comes to the abortion issue? It's the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next life - which we most certainly will. If we're confident that these victims will accept our motives as something more than an alibi, then we can proceed."

On their website, Roman Catholics for Obama stress that:

"After faithful thought and prayer, we have arrived at the conclusion that Senator Obama is the candidate whose views are most compatible with the Catholic outlook, and we will vote for him because of that -- and because of his other outstanding qualities -- despite our disagreements with him in specific areas."

I'm familiar with this reasoning. It sounds a lot like me 30 years ago. And 30 years later we still have about a million abortions a year. Maybe Roman Catholics for Obama will do a better job at influencing their candidate. It could happen. And I sincerely hope it does, since Planned Parenthood of the Chicago area, as recently as February 2008, noted that Senator Barack Obama "has a 100 percent pro-choice voting record both in the U.S. Senate and the Illinois Senate."

Changing the views of "pro-choice" candidates takes a lot more than verbal gymnastics, good alibis and pious talk about "personal opposition" to killing unborn children. I'm sure Roman Catholics for Obama know that, and I wish them good luck. They'll need it.

St John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver


The current issue of The Catholic Herald (England) carries two articles that highlight the moral dilemma for many voters. One is by a former diplomat:

Obama may be the lesser evil for Catholic voters

Ex-diplomat John Pedler says that American Catholics face an agonising decision this November
22 August 2008:

America's Catholic voters may have tipped the balance ensuring George W Bush's election to the presidency in both 2000 and 2004. Of course, without the support of any one of several other groups of voters, both those Bush campaigns could have failed. Nevertheless it remains true that Catholic votes could possibly determine the outcome this November.

A news story in the same issue by Simon Caldwell begins this way:

David Cameron (leader of the Conservative Party and of the opposition) has made a highly personal defence of the controversial practice of aborting disabled babies up to birth.

The Tory leader insisted it would be wrong to prevent a mother terminating a pregnancy because her baby was handicapped.

He said he would "not want to change" existing laws that permit abortions after the 24-week limit if tests show the baby is disabled.

The Tory Party leader said his views have been shaped by becoming a father to a disabled child himself - six-year-old Ivan, who was born with cerebral palsy and suffers from severe epilepsy, needing 24-hour care

None of the main parties in Britain have a pro-life policy, though all of the main parties have elected members who are strongly pro-life. The tradition in the British Parliament is that when what are considered ‘conscience issues’ are voted on the party whips are withdrawn, so that each member may vote freely. However, the current Labour government is trying to restrict this on certain matters.

But voters may still be faced with the dilemma of having to choose between a group of pro-abortion candidates, with no alternative. What do you do? I was in Britain from 2000 to 2002 and a registered voter there (Irish citizens have that right). I enjoyed a double ‘luxury’ during the election of 2001. The sitting Member of Parliament (MP) in my constituency had a strong pro-life voting record. Her two main opponents were pro-abortion. I couldn’t find the position of the fourth candidate, representing a minor party. But the seat was also a safe one for the MP’s party. There was no danger of her losing. Her pro-life position made no difference one way or the other to the majority of voters, I would think. My individual vote made little difference either, in one sense. So I could safely vote for the pro-life candidate. When my friends asked me which party I had voted for I simply said I had voted for ‘so-and-so’. I had voted for her, not for her party. But her pro-life voting record was decisive for me. I emailed another candidate asking her position on this matter, without revealing my own. she graciously replied, guessing my position but stating her own pro-abortion position. I thanked her for replying.

I have a close friend, an American priest, who remembers his grandmother dandling him on her knee when he was a toddler and saying to him ‘You are a Democrat’. He grew up with that conviction. But in the last few elections he has voted Republican because of the Democrats’ dogmatic pro-abortion stand, though there are Democrats for Life.

One positive thing about the US election is that abortion is seen as a major issue because it involves basic morality. Americans also see the importance of appointments to the Supreme Court. There’s no doubt in my mind that the court’s Roe v Wade decision in 1973 was a perverse one in the deepest sense of that word.

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