Clarifying Congressional Confusion

Recently pro-abortion Roman Catholic politicians have been challenged by their Church. Some bishops have excluded them from communion; others are threatening to do so. And so forty-eight pro-choice Catholic members of the House wrote to Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick defending themselves and their records. George Weigel, director of the Catholic Studies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center here in Washington, D.C., decided it was time to clarify some issues for the members and the public with an article titled "Catholic Confusions in the Congress." One of the congressmen's confusions is their repeated references to abortion as a matter of "personal morality." Weigel writes, "Abortion, as the bishops have consistently taught, is a matter of the fifth commandment, not the sixth." It's not breaking "Thou shalt not commit adultery," but "Thou shalt not kill."* He explains, "abortion involves taking the life of an indisputably human creature, endowed with an inalienable right to life. That is a serious public matter, not a private choice, because protecting innocent life is one of the first requirements of justice in any decent society." Another point of confusion is the common belief that Supreme Court decisions are irreversible. Just as the Court was wrong when it decided in the 1857 Dred Scott case that African-Americans were legal non-persons, so the Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood decisions were also mistaken. Weigel writes, "legislators have an obligation to state publicly that the Court got it wrong. In their letter, the Members justified pro-choice voting records on the grounds that 'the Supreme Court has declared that our Constitution provides women with a right to an abortion.' Anyone truly opposed to abortion would immediately continue, 'But the Court, sadly, was wrong. Tragically and lethally wrong.'" Next, Weigel scolds his fellow churchmen for failing to limit the damage caused by bad Supreme Court decisions. He laments that "within the Democratic Party . . . unabashed support for . . . abortion . . . is the litmus test for national office and the litmus test for weighing judicial nominees." He insists that morally serious legislators must work "to reverse the Court's wrongheaded abortion decisions." In a previous statement, Weigel also rebutted the claim that the Church's pro-life teaching is "a sectarian position which cannot be imposed on a pluralistic society." He illustrated his point by saying no church would try to force everyone in the United States to abstain from hot dogs on Fridays during Lent. That's a private matter between a clergyman and a parishioner. By contrast, "The Church's pro-life teaching is something that can be engaged seriously by anyone. You don't have to believe that there are seven sacraments to deal with this, you don't have to believe in the primacy of the bishop of Rome to engage this position. You don't even have to believe in God to engage this [pro-life] position because it's a position rooted in basic embryology and in basic logic, and anybody can engage that." The 1973 Supreme Court could plead ignorance. It didn't have three-dimensional ultrasound images that clearly revealed babies inside the womb. In 2004, none of us -- in or out of Congress, religious or atheistic, Catholic or Protestant -- can honestly plead that same confusion. And beware of politicians who do. *Some Protestants may number these commandments sixth and seventh, respectively. For further reading and information: George Weigel, "Catholic confusions in the Congress," Ethics and Public Policy Center, 23 June 2004. "The Body Politic and the Body of Christ: Candidates, Communion and the Catholic Church," transcript of event hosted by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 23 June 2004. Michael Novak, "In and Out of Communion," National Review Online, 15 June 2004. Phil Brennan, "Pope's Biographer: Kerry Distorting Catholic Doctrine,", 16 April 2004. Jim VandeHei, "Kerry Keeps His Faith in Reserve," Washington Post, 16 July 2004, A01. Steve Waldman, "Pilgrim's Progress?: John Kerry's dubious approach to religion," Slate, 29 June 2004. Father Frank A. Pavone, "A Matter of Belief or a Matter of Fact?" Priests for Life. Archbishop Charles Chaput, "It's a matter of honesty: to receive Communion, we need to be in communion," Denver Catholic Register, 26 May 2004. Jane Lampman, "No communion for contrary Catholics: a good idea?Christian Science Monitor, 28 May 2004. The BreakPoint Role of Government packet (suggested donation $10) includes a booklet titled "God and Caesar: Does Religion Belong in Public Life?"


Chuck Colson


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