For the past 20 years, Dr. Matthew E. Bunson has been active in the area of Catholic social communications and education, including writing, editing, and teaching on a variety of topics related to Church history, the papacy, the saints and Catholic culture. He is faculty chair at Catholic Distance University, a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, and the author or co-author of over 50 books including: The Encyclopedia of Catholic History, The Pope Encyclopedia, We Have a Pope! Benedict XVI, The Saints Encyclopedia and best-selling biographies of St. Damien of Molokai and St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
Day 3 at the Democratic National Convention was highlighted by the appearance of party heavyweights, including President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. They both defended their record of the past eight years and spoke on behalf of the party's newly christened presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
The other big speaker for the night was, of course, was Vice Presidential nominee, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.
Of particular significance for Catholics, two self-professed Catholic leaders, Biden and Kaine, addressed the DNC tonight. The two are not only among the most prominent Catholics in government—they are exemplars of the self-contradictory “pro-abortion Catholic” political posture.
Biden, Kaine and many other politicians from both major parties have long used a familiar formula, first coined by New York Governor Mario Cuomo: “personally opposed to abortion, but politically pro-choice.”
The “personally opposed but” mantra on abortion is not exclusive to Democrats. In an interview today with EWTN News Nightly, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said this about being Catholic and pro-abortion:
I understand the Catholic Church’s position and I am very empathetic to it. I consider the personal matter of abortion to be a sin, I consider abortion to be wrong and I would counsel anyone not to have an abortion. ... On the other hand, I believe that we live in a pluralistic society and if other people have different moral views on it we have to accept that. We have to accept the decision of the Supreme Court. I think there should be limits on abortion. I think ultimately but within a certain frame of time a woman should have the right to choose…
Which brings us to Sen. Kaine, who has said essentially the same thing. As National Review noted in a piece entitled “Is Kaine a ‘Devout Catholic?’”:
In fact, in a 2005 interview, [Kaine] even uttered the successive phrases, ‘I’m Catholic; I’m against abortion.’ But pro-abortion Democrats need not be anxious: Kaine followed this statement in his next breath by adding, ‘But I’m going to take an oath to follow the law, and I will follow the law.’ This seemingly moderate image, however, is at odds with Kaine’s enthusiastic record of affirming a woman’s right to choose abortion. He has gone so far as to call himself a ‘strong supporter of Roe v. Wade.’ As a senator, he has received perfect, 100 percent scores from both Planned Parenthood and the NARAL, along with a zero rating from the National Right to Life Committee. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said she was ‘very enthusiastic’ about Kaine’s selection.
Unsurprisingly, Kaine has already changed his position on a number of key issues. According to multiple news outlets, including Townhall and Bloomberg Politics, he is now in favor of repealing the Hyde Amendment that prohibits the use of public funds for abortion.
In his surprisingly unsubstantial speech on Wednesday night, the Vice Presidential nominee placed great emphasis on his faith, his Jesuit influences, his mission work in Latin America and the role of God in his life. In the same speech, he assured his audience that Hillary Clinton would protect Roe v. Wade.
For any Catholic who thinks that this position is a sound way to live or govern, the Church in 2002 set the record straight. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, at the time he was prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a doctrinal note on the participation of Catholics in political life. It taught:
[A] well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine.
And for any Catholic who would downplay the moral gravity of abortion, the Church reiterated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
On abortion, the Catholic teaching is clear: ‘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’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2271)
Nonetheless, in the last few years, there has been a new title appropriated to provide Catholic politicians with political cover when they waver on long-standing Catholic doctrine. It was used last weekend by the Washington Post in a feature it did on Senator Kaine, calling him a “Pope Francis Catholic”.
The suggestion is that Pope Francis has given latitude to Catholic leaders to hold positions that are diametrically opposed to Church teachings while still calling themselves faithful Catholics. Hence, in this line of thought, Tim Kaine, Joe Biden and other politicians—Democrats and Republicans alike—are somehow absolved of the need to form their consciences properly as Catholics and then act on their properly formed consciences in a way that truly promotes the common good that they are charged with upholding as public servants.
But if, in fact, Kaine and others are called “Pope Francis Catholics”, it might be helpful to consider what exactly Pope Francis has said to Catholic politicians, especially on abortion and gender ideology.
In his apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, the Pope wrote:
Here I feel it urgent to state that, if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed. So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the ‘property’ of another human being” (paragraph 83).
On euthanasia he taught:
The family protects human life in all its stages, including its last. Consequently, ‘those who work in healthcare facilities are reminded of the moral duty of conscientious objection. Similarly, the Church not only feels the urgency to assert the right to a natural death, without aggressive treatment and euthanasia’.
The Pope has been just as strong and unambiguous on gender theory and has rejected for many years any theory or ideology that would obscure the intrinsic differences between men and women. In Amoris Laetitia, he taught:
Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that ‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.’
Finally, Pope Francis had some very good advice for Catholics in politics:
What do you want to say—that engaging in politics is a little like martyrdom? Yes. It is a kind of martyrdom. But it is a daily martyrdom: seeking the common good without letting yourself be corrupted. Seek the common good by thinking of the most fitting ways for this, the most fitting means. Seek the common good by working for the little things, the small ones, it gives little return... but one does it.
Would that all Catholics, Democrats and Republicans alike, heed Pope Francis’ wise counsel. For surely these “small ones” include the most vulnerable, the most defenseless—the unborn.