Under Barack Obama, it appears even the CIA will be headed by a pro-abortion-rights Catholic.

In the latest of a long string of appointments by the president-elect of such Catholics to his governing team, sources reported yesterday that Leon Panetta, who served as White House chief of staff during President Bill Clinton’s presidency, will be named as CIA director by Obama.

Panetta has no direct experience in the area of the intelligence operations he will oversee as CIA director, but he does have a long record of support for legal abortion. As a California congressman from 1977-1993, Panetta voted in favor of pro-abortion legislation and, National Review Online reported, in 1990 he co-sponsored the abortion lobby’s Freedom of Choice Act. Obama promised in 2007 to sign the FOCA legislation, which if passed would remove all federal, state and local restrictions on access to on-demand abortion.

The U.S. bishops have strongly condemned the FOCA legislation as morally unacceptable.

As White House chief of staff, Panetta remained a supporter of abortion rights and publicly defended the Clinton Administration’s opposition to a ban on partial-birth abortion.

Panetta’s consistent record of dissent as a Catholic politician from Church teachings on abortion generated strong criticism of his selection in 2002 to serve on the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board on sexual abuse by clergy. In her July 2002 post about the appointment, National Review Online editor and Register contributor Kathryn Jean Lopez quoted the pro-abortion-rights arguments Panetta made in a 1992 form letter to a constituents.

Echoing a standard argument of pro-abortion-rights Catholic politicians, Panetta asked, “Do I then have the right to impose my philosophical convictions any more than my religious convictions on others who disagree with me? I think not, and this is the reason why I think there should be no laws on abortion. I believe the best way to cope with abortion is not by punitive legislation but by a persuasive program of moral education aimed at building up a respect for life.”

Summarized Lopez about Panetta’s position on legal abortion, “Panetta espouses the classic personally-I-may-be-opposed-but-publicly-I-must-represent-the-interest-groups-whom-I-represent claim advanced by many so-called Catholic politicians.”

The Church has repeatedly stated this is an unacceptable position for a Catholic in public life to hold. 

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II stated, “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” (no. 73).

In its 2002 document, “A Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Public Life,” the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith further clarified the fundamental responsibility of Catholic politicians to oppose legal abortion.

In a section entitled “Central points in the current cultural and political debate,” the Vatican instruction states that “those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life.”

And, the doctrinal note stresses, “In this context, it must be noted also that 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” (no. 4).

— Tom McFeely