There is a temptation to call the travails of President Clinton a constitutional issue. In fact, we are experiencing a Clinton crisis which will undoubtedly have a powerful impact on our nation. It must be remembered, however, that an ill wind has been blowing from the White House for some time. While the economy has been booming for the past four years or so, the country's moral atmosphere has deteriorated. Charges of wrongdoing in the White House and various executive departments run the spectrum from campaign finance abuses to travel office chicanery. Criminal investigations of federal officeholders have become a cottage industry.

But perhaps the most sorrowful example for many Catholics has been Clinton's steadfast commitment to abortion. Both at home and abroad, the president has been the best friend the advocates for abortion, infanticide, physician-assisted suicide, and population control have ever had in the White House.

No part of Clinton's political constituency has been given the obeisance reserved for the pro-abortion lobby. And so, now at the lowest point of his presidency, they stand solidly behind him.

Many of his supporters also have been staunch advocates of women's rights. Yet, the workplace abuse of a White House intern — and perhaps others — does not concern Clinton's most rabid supporters. One member of the supposedly objective media said she would relish the prospect of illicit sex with Clinton to thank him for supporting abortion.

Joseph Esposito

You have to admire Mary Jane Owen of the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities, who declined an offer to attend Clinton's prayer breakfast on Sept. 11. In sending her regrets, Owen wrote to the president: “It was because of your ongoing support of policies which run counter to God's plans for his people: your direct support of partial-birth abortion and your indirect approval of normalizing the killing of patients.”

Clinton attracted a number of religious leaders to that breakfast. Some of those and others around the country, including some Catholics, have rightly embraced his repentance and encouraged forgiveness for the president's lying and admitted sexual misconduct. Certainly, we must respond to their example, regardless of our sense of revulsion.

Yet, we need to recognize the critical importance of public morality. We are called to this in Church teachings, from St. Thomas Aquinas to the Cathecism. Clinton should be forgiven, but his conduct demands discipline.

The president's endorsement of a culture of death, sadly, does not fall into our current legal definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” But attempts at perjury, obstruction of justice, and even — dare we say — moral turpitude, do.

The latest debasement from the White House has been the apparent smear campaign against members of Congress in an effort to silence them. One of the giants of Congress, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), a man of devotion and rectitude, has become the current target. Where will it end?

In a recent tribute to Hyde, Crisis magazine commissioned Catholic recording artist Marie Bellet to write a ballad for the great pro-life champion. In her moving tribute, “The Man of the House,” Mrs. Bellet sang, “And he fights the good fight ‘cause there's wrong and there's right; there are things worth losing for.”

In mid-September, while the attempt to sully the reputation of a good and gentle man was unleashed, the Senate — for the second time — failed to override Clinton's veto of the partial-birth abortion ban. As the “right” to this gruesome procedure was upheld, Clinton was asking forgiveness for other misdeeds and seeking to return to business as usual.

Charles Krauthammer, a respected national columnist, offered a solution to the growing impasse in the nation's capital. In the Sept. 18 issue of The Washington Post, he called for Clinton's resignation and a pre-arranged pardon. Such a scenario would address the concerns of public morality while also offering forgiveness.

Clinton was born during the presidency of Harry Truman, the simple, no-nonsense post-war leader. One wonders what the man from Independence would think about his fellow Democrat's moral lapses. It is hard to believe that he would not counsel Clinton to stop besmirching the office and step down.

Several writers in recent days have recalled the famous admonition given by lawyer Joseph Welch to Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954: “You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” That's an apt question to pose to Bill Clinton.

Joseph Esposito is the Register's Washington bureau chief.