Catholic Pro-Life Politics

With the election of Barack Obama, Jan. 20 will witness the installation of the most pro-abortion president in U.S. history. It has been widely noted that his inauguration comes, significantly, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, commemorating the civil rights leader who marched on Washington. But less noted is the fact that two days after his inauguration we will see the anniversary of abortion’s legalization and the enormous annual March for Life in Washington.

Obama’s position on abortion and life issues has been clearly articulated in these pages (“Obama’s Abortion Extremism” by Robert George, Oct. 26) and consists of support for partial-birth abortion, the repeal of any restrictions on abortion and full funding of embryo-killing research. All of these positions stand in stark contrast with those of the Catholic Church, which continues to stand as a tireless defender of life from conception to natural death. Unfortunately, one would be hard-pressed to ascertain the Church’s stance from the manner in which Catholics voted.

More than 50% of Catholics cast their ballots for a candidate who holds views which are antithetical to the Church’s position.

Such a situation is not surprising, given the lack of knowledge many American Catholics have about their faith. Failed catechesis, and, in some cases, lack of clear moral leadership have left many Catholics with the erroneous belief that a candidate’s position on abortion can be evaluated on the same level as a candidate’s position on tax policy. While tax policies can be unfair and biased, abortion is always and everywhere a grave moral evil. It stands on a different playing field from other political issues.

Fortunately, the U.S. bishops have redoubled their efforts to articulate this message in response to Obama’s election. At their recent national meeting in Baltimore, Bishop Daniel Conlon said, “This is not a matter of political compromise or a matter of finding some way of common ground; it’s a matter of absolutes.”

Cardinal George, the president of the bishops’ conference, issued a statement to the incoming Obama administration voicing his concerns regarding life issues. Others have challenged Catholics in public office to be committed to the defense of life, and some have even called for censure of those public officials who claim to be Catholic yet openly defy the Church’s teaching.

These public statements by Church officials have been met with the usual resistance from pro-abortion forces who have argued that the Church needs to stay out of politics. They argue that by publicly admonishing Catholic politicians or lobbying the incoming Obama administration, the Catholic Church is overstepping its bounds and inserting itself as a political force. Progressive organizations that promote the separation of church and state argue that the Church has no business telling people how to vote, much less telling politicians how to act.

The irony here is that many of these same progressives have been quick to blame past Catholic leaders for not publicly telling politicians how to act.

Catholic leaders such as Pope Pius XII have been vilified for supposedly not inserting themselves into the politics of the day. Despite ample evidence to the contrary (facts seem to matter little in cases such as this), Pope Pius XII has been raked over the coals for supposedly not speaking out strongly enough against the Holocaust and Nazism. Similar arguments have been made about how the Church did not do enough to end slavery. However, when it comes to the free and easy killing of innocent human lives in abortion, the Church is told to keep its mouth shut.

Not only is it told to keep its mouth shut, but it is called oppressive and controlling if it seeks to admonish Catholic politicians who actively support abortion.

Action, in this instance, involves political action, and despite claims to the contrary by critics of the Church, political action by Catholics in no way violates the separation of church and state. Catholics who allow their faith to inform their political decisions are no more violating the separation of church and state than atheists who allow their views to inform political decisions. The idea that politics and religion should never mix would only work if politics did not have a moral and ethical dimension.

The reality is that many political issues have moral dimensions from whom to tax to whom to protect from genocide. It is the obligation of any believer to take part in deliberations about these decisions. The more serious the moral dilemma (and it’s hard to argue that anything could be more serious than life issues) the more important it is that believers engage in the politics of the day.

The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which Obama has promised to sign into law as one of his first acts in office, is an example of a political issue with grave moral consequences. This act would strip any and all regulations that are currently in place regarding abortion, and it would lead to the government subsidizing and promoting abortion with our tax dollars. By all accounts, this act will increase significantly the number of abortions in America.

As a result, Catholics have a duty to oppose this. The fact that our recognition of the inherent dignity of all human life, born and unborn, is informed, in part, by religious beliefs in no way disqualifies us from entering the public discourse.

The framers of the Constitution did not envision that religious believers would have to suspend their beliefs at the ballot box or be banned from public discourse regarding political-moral issues. Rather, they maintained that the state would refrain from supporting or advocating one religion over another.

Critics who charge that Catholics, particularly Catholic bishops, violate the separation of church and state by public support of the pro-life movement have been so blinded by their ideology that they fail to see the bigotry inherent in such statements.

It is ironic, then, that those who would erroneously limit the Church’s legitimate voice in the public square are the very ones running roughshod over the Constitution. In addition to maintaining that the state would not support religion, the framers of the Constitution also declared that the state would not prevent the free exercise of religion among its citizens.

This religious freedom is being compromised in the name of “tolerance.” For example, in New Mexico, a photographer was fined for refusing to photograph a homosexual commitment service. Nationwide, pharmacists have been sued for not prescribing the morning-after pill, and the eHarmony dating website, which is run by evangelical Christians, was forced into starting a site for homosexuals by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.

FOCA is problematic in this regard; also, it would threaten doctors and nurses whose personal religious convictions do not permit them to cooperate in performing abortions. Under FOCA, they could be forced to cooperate or face the loss of their licenses. In case after case, the freedom to act according to one’s religious convictions is being trampled upon by a dogmatic progressive mindset that demands we all think and act alike.

Now more than ever, Catholics need to be engaged in the public debate. Now more than ever Catholics need to be engaged in the issues of the day. We do so not to necessarily advance the agenda of any particular candidate or party, but to advance the agenda of the Kingdom. First and foremost, this involves standing up for life, but in today’s climate, it also involves standing up for religious freedom — something that we can no longer take for granted in this country.

Daniel Kuebler, Ph.D., is an

assistant professor of biology at

Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

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