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May 20, 2004
Catholic Church Takes Stand On Principle, Confuses Politicians

Pro-abortion Catholic politicians sent an angry letter to the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington DC, protesting the stand taken by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in recommending withholding Communion from those politicians who promote or enact laws legalizing abortion:

Forty-eight Roman Catholic members of Congress who are Democrats have signed a letter to the cardinal archbishop of Washington, D.C., saying the threats by some bishops to deny communion to politicians who support abortion rights were "deeply hurtful," counterproductive and "miring the Church in partisan politics." ...

The letter's signers, including about a dozen who are considered anti-abortion Democrats, said the bishops are "allowing the church to be used for partisan purposes.'' They also question why these bishops made abortion a litmus test while ignoring politicians who voted counter to the church by endorsing the death penalty and the war in Iraq.

This argument demonstrates a lack of insight into the Church to which these politicians profess membership as well as an inability to recognize when a religious organization feels as though it has been used by politicians as a cover for pro-abortion activists.

In the first place, despite the clearly superficial understanding of Catholic philosophy demonstrated by the signatories, Catholic teaching does allow for both war and the death penalty, although the thresholds are fairly tough. St. Thomas Aquinas first wrote about the concepts of the "just war" and formulated them into doctrine almost a millenium ago. In fact, the doctrine can be found within the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, the basic text of Catholic philosophy and religious teachings. The basic premise:

All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. Despite this admonition of the Church, it sometimes becomes necessary to use force to obtain the end of justice. This is the right, and the duty, of those who have responsibilities for others, such as civil leaders and police forces. While individuals may renounce all violence those who must preserve justice may not do so, though it should be the last resort, "once all peace efforts have failed." [Cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et spes 79, 4]

As with all moral acts the use of force to obtain justice must comply with three conditions to be morally good. First, the act must be good in itself. The use of force to obtain justice is morally licit in itself. Second, it must be done with a good intention, which as noted earlier must be to correct vice, to restore justice or to restrain evil, and not to inflict evil for its own sake. Thirdly, it must be appropriate in the circumstances. An act which may otherwise be good and well motivated can be sinful by reason of imprudent judgment and execution.

In this regard Just War doctrine gives certain conditions for the legitimate exercise of force, all of which must be met:

"1. the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

2. all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

3. there must be serious prospects of success;

4. the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition" [CCC 2309].

In regards to the death penalty, which I oppose on moral grounds related to my Catholic faith but not dictated by it, the Church also allows for its use under a narrow set of circumstances -- and again, the Catechism itself provides the framework (para. 2267):

Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.

What these misinformed Catholics have done is to confuse the personal opinions of the current Pope for Church doctrine, which are two completely different things. People often refer to the Pope's infallibility, but most lay people, even lifelong Catholics, are not aware that infallibility only applies to Church doctrine, not practice, and is specially invoked by the prelate. (The last time this happened, I believe, was in the mid-19th century regarding the Immaculate Conception of Mary.) However, the Catholic position on abortion comes from two millenia of concern for the lives of the most innocent of all people, the unborn, and is strongly denounced in the Catechism, as well as in practice by Catholic churches (see link above, scroll down to 2270):

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life. ... Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,"77 "by the very commission of the offense,"78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

In maintaining their support of abortion, and especially as they have acted as enablers of abortion by either voting for laws which ease its access or voting against laws restricting it, these Catholics have committed a grave sin, at least in the eyes of the Catholic Church. While the Catechism provides some wiggle room on war and execution, it has no such provision for abortion, and Catholics should not be surprised by this! Nor should they be shocked when the Church requires its members to adhere to its philosophy in order to remain within its community.

Charges of partisanship are ludicrous. Democrats created the "partisan" issue by becoming the pro-abortion party, much more so than Republicans, even though the GOP has a fairly significant pro-abortion minority. Despite this, Democrats routinely trot out their Catholocism at election time, hypocritically aligning themselves with a religion and philosophy with which they fundamentally disagree, just to squeeze a few more votes on Election Day. Unfortunately this allows other Catholics to presume that such views are acceptable within the church as up until now, they have not seen any reaction from the Church itself.

Small wonder, then, that the Church has finally decided to take a public stand in defense of its faith and philosophy. What good is any Church that won't? Pro-abortion Catholics, in their demand to Cardinal McCarrick, treat the Eucharist like a public utility that demands no obedience or sacrifice on the part of those who wish to receive it. The Church is not a public utility -- it is a voluntary membership to those who believe in its fundamental truths, even if they disagree with the practice of the faith in some parts. There is plenty of room in the Church for those who disagree with the war in Iraq on either side, or the death penalty as well. But for those who believe abortion to be no sin, the Catholic Church fundamentally disagrees, and always has.

Instead of writing letters demanding the Eucharist to Cardinal McCarrick, the signatories should decide what their own philosophies are and whether they belong in the Church. The Church is under no obligation to allow their beliefs to be warped and misrepresented by politicians grubbing for votes.

Addendum: Hugh Hewitt also briefly noted this story yesterday, and I wouldn't be surprised if he took another look at it today. The Washington Post also covered this story.

UPDATE: Right issue, wrong century, Chris B says; the last infallible doctrinal statement was in 1954 on the Immaculate Conception. You can read more about the apologetics of infallibility here. As Hugh Hewitt just pointed out on his show, as abortion is considered a mortal sin, one cannot receive the Eucharist without confession and repentance for engaging in abortion, whether you perform one, have one, or actively allow them to be performed. The bishops are right -- belatedly -- in refusing to allow abortion supporters to receive the Eucharist, just as it would be correct to refuse the Eucharist to an unrepentant adulterer or murderer. In fact, knowingly receiving the Eucharist while in a state of mortal sin is in itself a mortal sin, in that it disrespects the body and blood of Christ.

Of course, if you're not Catholic, none of this matters -- but if you publicly declare your Catholocism, then either you follow the rules or you don't, and failure to do so has consequences. If you don't like the rules, then choose another faith.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 20, 2004 7:36 AM

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