Skip to comments.Abortion and rites: Tough choices for Catholic leaders and politicians
Posted on 04/19/2004 9:15:36 AM PDT by presidio9
ANY DECISION by Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry to receive Communion at Mass is likely to be a controversial action, a line drawn in the sand of conflict between the presumptive Democratic nominee for president and his church over its teachings on the contentious issue of abortion.
That is because over the past few months, several prominent U.S. Catholic bishops, including Sean O'Malley, archbishop of Kerry's hometown of Boston, have decided finally to take a stand against Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. Like many Catholic politicians in this age when the majority of Americans support legal abortion to some degree and when the backing of abortion-rights groups can be critical to a candidate's electoral success Kerry distinguishes between what he calls his personal opposition to abortion and his legislative support of unrestricted abortion.
The bishops want to make clear that Catholic politicians like Kerry who defy the church's teachings on grave moral issues such as abortion are not in good standing as Catholics and are thus ineligible for Communion. For a Catholic, being barred from the Eucharist is tantamount to excommunication. In fact, it is excommunication: the denial of the church's central sacrament and hence full participation in the Catholic community.
So far, only one U.S. Catholic bishop, Raymond Burke, the newly installed archbishop of St. Louis, has said explicitly that he would refuse to give Communion to Kerry on the basis of the senator's stance on abortion. Burke warned the candidate a few days before the Missouri primary election on Feb. 3 "not to present himself for Communion" in St. Louis-area churches while campaigning. (Kerry finessed the issue by attending a Sunday service at a Baptist church in St. Louis.) O'Malley, replacing Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who resigned last year amid the Boston archdiocese's sexual abuse scandal, hasn't named Kerry specifically, but has been quoted as saying that Catholic politicians whose political views contradict Catholic teaching "shouldn't dare come to Communion." Ironically, Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts's other Catholic Democratic senator and also a supporter of abortion rights, received the sacrament at the archbishop's installation Mass last July.
O'Malley's stance marks a major departure from the passivity and confusion with which most American Catholic bishops have approached and in many cases still approach the conundrum of the Catholic politician who declares that he or she is "personally opposed" to abortion but then, like Kerry, votes to support abortion rights.
During most of the 31 years since the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade legalizing nearly all abortions, the overwhelming majority of the 275 Catholic prelates in America have shied away from imposing anything resembling a sanction on Catholic politicians whose votes do not support Catholic teachings on moral issues.
Times have changed, however. In January 2003, Bishop William K. Weigand of Sacramento ordered the Catholic governor of California, Gray Davis, whose administration boasted of making California "the most pro-choice state in America," either to change his views or to stop receiving Communion. (A Davis spokesman responded that the bishop was "telling the faithful how to practice their faith" and that the governor would continue to take Communion.)
A few months later, the Weekly Standard reported that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who also supports abortion rights, had received a private letter from Bishop Robert J. Carlson of Daschle's home diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D., instructing the senator to remove all references to himself as a Catholic from his congressional biography and campaign literature. (Carlson subsequently declined to comment on the report except to say that he had been in communication with Daschle, and Daschle, who also refused to comment, continues to identify himself as a Catholic.) Burke, who headed the diocese of LaCrosse, Wis., before his move to St. Louis early this year, sent letters to three Catholic legislators living in his Wisconsin diocese correctly warning them in private that they were jeopardizing their standing in the church by their consistent votes in support of abortion.
One impetus for the sudden energizing of the bishops is a Vatican document on the participation of Catholics in political life issued in January 2003. The "doctrinal note," as it is called, was addressed to Catholic bishops, politicians and other members of the laity who participate in political life.
Pope John Paul II had made it clear in a 1995 encyclical, Evangelium vitae, that Catholic citizens of democracies have an obligation to oppose laws that conflict with Catholic moral teaching on such issues as abortion and euthanasia. But the newer doctrinal note was unprecedented in its specific repudiation of the "personally opposed, but ... " option for Catholic politicians. The statement declared that Catholic teaching on abortion and the sanctity of marriage are not "confessional values" unique to Catholicism but are "ethical precepts ... rooted in human nature itself." Catholic lawmakers, the document stated, have a duty not to enact laws "which ignore the principles of natural ethics and yield to ephemeral cultural and moral trends."
Nonetheless, most bishops are still reluctant to respond publicly to Catholic politicians whose views contradict church teaching for all kinds of reasons. One is that Canon 915 of church law makes clear that public denial of Communion is a punishment of last resort, to be invoked only against those who "obstinately persist in manifest grave sin." Those words suggest that the bishop should contact the offender privately first. Moreover, the word "manifest" implies that such a form of ostracism is an inappropriate sanction against mere private citizens who disobey church teachings in their private lives. Then there is the perception that the recent sex scandals have robbed U.S. bishops of their moral authority. Another reason may be that many politicians who support abortion rights are politically liberal on other issues, such as welfare and the death penalty, and thus perhaps acceptable to an episcopate whose members tend to be politically liberal themselves.
But the most likely reason is that excommunication so far has proved to be a two-edged sword. In 1989, Bishop Leo T. Maher of San Diego, Calif., forbade Lucy Killea, a former California Democratic assembly member who was a Catholic and was running for the state Senate, to receive Communion in Maher's diocese because of her opposition to abortion restrictions. Killea cast herself as a martyr of conscience and flew to Sacramento, whose ultraliberal bishop at the time, Francis A. Quinn, assured her that she would not be denied the Eucharist in his diocese.
Killea won that election and after the trouncing of Maher, few bishops until recently have considered following his example. Indeed, Kerry may be counting on a Killea-style national reaction should a Catholic priest ever turn him away in the Communion line. In a New York Times interview last week, Kerry declared with evident irritation that "our constitution separates church and state," and that the Catholic Church's Second Vatican Council of the 1960s had allowed for "freedom of conscience" for Catholics with respect to choices concerning issues such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
Kerry has openly defied the Vatican on other issues (by supporting gay unions, for example). But truth be told, he probably has little to worry about in terms of lost votes from all but the most faithful Catholics. Even among the 45 percent of Catholics who attend Mass weekly or more often, fewer than one-third said in a 1999 poll conducted by the National Catholic Reporter that they thought church leaders should have the final say on the abortion issue. "People just don't like the idea of bishops telling them how to vote," says Philip Lawler, editor of Catholic World Report, a conservative Catholic magazine.
Undoubtedly for this reason, even Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, a prominent church conservative, stated last week that he was not ready to deny Communion to Catholic politicians who take positions on abortion rights that are contrary to church law.
Most other U.S. Catholic bishops are so far imitating George's caution and his discretion. But the very fact that some are speaking out is evidence of a shift that may well lead to a time when Catholic politicians have to be concerned not only about the political consequences of their votes, but also the religious consequences. Which is as it should be.
Wrong, Charlotte. Denying Kerry the Eucharist does not deny him the Sacrament of Confession, of which he should avail himself of post haste. Besides, he's already excommunicated himself latae sententiae.
Sun Apr 18, 2:16 PM ET
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (news - web sites), addresses the congregation during services at the Ebenezer United Methodist Church, in Miami, Fl., Sunday, April 18, 2004. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
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.72
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.73 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.74
2271 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:
You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.75 God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.76
2272 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.
2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:
"The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death."80
"The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child's rights."81
2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.
Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, "if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safe guarding or healing as an individual. . . . It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence."82
2275 "One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival."83
"It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material."84
"Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity"85 which are unique and unrepeatable.
2266 The State's effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.
2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. "If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. "Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent.' 
Did he also attend mass over the weekend?
Actually, the fact that Kerry and others have not been excommunicated is a pretty sign that that's not the case.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.