In recent elections when a high-profile Roman Catholic Democrat seeks high, or higher office, the issue of abortion surfaces. As the pro-choice, non-Catholic Barack Obama makes a play for evangelical voters, conservative Catholics are asking their fellow believers to take seriously the church's teaching on abortion and not cast their vote for Obama and Catholic Joe Biden.
The split in Democratic ranks is along political as well as theological lines. Liberal Catholics claim that government programs advocated by Democrats more accurately reflect the teachings of Jesus about the poor and the weak. More "observant" Catholics, some of whom support anti-poverty government programs, point out that no program can help someone who is not given the right to live. Liberals want Catholics to look beyond abortion. Would they have been comfortable 50 years ago with appeals for Catholics to look beyond the racism of Southern Democratic senators? Probably not.
A group calling itself Faithful Catholic Citizens" (FCC) has produced two powerful television commercials, which are running in Iowa and soon, it hopes, in heavily Catholic Pennsylvania. Both spots begin with a confrontational question: "Are you truly Catholic" and follow with a sound bite from "Meet the Press" in which Speaker Nancy Pelosi asserts that Catholic teaching on abortion has been inconsistent. "Utterly incredible," Cardinal Edward Egan is then quoted as saying about Pelosi's statement, which is followed by one from the late Pope John Paul II, who called abortion "(the) deliberate killing of an innocent human being." And then comes a reference to Sen. Barack Obama on the abortion issue from Rick Warren's forum in August at which Obama said that knowing when life begins is "above my pay grade."
"Don't be misled," continue the ads, "Know the church. Know the truth." (View both ads here.)
Is abortion "intrinsically evil" and "a non-negotiable issue for Catholics," as FCC President Heidi Stirrup asserts? If one is a Catholic and subscribes to the belief that the interpretation of Scripture and moral truth is the responsibility of the pope and the apostolic bishops, then one would have to say, "yes;" and when faith and politics conflict, a politician should be required to choose one or the other.
Some Catholic politicians have tried to have it both ways. They have even tried to gain favor among their fellow Catholics by noting their strong opposition to capital punishment, which puts them in an oddly inconsistent position. Such Catholic politicians favor preserving the lives of convicted murderers, but choose to do nothing when they have the power to stop, or at least curtail, the killing of the innocent unborn.
While I am not a Catholic, it seems more than inconsistent to take such a position. One chooses one's denomination, just as one chooses one's political affiliation. No one forces another to become a Catholic and no one requires one to become a Democrat, or Republican. Judicial nominees have been denied confirmation based on their membership in clubs that excluded blacks and Jews. But now we may be about to elevate two men to our highest offices who would deny civil rights to African American babies (who are aborted disproportionately to other races), one of whom seeks the votes of his fellow Catholics.
Two years ago, Pope Benedict XVI reiterated the church's "non-negotiable" issues: "Protection of life at all stages, from the moment of conception until natural death; recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage; the protection of the rights of parents to educate their children."
Obama and Biden oppose at least two of these (they claim to be against same-sex "marriage," but for "civil unions"). Whether the TV ads change any minds may be problematic. Catholics who are enamored with "change" and the belief that government is the primary instrument of God, rather than the church, in carrying out His will - and who have ignored church teaching on profound moral issues - are unlikely to be swayed by further appeals to become "truly Catholic." But if only a few see where an Obama-Biden administration would take the country on moral issues, in a close election that might be enough.