Catholic Lawmakers Confronted on Pro-Abortion Stance

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - Just days before the 30th anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, the Vatican challenged Catholic politicians to apply their religious beliefs to their political decisions, including those dealing with abortion. Pro-life Catholics took that call one step further Tuesday, asking bishops to discipline errant lawmakers.

The 12-page "doctrinal note," issued Jan. 16 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is not a comprehensive guide to political life for Catholics, "but intends only to recall some principles proper to the Christian conscience, which inspires the social and political involvement of Catholics in democratic societies."

Among those principles is that the church's pro-life position is non-negotiable, especially for Catholics who hold elective office.

"[T]hose who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a 'grave and clear obligation to oppose' any law that attacks human life," the document states, quoting Pope John Paul II. "This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia... Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death."

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Vatican's note strikes the proper balance between devotion to one's faith and the differences between politics and religion.

"Catholic politicians cannot subscribe to any notion which equates freedom or democracy with a moral relativism that denies these moral principles," Gregory said in a statement.

"The values brought by Christians to the political process must not be muted or silenced by any intolerant secularism," he continued, "which would deny the legitimacy of moral values espoused by Christians who would speak or act according to their conscience."

American Life League (ALL), a predominantly Catholic pro-life organization, announced Tuesday its plans to identify a "Deadly Dozen" Catholic members of Congress who are "flagrantly ignoring this truth."

Judie Brown, president of the group, is calling on the bishops responsible for the dioceses in which Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.), Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Joseph Biden (D-Del.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) and seven other lawmakers live, to discipline them for their pro-abortion positions and votes.

"Because they are in favor of abortion, they have violated the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church," Brown said. "They should be denied access to the sacrament of Holy Communion until such time as they make reparation in public for their advocacy of this terrible sin of abortion."

Kennedy invoked the Bill of Rights in defending the contradiction between his church's beliefs and his political positions.

"It is important to maintain the separation of church and state. I've always done that, and I will continue to do so," Kennedy said. "It's part of the oath every senator takes, to defend the Constitution."

Brown called Kennedy's argument "totally bogus.

"'Separation of church and state' means that the state may not impose a religion on the people of the United States of America," Brown said. "It does not mean that [a senator] is required by law to deny the existence of God."

Kerry cited responsibilities to his constituents in defending his admitted disobedience to church law.

"As a Catholic, I have enormous respect for the words and teachings of the Vatican," Kerry said. "[But] I represent all the people of Massachusetts, and they expect me to speak with respect for all of their views and values."

Brown scoffed at that defense as well.

"You are a practicing Catholic," Brown said of Kerry. "If you truly believe in the doctrine of the Catholic faith, then you know that your first allegiance is to God and that, after that, you have allegiance to the people of your state.

"If you have chosen to favor abortion because the people of your state expect that of you," Brown challenged Kerry, "then, please, no longer call yourself Catholic."

Both men invoked a comment by Kennedy's late brother, President John F. Kennedy, who sought to comfort Protestant voters concerned that the Vatican might hold sway over an American president.

President Kennedy stated that no elected official should be "limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual, or obligation," Sen. Edward Kennedy said. "I continue to agree with the clear position taken by President Kennedy."

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, in a letter to be released Wednesday, addressed the late president's comments and their application to modern-day politics.

"John F. Kennedy promised he'd keep his Catholic faith out of his public service," Chaput wrote. "I think all Americans - not just Catholics - have been paying for that mistake for 40 years."

While politics is obviously the focus of the debate, Brown sees the underlying issue as one of simple honesty.

"This is the way it is. This is the law of the church," Brown concluded. "Please obey the law or don't call yourself Catholic."

ALL's "Deadly Dozen" will be featured in the first part of a three-part advertising campaign designed to call attention to the contradictions between the Catholic lawmakers' stated religious beliefs and their pro-abortion records.

Click here to view the "doctrinal note" published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Catholic Church.

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