Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Moral Consistency

Sometimes, those on the Catholic right have an uncanny way of shooting themselves in the foot. If you follow discussions on the Catholic blogosphere, nothing taxes them more than the sight of pro-abortion Catholic politicians receiving communion. Even when bishops like Washington's Donald Wuerl, on solid pastoral grounds, refuse to discipline people like Nancy Pelosi, their ire is not calmed. To many, this is the leading issue facing the Church today, and a convenient diversion from the deviation from sound Catholic social teaching by their favored party on issues like war, torture, immigration, poverty, and a just wage.

But, worst of all, such a strategy will backfire if the aim is to reduce the number of abortions. The aim of the Church should be quite simple: to persuade secular liberals that opposition to abortion is fully consistent with other sound liberal positions that support human dignity, such as opposition to the death penalty, war, poverty etc. In other words, it is time to return to the late Cardinal Bernardin's much-lamented "seamless garment" approach to the gospel of life. Ah, but this is outrageous moral equivalency, they will cry! But this is a straw man argument. The key is to persuade. And nobody will be persuaded by a bunch of venomous right-wingers demanding the excommunication of a bunch of Democrats, all the while giving a free pass to those on the other wide to violate Catholic social teaching as they see fit. They will charge hypocrisy. But if instead, the Church spoke with a strong clear voice, claiming that human life and human dignity are always sacred, and that is why it opposes abortion and embryonic stem cell research, then this is a different matter. It has the capacity to persuade.

Pope Benedict understands this, and nobody can accuse him of pandering to moral equivalency. Rocco Palmo points to a recent article by Russell Shaw making this point. In the context of an address to the Swiss bishops last November, Benedict reflected on the issue. He noted that issues like peace, poverty, and the environment resonate with many, especially the young. But other aspects of Church teaching do not make such an impact, especially on issues like abortion and the family. There are two ways to address this division. The American right would jump up and down, screaming loudly about how the latter teachings and more important than the first. Not Benedict. One should not discard one set of beliefs for another. In the words of the pope:
"[w]e must commit ourselves to reconnecting these two parts of morality and to making it clear that they must be inseparably united. Only if human life from conception until death is respected is the ethic of peace possible and credible; only then may non-violence be expressed in every direction, only then can we truly accept creation, and only then can we achieve true justice."
No moral equivalence there. But a rebuke to many on the US right, and a vindication of Cardinal Bernardin's foresight.

5 comments:

M.Z. Forrest said...

I wouldn't make the claim that A.Bp Wuerl did the right thing. (Personally, I wish folks would focus on Bishop of S.F., who is the actual ordinary.) Regardless, I think it is in the area of prudence.

Personally if I were a bishop, I would target organizations like Planned Parenthood, Catholics For Choice, and the Acton Institute. I don't think it is wise to target the Democratic party. I take that back. I think it is incredibly stupid and short-sighted to target the Democratic Party as so many desire the bishops to do.

Chris said...

"To many, this is the leading issue facing the Church today, and a convenient diversion from the deviation from sound Catholic social teaching by their favored party on issues like war, torture, immigration, poverty, and a just wage."

Talk about a strawman. There is no important issue more connected with politics and the electoral process than abortion. Abortion is one of the five intrinsic evils which are non-negotiable according to the USCCB. Although war, torture, poverty, and a just wage are all extremely important issues, they do not rise to the level of issues regarding the generation/manipulation/and willful destruction of human life. You might as well accuse USCCB of being a Republican cabal, since these issues are clearly championed by conservatives. Because of this, it's easy to paint single-issue voters as John Birch Society robots, but that's just silliness.

So when politicians make a mockery of the Catholic Church (the institution AND the flock) by disingenuously presenting their selves as "devout" Catholics when, in fact, they not only support, but promote and fund something intrinsically evil, it begs a response does it not?

"to persuade secular liberals that opposition to abortion is fully consistent with other sound liberal positions that support human dignity, such as opposition to the death penalty, war, poverty etc."

How do you propose convincing them that the fetus is human in the first place? Without that, you can talk about "dignity" all you want, and it's not going to matter.

" The key is to persuade."

No, it's not. The key is to uphold and proclaim Truth. Jesus admonished the disciples to "shake the dust from their feet" of any home that would not accept them. Jesus didn't tell Matthew to keep tax-collecting on the side. He expected him to leave it behind and follow Him completely. The rich young man was not given the option of hanging onto his avarice. Jesus commanded to leave behind his sin if he wanted to be a disciple. Furthermore, if you need any more evidence of the importance of the Father's house, then look no further than Jesus violently driving the money-changers - the hypocrites - from the Temple. The money-changers made the Temple a den of iniquity. Abortion-promoting politicians turn it into a den of hypocrisy. And, yes, as a matter of fact, Catholic politicians on the right who ignore the poor are guilty of the same. However, statements coming from the Vatican during the 2004 election were adamant about not giving communion to pro-abortion politicians - specifically coming from Cardinal Arinze. These politicians responded by essentially holding up their middle finger and making their attendance at Mass an act of defiance (and attended by the news media), not communion with the Church. This is where the outrage lies, and it's a righteous anger.

Does that mean we forget the poor? No way. But it's a fact that liberals are FAR less charitable than conservatives when it comes to helping the poor. So, the notion that right wingers have abandoned social justice is just so much tripe regurgitated over and over by groups that present themselves as so-called bleeding hearts but never put their beliefs into action (Think "limousine liberals").

See link for Conservative vs. Liberal charitability:

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/204/story_20419_1.html.

"And nobody will be persuaded by a bunch of venomous right-wingers demanding the excommunication of a bunch of Democrats, all the while giving a free pass to those on the other wide to violate Catholic social teaching as they see fit."

Whos giving anyone a free pass? As mentioned above, the USCCB as well as the Vatican have clearly stated that issues regarding the sanctity of life (not the dignity of the poor) is THE over-arching guideline for responsible Catholic voting.

Your use of the word "venemous" is an unfortunate and unfounded slander. "Right wingers" who are demanding justice against the purveyors of death are not "venemous" (which conjures up images of serpents). And if the idea of excommunication is offensive to liberals, they need to start with the Vatican, which allows for it in the first place.

Franklin Jennings said...

"We need to persuade secular humanist types who are open to this kind of language, but who still support abortion. And we will NOT make any headway by attacking the Democratic party in a partisan manner (and yes, that is how it will be perceived, with some element of truth)."

Some element? That's the absolute truth, don't soft-peddle it out of niceness. Any attack on the unfettered right to abortion is an attack on the Democratic party itself. No less.

Of course, the worst I can say about republicans is that they are greedy, do-nothing hypocrites on this issue. It isn't something they truly care about, its a wedge to be used to win power, nothing more.

So those Catholics who vote republican are guilty of niavete, maybe even abject stupidity.

What are those who support the democrats guilty of?

Morning's Minion said...

Chris,

You are seriously (VERY seriously) confused about some issues. First, the "five non-negotiable issues" voter guide had nothing to do with the USCCBl; it is the brainchild of a lay organization called Catholic Answers. In fact, the USCCB pointedly refuses to endorse any outside voter guide, including this one. Instead, the USCCN produced "Faithful Citizenship" that calls on voters to "measure all candidates, policies, parties and platforms by how they protect or undermine the life, dignity and rights of the human person, whether they protect the poor and vulnerable and advance the common good."

I have written at length on why the underlying principles behind the "five non-negiotiable principles appraoch" makes no sense. See here: http://reasons-and-opinions.blogspot.com/2006/10/proliferation-of-catholic-voting.html and here: http://reasons-and-opinions.blogspot.com/2006/10/theology-of-voting-guides.html.

Basic point: in the context of abortion, "non-negotiable" is simply a way of saying that it is intrinsically evil in its object, and that can never change by appealing to intent or circumstances. It does NOT refer to the act of voting, where the cooperation is of the "remote material" kind.

Likewise, just because other aspects of Catholic social teaching in the gospel of life(war, death penalty etc) are not instrinsically evil, that does NOT mean they are not evil once you start asking questions about circumstances.

Moreover, torture is as intrinsically evil as abortion. Why is it not on the list? Possibly because Catholic Answers has a solid Republican bent. In fact, there are lots of instrinsically evil actions that do not make the list, for obvious reasons.

david said...

Morning's Minion,

You are making an incredible amount of sense. I wish that more online Catholics would make sense so that I wouldn't have to say that you make an "incredible" amount of sense.