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SPECIAL: Why the Warning to Pro-Abortion Politicians Was Right -- Even Obligatory

2/10/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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2 U.S. Professors Defend Bishop Burke's Decision

PRINCETON, New Jersey, FEB. 9, 2004 (Zenit) - Two leading Catholic intellectuals came out in strong support of the decision by a Midwest bishop to ask pro-abortion Catholic politicians in his diocese to refrain from receiving Communion.

In an article published by National Review Online, professors Robert George and Gerard Bradley defended the actions of then La Crosse Bishop Raymond Burke (now archbishop of St. Louis).

The professors wrote: "Having made every effort to persuade pro-abortion Catholic legislators to fulfill their obligations in justice to the unborn, Bishop Burke articulated the obvious: Any Catholic who exercises political power to expose a disfavored class of human beings to unjust killing sets himself against the very faith he claims to share. The Church cannot permit such a person to pretend to share in the faith he publicly defies. By receiving Communion -- the sacrament of unity -- pro-abortion Catholics are pretending exactly that. The bishop has called a halt to the pretense."

Robert George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. Gerard Bradley is professor of law at the University of Notre Dame and president of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.

The two professors expanded on their analysis below.

Q: One newspaper report quoted Wisconsin State Senator Julia Lassa, the recipient of Bishop Burke's letter, as saying: "I'm concerned that the bishop would pressure legislators to vote according to the dictates of the Church instead of the wishes of their constituents because that is not consistent with our democratic ideals." Is the bishop's letter really interference in the democratic process?

Bradley: Senator Lassa paints a sorry and mistaken picture of legislators. She worries which of two external pressures upon them is more consistent with democratic ideals: the Church's "dictates" or their constituents' "wishes." Even in a democratic system, it is the obligation of legislators to exercise moral leadership and sound judgment in fulfilling the requirements of solidarity, justice and the common good.

George: The first responsibility of those exercising public authority is to protect the right to life of the weakest and most vulnerable members of the human family. Still, the Church cannot "dictate" to anyone. Everyone -- including Senator Lassa -- is legally free to reject Catholic teaching, including the Church's teaching on the sanctity of human life and the inherent dignity of each and every human being.

Episcopal authority cannot force a politician to oppose abortion, slavery, the exploitation of labor, or any other injustice. But bishops can and should make it clear to politicians and others who publicly collaborate in and promote grave injustices such as abortion that they have broken communion with Christ and the Church.

Q: Many politicians say they are elected to represent all people in their district and therefore cannot impose Catholic beliefs on the entire population. Is this a valid position?

Bradley: This sounds much like what presidential candidate Senator John Kerry is quoted as saying in a recent newspaper article. He says that he accepts Church teaching on abortion as a matter of personal faith, but would not impose his faith upon society.

This is an evasion of the basic issues of justice and human rights that are at stake in the debate over the fate of the child in the womb. The damning flaw in Kerry's logic can be brought into focus effortlessly by substituting the word "slavery" or the words "racial discrimination" for the word "abortion."

To act consistently with the Church's teachings about the equality and dignity of each member of the human family --whether the issue is abortion, slavery, segregation or any other form of injustice -- is not to "impose Catholic dogma." It is to uphold justice and basic human rights.

George: The Church's understanding of when a human being comes to be -- namely, at conception -- forms the basis of its anti-abortion teaching. This understanding derives from the indisputable facts of human embryogenesis and intrauterine human development. It is not something anyone is asked to accept merely "on faith."

There is nothing whatsoever in the Church's teaching -- in its expression, in its factual presuppositions, in the arguments advanced in its favor -- that depends upon special revelation, private knowledge, or strictly religious sources of any kind.

What Senator Kerry and other pro-abortion Catholic politicians need to face up to is their strict obligation in justice to respect and protect the human rights of all, the unborn not excluded. The ...

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