Charles J. Chaput: The Homicides Involved in Abortion Are 'Little Murders'
suggests, the party platform Senator Obama runs on this year is not only aggressively ''pro-choice;'' it has also removed any suggestion that killing an unborn child might be a regrettable thing. On the question of homicide against the unborn child - and let's remember that the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer explicitly called abortion ''murder'' - the Democratic platform that emerged from Denver in August 2008 is clearly anti-life.
Prof. Kmiec argues that there are defensible motives to support Senator Obama. Speaking for myself, I do not know any proportionate reason that could outweigh more than 40 million unborn children killed by abortion and the many millions of women deeply wounded by the loss and regret abortion creates.To suggest - as some Catholics do - that Senator Obama is this year's ''real'' prolife candidate requires a peculiar kind of self-hypnosis, or moral confusion, or worse. To portray the 2008 Democratic Party presidential ticket as the preferred ''prolife'' option is to subvert what the word ''prolife'' means. Anyone interested in Senator Obama's record on abortion and related issues should simply read Prof. Robert P. George's Public Discourse essay from earlier this week, ''Obama's Abortion Extremism,'' and his follow-up article, ''Obama and Infanticide.'' They say everything that needs to be said.
Of course, these are simply my personal views as an author and private citizen. But I'm grateful to Prof. Kmiec for quoting me in his book and giving me the reason to speak so clearly about our differences. I think his activism for Senator Obama, and the work of Democratic-friendly groups like Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, have done a disservice to the Church, confused the natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, undermined the progress prolifers have made, and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue instead of fighting within their parties and at the ballot box to protect the unborn.
And here's the irony. None of the Catholic arguments advanced in favor of Senator Obama are new. They've been around, in one form or another, for more than 25 years. All of them seek to ''get beyond'' abortion, or economically reduce the number of abortions, or create a better society where abortion won't be necessary. All of them involve a misuse of the seamless garment imagery in Catholic social teaching. And all of them, in practice, seek to contextualize, demote and then counterbalance the evil of abortion with other important but less foundational social issues.This is a great sadness. As Chicago's Cardinal Francis George said recently, too many Americans have ''no recognition of the fact that children continue to be killed [by abortion], and we live therefore, in a country drenched in blood. This can't be something you start playing off pragmatically against other issues.''
Meanwhile, the basic human rights violation at the heart of abortion - the intentional destruction of an innocent, developing human life - is wordsmithed away as a terrible crime that just can't be fixed by the law. I don't believe that. I think that argument is a fraud. And I don't think any serious believer can accept that argument without damaging his or her credibility. We still have more than a million abortions a year, and we can't blame them all on Republican social policies. After all, it was a Democratic president, not a Republican, who vetoed the partial birth abortion ban - twice.
The truth is that for some Catholics, the abortion issue has never been a comfortable cause. It's embarrassing. It's not the kind of social justice they like to talk about. It interferes with their natural political alliances. And because the homicides involved in abortion are ''little murders'' - the kind of private, legally protected murders that kill conveniently unseen lives - it's easy to look the other way.
The one genuinely new quality to Catholic arguments for Senator Obama is their packaging. Just as the abortion lobby fostered ''Catholics for a Free Choice'' to challenge Catholic teaching on abortion more than two decades ago, so supporters of Senator Obama have done something similar in seeking to neutralize the witness of bishops and the pro-life movement by offering a ''Catholic'' alternative to the Church's priority on sanctity of life issues. I think it's an intelligent strategy. I also think it's wrong and often dishonest.
It's curious that nobody seems to worry about the ''separation of Church and state,'' or religious interference in the public square, when the religious voices that speak up support a certain kind of candidate. In his book, Prof. Kmiec complains about the agenda and influence of what he terms RFPs - Republican Faith Partisans. But he also seems to pay them the highest kind of compliment: imitation. If RFPs are bad, is it unreasonable to assume that DFPs - Democratic Faith Partisans - are equally dangerous?
As I suggest throughout Render Unto Caesar, it's important for Catholics to be people of faith who pursue politics to achieve justice; not people of politics who use and misuse faith to achieve power. I have no doubt that Prof. Kmiec belongs to the former group. But I believe his arguments finally serve the latter.
For 35 years I've watched thousands of good Catholic laypeople, clergy and religious struggle to recover some form of legal protection for the unborn child. The abortion lobby has fought every compromise and every legal restriction on abortion, every step of the way. Apparently they believe in their convictions more than some of us Catholics believe in ours. And I think that's an indictment of an entire generation of American Catholic leadership.The abortion conflict has never simply been about repealing Roe v. Wade. And the many pro-lifers I know live a much deeper kind of discipleship than ''single issue'' politics. But they do understand that the cornerstone of Catholic social teaching is protecting human life from conception to natural death. They do understand that every other human right depends on the right to life. They did not and do not and will not give up - and they won't be lied to.
So I think that people who claim that the abortion struggle is ''lost'' as a matter of law, or that supporting an outspoken defender of legal abortion is somehow ''prolife,'' are not just wrong; they're betraying the witness of every person who continues the work of defending the unborn child. And I hope they know how to explain that, because someday they'll be required to.
Before I conclude and we go to questions, let me say just a couple of things about ENDOW. Betsy Considine, Marilyn Coors, Terry Polakovic and the other women who founded ENDOW are extraordinary leaders. The success of ENDOW is a testimony not just to their enthusiasm and hard work, but to yours. ENDOW succeeds because its message for women is true.
These are difficult times for our country. Even within our Church, the economy, the Iraq War, the life issues in general, and this election in particular, have created a deep spirit of conflict and anxiety. But I do believe Scripture when it tells us not to be afraid. God uses each of us to renew the world if we let him. The genius of women is their capacity to love; to blend talent, intelligence and energy with patience, understanding, respect for the sacredness of life and compassion for others.
That's the kind of leadership we need, in our communities of faith, in our public service and throughout our country. Whatever happens next month and in the years ahead, ENDOW will have a hand in sustaining and refreshing the heart of the Church. That's not a bad achievement for an organization so young. I'm proud of your witness, proud of what you've accomplished and very, very grateful for your service to the Church. God bless you."
Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is the author of Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (Doubleday, 2008). The views expressed here are his own, and do not represent those of the Archdiocese of Denver.
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Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good is an online publication of the Witherspoon Institute that seeks to enhance the public understanding of the moral foundations of free societies by making the scholarship of the fellows and affiliated scholars of the Institute available and accessible to a general audience.This article is used with permission.
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