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

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 claim that they cannot fulfill this obligation without "imposing" their faith on others is exactly what Professor Bradley says it is: an evasion.

Q: Is it fair to single out just one issue, abortion, on which to judge a Catholic politician instead of looking at a wider range of issues?

Bradley: As Pope John Paul II has made abundantly clear, abortion is the most pressing human rights issue of our time. It is fundamental. It places countless lives in peril. Indeed, many millions of tiny human beings have already been killed in the United States alone since abortion was legalized in 1973.

Bishop Burke has made it clear to pro-abortion Catholic politicians that they are placing their souls in jeopardy by grave injustices they are committing against vulnerable members of the human family.

At the same time, he has reminded the entire Catholic faithful of his diocese of their obligations in solidarity and justice to the unborn. He worries -- quite rightly in my view -- that many Catholics do not fully understand the gravity of the injustice of deliberate feticide.

Public opinion polls say that self-identified Catholics support abortion at about the same rate the general population does, and Catholics probably resort to abortion as often as do others. Part of the reason for this scandalous collapse of moral understanding and resolution surely is the bad example set by prominent pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

George: There is a profound issue here of the responsibility of the diocesan bishop. Bishop Burke acted because he believed that his duty as a bishop required him to act. My view is that he is right about that. The prevalence of prominent pro-abortion Catholic politicians is a grave scandal.

Given the life-destroying and soul-imperiling consequences of the scandal, I do not see how it can be considered merely optional for bishops to speak and act. Of course, different bishops may make different prudential judgments about whether individual persons guilty of exposing the unborn to abortion should be addressed on the issue of sacramental communion publicly or only privately.

But I do not see how a bishop can fulfill his duties without at least a public statement of the fact that Catholic promoters of abortion have by their persistence in grave injustice broken communion with Christ and the Church.

Especially now that Archbishop Burke has taken the lead, I think that any bishop or archbishop who says nothing publicly about Catholics in his diocese who support abortion needs to consider the message he will be interpreted as sending. Silence in the face of injustice is always a potent teacher -- a teacher of bad lessons.

Q: Do you agree, Professor Bradley, that bishops have a duty to act, that it is, as Professor George says, "not optional"?

Bradley: I have given the matter a great deal thought, and have arrived at the same judgment: It is not optional.


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