U.S. Catholic leaders continue to chide Catholic abortion rights politicians for what the church representatives say is the scandalous example some of them set for their fellow Catholics.
The most recent criticism came from Carl A. Anderson, supreme knight of the influential Knights of Columbus men’s group. Anderson wants to meet with Sen. Joe Biden, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, to discuss Biden’s stance on abortion and his unwillingness to bring his Catholic beliefs into the public square.
Anderson requested the meeting in an open letter to the Delaware senator that appeared as an advertisement in several newspapers Sept. 19. The ad was placed in response to Biden’s comment on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sept. 7, when Biden said he accepts Catholic teaching that life begins at conception but that he could not impose his beliefs in the public policy arena.
Anderson joined a number of U.S. bishops who had criticized Biden. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver said Biden was exercising “flawed moral reasoning” and confusing the Catholic faithful with bad logic and “morally exhausted” arguments.
“American Catholics have allowed themselves to be bullied into accepting the destruction of more than a million developing unborn children a year,” Chaput said.
Anderson, who is a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' pro-life activities committee, rejected Biden’s unwillngness to “impose” his beliefs by pointing out that religious conviction motivated people to confront slavery in the 19th century and to work for civil rights in the 20th century.
In much the same way, people of faith must work to overturn the abortion laws, he said.
Anderson also criticized Biden’s questioning the validity of the church’s position on abortion by drawing on the biological know-how at the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, a theologian of the Middle Ages.
“Statements that suggest that our church has anything less than a consistent teaching on abortion are not merely incorrect, they may lead Catholic women facing crisis pregnancies to misunderstand the moral gravity of an abortion decision,” Anderson said in the ad. “I appeal to you, as a Catholic who acknowledges that life begins at conception, to resolve to protect this unalienable right.”
Many bishops expressed surprise that Biden would make such comments so soon after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had made a similar mistake on the NBC show two weeks earlier. Having described herself as an “ardent Catholic,” she falsely claimed that the church’s teaching on abortion has existed for only 50 years and drew on dubious science of the first centuries after Christ to give weight to her opinion.
Nearly 30 bishops criticised her. Cardinal Edward Egan of New York issued the strongest statement, saying that Pelosi was misinformed and describing her comments as “utterly incredible in this day and age.”
Church leaders have made it clear that they do not want to enter partisan politics, but they say these politicians have forced them to respond. They contend it is their duty to ensure that Catholics in public office don’t misconstrue the church’s teaching. And they say correction is necessary not only for the faithful but also in the interests of saving the souls of the politicians in question.
Some U.S. and Vatican church leaders blame comments such as Biden’s and Pelosi’s on some bishops’ soft approach to administering Holy Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. Archbishop Raymond Burke, a U.S. bishop recently appointed to head the church’s highest court, believes Catholic politicians who do not publicly support church teaching should not present themselves to receive Communion. If they do, their priest or bishop should refuse to give it to them, Burk says.
The former Archbishop of St. Louis said failure to enforce this sanction “emboldens those people who are in error to hold on even more securely to their error.” And he warned that politicians who persist in making false statements about the church while claiming to be practicing Catholics are espousing heresy and liable for excommunication.
The presidential campaigns of Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama are courting the Catholic vote. With at least 72 million Catholics in the United States, their votes could be pivotal to the outcome of the election.
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