Why the Warning to Pro-Abortion
Politicians Was Right
2 U.S. Professors Defend Bishop
PRINCETON, New Jersey, 9 FEB. 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
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 for ZENIT.
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
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
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
the issue is abortion, slavery, segregation or any other form of injustice
not to "impose Catholic dogma." It is to uphold justice and basic human
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
There is nothing whatsoever in the Church's teaching
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
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
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
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
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. ZE04020920