Cannot criticize public officials who fail to vote pro-life if we fail to do so ourselves
It is now more than three decades since Catholics in the United States and elsewhere took up the cause to restore legal protection to unborn children.
One of the reasons so little progress has been made during this time can be attributed to Catholic legislators who adamantly oppose any limitation on the virtually unrestricted availability of abortion mandated in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.
When challenged, many of these Catholic public officials say they do not oppose Church teaching, but they will not impose their religious belief on others.
They seem to reflect the view of President John F. Kennedy who, when running for president in 1960, told a meeting of Protestant ministers in Houston that he would be "a president whose views on religion are his own private affairs."
Surely public officials should be careful in the matter of religious belief and the exercise of public duties. But the Catholic Church does not put forward its teaching on abortion as a matter of belief. It teaches that protection of the innocent from intentional killing is a matter of justice, that it is arrived at by reason, not faith, and that it is indispensable to secure the common good. And it relies on science for evidence that the life of each human being begins at the moment of conception.
Catholics in public office who say they are personally opposed to abortion have been remarkably silent about the basis for their view. It is time they tell us.
Why is it that elected officials who so often speak out on the morality of so many issues, remain silent about the morality of abortion? Where is their moral leadership on this issue? It is time they tell women why they think that abortion is the wrong moral choice.
Who knows how many abortions could have been avoided and how many lives saved, if politicians who refuse to vote against abortion would speak out against it. Could they not even do that?
Recently, public statements of support for legalized abortion by some Catholics have heightened the controversy over whether they should be permitted to receive Communion.
Pope John Paul II has called the Catholic people to be "a people of life and a people for life." This mission means more than only being opposed to abortion. And his Gospel of Life encyclical Evangelium Vitae makes clear that the Church's teaching on abortion is essential to this mission.
Catholics in public office who defend legal abortion will increasingly find themselves at the margins of the Catholic community. Today, they are no longer in the center. The discussions at hand is only whether they have become so marginalized as no longer to be in communion with their fellow Catholics - and whether they should admit this themselves or be told so by their bishop.
It is not up to us as members of the laity to judge whether a fellow Catholic should be denied Communion or is guilty of scandal. Those decisions are properly left to the pastoral judgment of ecclesiastical authorities.
As Catholics our responsibility is to restore justice to unborn children, and to build the Culture of Life. In that effort we cannot criticize public officials who refuse to vote pro-life if we fail to do so ourselves.
Carl A. Anderson
Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus
Reprinted with permission from Columbia Magazine, September 2004
(Mr. Anderson leads the Knights of Columbus [www.kofc.org], an international
fraternal and support organization for Catholic men and their families, which
was founded by Fr. Michael J. McGivney in 1882 in New Haven, Connecticut)