Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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August 29, 2008


Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, recently addressed the tension between her challenged Catholicity and her pro choice views. She described her Catholic upbringing and her "ardent" belief in the Catholic faith. She asserted that in history, some Church figures, eg. St. Augustine, differed as to the time of "ensoulment" and, therefore, today's teaching on the moral status of abortion is not absolute.

Four bishops quickly responded to correct " for the record" the Church's opposition to abortion from the first moment of conception, despite some minor theological disputes in the past. Bishops Justin Regali and William Lori, for the USCCB, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, and Bishops Charles Chaput of Denver and Donald Wuerl of Washington affirmed the traditional Catholic doctrine. Wuerl affirmed the right of elected officials to speak on public policy issues; Chaput, acknowledged Pelosi as a gifted public servant with many professional skills with the exception of her knowledge of Catholic teaching. Chaput has said that a pro choice Catholic should not seek Holy Communion; Egan declared that one, who rejected the physical evidence of the beginning of life in the womb, lacked integrity and honesty.

Before offering some thoughts about pro choice Catholics somehow reconciling their Catholicism and their pro choice views, I want to state firmly and clearly my own total belief that life begins at conception and that abortion is immoral! Having said that, I affirm that abortion is an evil, but that its proponents need not be characterized as evil. As a chancery official and as a parish priest, I have worked on community affairs with pro choice government people and pro choice ordinary men and women, who have various or no religious affiliations, and have found most of them to be good people with concern for the good of the community, despite their wrongful pro choice views. They have given a priority to a freedom for women that incorrectly brings with it this so-called freedom to choose. Perhaps many of our bishops, immersed in a patriarchal Church, do not accept society's contemporary view of women and thus fail to understand the underlying motive for the widespread acceptance of pro choice views - the freedom of women. Perhaps many of our bishops do not associate, professionally or socially, with pro choice officials, friends, and others and thus fail to understand their otherwise integrity and goodness. Not NY's John Cardinal O'Connor! He saw the good character and the dedication to the common good in Ed Koch, pro choice Mayor of New York. They became friends, socialized together, wrote a book together.

What about pro choice Catholic politicians? Just political expediency? Perhaps, but not necessarily so! Unlike the bishops, they are surrounded by a culture and many individuals, whom they know to be otherwise good people and dedicated public servants. They cooperate with them in socially beneficial programs. Perhaps they come to see pro choice as less the evil than it really is. Secondly, they may have little confidence in their bishops, who are the enforcers of the patriarchal Church on the other side of the glass ceiling. For twenty-five years, they have heard the voice of John Paul II extol the "complementarity" status of women. They remember, how in 1979, he sat in silence and visibly ignored the very presence of Sister Theresa Kane, when she dared to speak to him. The sex abuse crisis, brought about essentially by the secret reassignments of miscreant clergy by two thirds of our bishops, has also caused widespead loss of trust in Church leadership. A low point was reached when Cardinal Bernard Law, driven from Boston by his priests and people, was appointed to a prestigious church in Rome at a six figure salary and continued in his positions on nine governing agencies of the Vatican. Anger of the faithful still burns. Voices of pope and bishops are not heard with the same acceptance and respect as in the past.

The pro choice Catholic politician, surrounded by otherwise virtuous pro choice colleagues and with little regard for authoritative voices of Church leaders, faces the tensions in his/her conscience - the court of last appeal! Conscience may well have, however incorrectly, integrated their Catholicism with, however reluctantly, a pro choice view. That is why Holy Communion should not be denied in such a situation. Conscience is a wild card, a legitimate wild card.

Nancy Pelosi has said that denial of the Eucharist would be "a severe blow" to her. She added that a prohibition depends on each diocesan bishop. (Such a "resolution" of the Holy Communion prohibition shows it's vacuity. Cross a boundry, you lose a right!) She added that fortunately this has not been an issue for her. Joe Biden, candidate for VP, is a regular member of St. Joseph's on the Brandywine in Wilmington diocese, according to its pastor, Msgr. Joseph Rebman. When Rebman was asked about Biden's pro choice views, he replied that it was a matter of dialogue between them.

There we have it. The wild card of a prayerful conscience trumps the bishops, not as to teaching, but as to receiving Holy Communion! Amen!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that I may have been pro-choice at one time or maybe I just didn't want abortion to be illegal. I never really had much of a strong opinion either way. I though that what people were debating about was whether abortion should be illegal or not. Since I have been attending Catholic church I am against abortion although I don't think that I would publicly protest against it. I think that abortion is wrong and that it is a terminating of a life. I would probably give someone, who was thinking about an abortion, the resources of where to go to discuss the alternatives to abortion but I don't know if I would tell someone that they should not have an abortion. Great blog Harry, Cousin Tom

August 29, 2008 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger IronKnee said...

There's an excellent article in the NYT today that deals with the issue of pro-choic Catholics. It's essentially an interview with Douglas Kmiec. As you may recall, he WAS denied Communion by a priest, acting on his own authority, for supporting Barack Obama. Here's the link:

August 30, 2008 at 12:54 PM  
Blogger JJG said...

Excellent perspective on such a complex and polarizing issue. I too recommend reading Peter Steinfels "Beliefs" column NYT 8/3008 on Douglas Kmiec.
Thank you!

August 31, 2008 at 6:48 PM  
Blogger proactive said...

I think we all know the teaching of the church on abortion. That is not what Pelosi was getting at. She was pointing to theological debate on whether there is life with a soul at conception. The Natural Law shows that abortion was created by God not by man. It is a scientific fact that more than 50% of all pregnancies are terminated by natural abortion created by God when God designed and made us. God cannot be a killer. Therefore one can debate whether we have life at conception. It is my opinion that we don't. It is absurd to think we have a human being with a soul when 2 cells come together and it can be so frequently aborted as a natural process of the body.

October 5, 2008 at 10:12 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I am totally anti abortion not because I believe that ensoulment takes place at conception, but because I don't know when ensoulment takes place. The best I can do is believe that ensoulment takes place at some point between conception and birth. The consequences of being wrong in assuming that ensoulment takes place at some point after conception compels me to opt for human life at conception. It's a 'better safe than sorry' call.

October 14, 2008 at 1:08 PM  

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