Catholic Politicians Criticize Pope
On his recent trip to Brazil, a reporter asked Pope Benedict XVI a question that actually dealt with the Church’s spiritual role in making clear her teaching and guiding the faithful. The reporter questioned a warning given by bishops in Mexico to politicians who
support abortion. The Pope gave an answer that upset some people. He
said that supporting “the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with
receiving communion, which is receiving the body of Christ." And he
referred to Church law that allows for excommunication.
The reaction was immediate.
How could the Pope be so strong? How dare he say that there are some
truths that the Church teaches definitively? How dare he say there are
objective criteria by which a Catholic forms his or her conscience? How
dare he even suggest that someone may not be worthy to approach Holy Communion?
During the last presidential
election campaign, much controversy surrounded the Catholic Church’s teaching on
abortion. Not that the Church has not been clear. Anything but!
The Church vigorously teaches that “Human life must be respected and protected
absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his
existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a
person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life”
The Church has always taught that
a procured abortion is a moral evil. Abortion is murder. Abortion is
the barbarous killing of the innocent child in the womb of the mother. A
woman has the privilege to be a mother. She does not have the right to
take the life of her innocent child. The Church’s teaching is clear.
What is disputed now is the Church’s right to speak this truth.
In response to the Holy Father’s
recent statement on his trip to Brazil, 18 of the 88 Catholic Democrats in the
U.S. House of Representatives were quick to defend their political position.
They spoke out against the Holy Father on May 10. They strongly chastised
the Pope. They said his words “offend the very nature of the American
experiment and do a great disservice to the centuries of good work the church
Their position was clear.
It would be totally un-American to deny Holy Communion to Catholic politicians
who support legalized abortion. The 18 Democratic politicians said, "The
fact is that religious sanction in the political arena directly conflicts with
our fundamental beliefs about the role and responsibility of democratic
representatives in a pluralistic America--it also clashes with freedoms
guaranteed in our Constitution."
In no way did the Pope’s
statement offend American pluralism. In a pluralistic society, people
disagree. It is arrogant to insist that the Church does not have the right
to her own teaching. Certainly, a politician has the freedom to reject
Church’s teaching. But let’s be honest. To choose to be pro-choice
is to reject the Gospel of life. It is to be not faithful to Church
The Church teaches that the right
to life is fundamental. Without life, there are no other rights. To
support abortion is a grave moral evil. Why would a Catholic be surprised
when the Pope says that anyone who freely and knowingly commits a serious wrong,
that is, a mortal sin, should not approach the Eucharist until going to
Confession? The Eucharist is the summit and source of the Church’s life.
The Church guides the faithful in the correct formation of their conscience.
She offers both the objective norms of morality and the norms for worthy
reception of the Eucharist.
In his response to the reporter’s
question, the Pope was not placing religious sanctions in the political arena,
as these politicians stated. He was teaching religious doctrine in a
religious context, that is, the worthiness to receive the Eucharist, the Body of
Christ, who is the Lord of life. He is right when he insists that
supporting abortion is incompatible with the reception of Holy Communion.
In recent guidelines provided by
the bishops of the United States to help Catholics to prepare for the worthy
reception of Holy Communion, the bishops said, “If a Catholic in his or her
personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the
defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her
definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish
his or her Communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such
a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so
that he or she should refrain” (Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper,
4). By steadfastly choosing to be pro-choice, a Catholic -- politician or
not -- excludes himself or herself from communion.
Today not only is the taking of
so many innocent lives alarming, but no less unsettling is the darkening of
conscience among so many who find “it increasingly difficult to distinguish
between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life”
(Evangelium Vitae, 4).
Why should the Church not have a
right to voice her teaching on this important issue in the public square?
She must speak and speak often. Abortion may be for some just a political
issue. But, for the innocent child, it is a matter of life or death.
Ultimately, the statement of the
18 politicians who publicly blasted the Holy Father is simply a refusal to allow
the Pope freedom of speech and the Church freedom of religion. Now how
American is that?
Most Reverend Arthur J.
Serratelli, S.T.D., S.S.L., D.D
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