U.S. Catholic Democrats and the “party of death” charge
With the charge about the “party of death” still ringing in its ears, a group called Catholic Democrats has issued a Q&A on abortion setting out its case that faithful Roman Catholics can vote for Barack Obama despite his consistent pro-choice record. Catholic Democrats makes the same argument as the Matthew 25 network, i.e. that Democratic policies would actually reduce the abortion rate, which spiked under Republicans in the 1980s, fell during the Clinton administration and have leveled off — and may have begun rising again — in the Bush administration.
Former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, who is now prefect of the Vatican’s Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature, told an Italian newspaper two weeks ago that the Democrats risked becoming the “party of death” for their support for abortion rights. Other U.S. bishops have criticised two prominent Catholic Democrats — vice presidential candidate Joe Biden and House speaker Nancy Pelosi — for suggesting the Catholic Church was anything but totally against abortion.
Catholic Democrats cites the bishops’ own guidebook, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” to stress that Catholics should not be one-issue voters and could vote for a candidate if his overall platform is morally good, despite a pro-choice plank that the Church regards as intrinsically evil. “If the only difference between two candidates is that one is pro-life and the other is pro-choice, then a pro-life voter should obviously vote for a pro-life candidate,” Catholic Democrats says. “However, elections are never so clear cut. Republican and Democratic candidates differ on many issues: healthcare, the war, the economy.”
The “Faithful Citizenship” guidelines do say that “as Catholics we are not single-issue voters” (item 42) and that “there may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons” (item 35). They also say “that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching” (item 37).
Even though it leans heavily towards a “no” answer, “Faithful Citizenship” seems to leave a door open for the interpretation that Catholic Democrats and the Matthew 25 network favour. Nor do the bishops seem to have a clear view of how to end abortion.
Take a look at John Allen’s interview with Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl, who offers no simple answers: “When you get into the realm of politics, the realm of translating the need to preserve life into the circumstances of our day, what is conceptually possible and what is pressingly obligatory now begin to become two different things. That’s why there is so much confusion. I don’t think you can make things black and white, I don’t think you can separate or rule out the grays.”
Wuerl would like to see the Supreme Court’s pro-choice ruling Roe v. Wade overturned but also says: “Politically right now, existentially, if Roe v. Wade is not overturned, is there any other possible strategy that’s going to work? That’s the question with which we’ve got to grapple.”
In the avalanche of comments we got on Phil Stewart’s original “party of death” post, many readers seemed firmly convinced the Church’s position unequivocally ruled out voting for a pro-choice candidate. Is there some gray area here after all?