Monday, August 25, 2008

The "Pro-Choice Catholic" Problem

There have been some pretty brilliant musings about Joe Biden's Catholic problem over the weekend. This post by blogger Irenaeus is a must-read:
I'm beginning to think that it's not a case of Democrats reaching out to nominal, cultural liberal Catholics. Rather, I'm beginning to think it's a case of the Democrats trying to define Catholicism....[...]

I have often observed that for liberals, religion is great when exercised within the limits of liberalism alone and for liberal ends. Thus, if the church functions as a caucus supporting lefty issues and does good social justice things, then fine. If not, then libs raise hue and cry. Christian faith cannot have its own integrity and define its own ends; it's only one of many means to ends decided by other means.
And Patrick Archbold weighs in:
As with just about everything with Joe Biden, his religion is all about, you guessed it, Joe Biden. Take this classic line from the Senator, "I get comfort from carrying my rosary, going to mass every Sunday. It's my time alone."

So in a nutshell, the rosary is about his comfort and mass is his alone time. For alone time, I lock myself in the bathroom, Joe Biden goes to mass. One might be tempted to think that this is just verbal slip from the notoriously overweening and wordy pol. There is a whole lot more where that came from. Take this humdinger.
"My idea of self, of family, of community, of the wider world comes straight from my religion. It's not so much the Bible, the beatitudes, the Ten Commandments, the sacraments, or the prayers I learned. It's the culture."
Get it? His whole worldview comes straight from Catholicism, except for well ... all the Catholic stuff. Reread that paragraph again. Not the Bible, the beatitudes, the Ten commandments, or the sacraments. In short, everything that God has taught or given us in order to make us holy does not inform Biden's worldview. No not that stuff, the culture.

What does Biden mean by Culture? Well, unfortunately it means whatever Biden wants it to mean. His abortion support, while not in line with the formal teaching of the Church, is in line with his idea of his Catholic culture.
These brilliantly intelligent gentlemen have started to connect some pretty significant dots. It's been a while since I've played "dot to dot," but let me see if I can extrapolate the next point.

When Joe Biden calls himself a Catholic, he is telling the truth. Any baptized Catholic is a Catholic. Even if the baptized person leaves the Church he is still a Catholic. It takes a formal renunciation of the faith before one's status as a Catholic comes under any doubt.

However, when Joe Biden calls himself a Catholic, he is also telling a lie (objectivly speaking). This is because he is clearly not using the word in its most simplified form; he doesn't mean merely that he was baptized a Catholic and no longer practices the faith. He goes out of his way to present himself as a practicing, Mass-going, rosary praying, son of the Irish sort of Catholic. And--this is the important part--he says that his years of unwavering support for Roe v. Wade do not in any way interfere with his identification of himself as a faithful Catholic.

In other words, he, as well as Nancy Pelosi and other "pro-choice" Catholic legislators, are making a claim that isn't true: they are claiming that it is possible to be a practicing Catholic in good standing with the Church and still work to promote and preserve the principle of legalized abortion on demand for any woman who wants one.

The reality is a little different.

One may be many kinds of Catholic. One may be a strong Catholic or a weak one, a practicing Catholic or a lapsed one, a faithful Catholic or a "cafeteria" one, a Catholic who has no impediment to receiving the Eucharist or a Catholic who is in some way impeded from doing so. All of these people can identify themselves as Catholics, of course. But none of them can claim that each of these is identical with the other.

The Catholic who picks and chooses from among the Church's teachings can't claim that he is the same kind of Catholic as the one who simply holds up the Catechism and says, "I believe this--all of it." The Catholic who goes to Mass twice a year can't claim to be the same kind of Catholic as the one who is at Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days (and sometimes daily as well, though that's not a requirement). The Catholic who has divorced his Catholic spouse from a valid Catholic marriage and remarried outside of the Church isn't entitled to present himself to receive Communion without sincere repentance and a willingness to do whatever the Church requires in terms of his invalid marriage. And the Catholic legislator who by his actions promotes and encourages abortion and sees it as a "woman's right" in defiance of the Church's clearly taught doctrines to the contrary is obligated to refrain from receiving Communion until or unless he, too, repents, refuses to support so-called "abortion rights" anymore, and seeks the healing of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Because the culture of relativism has spread its infection into the Church here in America (and probably elsewhere, but I can only speak to the American situation) a particular kind of confusion arises. What does it mean to call oneself a "Catholic?" And who gets to decide? If Joe Biden feels like he's a good Catholic, well, isn't that good enough?

Those who reject relativism reject this. Being Catholic, especially as an adult, carries with it obligations as well as privileges. If our greatest privilege is our ability to partake of Our Lord in the Eucharist, our greatest obligations involve living our lives and practicing our faith in such a way that we do not do so unworthily. It's not that Catholics, even good ones who are sincerely trying to live their faith, can't fail at this from time to time; but there is a difference between neglecting to confess a serious sin before receiving the Eucharist, particularly if this act is followed by sincere contrition and an immediate recourse to sacramental confession, and living one's life in such a way that one is clearly not entitled to present oneself to receive Communion yet doing so anyway.

Canon 915, which Ed Peters discusses in regards to Biden here, directs ministers of Holy Communion not to give the Eucharist to those "who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin." Some people try to argue that this can't be used to deny the Eucharist to pro-abort or "pro-choice" Catholic politicians since we can't know the state of their souls, but the Canon only mentions persisting in manifest grave sin; whether the person in question is meeting the three conditions necessary for the commission of a mortal sin is for his or her confessor to determine. Still, just as a priest might tell a couple whose marriage is invalid that he can't give them Communion until or unless they regularize the situation, so may a priest tell a politician who votes in favor of legalized abortion that he must not receive Communion until he stops doing so. The couple may sincerely, if erroneously, believe that their civil marriage was "valid enough," and the politician may sincerely, if erroneously, believe that voting pro-life will not help stop abortions. But it is still the case that objectively speaking the people in my example (assuming the couple are living together as husband and wife) are persisting in manifest grave sin regardless of their personal thoughts, or level of moral culpability.

So it doesn't really matter if Joe Biden feels like a good Catholic, or if Joe Biden sincerely believes that he can be Catholic and pro-choice. The objective reality is that no good Catholic can ever do anything that in any way supports and promotes abortion while failing to protect the intrinsic worth of every human being from conception to natural death. It is the Church's duty first to remind Biden of that fact, and then, if he fails to repent, to determine whether he ought to be barred from the reception of Communion under Canon 915.

The fact that so many "pro-choice" Catholic legislators exist at all is a sincere problem: if the Church in America were properly carrying out her role as catechist this wouldn't be such a widespread phenomenon. But as each election cycle passes the Church has an opportunity to teach the truth about this issue, to make it clear to all the faithful that we may not select for ourselves which of the Church's teachings to follow and which to disregard, all while considering ourselves "good practicing Catholics." The urgency of the need for the Church to teach with firm clarity and unwavering charity about this grows each time the issue of "pro-choice Catholics" comes up; many souls could be in danger of being lost if they continue to believe that "pro-choice Catholic" is a viable option instead of a meaningless oxymoron.

And the fact that continued inaction on the "pro-choice Catholic" problem by the Church's leaders will add to the impression given among the wider community that the Church isn't all that sincere in her own teachings about abortion is a grave danger as well; but more about that later.


Anonymous said...

Some valid points, however there is some doubt from this quarter that one can humanly 'judge' the catholicism of one over that of another, that being said, where IS the intelligentsia of the Catholic leadership in promoting education of all, especially those that might possibly consider a need to 'demand' an abortion? So much nitpicking of individual societal leadership, which has to be generally acceptable to ALL citizens, yet, there is some question as to whether Mr. Biden has considered himself ordained, or anything other than a member of a rather incongruous group of outspoken characters

Red Cardigan said...

Anonymous, certainly we can't judge someone else's soul, and we're not allowed to attempt it.

But if person A says, "Abortion is murder and I oppose it completely," and person B says, "Well, my church says life begins at conception, and that's tough for me, so I'm personally opposed to abortion but I plan to work to keep it legal and make sure that any woman who wants one can have one," it's not judging the souls of the people to say that person A's position is compatible with Catholic teaching and person B's isn't.

Scott said...

"Well, my church says life begins at conception, and that's tough for me, so I'm personally opposed to abortion but I plan to work to keep it legal and make sure that any woman who wants one can have one," it's not judging the souls of the people to say that person A's position is compatible with Catholic teaching and person B's isn't.

And furthermore, if they make that statement a part of their campaign platform, it's public knowledge and saying, "well who can really say?" is an offense against reason as if no one is capable of knowing what's right in front of their face.

daniel said...

This article, while rather well written, seems to be a little disingenuous to me. The arguments against Senator Biden are Ad Hominem to say the least. If we are to be convicted by every word that passes our lips then we are all guilty and in peril of hell. Since all are born into Original Sin we are in peril of that anyway. Baptism in the Holy Catholic Church frees us from the bondage of sin but does not make us perfect beings. To err is human, to forgive divine.

I guess my point is that it is very possible for people, even people who gratefully and sincerely open their arms to accepting Catholic doctrine, to still be nagged by doubt and uncertainty. Even in issues as seemingly clear-cut as Pro-Life.

God gave man free-will. In His wisdom he gave us a choice to reach out to Him or to turn our faces from Him. Who are we to say it is our right and obligation as Catholics to second guess the Almighty's decision, and impose our beliefs on both believer and nonbeliever alike.

The punishment for sin is the sole domain of the Creator. It is between Him and the sinner.

While I do not agree with abortion. While I would never tolerate it in my own life. And while I suffer at the thought of unborn babies denied their chance to live. I cling to the belief that God shelters and protects those little ones, and welcomes them to Himself with open arms. And I also believe that free will is more sacred than a child's right to be born, and in more need of defense. If we attempt to circumnavigate a person's right to exercise their will freely, we are only a step away from forced confessions and forced salvation, an imposition of catholic doctrine which could never be acceptable in the eyes of the Lord.

daniel said...

It is probably worth adding that in all honesty, politicians should probably not be bringing their religion into their politics in the first place.

A large part of someones identity is based on their religious affiliation. Some would argue that a persons only identity is based on their religion. However, as a politician Joe Biden made a choice to lead a secular life. That does not make him a bad Catholic in my opinion. Nor does it make him any less deserving of salvation.

Now, if we were talking about a Priest who supported a Woman's Right to Choose. Maybe then I could understand denying him the Eucharist. Even still, I think the ultimate decision of whether or not a sin is forgivable should not rest in the hands of men.

I do not think that God keeps quite as close an eye on a person's sin tally as other humans do.