Monday, February 23, 2009

Communion and Politics

This petition has been making the rounds in the Catholic blogosphere; it's by PewSitter.Com, and has been analyzed by canon lawyer Ed Peters here. Essentially, the petition calls upon the Catholic bishops to discipline publicly, under Canon 915, those prominent Catholics whose public dissent on matters like abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, ESCR, same-sex marriage, etc. is causing scandal to the faithful.

Mark Shea's brief blog post on this petition is titled "Torture would be a good thing to add to the list."

Now, I've expressed before how glad I am that Mark Shea has written so clearly and so often on the issue of torture. In no way do I mean the following to imply any dissent from the Church's teaching that torture is a grave moral evil.

But as regards this petition, I disagree.

First of all, if you, or I, or anyone else were asked quickly to list six prominent national Catholic political figures who supported torture, could we? Maybe I'm just singularly ill-informed (always a possibility) but I can't think of any specific Catholic national political figure who is known for his or her action, agitation, speeches and votes in favor of legalized torture on demand, so to speak.

As far as the issues listed go, I can certainly list a half-dozen or more Catholic legislators or political figures who are defiantly pro-abortion (even if they phrase it as "personally opposed, but..."), including our current Vice President. Most of these are also in favor of ESCR, at the very least, among the issues specifically mentioned in the petition. I can't say for certain which of them are specifically in favor of euthanasia, human cloning, or even same-sex marriage (which Democrats are as likely to be coy about as Republicans, knowing how unpopular this issue is with voters), but when it comes to the basic life issues it's easy to name those prominent Catholics who are pro-abortion in their political work, votes, speeches, and other actions.

Moreover, and this is where I see the crux of the matter, these people are directly and specifically claiming that they can be active, practicing Catholics in good conscience while simultaneously voting for, working for, raising funds for etc. abortion; that they can be regular communicants who happen to think abortion should be legal, and so on. If someone has already created the "You can't be Catholic and pro-Torture" bumper sticker, I apologize for thinking it's not yet available; but what is certain is that the awareness of the torture issue still lags, with some if not many Catholics completely unaware of the specifics of our government's involvement with and support of torture tactics, of which among our politicians are enthusiasts for torture, and of just what the Church teaches on the matter.

No one can claim, though, to be unaware of what the Church teaches about abortion. Even non-Catholics are scandalized when they see wealthy, prominent, politically connected Catholics applauded and praised in their own parishes, even during Mass, despite their approval of and support for the vicious, vile murder of unborn children in the womb. It is possible to suppose that a Catholic legislator who voted in favor of "enhanced interrogation" techniques could be unaware both that these techniques involve torturing suspects and that the Church considers torture a grave moral evil; I can state with certainty that I was never taught that torture was intrinsically evil in all my years of attending Catholic schools. But even my admittedly deficient Catholic education didn't hide the truth about abortion--we knew it was evil, and even though some of our teachers tried to play the game of "Well, sure, abortion's evil, but not as evil as President Reagan's arms race and his evil support of the Contras in Nicaragua" most of us weren't really buying it. Abortion was murder, and murder was terribly wrong.

The petition writers probably don't mean to suggest that they support torture by leaving it off the list; this is one of those times when the proverb about silence meaning consent doesn't apply. But adding torture to the list in a sincere but misguided attempt to be more "bipartisan" about grave evil misses the boat, in my opinion; it's not the fault of the petition writers if there happen to be a lot more prominent Catholic pro-abortion Democrats than prominent Catholic pro-abortion Republicans. I definitely think that this petition, and Canon 915's penalties, ought to apply equally to all pro-abortion Catholic political figures, regardless of party affiliation, but there's no really just way to enact "diversity" here by making sure there are just as many Republicans as Democrats on the list.

Since the average "pew sitter" Catholic is probably a lot less aware of the torture issue than those of us who spend lots of time in the Catholic blogosphere, it's hard to argue that "prominent Catholic torture dissenters" are causing scandal and leading vast numbers of Catholics astray on the issue of torture (let alone causing scandal outside the Church). It is, unfortunately, all too easy to make the case that prominent Catholic abortion dissenters have done too much over the last forty years to shape the abortion debate within the Catholic American community, to the extent of causing some to think that "dissent" on abortion is perfectly consistent with the behavior of a devout, weekly communicant.

But the influence prominent Catholic dissenters have on the abortion issue arguably pales in comparison to the influence prominent Catholic dissenters have had on another issue, which, like torture, didn't make the list. That issue is contraception, for which prominent Catholics on both sides of the political spectrum vote, fund, support, and work for. Unfortunately asking Catholics in America to sign a petition asking bishops to deny communion to prominent contraception apologists would probably be met with a deafening silence.


Sarah said...

I completely agree. There aren't many catholics who think they can be both Catholic and "pro-torture". But mistakenly, there are plenty who think that they can be "pro-choice." (or pro-contraception or whatever.) And whereas there aren't many people who consider themselves Catholic and torture people, I have heard statistics saying that up to 90 percent of Catholics use birth control. Big, BIG mistake, and it's one that the Church can and should fight to correct.

Red Cardigan said...

Hey, all, I've deleted the comments from the troll along with my unwise response to him/her. Sometimes you can defuse these things with humor, but obviously this individual is not interested in a real discussion, but only in trollish behavior.

Anonymous troll, any more comments like the ones you posted so far are going to be deleted. You might as well move on.