By William E. May
The November 1998 statement of the U.S. Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life, was promulgated after the U.S. Senate had failed, for a second time, to override Clinton's veto of the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act". It was thus made public after the 10 Catholic senators had refused to offer unborn human life the protection this bill provided and had, by doing so, cooperated in the killing of some unborn children by this gruesomely barbaric form of abortion. But prior to the promulgation of this strong defense of innocent human life and clear articulation of the grave moral obligation of legislators to defend innocent human life, the U.S. Bishops, along with Pope John Paul II, had time and time again vigorously spoken out on the issue, reminding all Catholics, and particularly those in positions of political and legislative authority, of their duties.
There can be no doubt that Catholic legislators, whether, members of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives or of state and local legislative bodies, also give grave scandal to others by their willed refusal to do what lies in their power to protect innocent human life. Some, in defending their action, make use of the "defective reasoning" and "evasive language" so rightly excoriated by the Bishops, as we have seen, in Living the Gospel of Life. Others, as the Bishops noted in this excellent document, "have adopted the argument that, while they personally oppose evils like abortion, they cannot force their religious views onto a wider society". But, as the Bishops pointedly note in the same document, "this is seriously mistaken on several key counts. First, regarding abortion, the point when human life begins is not a religious belief but a scientific fact - a fact on which there is clear agreement even among leading abortion advocates. Second, the sanctity of human life is not merely Catholic doctrine but part of humanity's global ethical heritage and our nation's founding principle. Finally, democracy is not served by silence.... Real pluralism depends on people of conviction struggling vigorously to advance their beliefs by every ethical and legal means at their disposal". (14)
The issue is clear. Catholic political leaders and legislators who, like the U.S. senators who refused to override President Clinton's veto of a bill designed to protect unborn children from a particularly heinous and barbaric form of abortion, fail to "stand up for human life" and to do what lies in their power to protect the inviolability of innocent human life act publicly in a way contrary to their Catholic faith. Thus they cannot, as the Bishops clearly declare, "rightfully claim to share fully and practically the Catholic faith". (15) Although they may not be formally excommunicated, they have, as it were, cut themselves off from their Catholic faith and, in presenting themselves to the voting public ought not to give scandal and identify themselves as Catholics. By doing so they give grave scandal to others. They have been adequately reminded by their pastors of their serious moral responsibilities and have freely chosen to cooperate formally in the perpetuation of legislation that is barbaric and evil. Only God can judge their hearts, but it is imperative publicly to denounce their actions and to refuse to support them, for by supporting them one in effect cooperates in a grave evil.
14. Ibid., n. 24, emphasis in original.
15. Ibid., n. 7.
Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology, John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, Washington, USA
L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 1 September 1999, pp. 6-7.
Printed with permission from Priests for Life.