Friday, November 14, 2008

John Allen NCReporter: Abortion at the Bishops' Meeting

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Perhaps the greatest paradox of Catholic life in America has long been that abortion is one of the few contentious issues where Catholics are basically in agreement. It's tough to find many Catholics who disagree that abortion is always a tragedy, and that a world without abortion would be a better world. Yet abortion also fuels the most painful divisions in the church, because Catholics are split in three other ways:
  • First, whether opposition to abortion necessarily implies efforts to outlaw it. Catholic Democrats often argue that a "reduction strategy" of social policies in support of women and children are more effective, not to mention less divisive. Pro-lifers, however, often compare such arguments to the false compromises of the 19th century over slavery, insisting that sooner or later the country has to face the issue itself -- whether it will allow the legal destruction of a whole category of human beings, or not.
  • Second, how much weight abortion should carry among the church's social concerns. For one camp, abortion is the contemporary Holocaust, and to pretend that any other issue is comparable is a kind of moral blindness. Others insist that the church should have a "consistent ethic of life" giving comparable weight to matters such as poverty, health care, and war.
  • Third, how punitive to be with Catholics, especially politicians, who don't support legal restrictions on abortion. Some argue for dialogue, while others are firmly convinced that pro-choice Catholics must be denied communion -- on the grounds, as Jim Sedlak, vice-president of the American Life League, put it in a thundering address outside the bishops' hotel in Baltimore, "You can't say abortion is a sin against God, and then deliver that God into the hands of those who vote for abortion."

In truth, only on the first of these points can one meaningfully talk about a clear victory for the more "hard-line" position in Baltimore. The bishops were crystal clear that it's not enough merely to favor reducing abortions, as desirable as that result would be; ultimately, they affirmed, human life must also be protected in law. As Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the conference, put it in his opening address, "The common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice." At the end, George drew a standing ovation.

On the other two questions, however, the discussion suggested lingering tensions among the bishops, and in neither case did the "hard-line" view clearly have the upper hand.

To be clear, there was no real dissent from a consensus that abortion must be a towering social and political priority. There were, however, differing accents on how exclusive the focus should be, and how confrontational the advocacy should be. Read the Full Article Here.


Don't expect any easy solution or uniform position to be taken by our bishops.

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