Saturday, October 30, 2004
A while ago one of my colleagues in our Center for Peace and Justice Education at Villanova asked me to speak in a series the Center was presenting on issues for Catholics in the current election. I was naive enough to think that I could toss something off quickly on the issue I was aked to discuss: respect for life. Between the time I was asked to speak and my presentation last Tuesday, this topic began to fill not only MOJ but the op ed pages and other parts of the blogosphere. So, my goal became to summarize for our primarily undergraduate audience the many arguments that have surfaced here in all of their variety and sophistication. The resulting paper is posted in the side bar under my name and the title "Election 2004: Respect for Life issues." Because my goal was to provoke discussion in the audience, I did not propose a resolution at the end of my presentation, although I think you will see where I am heading. I do, however, try to make some points. Here's a summary:
1. The disagreements among Catholics (particularly Catholic intellectuals) reflect a growing fissure in the Church, paricularly over the understanding of Bernardin's image of the Seamless Garment and the consistent ethic of life, with one side bitterly rejecting the "moral equivalence" of abortion and the other concerns, and with the other seeing the notion of the consistent ethic as more fully expressing the Catholic commitment to life.
2. This election has forced this conflict to the fore because the two candidates pose the dilemma so starkly: Kerry, with a reprehensible record on abortion and no capacity for dialogue or moderation on the issue; Bush with a record on almost everything else equally reprehesible on Catholic grounds. The two candidates thus leave us with no choice but to confront the question of whether it is possible to support a candidate like Kerry whose record on life is beyond the pale because his opponent's record on everything else shows a disregard for the consistent ethic of life.
3. Kerry's attempt to elide the issue thru invoking what Ken Woodward recently called Mario Cuomo's "ancient sophistry", the private belief/public responsibilty dichotomy, does not bear serious scrutiny.
4. One answer to this question insists that the intrinsic evil of abortion cannot be put into the balancing scales with merely prudential concerns regarding other issues about which reasonable people might disagree. This argument, disarming in its simplicity, has been met by a variety of arguments that contest on both principled and pragmatic grounds the conclusion that a faithful Catholic has no choice but to vote for Bush. These arguments cannot be easily dismissed simply by invoking Kerry's terrible record on abortion.
My paper does not offer the depth, subtlety or detail of many of our posts, but I hope you will find it a useful summary.