Tuesday, February 28, 2006
In the Washington Post, E. J. Dionne calls attention to a forthcoming "Statement of Principles By Fifty-Five Catholic Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives":
"As Catholic Democrats in Congress," the statement begins, "we are proud to be part of the living Catholic tradition -- a tradition that promotes the common good, expresses a consistent moral framework for life and highlights the need to provide a collective safety net to those individuals in society who are most in need. As legislators, in the U.S. House of Representatives, we work every day to advance respect for life and the dignity of every human being. We believe that government has moral purpose."
The statement is only six paragraphs, which gives it clarity and focus. After a paragraph on Catholic social teaching about the obligations to "the poor and disadvantaged," the writers get to the hard issue, insisting that "each of us is committed to reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and creating an environment with policies that encourage pregnancies to be carried to term."
What's significant is that this is not a statement from pro-choice Catholics trying to "reframe" the abortion question. The signatories include some of the staunchest opponents of abortion in the House, including Reps. Bart Stupak, Dale Kildee, Tim Holden, James Oberstar and James Langevin.
In other words, Democrats on both sides of the abortion question worry that it is crowding out all other concerns. And in very polite language, the Catholic Democrats suggest that their bishops allow them some room to disagree. "In all these issues, we seek the church's guidance and assistance but believe also in the primacy of conscience," they write in an echo of Kennedy. "In recognizing the church's role in providing moral leadership, we acknowledge and accept the tension that comes from being in disagreement with the church in some areas."
It will be interesting to read the full six paragraphs when they are released -- in particular, to see whether the pro-choicers signing the statement have dragged the pro-lifers in their direction, or whether the pro-lifers have influenced the pro-choicers in any significant respect.