Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Catholics, Abortion, the Bishops, and the Presidential Election

I hope that all MOJ readers will consider carefully what Father Richard McBrien, the Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, and the author of the HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism (here), has to say in the following piece, dated October 27, 2008.  Notice, too, in Fr. McBrien's article, the link to the piece by Father Thomas Reese, SJ, former editor of America.

<p><p><p><p><p>Catholic voters and the presidential election</p></p></p></p></p>

Catholic voters and the presidential election

Unlike another column that appears in many diocesan papers across North America, this column has never endorsed or opposed a candidate for public office. It will not break that tradition this year, nor any other year in the future.

On the run-up to the 1988 presidential election, the Administrative Board of the bishops’ conference added the words “or opposing” after the word “endorsing.” That addition has remained in the bishops’ quadrennial statements ever since -- most recently in their statement of last November when they put the matter clearly and succinctly: “...we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote” (n. 7, my italics).

Moreover, as important as the abortion issue clearly is, the bishops have also insisted since 1984 that Catholic voters and the bishops themselves should “examine the positions of the candidates on the full range of issues as well as their integrity, philosophy and performance.”

Put negatively, Catholic voters and their bishops are not to pursue a one-issue course in the political realm. No single issue, including abortion, “trumps” all others, rendering all other issues morally and politically inconsequential.

As last November’s statement by the bishops expressed it: “The consistent ethic of life provides a moral framework for principled Catholic engagement in political life and, rightly understood, neither treats all issues as morally equivalent nor reduces Catholic teaching to one or two issues. … Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace ...” (nn. 40, 41).

Those Catholics for whom abortion is in effect the only issue determining their vote in a presidential election may need a dose of realism. Even the overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by an even more conservative U. S. Supreme Court is not going to put an end to abortions in the United States. It would simply return the matter to the states, and most of the states would continue to legalize abortion.

The only way that abortions are going to be reduced, as Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese insisted recently on his blog for The Washington Post ( Abortion: Rhetoric or Results), is by dealing directly with the causes that lead women to have abortions.

The question then is not which candidate and which party will make abortion illegal, but which candidate and which party are more likely to reduce the number of abortions.

It is a matter of fact, not opinion, that abortions increased under President Ronald Reagan and peaked during both Bush Administrations. “In contrast,” Fr. Reese points out, “during the Clinton Administration the number of abortions fell significantly,” because legislation, which Republicans have generally opposed, dealt with abortion’s underlying causes.


Perry, Michael | Permalink

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