US bishops versus pro-abortion Catholic politicians: an exemplary stance
Catholic Democratic politicians would like to reconcile faith and pro-abortion battles. Msgr Broglio does not agree: the firm stance is also a clear signal on the equilibrium between American prelates and Santa Marta.
An event of great interest has occurred in the United States: the bishops have corrected a group of Catholic Congressmen who have taken a position in favour of abortion. The episcopal intervention has clarified some fundamental points of the political question about Catholics and abortion: from the role of conscience to the task of the lay faithful, to the authentic meaning of secularism and freedom of religion. It has also written an important new chapter in the relationship between the US bishops and Pope Francis: on this point, as is well known, there was and is no convergence between the two.
In a statement of principles written on 24 June, the first anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade on the right to abortion, on Congressional letterhead, some thirty Congressmen, including the current chief whip Rosa L. DeLauro and veteran Nancy Pelosi, once again listed the reasons why they, as Catholics, are fighting to promote the right to abortion.
Their argument is based on four points, all of which - according to the petitioners - follow the principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The first point concerns the duty to help the disadvantaged, and women who have abortions would fall into the categories of the poor, the discriminated against, and victims of racism. The second is that the informed conscience must be left free to make decisions about one's own body, citing the Catechism when it says that conscience must always be obeyed even when it is erroneous. The third is the separation of Church and State with the impossibility of imposing by law one's own religious beliefs on those who do not share them. The fourth even references John Paul II's Christifideles laici, according to which the task of the laity is only one of general ethical animation.
The weakness of these arguments is very evident. Going in order: 1) Women who have abortions are not always victims of social injustice, while aborted children certainly are; 2) The invincible ignorance of the erroneousness of one's conscience that frees us from moral responsibility is very difficult to prove; 3) Catholics oppose the regulation of abortion for religious motives, but also for (secular) motives of reason, and therefore it is not a matter of imposing one's faith on anyone, but of calling everyone back to a natural truth; 4) Finally, on the reckless step of using the Christifideles laici it is better to draw a pious veil.
Things could have gone the way it have done before, every man for himself and God for all. Instead, on 28 June, the newly appointed president of the American bishops, Timothy Broglio, former military ordinary, together with the bishops of Arlington (Virginia) and Brownsville (Texas), issued a corrective statement on behalf of the entire episcopate. They were very clear in their condemnation of the position of the Catholic Democrats: "Members of Congress who have recently invoked the teachings of the Catholic faith to justify abortion or support an alleged right to abortion gravely distort the faith. It is wrong and inconsistent to claim that the suppression of innocent human life at its most vulnerable stage can ever be consistent with the values of upholding the dignity and well-being of those in need”. After recalling the clear teaching of the Catechism (nos. 2270 and 2273), the bishops say, "Abortion violates this respect for preborn children and brings unspeakable suffering to countless women”.
As for conscience, precisely because of the high regard it deserves, "policymakers should uphold the freedom of Catholics and others to serve the common good in accordance with their convictions in a wide range of areas (...) However, conscience is not a license to commit evil and take innocent lives. Conscience cannot and does not justify the act or support of abortion. Indeed, conscience ‘must be informed and moral judgement enlightened’ by the Word of God in faith and prayer, and ‘guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church’ [CCC 1783, 1785]. Moreover, the reality that the unborn are our living brothers and sisters is not only a matter of faith, but is attested by science and sound reason”.
This intervention is of considerable importance. First of all, it is addressed to American Democratic Catholics, but it also applies to European ones and to all those who hide behind the same arguments. It is therefore also a stimulus for other episcopates to take the same stance. Moreover, the 'corrective statement' confirms that, despite the changes at the top of the US bishops' conference and despite the disturbing actions of the Holy See and Francis himself, the American Church's line continues to be the protection of natural law. Finally, indirectly, the 'declaration' re-proposes the unresolved issue of Catholics in favour of abortion receiving Communion. And in this case too, it is Pope Francis' firmly open position that suffers.
The Speaker of the House visited the Vatican and received Holy Communion during the papal Mass, in open defiance of Bishop Cordileone, who had personally forbidden her Communion for her open support of abortion.
Pope Francis' decision to make Bishop Robert McElroy a cardinal continues to cause debate across the Atlantic. The US Bishops' Conference coldly dismisses Francis' decision, which is instead praised by Father James Martin, who calls the new cardinal a "friend of the LGBTQ community".
The long-awaited and widely discussed document by the US bishops on the Eucharist correctly re-proposes the Church's doctrine which is its treasure, but contradicts itself in not foreseeing ways to defend it. It privileges the unity of the episcopate as a facade and the will to avoid political tensions in respect to Christ and the lives of millions of children.
The public sins of rulers are never only a "personal" matter. The pastors of the Church have the duty to protect their flock from scandal. We do not know how any possible clear position from American bishops will provoke reactions on a political level. However, one thing is certain: reiterating the Church's teaching on the need to refuse the Eucharist "to those who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin" will lead to healthy reflections on Who is substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament.