Headlines continue to pour in from D.C. and New York, including Tuesday evening’s divided House vote for offshore drilling and AIG’s massive $85 billion salvage package from the Federal Reserve Board.
At the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered testimony from Bush administration officials on the cause for Wall Street’s meltdown, and on the campaign trail, The Washington Post reports that Obama has actually released more negative ads than McCain this week. (News sources have begun to note that Obama has also started bringing his teleprompter with him on the road – perhaps a means of balancing new “speed and ferocity” with scripted speeches.)
On a different note, Obama’s campaign has announced a new line of merchandise geared toward religious voters. So far, it includes signs, bumper stickers and buttons with slogans like “Pro-Family Pro-Obama” and “Catholics for Obama” – Catholicism being the only denomination mentioned so far, although Obama’s deputy director for religious affairs said more merchandise for “other religious groups and denominations” will be rolling out soon.
The choice to target Catholics first is telling, once again, of how crucial the “Catholic vote” is to this election. The New York Times printed a story earlier this week with the headline “Abortion Issue Again Dividing Catholic Voters” – a statement that says nothing new in itself but, sadly, shouldn’t be the case.
The story pits “progressive” and “conservative” Catholics against each other in a debate “over how Catholic voters should think about abortion”, concluding with a quote that seems lacking in its attempt to encapsulate the depth of that debate.
"It’s a running debate between Catholics saying ‘abortion is the only issue’ and others saying ‘you have to look at the whole teaching of the church,’” said a political scientist from the Jesuit-run University of Scranton – and yet, neither of those sides can stand on their own.
Catholics aren’t single-issue voters. But neither will we set abortion aside in order for other social justice issues – even those condoned by the Church – to take top priority. As Cardinal George, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote earlier this month, “One cannot favor the status quo on legal abortion and also be working for the common good.”
The NY Times story failed to note George’s point. It also gave a rather fuzzy interpretation of the bishops’ “Faithful Citizenship” document, saying the latest version allows “Catholics to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights if they do so for other reasons” – the document’s actual words are “grave moral reasons,” which take on an entire different meaning indeed. Finally, the story said “Faithful Citizenship” allows for “differences of opinion about how to apply church principles,” but leaves out the imperative instruction that “all issues do not carry the same weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions.”
One statement from the Church that has gone unnoticed this election season is a 2004 memo from then-Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal McCarrick. As head of the domestic policy commission of the U.S. bishops, McCarrick had his hands full with the debate of whether to deny Communion to the Catholic, pro-abortion presidential candidate John Kerry. Ratzinger was clear:
Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.
If the politician continues – “with obstinate persistence” – manifest, “formal cooperation” in that grave sin, he or she must be denied Communion, Ratzinger concluded.
That was four years ago, but the seriousness with which the Church approaches abortion and politicians who have the opportunity of limiting or ending the practice applies today.
However, like Nancy Pelosi and Joseph Biden did in their recent, respective interviews on Meet the Press, the NY Times article turns abortion into one issue – albeit huge – still up for vigorous debate within the Church and most noticeably so when elections roll around.
The fact is, the Church has spoken definitively about the intrinsic evil of abortion, and election season or not, it will always urge its members to promote and defend a culture of life in all their actions. What’s really up for debate is whether Catholics will listen to their Church and vote accordingly.