Sacrilege, scandal and murder – or civility?

Commentary by Judie Brown

When a bipartisan group of American Catholics signed on to an innocuous document entitled “A Catholic Call to Observe Civility in Political Debate,” my initial reaction was based on the horrific nature of the rhetoric. It struck me with the full force of a Mack truck. I wondered aloud what these men and women were thinking and why they thought a document proposing principles totally foreign to Catholic teaching was necessary. Could it be that an impending presidential election created an opportunity for them to speak out in such a way?

That would seem to be the case. As the final paragraph in the document makes clear, their goal is to encourage all people to “practice civility,” “discuss the issues” and not be “stained by the appearance of partisan political involvement” because we are part of the Catholic community. This statement smacks of the moral relativism that is so much a part of politically correct Catholic discussions these days. Thus I am called to set the record straight for these people who have for purely pragmatic reasons embraced such wayward thinking.

First and foremost, it should be made perfectly clear to each of the signers that abortion is not a political issue, nor is it a public policy question. Abortion is an action directly taken to rob a preborn human being of his life. It is an intrinsically evil act that is indeed murder. Relegating this heinous crime to merely being one of a list of policy questions that create differences of opinion among Catholics is ridiculous. Yet that is what the “Catholic call to observe civility” does. That single fact alone is outrageous.

Any thinking American can tell you that the act of abortion can be seen for what it is without the teachings of the Catholic Church. However, the very fact that the act is still protected under cover of law should be a stain on the fabric of society that drives every Catholic to act in a manner consistent with the reality of what abortion does. We do not need to be reprimanded with regard to civility in speech when we are discussing the cold-blooded murder of a preborn innocent child. What is civil about that?

Obviously there are far too many pro-abortion Catholics in public life. The signers of the document are clearly pandering to such people; but why in the world would anyone do that? The Catholic Church is not a cafeteria that changes its teaching menu to suit the political climate of a given season. The truth does not change; it will never change. And that is what brings me to the core question that is discussed in political terms in this document.

The Holy Eucharist is, by Catholic teaching, the body and blood of Christ truly present in a divine sacrament. The signers of the document do not necessarily seem to be convinced of this truth, or so it would appear to anyone who reads their statement with a critical eye.

The first point in their series of bulleted statements reads, “As Catholics we should not enlist the Church’s moral endorsement of our political preferences. We should do this out of respect for our fellow Catholics of equally good will but differing political convictions and our interest in protecting the clergy from being drawn into partisan political to the detriment of the Church’s integrity and objectivity.”

This is the most inane representation of alleged acts of civility that I have ever seen; in fact I dare say it is purely evil in its intent. American Life League has repeatedly called for bishops, priests, deacons and Eucharistic ministers to protect Christ from sacrilege by denying the sacrament to public figures who claim to be Catholic while also supporting abortion. The group’s statement characterizes our actions as somehow exhibiting disrespect for our Church leaders who have been ordained to serve Christ. It is completely irrational to propose that out of respect for those who favor child killing, or as this group puts it, “Catholics of equally good will but differing political convictions,” we would withdraw our campaign to make sure that Christ, truly present in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist, is protected from sacrilege.

After all, the possibility of saving the soul of a Catholic who has strayed from the teachings of the Church should be a primary concern for every one of us, regardless of our station in life and the political rhetoric employed by those who scoff at Catholic teaching while groveling to get Catholics’ votes. The very idea that we would somehow respect such actions is in itself a clear sign of hypocrisy.

If we did not respect the integrity of Christ and the objective truths taught by the Catholic Church, we would not be so dedicated to begging our bishops, priests, Eucharistic ministers and deacons to protect Christ in the first place. The entire objective of Church law, as stated in Canon 915, is not to punish or judge, but rather to make it clear to the wayward Catholic that his public sins, objectively examined from the public record, have put him at odds with the Church and are a clear sign of the need for him to repent before he presents himself as deserving of receiving Christ. This is a Church law brimming with compassion for the wayward and dedicated to the preservation and protection of the most holy of sacraments.

Neither the signers of the “call for civility” nor the members of the pro-life movement advocating enforcement of Canon 915 created the laws of the Church, nor can they change them. Those ordained to the priesthood should enforce Church law; failure to do so is an act of cowardice, which is precisely what this group is encouraging.

“Civility” should not require deception. “Civility” should not be based on a false premise of protecting the consciences of those who publicly defy basic Church teachings. “Civility” does not avoid judgment of what is objectively evil, such as the act of abortion and its advocacy by persons in political life. There is no “reasoned” Catholic argument in defense of such atrocious behavior, regardless of what the signers may think.

It occurred to me as I read and reread the “call for civility” that perhaps those who signed it simply have a different agenda as Catholics who have mastered the art of political posturing. It would seem they have chosen to provide comfort to the Pharisees of today rather than convincing those very people to consider the reasons why their positions are at odds with Catholic teachings and therefore are wrong.

As lay Catholics we should judge the objective disorder of positions that are counter to Catholic teaching, and we should have the courage to make such anomalies perfectly clear. In the process of doing this, of exposing the evil of abortion and the scandal of pro-abortion political figures who claim to be Catholics, we are doing a service not only to the public but hopefully to the souls of those in question. It is not wrong to make it clear that there really is a difference between good and evil. In fact, it is the only civilized thing to do.

Release issued: 14 Nov 07