Wednesday, October 8, 2008




by Matthew Moore

The Kmiec article entitled “Abortion and the Common Good” presents a theory about how to achieve common ground in our country on a divisive topic: abortion.
It recommends that Catholics avoid both the attempt to prohibit abortion legally and the discussion about when life begins. Instead of these, which it claims are “blocked” or “unhelpful” or “divisive,” it suggests that we “do good.”
In the private sphere, it indicates that one could do good by volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers; it indicates that one could also do good in the public sphere by supporting the socio-economic programs that were developed during the time that Americans generally call the Clinton era (1990-2000). According to Kmiec, these are some of the many ways in which a Catholic can acceptably or sufficiently be pro-life.

Kmiec’s article is disturbing for many obvious reasons.
First, to state the obvious, it mistakenly proposes that according to Catholic standards one is sufficiently pro-life if he politically supports government officials that propose the economic programs during the Clinton era for alleviating poverty, even if those officials he supports are manifestly in support of abortion itself. This practically means that even if a candidate is manifestly in support of abortion, according to Kmiec, a Catholic voter can in good, well-formed conscience ignore the candidate's position on abortion and vote for him so long as the Catholic voter intends to support one of the ever diverse ways of being pro-life that are indirectly tied to the act of abortion.
Kmiec's reasoning seems to rest on an odd misapplication of the principle of double effect. The proper usage of the principle of double effect is in matters pertaining to certain medical issues and to legitimate self-defense, i.e. just war and the death penalty (see CCC -- the current universal teaching applies a direct citation of Saint Thomas Aquinas’s formulation of the principle to both just war and the death penalty). Kmiec does not refer to any “truly grave moral reasons” that could justify voting for the candidate who “holds a position in favor of intrinsic evil.”

Another obvious reason is that his point flies in the face of all the teaching
of the USCCB and CDF in the past decades in which every list of “pro-life” priorities places the legal prohibition of abortion first. Kmiec's position is precisely the one that is targeted as unacceptable in the documents. As it has produced its documents, the most common position within the USCCB seems to have been "educate, not sanction," as Cardinal Mahoney stated during the time Kerry was running. Education in this sense is done through the formation of conscience. Far from forming or educating, Kmiec’s article deforms consciences and miseducates people.

Thirdly, his point is frustratingly wrong again because he states his aim is to unify people (by being helpful and forming common ground).
He then begins to work towards this goals of unifying by immediately removing from public discourse any reference to a group of people (who should be included in that unity) as living. He proposes an indirect and circuitous route the protection of the unborn. In short, step #1 in his method to achieve unity is exclusion. His unity is not a true unity, consequently.

Fourthly, he suggests that we accept that the Supreme Court has “blocked” any legal prohibition of abortion.
This position cannot be taken seriously. Both candidates have discussed their intentions for Supreme Court nominations. The primary differences between their proposed nominations centers precisely on the issue of the Supreme Court’s blocking of the legal prohibitions of abortion, i.e. the overturning of Roe vs. Wade by the appointment of constructionist judges or not.
This has explicitly been an issue in the campaigns. Far from being something that we should accept, the candidates are making abortions legal prohibition an explicit issue. Either Kmiec knew this or he did not. If he did not, obviously, he should not be writing to offer political advice on the eve of the conventions because he is totally out of touch. I do not see how that could be the case given his position in society. If he did know it then he was not fully forthright in his article, i.e. he has a hidden agenda.

Fifthly, the article presents a caricature of conservatives
as “taking glee” in the public correction of Nancy Pelosi.
But any true effort at unity should offer people a sympathetic reading and avoid caricatures. And any sympathetic reading of people who were pleased by the correction should admit that many people rejoiced in the correction because it was long overdue. Neither Nancy Pelosi’s position on abortion nor the Church teaching (which the article traces back to the Fathers) has changed or been a private matter for a long time. Essentially, the same correction could have taken place decades ago and never did. After along time in waiting, the correction was setting something right and people expressed joy in it. That is only to be expected.

Instead of being happy about the public correction of Nancy Pelosi,
the article claims we should instead follow the “speculation” of a man named Hugh Skees of Miamisburg, Ohio, and Alexia Kelly. Even if Kmiec is capable of presenting a real argument, he does nothing of the kind in his article. A sixth point is that the article is poorly argued. His entire argument can be dismissed as mere coincidence. As a Catholic, I like to think that the magisterial teaching may have an impact on societal trends. He does not even consider the publication of Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae as possibly lowering the number of abortions in the 1990’s.

A final point is that the publication of his dissent from the Church teaching,
both through the universal and the Episcopal magisterium of the United States Bishops, in the South Texas Catholic (STC) does not “further the common good” or “build community.”
Any doubt about whether his teaching in the article expresses dissent reflects a theological incompetence. I see very clearly the academic theory he propounds: he intends to substitute an issue of lower priority (fighting poverty) in the list of Catholic moral priorities for the primary priority (defense of life) by stating that the defense of life is not able to be dealt with in society at this time and is still in some way advanced by fighting poverty. The proper place for discussion of such a theory is in academic circles, not in popular publications or instruments of the media meant to serve the Church’s mission of evangelization. His theory, once again, flies in the face of the current of the Church’s magisterium.

The article is offered by Catholic News Service (CNS). But CNS offers a number of articles to choose from for a local Diocesan newspaper. In some way, it is the responsibility of the Diocesan newspaper to choose good articles from CNS. The printing of this article shows at least a lack of good judgment at the STC and possibly a political bias.
The STC is not and should not be a political publication, however. Rather, the STC should be used unambiguously to communicate Catholic principles of morality that bear directly upon choices that Americans must make in the voting booths this November. In this way, it can serve people by educating them in the moral and political implications of their faith. The fact that these principles (if properly understood) indicate that there is only one candidate that is morally acceptable is beside the point. That fact does not change our principles. To allow it to do so would be political bias. Really, it indicates that only one of the candidates feels that it is important for his campaign to represent the principles of American Catholics. The other feels that he can deny our moral principles and place a nominal Catholic on his ticket and that this would be sufficient to gain our vote.

Communicating to the Catholics of South Texas elaborate, academic (and erroneous) justifications aimed at making them feel that voting for Barak Obama, the pro-death candidate, is acceptable in conscience for Catholics at this time is a wrong usage of the South Texas Catholic.

It is an erroneous usage of the STC precisely because it strays from Catholic principles to offer ways to support a particular candidate. The article is a thinly veiled Democratic campaign ad. Obviously, it is meant in the wake of the conventions and heading into the election to nullify the political importance of the qualities that make the McCain/Palin ticket in Catholic terms morally both acceptable and, vis-vis the Obama/Biden ticket, superior. Such an attempt to downplay the importance of fundamental moral issues is merely compromising on one's faith in order to support the Obama/Biden ticket. If the article’s publication was deliberate and not careless, then it shows one of two things: an erroneous understanding of what it means to be unbiased (one that compromises Catholic principles) or a political commitment to a particular candidate. Either error is problematic for a publication such as the South Texas Catholic.

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