Thursday, October 09, 2008

How the Bishops Are Helping Obama

If the Bishops are willing to pay attention, they could learn much from the results of the upcoming election about the effectiveness of their words.

While McCain's record on life issues is not perfect, there is simply no comparison between the Obama-Biden ticket and McCain-Palin.

While the McCain-Palin camp have not stated any outright pro-life strategy, or even stated their pro-life stance definitively, the pro-abortion voting records of both Obama and Biden, combined with their campaign pledges to not only uphold abortion rights but to radically expand them, leave little doubt as to what an Obama presidency would bring.

The USCCB and individual bishops throughout the U.S. have compiled and distributed many words regarding the responsibility of Catholics at the voting booth. The fact that this race is even close with Catholics comprising 25% of the vote shows us just how much attention Catholics are paying attention to their Bishops. But then what's new?

It's hardly news that the American Catholic Episcopate is virtually ignored by its subjects. Any investigation into why would reveal a list ranging from episcopal aloofness to the priest abuse scandal.

While a list of such accusations may be valid, I think, that at least in this case - influencing the Catholic vote - the answer is simple, obvious, and self-destructive. As a matter of fact, almost every episcopal statement has lent justification to Catholics looking for an excuse to overlook the radical pro-abortion platform of Obama/Biden. Here’s why:

While every episcopal statement includes the requisite reference to the primacy of the "life" issue, there exists within every statement (that I have read) two obvious factors which immediately nullify the theme. I will state those factors and then illustrate.

1. The context of the statement is clouded in such a way that a Catholic looking for justification to vote for a pro-abortion candidate immediately finds what he is looking for.

2. The issue within the issue, which is the moral gravity of each life issue, is never explained or prioritized, thus all life issues become level, and again the pro-Obama Catholic voter finds what he's looking for.

Consider the following excerpts from a recent statement by the Bishops of New York entitled "Our Cherished Right, Our Solemn Duty.”

"It is the rare candidate who will agree with the Church on every issue," they acknowledged. "But […] not every issue is of equal moral gravity. The inalienable right to life of every innocent human person outweighs other concerns where Catholics may use prudential judgment, such as how best to meet the needs of the poor or to increase access to health care for all."

The problem is the phrase: "The inalienable right to life of every innocent human person..." Why is this phrase a problem? Because it is used without qualification. Both an aborted child and a 6 year old child who is killed in a war are “innocent human person(s)”.

The voter is led to believe that abortion and war are moral evils of equal weight. Thus we have Catholics believing that it is okay to support a pro-abortion candidate as long as he opposes the war.

Some Catholics stretch this even further to include economic policy: Innocent people are dying around the world due to the economic policies of the United States. Therefore, we need a president, despite his commitment to make abortion even more available, who will change those policies.

The true moral view is that while innocent people may die due to wars and economic policies, so long as the death of innocent people is not the intention of a war or a policy, such actions do not qualify as “objective evil”; whereas procured abortion would qualify as objective evil as it is a direct attack on innocent life.

The failure of the Catholic leadership to spell this out has created a flood of pro-abortion legislators, some of whom are Catholic themselves (Biden, Pelosi, Kennedy…)

My 2nd point - that there is a moral priority within the life issues and that this also is not spelled out - is illustrated in the next paragraph:

"The right to life is the right through which all others flow. To the extent candidates reject this fundamental right by supporting an objective evil, such as legal abortion, euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research, Catholics should consider them less acceptable for public office."

This, by itself, is a true statement. But within the context of the current election, it is simply a pass for Obama. Here's why:

The Bishops do absolutely nothing to morally weigh each of these issues. At face value, this statement gives each of these issues the same moral weight. Thus the pro-Obama Catholic will think like this:
- Yes, Obama supports abortion
- But, McCain “supports” embryonic stem cell research (1)
- Both of those, according to the Bishops, are objectively evil
- So they cancel each other out
- Let’s disregard the life issues since both candidates are on the wrong side and let's move on to gas prices.

You think this is a "stretch"? You ought to talk to the Catholics I talk to. Clergy and laity alike walk this through step by step and straight to a clear-eyed, rational Catholic vote for Obama.
The correct moral view is that Abortion outranks all other life issues. It must be considered pre-eminent (2). Here’s why:

Abortion must remain the pre-eminent life issue because it involves two objective evils: the intentional killing of an innocent human being and torture.

50% of all abortions occur after the 9th week when the nervous system has formed sufficiently for the child to experience pain. How much the child feels before the 9th week is conjecture, but there is always the possibility that the child experiences pain.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research does not rank with abortion because it does not directly entail the torture of a human being, though the abortion that provided the fetus and thus the stem cells may have.

Euthanasia also normally does not directly entail torture, though it may as in the case when victims are starved to death. Euthanasia also differs from Abortion in terms of the "defenselessness of the victim". While in some cases the victim is truly helpless (Terry Schiavo), often the person being euthanized has some control over the situation whether in a will or with a direct request.

The fact is that while Euthanasia MAY involve the true "defenselessness of the victim", Abortion ALWAYS involves the "defenselessness of the victim". Thus, from a purely objective standpoint, ABORTION must rank as the life issue with the greatest moral weight and thus the one issue upon which every other issue must hinge.

The bottom line is a failing grade for most of the class. When most of the class fails it is really an indictment of the teacher. Bishops must do more than disseminate statements. What can they do? I’ll get to that in my next post.


(1) McCain’s support of ESCR is limited to existing embryos that would otherwise be destroyed. While this does not change the objective nature of the evil, it is worth noting as a matter of moral degrees.

(2) To it’s credit, the USCCB document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship does reference the issue of abortion as “pre-eminent” (par. 90), but the impact is immediately lessened by an list of other issues that quickly dwindles into concerns over economic justice and health care.

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