Total Pageviews

Sunday, October 14, 2012

An Abortion Question Shows Divide Among Catholics


In a historic first, both candidates for vice president are practicing Roman Catholics, and late in their debate on Thursday night, they fielded the abortion question asked through the prism of religion.

“Tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion,” asked the debate moderator, Martha Raddatz of ABC News.

The candidates' responses revealed an almost perfect archetypal contrast in how contemporary Catholics these days relate to their faith, and why what some call “the Catholic vote” is a constituency as deeply divided as the rest of the electorate.

Representative Paul D. Ryan responded first, saying that his views on abortion were guided by his r eligion: “I don't see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do.”

He also invoked a phrase often heard from the church's hierarchy when explaining that the church has come to its anti-abortion position not merely through faith but through “reason and science.”

“You know,” Mr. Ryan said, “I think about 10 1/2 years ago, my wife Janna and I went to Mercy Hospital in Janesville where I was born, for our seven-week ultrasound for our firstborn child, and we saw that heartbeat. A little baby was in the shape of a bean. And to this day, we have nicknamed our firstborn child Liza, ‘Bean.' Now I believe that life begins at conception.”

His answer reflected the heartfelt views of anti-abortion Catholics and evangelicals: that from the moment of conception, you are dealing with a human life, and to abort is to murder. This is the con viction that fuels the anti-abortion movement, which likens stopping abortion to stopping the Holocaust.

When it came his turn, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. took the well-worn path taken by Governor Mario Cuomo of New York. Mr. Biden said that he personally accepts his church's position (he acknowledged it as a “de fide” doctrine, meaning that it is non-negotiable), but would not make it the law of the land.

“I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here,” Mr. Biden said. “I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that - women they can't control their body. It's a decision between them and their doctor.”

This is a position that has been broadly and vehemently condemned by Catholic bishops and Catholic conservatives as an outright violation of church teaching â€" a grave and moral evil. Catholic bishops have repeatedly said it is no t acceptable for Mr. Biden or other Catholic politicians, such as Nancy Pelosi, to say they are Catholic while supporting abortion rights.

A few days ago, Bishop Michael Sheridan in Colorado Springs said in an interview with The Colorado Springs Gazette, that according to canon law, Mr. Biden should not receive holy communion.

“A Catholic politician who publicly espouses positions that are contrary, not just to any teachings of the church, but to serious moral teachings, should not receive holy communion until they recant those positions publicly,” Bishop Sheridan said.

Such proclamations earn cheers from conservative Catholics. But polls over many years have shown that a majority of American Catholics still hold a position closer to that of Vice President Biden: They may have strong personal feelings about abortion, but they do not have the right to impose them in a nation founded on the separation of church and state.