Thinking Catholic with Mike Pence

mike-penceThe Vice-Presidential debate provided a perfectly articulated argument for the traditional Catholic view of a politician’s obligation regarding abortion. Ironically, if unsurprisingly, it was not expressed by Catholic Tim Kaine, but instead by Evangelical Mike Pence. Here is what Pence said:

What I can’t understand is [how you can] support a practice like partial-birth abortion. I mean, to hold to the view . . . that a child that is almost born into the world could still have their life taken from them is just anathema to me . . . I have appreciated the fact that you’ve supported the Hyde amendment, which bans the use of taxpayer funding for abortion, in the past, but that’s not Hillary Clinton’s view . . . We can come together as a nation. We can create a culture of life. More and more young people today are embracing life because we know we are . . . better for it. [As] Mother Teresa said at that famous national prayer breakfast, a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable, the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn. I believe it with all my heart.

Kaine offered, in contrast, the familiar notion that elected officials should not let their personal moral convictions influence their voting:

But we [Kaine and Hillary] really feel like you should live fully and with enthusiasm the commands of your faith. But it is not the role of the public servant to mandate that for everybody else. . . We support Roe v. Wade. We support the constitutional right of American women to consult their own conscience, their own supportive partner, their own minister, but then make their own decision about pregnancy. [Emphasis added]

Where did Kaine get that idea? From Cardinal Richard James Cushing, a close friend of the Kennedy family who, by giving his blessing to the idea, enabled several generations of Catholic politicians to deny fundamental Catholic teaching in the name of Catholicism.  (For a fuller explanation, see Philip F. Lawler, The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture, 2010).

For example, New York Governor Mario Cuomo based his influential 1984 Notre Dame speech, “Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor’s Perspective” on Cushing’s idea. And Ted Kennedy used the idea as his rationale for becoming the Senate’s most vocal supporter of the abortion lobby.

It should be noted that Cardinal Cushing argued for keeping personal moral judgments from governing legislative decisions only in the matter of contraception. He believed it was inappropriate and even immoral for Catholics to make that Catholic teaching binding on non-Catholics. That was a perfectly reasonable view. The error lay in the application of the argument (apparently without Cushing’s objection) to the very different matter of abortion.

The difference between contraception and abortion is that the latter destroys a human fetus—that is, a living organism that, though not completely developed, is inarguably completely human. Many liberal Catholics like Kaine acknowledge this scientific fact but balk at admitting that a human fetus is a “person.” Yet as Professor of Moral Theology William E. May notes, “In [the Catholic] understanding of the human person no distinction is made between a human being and a human person. All human beings are persons.”

If, as Catholics believe, a human fetus is a person, then he/she deserves the full protection of the law, according to the 14th amendment to the Constitution: “. . . Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Moreover, since the oath of office obliges elected officials to uphold the Constitution, they have a legal and moral duty to uphold the rights of all persons, including those not yet born. What the elected officials personally believe or don’t believe in no way diminishes this responsibility.

There have been well over 55 million abortions in the United States since the passing of Roe v Wade in 1973. This fact is testimony to the fallacious and cavalier thinking that has guided liberals and was on prominent display in Tim Kaine’s debate performance.

Evangelical Mike Pence’s understanding of Catholic teaching on abortion is a tribute to him and a rebuke to Kaine and other liberal Catholics. My hope is that his example will lead them to rediscover the insights of their own religion concerning the greatest scandal of our age.

Copyright © 2016 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved