Blood on Their Hands: Exposing Pro-abortion Catholic Politicians

 
“Pro-choice” Catholic politicians support abortion mostly for political reasons. The U.S. bishops say this is unacceptable. So why do they accept it?
 
“Do you know what the Negro is?” Leander H. Perez once asked in 1965. “Animals right out [of] the jungle. Passion. Welfare. Easy life. That’s the Negro.” As a state judge and political boss of Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana, Perez was able to enforce his racist views on the county’s 3,000 to 4,000 African-American residents. Because of him, black people essentially couldn’t vote, get decent housing, or even mix with whites. Yet for decades Perez was in full communion with the Catholic Church. After all, Perez had not only helped modernize the rural county with roads and electricity but was a stout anti-Communist, according to historian Glen Jeansonne in Leander Perez: Boss of the Delta.
 
But to New Orleans Archbishop Joseph F. Rummel, racial segregation was an intolerable evil. In 1949 he denounced it as un-Christian, and in 1953 he rebuked Perez and other Catholic segregationists, for keeping the archdiocese’s schools all white. His pastoral letter of that year, “Blessed Are the Peacemakers,” was read aloud in all of the archdiocese’s churches. Perez and his allies didn’t budge. And when the archbishop threatened in 1956 to excommunicate them, they responded in kind, withholding church contributions and staging protest rallies. At one point, a cross was burned on the archbishop’s lawn.
 



By 1962, Rummel had enough. On March 23 he announced that in the fall, the city’s Catholic schools would admit black students. And when Perez and his allies persisted in their opposition, the archbishop delivered the ultimate Church penalty: On April 16, he excommunicated Perez, state senator E. W. Gravolet, and activist B. J. Gaillot. By the fall, 104 black children were admitted to the city’s Catholic schools. By 1968, Perez repented and, after his death in 1969, was given a Catholic burial.
 
More than 40 years later, after the great victories of the civil rights movement, we no longer think of Catholic politicians advocating such evil policies. They seem smart and diverse, not autocratic and racist. Sure, they may be pro-choice but at heart seem committed to social justice. Take Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic Party’s leading nominee for president of the United States. Or Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican on close terms with President George W. Bush.
 
Of course, this gauzy view of politicians, Catholic or otherwise, has always been false. Aside from being fallen human beings, they commit evil for many of the same selfish political motives and with the gross illogic that Perez did. Consider what happened in the U.S. Senate on September 18, 1998, and October 21, 1999, when that body voted on whether to override President Bill Clinton’s veto of a bill to ban partial-birth abortion. In each case the measure fell short, by three votes and four votes, respectively. In each case about a dozen Catholic senators, more than enough to ban the procedure, failed to override the veto.
 
As a result of their votes, at least 2,000 children have died each year since, according to a recent survey by the Alan Guttmacher Institute. Actually “died” is too imprecise a description. Partial-birth abortions are typically done in the fifth and sixth months of pregnancy — but sometimes even later. The abortion is performed by partially delivering the baby (leaving the head in the birth canal) and then puncturing the base of the skull with scissors in order to insert a catheter. The baby’s brain is then sucked out, causing the skull to collapse, killing the child.
 
Can anyone doubt these Catholic politicians have committed grave sin? In November 1998, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released an eloquent pastoral letter, “Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics,” that sharply criticized Catholic politicians for supporting abortion and euthanasia. On January 16, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the USCCB, issued a statement welcoming the doctrinal note issued by the Vatican that denounced Catholic politicians who favor abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, and human cloning. Said Bishop Gregory, “Catholic politicians cannot subscribe to any notion which equates freedom or de­mocracy with a moral relativism that denies these moral principles.” Both of these statements flow naturally from the seriousness the Catholic hierarchy attaches to abortion in particular. As early as 1975, the bishops described the right to life as “among basic human rights.”
 
As for actual penalties, the bishops in 1998 suggested that prohibiting culture-of-death politicians from Catholic institutions might be necessary. And while many prelates have taken this step, many have not. This February when pro-choice Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton was asked to give the homily during Sunday Mass at St. Sabina’s in Chicago, the normally staunch pro-life Francis Cardinal George refused to pull the plug, saying that canceling Sharpton’s visit would “be a futile gesture and a waste of effort.”
 
Needless to say, not all shepherds are leading the flock. Culture-of-death politicians, while denying life every year to thousands of human beings, are themselves not denied use of the sacraments. Like Leander Perez before his repentance, they continue in their sin. Yet unlike him, almost none have had to face a modern-day Archbishop Rummel.
 
The Road Not Traveled
 
The most important political body — when it comes to abortion and cloning — is the 100-member U.S. Senate. Since the early 1980s, the upper chamber has been a veritable graveyard for pro-life legislation, culminating in last year’s failure to ban all forms of human cloning.
 
Throughout this time, about a dozen pro-abortion senators have been Catholics, or at least publicly identify themselves as such. Today there are 15. Five are women. Eight come from the Northeast. Two are Republicans; the other 13 are Democrats.
 
Of this group, the best known is 71-year-old Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, who has served in the Senate since 1962. Al­though he is to conservative Catholics what Jesse Helms was to the Left — which is to say a figure of pure derision — Kennedy was actually once pro-life. As late as 1971, Kennedy wrote, “Human life, even at its earliest stages, has a certain right which must be recognized — the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.”
 
But soon after Roe was handed down in January 1973, according to Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography by journalist Adam Clymer, Kennedy reversed his position. He has gone so far as to support federal funding of abortions and, in 1987, helped defeat a pro-life Supreme Court nominee by resorting to demagoguery (“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced to back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters…”). One can never really know why politicians switch positions on issues, especially on an issue as sensitive as abortion. Still, it’s safe to conclude that Kennedy did so partly out of political expediency — a conscious decision to sell his pro-life soul to gain the world of national Democratic leadership.
 
In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Democratic Party, trying to recover from the disaster of the 1968 convention in Chicago, was undergoing a shift within its leadership ranks. Formerly it had been run largely by the big-city and state political party bosses — men like Chicago’s Mayor Daley and Connecticut’s John Bailey. These groups tended to be working-class, Catholic, and socially conservative. But the McGovern-Fraser Commission (1969 to 1972) — enacted at the Chicago convention as a sop to antiwar students — helped end their rule through a series of internal party reforms. Principally, presidential delegates had to be, more or less equally, women, blacks, and people under 30. As a consequence, states had to greatly elevate the importance of primary elections.
 
Soon, the bosses were replaced by feminists and college-educated professionals — people like Bella Abzug, Ann Wexler, and Gary Hart. Both groups tended to be more diverse in ethnicity and religion and were generally socially liberal. As Kerry told Windsurfer magazine in 1998, “I grew up in college during the civil rights movement, during the early days of the conflict over the war in Vietnam, the environmental movement, and the women’s movement. The movements — being involved, making a difference, committing yourself to something other than just yourself — were a large part of the formative experience that I fell into in my generation…. And that stays with me. It’s a very important component of why I do what I do.” As a result of this leadership shift, the party’s stance on cultural issues changed. While the party was once more pro-life than the Republican Party, that no longer was the case.
 
Many Democrats have since followed Kennedy’s path, and there’s a reason for that: The whole party machinery works against pro-life Democrats who aspire to a national platform. Hollywood and feminist donors don’t give them money. And social liberals and college-educated women won’t back them in a Democratic primary, in which working-class voters — who are more likely to oppose abortion — generally don’t vote.
 
For a northeastern Republican like Collins, the problem is possibly even worse. There aren’t many pro-life voters in Maine and the ones who are pro-life are more likely to be Democrats.
 
Still, as difficult as it is for Democrats and northeastern Republicans to be pro-life, it doesn’t follow that they must support abortion. They do have options. They could stay and fight, trying to carve out a new constituency, as Democratic Senator Zell Miller of Georgia has done. They could seek a lesser office, in which voters don’t penalize a politician’s pro-life stance. They could quit the office, as John F. Kennedy, in his famous September 12, 1960, speech to Houston’s Protestant ministers, suggested. Or most risky of all, they could follow the path of Lyndon Johnson, who despite favoring civil rights personally had to oppose it publicly until the mid-1950s. By then, Johnson had a national reputation as Senate majority leader, and Texas voters didn’t dare kick him out. And so Johnson became the driving force for civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s.
 
Yet pro-abortion Catholic senators have steadfastly avoided these paths and haven’t shown any indication of planning to do otherwise. Instead they argue, poorly, about the separation of church and state and the importance of not imposing one’s religion on others. “I’d say the same thing President Kennedy said — separation of church and state,” Kerry said. What he didn’t mention is that Kennedy in the same speech called for ending U.S. relations with the Vatican, a church-state relationship Kerry presumably supports.
 
‘Conscience Is a Pest’
 
Kerry invoked the words of Kennedy on January 23 at the U.S. Capitol, and he did so by leaning slightly into me, sizing me up briefly, and flashing a half-smile. That night, I ended up talking to five other Catholic senators who supported abortion and human cloning, and each of them had a similarly uneasy response to my questions. This was odd. In the years that I’ve covered Congress for various daily news­papers around the country, House and Senate members have rarely gotten that fidgety, except during President Clinton’s impeachment saga.
 
What made their unease especially striking was the contrast between their discomfort and the Senate’s cheery atmosphere that night. The long-delayed fiscal 2003 federal budget was about to be wrapped up, and the next day was the start of a four-day weekend. In the south side of the Senate where I was stationed, senators could be seen smiling and chatting. Around 7 p.m., the Senate Democrats’ dining room smelled of cheap fish. Spotting Senator Hillary Clinton, one reporter called out, “Hey, can’t we pass a law banning Long John Silver in the Senate?” Clinton, feigning seriousness, said, “You know, I think that’s a good idea.” At 7:35 p.m., as if to underscore the night’s fraternal bonhomie, Bill Clinton himself emerged from an elevator. Grinning broadly, he surveyed the scene and waited for his wife to accompany him to the Senate floor.
 
It was in this atmosphere that Kennedy left at 8:44 p.m. and headed toward the white marble steps. He still retains the Irishman’s thick shock of hair, although his face is puffy and he now waddles. I asked him about the Vatican’s doctrinal note on Catholic politicians. “Well, as I said the other day [at the National Press Club], I take my beliefs, I take my religion very seriously.… My religion has made an enormous difference to my family and my parents,” he said calmly, shuffling down the steps.
 
At this point we were on the first floor, about to head outside. I asked him how he re­conciled his liberal stance on social issues with the bishops’ view of Catholicism. By the time I finished my question, we were past the maple doors and outside, alone, in the cold northeastern winter night. He stopped and turned almost directly toward me. “Look,” he said, displaying that characteristic Ted Kennedy indignation. “I know who I am,” he said, pausing for half a second, “and what I believe.”
 
It was that first comment that hit its mark — rather predictably I conjured up images of his two assassinated brothers and imagined all the grief that he and his family had endured. I suddenly felt as if I had no right to question him. In terms of personal suffering, the gulf between us was as wide as an ocean. He walked away, and after dismissing me with a wave of his left hand, I thought the interview was over. I was wrong. Six or seven yards away and still obviously upset, he said of the bishops, “It’s their problem, not mine.” Turns out his faith isn’t so private after all.
 
While Kennedy was merely disgusted with my questions, Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland was borderline hostile. “I find the Church has an inconsistent view. It talks about abortion, but it never talks about the death penalty,” she said underneath the Capitol, waiting to board a tram to her office. The sheer falsity of her claim was jarring: The pope’s last trip to the United States in 1998 was all about the need to abolish the death penalty. Indeed His Holiness’s plea prompted Mel Carnahan, Missouri’s pro–death penalty governor, to commute one man’s imminent execution.
 
When I asked her about the morality of abortion and cloning, things got worse. “The Church doesn’t have a very good record on child abuse, now does it?” she asked rhetorically. “Well,” I said, “there’s a difference between policy and the execution thereof.” To this, she lowered her head and glowered. “The Church doesn’t have a very good record on child abuse, does it?” After adding the irrelevant point that she was a child-abuse worker for Catholic Charities, she — like Kennedy — waved me away.
 
Mikulski’s reaction wasn’t surprising; staffers regularly rate her as one of the meanest bosses on Capitol Hill. But something about the topic of abortion was stirring up anger even in senators known for their equanimity. Such was the case with Kerry, who can’t exactly afford to annoy reporters nowadays. Not only is he running for his party’s presidential nomination, he’s trying to counter the image of himself as an aloof rich guy. Kerry is tall and lean, with a bushel of gray hair and good looks that give him the appearance of someone vaguely famous. He should be. After attending boarding school in Switzerland, Kerry went to Yale and is now — at 59 — married to Teresa Heinz, the ketchup heiress.
 
Around 8:50 p.m., I saw Kerry just off the Senate floor. Again I asked him about the Vatican’s doctrinal note. “I have not read it,” he admitted. I slipped quickly into an elevator with him, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, and two others. Kerry pointed me to Durbin, another pro-abortion Catholic. “Why don’t you ask him?” Kerry suggested with a nervous smile. “He has a direct line to the Vatican.”
 
Durbin, his expression blank, said nothing.
 
The elevator released us, and I walked with Kerry down the escalator to wait for the tram to his office. “I have to represent all the people in my state, and to tell Jews and Buddhists otherwise…” he said, trailing off.
 
After a pause, he began again. “President Kennedy settled this in 1960.” We got into the tram, and he sat diagonally from me, in part to stretch his long frame. “Abortion should be the last approach for a woman,” he said, seemingly pained by the thought of it. “It should be infrequent, but it should also be available and safe.” We heard this rhetoric in 1992, and while the abortion rate dropped, the procedure remains the most common one performed on women in this country.
 
Kerry and I got off the tram, walked into a foyer, and passed a red brick wall to the elevator. Sensing the end of our interview, I asked him about Bishop Gregory’s remark that one can’t be a good Catholic if one is pro-abortion. “I understand what they’re saying. [But] I would have to say what [former House Speaker] Tip O’Neill said in front of several thousand priests and several thousand nuns: that 68 percent of them support Roe v. Wade. If the bishops can’t do and don’t say anything about that, don’t come to me,” he answered, his voice rising. “You know what I’m saying?”
 
He got off the elevator and disappeared down the darkened second floor of the Russell building. 
Of course he’s right that many Catholic priests and religious are pro-abortion. Still, his statement was at heart insincere. Two nights earlier, Kerry, along with five other Democratic presidential hopefuls, spoke at a dinner hosted by NARAL Pro-Choice America (formerly, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League); the occasion was to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. From an audience of 1,300, Kerry drew cheers when he said, “We are not going to turn back the clock. There is no overturning of Roe v. Wade. There is no packing of courts with judges who will be hostile to choice.”
 
At least Mikulski, Ken­nedy, and Kerry answered questions. Another class of respondents simply refused to discuss the subject. Like Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. Collins also fell into this category. At 8:20 p.m., she walked off the Senate floor. She was wearing a green dress suit and smiled slightly while I introduced myself. But when I asked her about the Vatican’s doctrinal note, the smile disappeared. “I’m not going to comment on that,” she said, getting into an elevator. “May I ask why?” I probed. “I have nothing to say,” she said, the door closing in front of her.
 
Collins’s staff was only slightly more helpful. Her spokeswoman, Felicia Knight, sent an undated five-sentence statement from the senator. After citing the importance of personal liberty and separating church and state, Collins’s statement read: “As a practicing Catholic, I respect the Church’s view that abortion is wrong. As a United States Senator, however, I will not make criminals of those women who do not agree with the Catholic Church’s position on this difficult issue.” There you have it: To Collins, abortion is a religious issue, not a moral one; and even if it is a moral issue, personal liberty is paramount.
 
Anger, hostility, insincerity, and silence — these generally are not what one expects of U.S. senators, even on hot- button topics like abortion and cloning. But in spite of their protests, Mikulski, Reed, and Kerry said they hadn’t even read the doctrinal note. Nor did any of them try the more diplomatic dodge: “I’ve read the document and prayed over it. Still, I must respectful­ly disagree.” So it’s hard to claim that these are the “well-formed conscience(s)” that the Church requires of dissenters. Instead their attitude was summed up best by Kennedy: “It’s their problem, not mine.”
 
Dead Letter Office
 
Until quite recently, the notion of excommunicating or interdicting Catholic politicians who dissent on life issues seemed extreme and, well, medieval. Even at the two recent March for Life rallies in Washington, one rarely saw signs calling for it. But among a few Catholic leaders, the idea has resurfaced.
 
On January 22 the American Life League, the pro-life movement’s firebrand, an­nounced a lobbying campaign to this effect. Aside from vowing to spend between $100,000 and $1 million on newspaper ads, the organization has written letters to twelve bishops and cardinals, each of whom has a pro-choice Catholic senator in his diocese, and urged that they deny the senators Holy Communion. “We have waited patiently for 30 years for Catholic bishops to point out these politicians’ hypocrisy,” President Judie Brown said at a morning press conference held at the National Press Club in downtown Washington. “These human beings have not only brought misery to the Church but are also jeopardizing their immortal souls. It is the job of these priests to bring these people back into line.”
 
Probably the more important announcement came later that day. Bishop William K. Weigand of Sacramento called on pro-choice Catholic politicians like Democratic Governor Gray Davis to refrain from taking Holy Communion. “As your bishop, I have to say clearly that anyone — politician or otherwise — who thinks it is acceptable for a Catholic to be pro-abortion is in very great error, puts his or her soul at risk, and is not in good standing with the Church. Such a person should have the integrity to acknowledge this and choose of his own volition to abstain from receiving Holy Communion until he has a change of heart,” he said at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento.
 
In the late 1980s Bishop Leo Maher of San Diego went even further, excommunicating a pro-choice Catholic state assemblywoman, Lucy Killea. Both Bishops Weigand and Maher’s actions had a solid grounding in Church law. According to Canon Law 915: “Those, upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Indeed canon law, even the updated 1983 version, uses a term that perfectly describes such politicians: “exiles from Christian society.”
 
Some distinguished Cath­olic scholars agree that de­nying the sacraments to cul­­­ture-of-death politicians may be necessary. Monsignor Robert F. Trisco, the editor of Catholic Historical Review and an eminent historian of Vatican-U.S. relations, said that excommunication — while extreme — might be needed here. “I would say a harsh law [abortion rights] requires a harsh response. Perhaps it’s a necessary time to use a harsh penalty. Now that’s easy for me to say sitting here, but Catholics do have a positive obligation to not procure or assist in the procuring of abortion. It’s an automatic ex­commu­nica­tion.” Rev. Ronny Jen­kins, an assistant professor of canon law at the Catholic Univer­-sity of America, agreed. He stressed that Church officials must warn abortion-rights politicians about their im­moral position but that excommunication may need to be used against them. “My personal view is we should always do the good and right, but I have not made…a decision on this.” As such, he said, “Certainly it’s going to take some courage [for the bishops] to carry out these teachings.”
 
Yet other than Bishops Weigand and Maher, the vast majority of U.S. bishops have not shown courage on the issue. Of the twelve Church leaders the American Life League contacted, only one as of late February had responded. Bishop Robert Carlson of South Da­kota said that as far as he can tell, Senate minority leader Tom Daschle rarely attends Mass and doesn’t receive Communion when he does. Daschle spokes­persons did not return several calls for comment. The other eleven Church leaders ignored the letters.
 
None of these politicians has been denied the sacraments. None has been interdicted, that is, they could receive penance and Holy Communion at the time of death but would be barred from a church burial or (in effect) the other sacraments. And obviously none of them has been excommunicated, in which the Christian can no longer attend Mass or receive the sacraments.
 
Why won’t the bishops take these pro-choice Cath­olics to task? The problem doesn’t seem to be halfhearted pro-life support. At this year’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., about 20 top Church officials, from St. Louis to South Carolina, were present. It was a brutally cold day, the wind whipping about with temperatures in the low 20s. After the bishops ap­peared on stage, I happened to track down then- Bishop Daniel Hart of Norwich, Connecticut. I asked him if he considered abortion a greater or lesser social evil than segregation or slavery. He looked me in the eye and shot me a slightly wounded look, as if I had spoken in praise of torture. “I think it’s worse,” he said.
 
But when I asked him whether he would deny Holy Communion to anyone, his body language changed. A beefy six-foot-three and the type of man who looks as if he could chop wood for hours, he grew tentative and resigned. It just so happens that his diocese is the home of pro-choice Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd.
 
“I don’t think it’s good practice to refuse Communion,” he said.
 
“Why not?” I asked.
 
“Well, we don’t refuse Communion. It’s a matter of personal conscience.”
 
“How about giving Communion to, say, a slaveholder?”
 
Bishop Hart looked as­kance at this question. Then he said, “Well, it would be a very rare situation that we would deny Communion to anyone.”
 
“Have you talked to Senator Dodd about his views on abortion and cloning?”
 
“That would be a personal thing,” he said plainly.
 
“Can you think of any circumstances in which Communion would be denied?”
 
Bishop Hart paused. He turned slightly and thought the matter over for about ten seconds. Finally he said, with the air of someone genuinely stumped, “I can’t think of any situation where I would deny Holy Communion.”
 
Bishop Hart’s response is typical of many top U.S. Church officials: They regard one’s personal conscience as paramount, as something that must be honored at nearly all costs. And yet the U.S. bishops in their 1998 pastoral letter criticized pro-choice Catholic politicians for appealing to personal conscience: “Most Americans would recognize the contradiction in this statement, ‘While I am personally opposed to slavery or racism or sexism, I cannot force my personal views on the rest of society.'”
 
And yet isn’t this exactly what the U.S. hierarchy itself is saying? “While we are personally and publicly opposed to abortion or human cloning or euthanasia, we cannot deny Holy Communion to politicians who support and make those evils a reality.”
 
Some theologians have argued that pro-abortion Catholic politicians are guilty merely of “material offense.” In a February 2002 story for the Catholic World Report, canonist Phil Gray, vice president of Catholics United for the Faith, was quoted as saying, “Although having an abortion can result in an excommunication, governmental support for abortion is not a similar offense.” But in some circumstances this is clearly inapplicable. The Senate’s votes in 1998 and 1999 on partial-birth abortion are a good example. Had the dozen or so pro-choice Catholic senators approved the measure, it would have been enacted into law.
 
Other top Church officials oppose sanctioning pro-choice Catholic politicians for social and communal reasons. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver said in an e-mail exchange that he can imagine situations where excommunication is necessary and advised Church officials to warn abortion-rights Catholic politicians, but he was reluctant to deny them Communion:
Most Catholics don’t even know what excommunication means, or why it’s so extremely serious. Penalties are useless — in fact, they’re worse than useless — if they mean nothing to the person penalized, or if the wider Catholic community doesn’t understand them. And that’s really the heart of the problem. The un-Catholic behavior of many of our elected Catholic officials isn’t an isolated illness. They’re exactly the officials we deserve, because at the grassroots, too many rank and file Catholics have become more devout Americans than they are believers. Should we excommunicate them, too? It isn’t that simple. We have a deep and widespread faith problem in this country just below the surface of our church attendance. Until that’s addressed, not much will change.
To be sure, Archbishop Chaput laid out a commonsensical and spiritually necessary way for Church officials to deal with dissident Catholic politicians. “The first step, and probably the second, third, and fourth step, is for a bishop to speak with the politician privately,” he wrote. “Persuasion almost always works better than coercion — that’s just human nature.”
 
But when persuasion fails — repeatedly — isn’t coercion then necessary?
 
Be Ye Men of Valor
 
The bishops’ leadership on this issue in many ways has been exemplary — from their new ad campaign to supporting crisis pregnancy centers to abortion grief groups. And it will surely be argued that given the sex-abuse scandal, now is an especially bad time for bishops to be holding politicians morally and publicly accountable.
 
But such rhetoric must retreat in the face of the 1.3 million abortions performed every year — 43 million since 1973. Through their support of the horrors of abortion, the souls of countless Catholic politicians are in danger.
 
Despite conventional wisdom that has the bishops constantly thundering about abortion, the opposite is true. Recall Archbishop Rummel’s war on segregation. In 1953 he required every church in the diocese to read his pastoral letter. By contrast, Catholic prelates today generally confine their message to diocesan newspapers and pro-life groups. As Ray Flynn, former two-term mayor of Boston and ambassador to the Vatican, said, “Bishop Gregory’s statement, as positive and sincere as it is, didn’t get followed up much in the press or in the Catholic press. When I ran for mayor in 1983, I went to 76 mayoral debates or meetings. It wasn’t one meeting that people understood my message; it was all of them collectively. So you have to drive the message home consistently and with repetition. That’s the only way people learn. It’s not enough for the U.S. Catholic bishops to attend a conference and issue a statement.”
 
If more American Catholic prelates decide to challenge their local culture-of-death Catholic politicians, they’ll need courage. Unlike the battle for desegregation — which had the support of Hollywood, the media, the universities, and the courts — the pro-life war has only the White House, one branch of Congress, and two Christian denominations.
 
Yet this is all the more reason why every cardinal and bishop must expose this evil. And if that involves warning and denying the sacraments to culture-of-death Catholic politicians, so be it. As the bishops have already written, challenging these politicians isn’t voluntary. It’s a duty and a pastoral responsibility.
 
“We get the public officials we deserve,” they wrote five years ago. “Their virtue — or lack thereof — is a judgment not only on them, but on us.”

Mark Stricherz

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Mark Stricherz is the author of Why the Democrats Are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People's Party.

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