The Evangelization Station

Best Catholic Links

Search this Site




Mailing List

Pray for Pope Francis

Scroll down for topics

100+ Important Documents in United States History


Apostolic Fathers of the Church

Articles Worth Your Time

 Biographies & Writings of Notable Catholics

Catholic Apologetics

Catholic Calendar

Catholic News Commentary by Michael Voris, S.T.B.

Catholic Perspectives

Catholic Social Teaching


Church Around the World

Small animated flag of The Holy See (State of the Vatican City) graphic for a white background

Church Contacts

  Church Documents

Church History

Church Law

Church Teaching


Doctors of the Church



(Death, Heaven, Purgatory, Hell)

Essays on Science


Fathers of the Church

Free Catholic Pamphlets

 Heresies and Falsehoods

How to Vote Catholic

Let There Be Light

Q & A on the Catholic Faith

Links to Churches and Religions

Links to Newspapers, Radio and Television

Links to Recommended Sites

Links to Specialized Agencies

Links to specialized Catholic News services


General Instruction of the Roman Missal


Marriage & the Family

Modern Martyrs

Mexican Martyrdom

Moral Theology


Pope John Paul II's

Theology of the Body

Movie Reviews (USCCB)

New Age


Parish Bulletin Inserts

Political Issues

Prayer and Devotions



Hope after Abortion

Project Rachel


Help & Information for Men


Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults




The Golden Legend


Vocation Links & Articles


What the Cardinals believe...

World Religions

Pope John Paul II

In Memoriam

John Paul II


Pope Benedict XVI

In Celebration

Visits to this site

Catholic confusions in the Congress   


On May 10, forty-eight Members of the U.S. House of Representatives all Catholics, all Democrats, forty-five pro-choice, three pro-life wrote Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, chairman of the bishops' "Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians." Their letter bespoke a host of confusions about the nature of the abortion issue, the responsibilities of legislators, and Church law.

One confusion has to do with the public character of the abortion license, which the Members described repeatedly as a matter of "personal morality." This is precisely wrong. Abortion, as the bishops have consistently taught, is a matter of the fifth commandment, not the sixth; it's a question of public justice, not sexual morals. Why? Because abortion involves taking the life of an indisputably human creature, endowed with an inalienable right to life. That is a serious public matter, not a private choice, because protecting innocent life is one of the first requirements of justice in any decent society.

Roe v. Wade (the 1973 Supreme Court decision that tried to justify abortion via an alleged "right to privacy") and Casey v. Planned Parenthood (the 1992 decision that re-tooled the abortion license as a "liberty right") were both wrongly decided just as Dred Scott v. Sandford, the 1857 decision declaring African-Americans legal non-persons, was wrongly decided. As the Pope, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the U.S. bishops have all taught and as any reputable theory of justice would confirm legislators who have sworn to uphold the rule of law, but who recognize that the Supreme Court has made a grave error, have certain responsibilities; they can't simply wash their hands of the affair, on the grounds that, well, the Court has settled the issue.

To begin with, legislators have an obligation to state publicly that the Court got it wrong. In their letter, the Members justified pro-choice voting records on the grounds that "the Supreme Court has declared that our Constitution provides women with a right to an abortion." Anyone truly opposed to abortion would immediately continue, "But the Court, sadly, was wrong. Tragically and lethally wrong."

Secondly, conscientious legislators have a moral obligation to try to limit the damage caused by bad Supreme Court decisions. Some of the Members who wrote Cardinal McCarrick have done so; most have not. Moreover, few of the signatories have made any serious effort to change the dynamics within the Democratic Party, in which unabashed support for the abortion license is the litmus test for national office and the litmus test for weighing judicial nominees. This suggests that most of these Members are not working, as any morally serious legislator must, to reverse the Court's wrongheaded abortion decisions which is the third requirement for lawmakers in situations like post-Roe v. Wade America.

The Members also mistakenly invoke Father John Courtney Murray, SJ, in defense of their attempt to describe abortion as an issue of "private" morality not subject to legal regulation. Murray (who died in almost six years before Roe) was dubious about the wisdom of the Church defending state laws that criminalized the sale of contraceptives. But contraception, while a serious sin with grave cultural implications, is, in essence, a matter of conjugal morality and the sixth commandment; abortion is a matter of public justice and the fifth commandment. That's the distinction Murray would likely draw, not the one suggested by the Members.

Finally, the Members misrepresent canon law and the purpose of canonical penalties. Canon 915 states that those who "obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion." The application of this canon to present circumstances is being vigorously debated throughout the United States (and in Rome) right now. The debate would be a wiser one if everyone understood (as the forty-eight Members of Congress evidently do not) that canonical penalties have a different aim than penalties in civil and criminal law. The purpose of canonical penalties is remedial, even medicinal: imposing a penalty is intended, not so much as a punishment, but as a prod to conversion. The aim is not retribution, but change of heart and mind.

The Members' letter did not, alas, advance an important debate. It muddied the waters even further.



George Weigel. "Catholic confusions in the Congress." The Catholic Difference (June 23, 2004).

Reprinted with permission of George Weigel.

George Weigel's column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Phone: 303-715-3123.


George Weigel, a Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Roman Catholic theologian and one of America's leading commentators on issues of religion and public life. Weigel is the author or editor of sixteen books, including The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God (2005), Letters to a Young Catholic: The Art of Mentoring (2004), The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church (2002), and The Truth of Catholicism: Ten Controversies Explored (2001).

George Weigel's major study of the life, thought, and action of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (Harper Collins, 1999) was published to international acclaim in 1999, and translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Czech, Slovenian, Russian, and German. The 2001 documentary film based on the book won numerous prizes. George Weigel is a consultant on Vatican affairs for NBC News, and his weekly column, "The Catholic Difference," is syndicated to more than fifty newspapers around the United States.

Copyright 2004 George Weigel



Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved