Kmiec on Korzen, Kelly and Chaput – A Matter of Priorities

“Catholic Answers: Two books for voters who take their faith seriously”– Doug Kmiec, who has lately become something of a poster-boy and spokesman for ‘Catholics for Obama’, reviews Archbishop Chaput’s Render unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (Doubleday, 2008) and A Nation for All How the Catholic Vision of the Common Good Can Save America from the Politics of Division , by Chris Korzen and Alexia Kelley.

As to be expected, Kmiec finds a sympathetic ear in Korzen & Kelley, given their assertion that Catholics have become ‘preoccupied’ with abortion to the subordination of peace, the environment and welfare:

In a thoughtful chapter on issues of church and state, Korzen and Kelley demonstrate how emphasizing anti-Roe strategies alone sits uneasily with the church’s promise of religious freedom to all in Vatican II’s Dignitatis humanae (1965). Catholic social doctrine, they write, quoting Benedict XVI’s Deus caritas est, “has no intention of giving the church power over the state. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith.” And quoting John Paul II’s Evangelium vitae, Korzen and Kelley note that “when it is impossible to overturn or repeal a law allowing abortion which is already in force…an elected official…[may] support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law.” To reduce abortion they suggest providing health care and economic assistance to women and families, robust alternatives such as support for adoption and appropriate and effective sex education for young people, and a host of other policy measures that have proved capable of reducing the abortion rate in the United States and around the world. Thanks to the efforts of Sen. Obama, much of that language is now in the Democratic Party platform.

As I’ve contended elsewhere, I think it is a mistake on the part of Korzen and Kelly to frame the abortion debate as a chiefly “religious” issue — and Roe v. Wade as involving one’s “religious freedom.” As Dr. Robert P. George observed, this is a fairly commmon tactic among those who advocate unrestricted access to abortion:

It was Justice Harry Blackmun who claimed in his opinion for the Court legalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade (1973) that “at this point in man’s knowledge” the scientific evidence was inconclusive and therefore cold not determine the outcome of the case. And twenty years later, the influential pro-choice writer Ronald Dworkin went on record claiming that the question of abortion is inherently “religious.” (See Ronald Dworkin, Life’s Dominion(Alfred A. Knopf, 1993).) It is pro-choice advocates, such as Dworkin, who want to distinguish between when a human being comes into existence “in the biological sense” and when a human being comes into existence “in the moral sense.” It is they who want to distinguish a class of human beings “with rights” from pre-(or post-) conscious human beings who “don’t have rights.” And the reason for this, I submit, is that, short of defending abortion as “justifiable homicide,” the pro-choice position collapses if the issue is to be settled purely on the basis of scientific inquiry into the question of when a new member of homo sapiens comes into existence as a self-integrating organism whose unity, distinctiveness, and identity remain intact as it develops without substantial change from the point of its beginning through the various stages of its development and into adulthood.

As Catholics we believe in the sanctity of human life — but this is not to say that the proposition that innocent human beings deserve protection under the law, particularly those in the womb unable to defend themselves can be seriously engaged by anybody.

Catholic conservatives would readily concur that we should — beyond the prohibition of abortion and the legal recognition of the unborn — strive to reduce abortion by other socio-economic means. However, in appealing to Evangelium Vitae in defense of the Democratic Party’s platform, they skip over the Holy Father’s admonition that:

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection

In fact, one would be hard-pressed to square Catholic support for Obama on this matter given his stated intention to pass The Freedom of Choice Act, which — as Cardinal Rigali recently warned — “if enacted, would obliterate virtually all the gains of the past 35 years and cause the abortion rate to skyrocket.”

Chaput asserts that in order for Catholics may vote for a pro-choice candidate, they must have a reason of such gravity that “with an honest heart, expect unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions-as we someday will.” Kmiec laments:

That is indeed a high threshold; unfortunately Chaput applies it only to the cultural methods of promoting life usually favored by Democrats. Of course, voting for a “prolife” candidate does not guarantee that he will appoint Supreme Court justices who accept the church’s natural-law arguments against abortion. Nor does it mean that anti-Roe appointees will be approved by what is sure to be a Democratic Congress. Is a Catholic voter supposed to overlook how the Republican Party has failed to deliver Roe’s reversal in thirty-five years? Given that political reality, how could “voting prolife” in that narrow and unsuccessful sense be a sufficient explanation to the victims of abortion?

Several points of criticism here:

Despite Kmiec’s appreciation for Chaput’s “well-constructed, thoughtful, and accessible arguments” and “impressive command of church documents and literature,” he is disappointed by the fact that “apart from the issue of abortion and related sexual matters, most of the social gospel that dominates Korzen and Kelley’s book is absent from Chaput’s.”

Korzen and Kelley argue that the GOP’s claim that voting for anti-Roe candidates is the way to vote Catholic has hampered a fuller presentation of the church’s social teaching. Does Chaput make their point for them?

Perhaps, perhaps not. I think if you asked Chaput directly, he would counter:

“Obviously, we have other important issues facing us this fall: the economy, the war in Iraq, immigration justice. But we can’t build a healthy society while ignoring the routine and very profitable legalized homicide that goes on every day against America’s unborn children. The right to life is foundational. Every other right depends on it. Efforts to reduce abortions, or to create alternatives to abortion, or to foster an environment where more women will choose to keep their unborn child, can have great merit—but not if they serve to cover over or distract from the brutality and fundamental injustice of abortion itself. We should remember that one of the crucial things that set early Christians apart from the pagan culture around them was their rejection of abortion and infanticide. Yet for thirty-five years I’ve watched prominent “pro-choice” Catholics justify themselves with the kind of moral and verbal gymnastics that should qualify as an Olympic event. All they’ve really done is capitulate to Roe v. Wade.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t end this without mentioning Amy Welborn’s magnificent demolishing of the “You know, the anti-abortion movement just has to get over its fixation with overturning Roe and put its effort into reducing abortion”criticism . . . which just so happens to be Kmiec’s, Korzen’s and Kelly’s. If you haven’t already, I greatly recommend it.