Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The President is not the Pope

The Church is not The State
Viva la difference!

Orlando syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker is one of the few common sense conservatives left, along with David Brooks; only my mother is ahead of both in that field. She recently offered a well-intentioned tribute to Mary Ann Glendon, who declined to accept a medal from Notre Dame on the same platform where President Barack Obama had been invited to speak.

Parker respectfully suggests that Obama withdraw as commencement speaker. I hope he doesn't. If he does speak, I hope he will openly and honestly take on the Roman bishops and others who have insinuated that he is not fit to be honored by a Roman Catholic university, rather than tactfully ignore the elephant on the stage).

If Barack Hussein Obama had ever had an abortion, or performed an abortion, the bishops would have an undeniably valid point. Roman teaching condemns both, as is any church's well established First Amendment right in this nation. Being neither a woman, nor a doctor, nor even a back-alley abortionist, he has done neither. If Obama had ever paid for a woman he impregnated to have an abortion, the point would still be valid. As far as we know, his procreation is limited to two beautiful daughters by his lawful married wife, who is not known to have ever had an abortion. She may have used contraception, which is also in violation of Roman teaching, generally ignored by a majority of American Roman Catholics. If he had ever used his bully pulpit as president to say "I advise any pregnant woman to seriously consider having an abortion, so I can balance the federal budget" the grounds for condemnation would be even greater.

All Barack Obama has ever done, as state senator, U.S. senator, or president, is to affirm that he will have no part of re-imposing criminal sentences on women or doctors for pre-viability abortions, or for late-term abortions where a woman's life is endangered. What the bishops really complain of is that they are making no headway with their church's real agenda: restoration of severe prison sentences (or maybe even executions) for those who seek or perform abortions. The bishops may also be frustrated that so many American Catholics are ignoring their injunctions, but if they are understandably hesitant to excommunicate such a large portion of their flock, why do they expect the secular arm of the state to step in?

The tempest in a teacup about Notre Dame inviting the president to speak at commencement is part and parcel of an ominous, but blessedly futile, campaign of blackmail waged by the church for many decades. In my home state of Wisconsin, known for its progressives and its neanderthals (LaFollette, McCarthy, Feingold, Thompson, all earning substantial support from the large Roman Catholic population) bishops have been known to threaten state legislators of the Roman faith with excommunication for failing to advance the church's legislative agenda. Frankly, that borders on treason, or at the very least, coercion of a public official in the performance of their duties, also a criminal offense.

To paraphrase Parker's own critique of the presidential debate sponsored last year by Rick Warren, America is the loser when a hierarchical church can claim that elected public servants should toe the church's party line in performing the duties of their public office. If our constitution provided that each religion and denomination was entitled to elect representatives to a legislative chamber, then of course the church would have a right to expect its representatives to vote as the church directed. But we don't. Legislators represent their district, or their state, in its entirety, not their bishops and priests.

If the bishops keep it up, a reprint of Paul Blanshard's well-documented book, American Democracy and Catholic Power, might well be in order. They are doing everything possible to justify Blanshard's critique of the church.

I have no problem with pro-life individuals, churches, and voluntary associations loudly and persistently (and hopefully graciously) proclaiming their beliefs and principles to the world in general, and to pregnant women (not to mention practicing physicians) in particular. NARAL has no claim to a monopoly on free speech. It is not misogyny to offer a sincere viewpoint that from the moment of conception, an independent human life deserving of full legal protection has been formed. I happen to disagree with that premise, but it is my job to sustain my belief, not to suppress those who differ. I do not believe that a newly fertilized zygote is a human being, nor a blastocyst, nor an embryo. Neither did Thomas Aquinas, nor St. Thomas More. At some point between embryo and delivery, a fetus deserves some protection, although no government authority has the right to require a woman to sacrifice her own life, if pregnancy does endanger it. Removing from the mother's womb, with due regard for the mother's safety, a baby which could survive on its own, is without doubt a delivery, not an abortion, and should be conducted as such.

Mary Ann Glendon is, no doubt, acting honestly and according to her own conscience. I would have viewed her invitation in a different light. Notre Dame's president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, may have been trying to say, we can honor a political leader, who is not a Roman Catholic, and not accountable to the church for fidelity to church doctrine, for inspired leadership within the scope of his public office, while also affirming church teaching by honoring a distinguished Roman Catholic whose life exemplifies those teachings.