Catholic Teachings - Compromise or Principle

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By Patrick Delaney
American Life League

On January 9 of 2003, a Zenit news report announced the forthcoming release of a new document from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The report stated that the document would focus on questions "such as whether it is morally permissible to vote for a law that accepts abortion, with restrictions, as an alternative to a more-permissive law in force or about to be voted on."

Though at first glance this particular moral question may appear peripheral in importance, its implications are significant. While a complete discussion of this question is beyond the scope of this article, we can provide an adequate outline in the format provided here.

Some Background
Sadly, for well over 30 years, the pro-life movement has been divided over the moral and practical efficacy of supporting laws that provide for some restrictions on abortion, yet explicitly violate the inherent right to life of at least some preborn children.

The most prominent examples of this phenomenon include the almost institutionalized insertion of "exceptions in the cases of rape, incest," and when the "life of the mother" is allegedly at risk. These exceptions regularly accompany "pro-life" bills in Congress and state legislatures and are defended by pragmatist pro-lifers (for lack of a better label) as the most efficient means to save the maximum number of lives under our given circumstances.

Others, however, see a grave problem with this strategy. Total protection pro-life advocates have countered that permitting "exceptions" in the law sacrifices the fundamental truth that all innocent human life is inviolable. Indeed, part of the rationalization of the Roe v. Wade decision depended upon the fact that the state of Texas permitted abortion when the life of the mother was allegedly at risk. The Supreme Court reasoned that since the defendant state permitted such killings in exceptional circumstances, it must not recognize the preborn as persons in the legal sense. If the preborn are not persons endowed with human rights, then the privacy rights of the mother hold supremacy and all preborn non-persons become subject to potential slaughter.

This example shows how just one rationalized exception destroys the entire natural moral order. One exception to an absolute moral norm affirms the moral relativism espoused by the culture of death and the lie that the civil government need not honor its basic purpose of preventing the shedding of innocent blood. Indeed, exceptions in the law, or attached to the so-called credentials of "pro-life" politicians, formally reject any external limits to the power of government by professing that civil law can legitimately deprive little preborn boys and girls, or anybody else for that matter, of their inherent right to life. Just one exception proclaims the "enlightenment" harangue to the culture at large that "God is dead!"

Total protection advocates have reasonably concluded that such deadly compromises of fundamental truth are not "pro-life" and have served to affirm moral relativism in the culture (i.e. "choice"), thereby prolonging the abortion tragedy and vastly increasing the death toll of children.

The Primary Focus of Debate
Despite such protests, pragmatists have sought to defend their position by citing one particular teaching of John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae. In section 73 of that encyclical, the Holy Father states,

When it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality.

With good intentions, no doubt, pragmatists have taken this provision to mean the "proposals" in question could explicitly deprive certain segments of the human family of their right to life through "exceptions," so long as the proposals were judged to be "limiting the harm" and "lessening the negative consequences" of a present law.

In addition to the many arguments above, total protection advocates have responded by showing how "incremental" proposals are permissible so long as they do not contradict fundamental moral norms. An example would include a clean partial-birth abortion ban without any exceptions. These advocates cite the vast teachings of the Catholic Church that require every civil law to conform to natural and divine law. They have maintained that this qualification in EV 73 is not open to violating moral norms that do not permit exceptions.

Doctrinal Note Released
On January 16 of 2003, the CDF document titled Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life was released. It treats a variety of subjects with a unified theme of combating the contemporary "cultural relativism" that advocates "ethical pluralism," namely, the rejection of fundamental truth as "the very condition for democracy."

In treating the (exact) excerpted passage from EV cited above, the CDF clearly settles the dispute between the pragmatist and total protection camps with the following qualification:

In this context, it must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.

In the context of attempting to limit the harm of a current permissive law, a proposal that contains exceptions (thereby explicitly permitting some child killing in civil law) does contradict "the fundamental contents of faith and morals." No king, emperor, dictator, president, Supreme Court or legislator has the rightful authority to sanction or permit such an atrocity under any circumstances in the law; and a "well-formed Christian conscience" is not permitted to vote for it. It must therefore be concluded that lethal exceptions can never be supported nor voted for in any legislation.

Now that the highest moral authority has issued this clarification, one of the sad sources of division in the pro-life movement can now be relegated to the scrap heap of past theological uncertainty.

After 30 years of compromise in legislative and political efforts, and virtually complete failure in achieving even the slightest progress toward a restoration of personhood for the preborn, the pro-life movement should now be able to put this division behind and focus its full unified resources on restoring objective moral principles in the law, particularly the personhood of every child from the moment of conception.

This clarification by the Holy See has shed light on the first priority of Christians, who are called to participate in the political life of democratic societies. This first priority is not to "save lives" by means of compromising fundamental truth. Such a strategy has proven itself incapable of achieving its own goals. Our primary objective is to restore fundamental truth in the law. For, as this Doctrinal Note declares, democracy "must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society."

Should we choose to accept our Christian calling to restore non-negotiable ethical principles in the law, there is just one basic requirement: that we refuse to negotiate or compromise fundamental moral principles in any way.

Imagine a massive Christian moral movement that refuses to compromise the natural law's "non-negotiable ethical principles." Should any politician of any party favor just one abortion, for example, or support the funding of contraceptive and abortifacient programs, such a pro-life movement would refuse to render him or her one vote, one dime of support, or any appearance of credibility in their publications or media. Indeed, such a candidate would rightfully be considered disqualified from holding public office or receiving one Christian or "pro-life" endorsement because his or her own stated policies are an attack on God and man.

This Doctrinal Note goes on to state that when "political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation ... Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law." Never again should Christians support legislation that permits abortion in any way, for such legislative efforts serve to reinforce moral relativism undermining the essence of the moral law.

Finally, in affirming this mission, the Holy See declares "Catholic involvement in political life cannot compromise" on the "correct understanding of the human person," because "otherwise the witness of the Christian faith in the world, as well as the unity and interior coherence of the faithful, would be non-existent." Supporting candidates for public office who favor abortion in "exceptional" cases, along with the massive funding of contraceptive and abortifacient programs does "compromise" the "correct understanding of the human person" and fracture "the witness of the Christian faith in the world, as well as the unity and interior coherence of the faithful."

Even when the morally relativist culture of death attempts to divide and conquer by orchestrating two major political options through all of its means of public propaganda, the Church, which speaks on behalf of Jesus Christ Himself, instructs us that we "cannot compromise." Our Divine Lord would never vote for a bill or candidate for public office that supported a little abortion, because He could not support the contradiction of His own Divine Law - which is His Very Self. Neither should members of His Mystical Body support laws or candidates that permit just one abortion of the least of Our Lord's brethren. As taught consistently throughout Sacred Scripture, it is the faithful, non-compromising adherence to Truth that brings about God's blessings of victory.

Therefore, in politics and legislation, the clarity provided in this new Doctrinal Note strongly encourages a new boldness in the pro-life efforts of the faithful. Christians are called to be united in defending and demanding recognition of the natural moral law, never compromising its non-negotiable precepts. In doing so, we will be conforming our political efforts to objective truth and the grace of God's Providential Will for the structuring of society. Such faithful adherence to truth can only evoke the grace of Jesus Christ Who is the Truth Himself, permitting Him to transform our society; end the daily bloodshed of the innocents; and build a culture of justice, love and life.