George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), and Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021)
The Catholic rejection of abortion is not a distinctively “Catholic belief” and the bishops have never suggested that it is.
In an article first posted at Commonweal and republished on July 7 in La Croix International, Professor John Thiel of Fairfield University, while criticizing the U.S. bishops’ decision to prepare a teaching document on Eucharistic coherence and integrity in the Church, performed the not-inconsiderable feat of striking out four times (swinging).
The first whiff: “In the judgment of the bishops, Biden’s sin seems to be that, as a Catholic politician, he has not taken a public, political stand against abortion.” Wrong. What the bishops (and Catholics serious about human rights) object to is that the Biden Administration is bending every effort to increase the incidence of abortions at home and abroad. Moreover, the administration, by eliminating from its recent budget request the Hyde Amendment and its prohibition of using tax dollars for abortion “services,” is threatening to implicate conscientious-driven pro-life Americans in its misguided policies.
The objection here is not to a missing statement — “The President isn’t taking the right public stand” — but to specific actions: Led by President Biden, the Administration is promoting and facilitating a grave moral evil — the killing of innocents.
The second whiff: “Biden has stated many times that he considers abortion to be a moral evil. This is his Catholic belief. But…he finds that his personal belief conflicts with the beliefs of other citizens and with the law in a democracy….” Wrong. The Catholic rejection of abortion is not a distinctively “Catholic belief” and the bishops have never suggested that it is. Rather, the bishops have consistently argued that it’s a matter of elementary biology (the product of human conception is a human being and nothing other than a human being) and an elementary principle of justice (innocent life deserves legal protection law in a just society).
You don’t have to believe in the Triune God, the Incarnation of the second Person of the Trinity, the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary or her Assumption to grasp why the abortion license is an evil that should not be permitted in law. Catholic belief in the power of grace (not to mention in the particular and final judgments) may give public officials the courage to withstand political pressure and support a culture of life that offers women in crisis pregnancies something better than abortion. But there is no uniquely Catholic belief ticket to the pro-life position, which is science-based and rational.
The third whiff: “The bishops seem to see the Church as the Donatists did…[as] a Church characterized by a purity that cannot abide the sinful pollution of Biden’s political behavior.” Wrong. While it’s true that the Donatists in mid-first-millennium North Africa believed in a Church of the pure and that their view was rejected by orthodox Catholic teachers like St. Augustine, the key issue in the Donatist controversy was the efficacy of the sacraments, not the purity of the Church. The Donatists demanded that Catholics who had apostatized by various acts of idolatry be re-baptized; Augustine correctly argued that post-baptismal sin, however grave, did not alter the efficacy of baptism, which was a matter of divine grace, not human action.
No one is suggesting that President Biden (or Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or Senator Dick Durbin, or any number of pro-“choice” legislators of both parties) be rebaptized. But the hard fact is that, by actively facilitating a grave moral evil, these men and women have put themselves in a defective state of communion with the Church, such that their own integrity requires that they not present themselves for holy communion — an act that, among other things, suggests that one is in full communion with the Church.
The fourth whiff: “The Church is not a gathering place for the saved but a refuge for sinners…Augustine insisted that…the sacraments possessed a supernatural power that brought sinners to salvation…” The Church is indeed that, and the sacraments indeed have that power. But a brief reflection on Peter’s denials during the Lord’s passion suggests that sinners are saved when they acknowledge their sin. We have all heard the cock crow, more than once. No one urging Catholic public officials to recognize the evil in which they’re involved when they facilitate abortion imagines himself or herself without sin. The bishops don’t, I don’t, and it’s absurd to suggest that any of us do.
We do care for the spiritual welfare of our fellow Catholics caught in the grip of Big Abortion, its propaganda, and its campaign contributions. As fellow-sinners touched by grace, we pray for their deeper conversion to the truth. And we applaud the bishops who call for that conversion by all appropriate means.