On abortion, two revolutions have now happened. The first is the Dobbs decision overturning the invented “constitutional” right to abortion of Roe v. Wade and restoring democracy by returning the issue after fifty years to “the people and their elected representatives.” The second is that abortion as a political issue has changed in a fundamental and national way. Roe was a judicial decision that was enforced by the Supreme Court in the twenty abortion decisions since 1972 by having private plaintiffs, women or abortion clinics primarily, going into federal court to have state laws overturned. Since there was and still is no federal abortion statute, the federal government had no primary or effective role. Now abortion is a primary electoral and legislative issue at both the federal and state levels.
Dobbs unleashed a dramatic expansion of the status of abortion in the Democratic Party, an expansion that had already been growing in recent years after that party’s former “safe, legal, and rare” stance in its party platform of 2004. The party has now made the calculated decision to make support for abortion a major issue in the fall Congressional elections. And the Kansas abortion vote would seem to endorse that decision. In the summer of 2022, a critical and probably definitive election year, abortion is proclaimed by the media-academic-Democratic-corporate complex as essential to a meaningful modern life and as grounded, according to Justice Breyer in his Dobbs dissent, in principles of what “it means to be an American.”
This new, fortified, and national abortion movement is being led by two Catholics: President Joe Biden and the person constitutionally second in line to the presidency, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Restabilizing the country
During a press conference at a NATO meeting in Spain on June 29, President Biden said the “outrageous” Dobbs decision was doing nothing less than “destabilizing” the country and asserted that “[t]his fall, Roe is on the ballot.” One month after the release of Dobbs, Biden nominated the lawyer for the abortion clinic involved in the Dobbs case to be a federal appellate judge. He has directed the Department of HHS to “protect access to” the abortion drug, mifepristone. On July 8, Biden issued an executive order requiring the federal government to institute multiple protections for abortion and “reproductive rights” in federal health law. Biden said that, “Doing so is essential to justice, equality, and our health, safety, and progress as a Nation.” The same order provided for the creation of the Interagency Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access. In a direct repudiation of the Court’s decision to return abortion to “the people and their elected representatives,” the Justice Department on August 2 filed a lawsuit against the state of Idaho’s restrictive “trigger” abortion law about to be put into effect. On August 3, Biden signed a second executive order allowing states to use Medicaid to subsidize interstate travel for abortions. The same order specified that the Interagency Task Force shall include no fewer than nine of the executive departments as well as other executive agencies – i.e., the involvement of the entire federal executive branch. On August 8, the White House hosted a meeting of Vice President Harris with “Latina state legislators” for the purpose of promoting abortion in the states.
Indeed, the new and expanded abortion movement is now international and led by the United States. Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, calling Dobbs a “cruel, dark, and dangerous decision,” said on June 24, the day of the decision, that the Biden administration will be “defending the rights of women and girls both at home and abroad” including at “the UN and in our foreign assistance.” She added that she had already “traveled the globe advocating for women’s rights.” Two days after the release of the Dobbs decision, U.S Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that “we’re going to continue to do the work that we’re doing around the world to advance access to reproductive health services for women and girls around the world.” He was in Germany at a G7 conference when he made the statement. Foreign leaders including Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada (“horrific”) and Boris Johnson (“backward step”) of England have taken the unusual steps of vociferously criticizing another country’s domestic law.
In his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden had laid heavy importance on his Catholicity: “I’m a practicing Catholic.” That kind of religious emphasis in a campaign for public office was essentially unprecedented in modern American history – or prior history. Devout Christian Jimmy Carter did not make his Christianity a central part of his political message. His faith was something he used to explain himself personally. But for three years now, Biden’s “rosary beads” have been referred to in the media again and again. “Joe Biden’s Agenda for the Catholic Community” (no longer available online) was a separate section of his campaign platform. And indeed, that section specifically listed Catholic issues on immigration, climate change, Pope Francis’ Laudatio Si, and workers’ rights, but not abortion. Biden’s Catholicity may have been politically decisive in his 2020 election. A majority of Catholics voters went for Biden, and that could have made the difference, especially in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
In June of this year, an AP/NORC poll found that 64 percent of American Catholics agreed that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, dramatically different from Evangelical Protestants, of whom only 25 percent agreed. And 60 percent of Catholics who attend church “at least monthly” think that Catholic pro-abortion politicians should not be denied Communion. But a Pew Research Center poll in 2020 found that 67 percent of Catholics “who attend Mass weekly or more often” think that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.
Immediately after the November 2020 presidential election, D.C.’s Cardinal Gregory said that he would not deny Biden Communion concerning his advocacy of abortion but would continue in “dialogue” with him and “discover areas where we can cooperate that reflect the social teachings of the church.” He has not changed his position since. Likewise, Jesuit Fr. Pat Conroy, who was the chaplain of the whole House of Representatives (not just for Catholic members) from 2011-2021, stated to the Washington Post on January 5 of this year that choice about abortion and other matters is “a Catholic value.” In June 2021, sixty Catholic Democrat members of the House of Representatives, citing Pope Francis among other authorities, had issued a joint formal statement endorsing “safe and legal access to abortion.”
Another unprecedented and national expansion of abortion advocacy is the new commitment of corporations after Dobbs to pay for out-of-state travel expenses for employees seeking abortions. Among the giant corporations that have pledged to do so are Amazon, Bank of America, Citigroup, Hewlett Packard, Kroger, JPMorgan Chase, Proctor and Gamble, Walmart, and Walt Disney.
Nancy Pelosi and the Gospel of Matthew
On May 19, two weeks after the tentative Dobbs majority opinion was leaked from the Supreme Court, Archbishop Cordileone, the bishop of the diocese that includes Speaker Pelosi’s Congressional district, sent a letter to her forbidding her from receiving Communion in the diocese. Quoting from the section of the Second Vatican Council’s Gaudiam et Spes (51) on “the Nobility of Marriage and the Family” and its teaching that “abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes,” and citing Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Ratzinger) on the application of this teaching to “lawmaking bodies” and “a Catholic politician,” he held that “A Catholic legislator who supports procured abortion, after knowing the teaching of the Church, commits a manifestly grave sin which is a cause of most serious scandal to others.” Therefore, universal Church law provides that such persons “are not to be admitted to Holy Communion,” quoting Canon Law 915. He said further that he had sent a previous letter on April 7 to Pelosi upon reports that she had “vowed to codify the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in federal law,” but had received no response from her.
On May 24, Pelosi not only did not apologize for spurning her bishop but also engaged in her own catechetical and magisterial teaching when she responded to Cordileone by saying that she came from a “pro-life American Catholic family,” but opposed any Catholic efforts “foisting it on others” because to do so was “not consistent with the Gospel of Matthew.” It was reported that she then received Communion at a Catholic church in D.C. Whereupon, she arranged to receive Communion at the Vatican five days after the release of Dobbs. She was received by Pope Francis, who gave her a blessing.
In September 2021, after a preliminary ruling in the Texas abortion case, a companion case to Dobbs, had been handed down by the Supreme Court, Pelosi had led the Democratic majority in the House in strict party-line passage by a vote of 218-211 (one Democrat voted against) of an abortion bill, the Women’s Reproductive Health Act, codifying Roe’s abortion right into federal law. The Senate did not vote on the bill.
On July 15 of this year, Pelosi responded to the Dobbs decision by again leading the House in the passage of the same abortion bill by a vote of 219-210, with no Republicans voting in favor. Pelosi said that the purpose of the bill was “to make reproductive freedom the law of the land.” On the same day, the Democratic House followed up with the passage by a vote of 223-205 of a bill to ensure interstate travel for abortions. Neither bill has yet been considered in the Senate. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, a Catholic and Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, is the chief sponsor there. Even more recently, Pelosi, speaking at the University of California in San Francisco at Women’s Equality Day on August 26, added to her catechetical instructions by stating about abortion restrictions that “It’s wrong that they would be able to say to women what they think women should be doing with their lives and their bodies. But it’s sinful, the injustice of it all.”
On the date of the Dobbs decision, California governor Gavin Newsom, a Catholic and a graduate of the Jesuit Santa Clara University, joined the governors of Oregon and Washington in the creation of an abortion safe haven compact. Likewise, New York governor Kathy Hochul, who frequently invokes her Catholicism, responded to the Dobbs decision by promising that New York “will always be a safe harbor for those seeking access to abortion care.”
Before Biden, Pelosi, Newsom, and Hochul there was Andrew Cuomo, at the time the high-visibility Catholic governor of New York. In 2019, he led the successful movement in that state to enshrine into state law Roe’s principle of abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy, which is, of course, the purpose of the current post-Dobbs national abortion movement. Writing in the New York Times, Cuomo said that he was “a former altar boy” and that “most Americans, including most Catholics, are pro-choice.” He explained that his “Roman Catholic values” are his “personal values” that he does not rely on “as I execute my public duties.” Cardinal Dolan sharply criticized Cuomo for his abortion advocacy but resisted the calls of many Catholics to exclude Cuomo from communion, saying that it would be “counterproductive.”
Vatican intervenes to prevent statement on Biden and Communion
In the spring of 2021, the American bishops were beginning discussion about the Eucharist and abortion and political life. A major document was planned to be presented at their annual meeting in November. The big question was whether the bishops as a body would address the commitment to abortion of Catholic office-holders, and especially the newly-elected president in the context of the worthy reception of Communion.
On May 5, Jesuit-educated Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego forcefully criticized in the Jesuit magazine America that “The Eucharist is being weaponized and deployed as a tool in political warfare.” He specifically referred to attempts “to exclude President Joseph R. Biden and other Catholic public officials from the Eucharist.” He called it a “newly emerging American theology of unworthiness.” McElroy held the Eucharist is the fundamental “unity” of and “a bond of charity” in the Catholic Church and that “A national policy of excluding pro-choice political leaders from the Eucharist will constitute an assault on that unity, on that charity.” In May of this year, Pope Francis, in an unusual move, nominated McElroy, only a bishop and not an archbishop, to be a cardinal.
Two days later, on May 7, Cardinal Ladaria, speaking from the Vatican as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote an extensive letter instructing the American bishops on how to proceed. He opposed singling out Catholic politicians on abortion and recommended a general statement applicable to all Catholics about the worthy reception of the Eucharist in light of all “grave matters,” not just abortion, that Catholics may encounter, and he asserted that a national policy regarding Catholic public officials and abortion could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger Church in the United States.”
A week later, at a press conference, Speaker Pelosi said that she would use her “own judgment” about advocating abortion and receiving Communion. She explicitly referred to and praised Ladaria’s letter. Four months later, in September 2021, she responded to statements by Archbishop Cordileone about her advocacy of abortion as legal and public policy with the declaration that “I believe that God has given us a free will to honor our responsibilities.”
Vatican ambassador to the United States Archbishop Christophe Pierre spoke at the American bishops’ November 2021 meeting. Echoing McElroy, he argued that the Eucharist should not be reserved “to the privileged few.” The bishops eventually did not deal with Biden or Pelosi but produced “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church”, the overall and predominant subject of which is the Eucharistic itself, not public or political matters. The document does refer to the Gaudium et Spes passage about abortion as being “opposed to life itself,” and ranking it with “murder, genocide, euthanasia or willful self-destruction.” It contains no position on reception of the Eucharist by Biden or any Catholic public officials who favor abortion. At the end of the 35-page document, it is stated that a person “in his or her personal or professional life” who rejects “defined doctrines” or “definitive teaching on moral issues” should voluntarily “refrain” from receiving Communion. Only one paragraph deals in a general way with “the Church’s social doctrine” on “political, economic, and social realms.” Another paragraph states that each local bishop has “special responsibility to work to remedy situations that involve public actions at variance with the visible Communion of the Church and the moral law.” A footnote holds that the local bishop can forbid those “who are publicly unworthy” from receiving the Eucharist. Care for the poor is emphasized throughout: citing the Catechism, “the Eucharist commits us to the poor.” And citing both Francis and Benedict, the document cites “care for the environment.”
In the fall of 2021, one month before the bishops’ fall meeting, Pope Francis met with Pelosi at the Vatican on October 9. That was three weeks after Francis made his now-much-cited statement that he had “never denied the Eucharistic to anyone.” On October 28, 2021, Francis met with Biden who afterward said that they had not discussed abortion and declared that Francis had told him that he was “a good Catholic.”
On June 24, 2022, the day of the release of the Dobbs judgment, Bishop McElroy issued a statement and maintained that “being pro-life demands more than opposition to abortion” but essentially requires the whole progressive agenda from housing to jobs. In his own version of the routine criticism leveled at pro-lifers, he said that “[s]upport for children and families cannot stop at birth.” This was one month after Pope Francis had nominated McElroy to be a cardinal.
In light of the international stature of the United States, there are no Catholic public officials in the world more prominent than Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi. And because they are now also renowned for abortion, the effect of their advocacy of abortion is more than merely political. It not only justifies, it teaches.
Pope Francis made himself definitively clear when in October 2021, in anticipation of the fall 2021 meeting of the American bishops where the issue of the political advocacy of abortion by a practicing Catholic was scheduled to be considered, he received both Biden and Pelosi within three weeks of each other. With almost as much authority, the public and formal statement by Cardinal Ladaria, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, about the morality of abortion and the reception of the Eucharist, can only be considered doctrinal in its own right. In support are Cardinal McElroy and Vatican ambassador Archbishop Pierre.
Archbishop Cordileone’s efforts notwithstanding, the question of whether Catholic public officials can promote abortion and remain in good standing in the Church is apparently resolved and laid to rest.
This situation in the American Catholic Church is not new, of course. It goes back at least to 1996 when Cardinal Bernardin proclaimed in his “seamless garment” that being “pro-life” included other issues in addition to abortion. The widespread acceptance of the seamless garment permanently damaged the pro-life movement and allowed many bishops and priests – as well as lay Catholics, as past and recent polls show – to avoid the abortion issue altogether. The policy of the seamless garment was effectively re-stated by Washington D.C.’s Cardinal Gregory in his announcement after the 2020 presidential year that he could still “dialogue” with President Biden on other issues.
But the Catholic tolerance of abortion allowed by the seamless garment has now run into ferocious intolerance, precipitated by the overturning of Roe v. Wade, on the other side of the abortion issue. Thus did the roles of two Catholic public officials of the highest rank suddenly become even more prominent both nationally and internationally.
In the present mass-communications era ruled by semi-literate “popular opinion,” moral doctrines and teachings that are merely written down somewhere can have no purchase. Compared to the postmodern and historically unprecedented power of the media-academic-corporate complex, the moral teachings of the Catholic Church are completely outclassed. Better to accommodate and accompany. In this approach can be found not only “unity” but also safety.
In their 2020 party Platform, Democrats said that they “believe unequivocally, just like the majority of Americans” in abortion. Their leaders, Biden and Pelosi, have now acted unequivocally on that belief.
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