Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Evasion on a fundamental matter

I have been critical of President Bush and Senator McCain and complimentary of Senator Obama. At the end of the day, I am about as non-partisan as they come; an old-school Democrat in search of a political party. So, if, as Senator Obama insisted at the Saddleback debate, determining when human life begins is above his pay grade, then wouldn't the prudent thing be to err on the side of life? I encourage everyone to read Fr. John Kavanaugh's Dear Senator Obama, published in a recent issue of America magazine.

As Archbishop Chaput writes in his recently published book, Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, a brief excerpt of which appears on the First Things blog Observations & Contentions, echoing something JPII said and wrote often, Catholics must recognize that there is "[n]o such thing as a 'right' to kill an unborn child". A right, at least on a Catholic view, is God-given. Far from giving us the right to murder, divine law precisely prohibits it (see commandment 5). Senator Obama cannot claim to be a candidate of change, someone who unites, who brings us fresh ideas, and bridges divides, and spout all the old canards that seek to justify abortion on demand. If you are uncertain about when life begins, then why allow abortion? Far from being a humble admission, it is an effort to avoid a fundamental question, unless you state uncertainty as a reason for opposing abortion. Otherwise, you are making a judgment that human life does not begin prior to birth. Besides being logically inconsistent, this is a dangerous conclusion with potentially staggering implications. It is not the language of hope, but of despair in the service of the culture of death.

His Excellency, Archbishop Chaput, also calls in the chips on arguments used against pro-life citizens:

"Abortion always involves the deliberate killing of an innocent human life, and it is always, inexcusably, grievously wrong. This fact in no way releases us from the duty to provide ample and compassionate support for unwed or abandoned mothers, women facing unwanted pregnancies, and women struggling with the aftermath of an abortion. But the inadequacy of that support demands that we work to improve it. It does not justify killing the child."
In this passage His Excellency asserts a fundamental moral principle, one that in our subjective age needs to be reasserted often, given that we tend to evaluate a moral act exclusively on the basis of a person's intention, namely, one may never do evil that good may come of it. The only caveat I would suggest is that in cases, like that of St. Gianna Molla, in which the mother's life is really and truly in danger, which circumstance arises rarely, that the principle of double-effect might sometimes be applied. I am not a trained moral theologian, but that is my understanding. Nonetheless, what he writes is applicable to well over 95% of abortions performed in this country annually. He also asserts that by opposing abortion we commit ourselves supporting spiritually and materially women who have had abortions and mothers who might be tempted to choose abortion, before and after they give birth.

In their very excellent election year statement, Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. bishops call on us to use prudence. Prudence, known in the tradition as sapienta (i.e., wisdom), along with iustitia, fortitudo, temperantia, is one of the cardinal virtues. These virtues are cardinal because all morality hinges on them. Prudence governs the virtues. In CL we talk about making a judgment on the basis of our faith, which is a method of knowledge, a way of knowing reality. Prudence is what allows us to judge correctly, on the basis of the truth, on the basis of what we know. The cardinal virtues are natural virtues, as opposed to theological virtues. Theological virtues (i.e., faith, hope, and love) are gifts of God. Natural virtues, on the other hand, are acquired through education and habitually practicing them. Our bishops tell us that,

"[t]he Church fosters well-formed consciences not only by teaching moral truth but also by encouraging its members to develop the virtue of prudence. Prudence enables us 'to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1806). Prudence shapes and informs our ability to deliberate over available alternatives, to determine what is most fitting to a specific context, and to act decisively. Exercising this virtue often requires the courage to act in defense of moral principles when making decisions about how to build a society of justice and peace" (FC 19).


Come to See has a thoughtful post on prudently deciding who our next president should be. The Ironic Catholic has also posted some more than worthwhile thoughts on Sen. Obama's evasion. It ain't easy folks. Our bishops have given good guidance, teaching us correct principles and allowing us to decide. Freedom, what is it? Perhaps we should read Giussani. Oh, tonight is School of Community.

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