Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Monday, August 16, 2004

My Conscience, My Inconsistency 

The latest edition of Amerikka gives us a response to Archbishop Burke's piece in the last edition, 'Catholic Politicians and Bishops.' The response, 'My Conscience, My Vote,' is by David R. Obey, a U.S. Representative from Wisconsin, the initial 'target' of Burke's ecclesiastical sanctions. Obey (paradoxical name, I think, for someone who steadfastly refuses to do so) exemplifies the inconsistencies and contradictions which plague the cause of pro-choice 'Catholics.'

Fast-forward to the middle of his tirade, where he lays out what is, in his view, the scope of morality in civic life:

"In a democracy, public officials must reserve to themselves prudential judgments about how and under what circumstances to apply moral principles in a pluralistic society. But there are some in my own religion who believe it is the obligation of Catholic public officials to impose, through law, their religious values on issues such as abortion, upon those who do not share our religious beliefs."

He expands upon this kernal of naivete in the middle of the article:

"This means that in an American democracy no one, not a public official and not a bishop, gets to impose by law his religious beliefs on people of other religions who do not necessarily share those same beliefs."

And further on:

"In a pluralist society [here quoting John Courtney Murray] no minority group has the right to impose its own religious or moral views on other groups, through the use of the methods of force, coercion, or violence."

Now this last sentence seems quite self-evident. Murray was no idiot. But let's zero in on that buzzword, coercion, and wonder if Obey means the same thing by it as Murray meant.

Obey, in this article, complains that Archbishop Burke "attempted to use his interpretation of theology [his interpretation?] to coerce me into taking specific positions on matters that I believe are matters of constitutional law" (emphasis added). Coerce? What did the good Archbishop do - put him in a headlock? Use thumbscrews? No, he wrote Obey a letter advising him that he would be denied communion if he continued to support abortion legislation. Doesn't strike me as 'coercion' exactly, but I suppose it depends how you define the word. But Obey defines it rather broadly: "Law," says Obey, "by its very nature is coercive." Hmm. So legislation by its very definition coerces. Legislation, say, to outlaw murder, or to fine speeders. All right, that works.

But then return to Murray: "In a pluralist society no minority group has the right to impose its own religious or moral views on other groups through the use of the methods of . . . coercion." Since law by definition, Obey says, is coercive, we can conclude that no minority group can use law to impose its views upon others.

Rewind to the opening paragraphs of the article, where Obey opens his tirade by producing a litany of his credentials as a 'Good Catholic Politician' (tm):

"Virtually every issue I have fought for in my 35 years of service in the Congress of the United States has been driven by the values I learned from the nuns at St. James elementary school in Wasau, Wis. [Houston, we have a problem.] Through the years I have voted to oppose an unjust war in Nicaragua, a fruitless war in Vietnam and a premature war in Iraq because I believe in the message of the Beatitudes . . . Because I believe we are our brother's keepers, for 10 years I led efforts to push unpopular foreign aid legislation through the House of Representatives . . . "

Well, the litany continues ad nauseam, but you get the drift. At every turn, Obey cites a Scriptural prooftext, which he learned from nuns in his traditional parochial education, which justifies a particular moral stance, 'unpopular' among others, which he had to 'push' and 'fight' for, in order to . . . dare we say it? . . . to impose the views of his minority group upon others, who would not agree with them, through the use of legislation, which, according to Obey, is the equivalent of coercion.

And thus emerges the inherent self-contradiction festering within the 'pro-choice Catholic' cause. A revulsion towards legislating protection for the unborn on behalf of a public which, by and large, would seem to welcome it, combined with an unmitigated and unreflective eagerness to impose, fiercely and coercively, legislation of almost any other sort upon an unwilling public.

# posted by Jamie : 2:33 PM


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Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

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