By Phil Lawler | Jan 25, 2021
Spare me, please, from the excited praise of “courageous” American bishops who have issued statements saying that abortion advocacy by President Biden (and other Catholic politicians) is incompatible with the Catholic faith.
Of course it’s incompatible with our faith. Everyone knows that. Is it really “courageous” to affirm what everyone already knows? Perhaps it would make more sense—and more difference—to bemoan the cowardice of bishops who fail to reaffirm the obvious.
For more than forty years now, American bishops have been issuing statements saying roughly the same thing. (Some statements have been more forceful than others, and I’ll grant that some prelates deserve credit for their eloquence.) For more than forty years, Catholic politicians have been ignoring them.
The question for American bishops is not whether Biden et al can reconcile their actions with Catholic moral principles. We know the answer to that question: they cannot. The question, your eminences and excellencies, is: What are you going to do about it?
Imagine yourself as the father of a family. Your teenage son takes the car out for a night with his friends, and when he comes home his speech is slurred and his breath smells of beer. Do you issue a statement about temperance? No! If you love your son, first you sit him down for a very serious talk. Then you take away the car keys. You won’t be very popular with him (or with his friends) for a while, but you might save his life, or the lives of others.
If our bishops take disciplinary action against politicians who flout Church moral teachings, they will undoubtedly be unpopular. There will be outraged editorials, angry demonstrations outside the chancery, maybe even large contributions withdrawn. But truly courageous bishops—shepherds who cared about the souls of their wayward sheep—would accept those costs. Many lay Catholics who are active in the pro-life movement have already paid the price for their public witness: ridicule, social ostracism, lost career opportunities, even lawsuits and imprisonment.
A few bishops have expressed fears that if they disciplined Catholic politicians for promoting the culture of death, the angry public backlash might cause a net setback for the pro-life movement. Well, how has their soft-sell strategy been working all these years? The duty of Catholic bishops is not to make political calculations. Their duty is to protect the souls of the faithful and the integrity of the faith. Do that, and let the faithful lay Catholics who are active in political life cope with the consequences.
The Catholic Church is not a debating society. And after decades of public debate about abortion, it is extremely unlikely that one more episcopal statement will suddenly turn the political tide. We all know, at this point, what our bishops say about Catholic politicians who promote abortion. What we want to know now is what—if anything—they will do.