There's room for pro-choice A Catholic priest advises

Francis X. Murphy

September 18, 1992|By Francis X. Murphy

WITH the November elections only a few weeks away, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has issued an advisory on the church's involvement in politics. It is an intelligent and nuanced document, urging citizens to participate actively in the electoral process but carefully distinguishing between that right and the restraints imposed on church leaders and organizations by

their tax-exempt status.

At the same time, the statement asserts the right of the church's leaders to enunciate the church's stand on political, moral and other pertinent issues.

In discussing the role of the church in secular society, Vatican Council II asserted that worldly duties and activities, with exceptions, belong to lay people. In fashioning their policies, lay people are not to imagine that priests are such experts as to have solutions to every problem that arises.

The Vatican document also advises that legitimate disagreements will arise among Catholics regarding public policies. Hence, "No one is entitled to appropriate the church's authority for his own opinion."

Meanwhile, recent polls indicate that the nation and the Catholic Church are deeply divided on the abortion question. Attempts to bring the two sides together through rational argument have proven futile, thus entangling the law in the problem.

While legitimate, the tremendous effort being made by Catholic and fundamentalist leaders to overthrow Roe vs. Wade has occasioned a series of activities on both sides that hardly does credit to the seriousness of the issue.

Pro-life advocates are sincere in their desire to preserve fetal life, but they pay little attention to the quality of life thus engendered; nor are they consistent in their attitude toward capital punishment and military killing.

Meanwhile, feminists are bogged down in a political skirmish that prevents them from intelligently pursuing basic rights such as health care for the poor, equal opportunity and pay in the workplace and anti-violence and harassment in the office and the home.

To resolve the dilemma currently facing the church, we ought to remember Christ's injunction to love one's enemies, particularly those enemies who share one's faith but who do not adhere fully to an anti-abortion stand.

Thus, if a Catholic office holder follows his or her conscience in the conviction that abortion is wrong -- but feels obliged to uphold the law permitting choice in the matter -- he or she is well within the pluralistic tradition of the church. While deploring abortion, the church has never declared one position as infallibly correct.

The attempt to eliminate Catholic office holders on the basis of this single issue can only lead to absurdity. We would have to discard conscientious Catholic politicians altogether or prevent them from attaining eminent positions in government.

Conscientious pro-life advocates should realize that the recriminalization of abortion can only lead to the repudiation of law by millions of women, adding to the anguish driving them to seek an abortion in the first place.

By the same token, indiscriminate abortion on demand will vulgarize human life and lead to moral chaos.

In the abortion debate, the higher good demands respect for theologically well-informed politicians as they follow their consciences in the pursuit of the church's worldly well-being.

Francis X. Murphy, a Redemptorist priest, is retired and living in Annapolis. Under the name Xavier Rynne, he covered the Second Vatican Council for the New Yorker.

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