Protecting ‘the innocent is a matter of justice,’ says head of Knights

by Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Protecting “the innocent is a matter of justice that imposes an obligation on all members of society,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, adding that abortion is not just another U.S. political issue.

“It is time to stop creating excuses for voting for pro-abortion politicians,” he said.

“I do not see how it is possible to find another issue that can ‘balance’ the devastation of 50 million human beings killed by abortion,” he told Catholic News Service in an email Aug. 10. “There simply is no other moral issue of that magnitude confronting us today. . . . Catholics should draw a bright line between themselves and abortion by refusing to vote for any candidate who supports abortion rights.”

He added, “We will never build a culture of life by voting for politicians who support a culture of death. It is time we make the right to life non-negotiable.”

Anderson made the comments in response to questions from CNS sent as a follow-up to his report to the 134th international convention of the Knights of Columbus in Toronto, held Aug. 2-4.

In that report, Anderson also highlighted the organization’s charitable contributions, its protection of Catholic families, the need to defend religious liberty at home and around the world, and the Knights advocacy work on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

Regarding abortion, he told CNS that Catholic politicians who support keeping abortion legal are out of touch with many of their Catholic constituents on the issue, he said, noting that “at a rate of three to one, practicing Catholics overwhelmingly agree that abortion is morally wrong.”

“The confusion arises on the question of what to do about it politically,” he continued. “I think some politicians have sought to encourage that confusion by treating the issue of abortion as a matter of faith rather than a matter of justice. Catholic teaching maintains it is always wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being as a requirement of justice.

“And it is science — not faith — that leads us to conclude that the life developing in the mother’s womb is a human being.”

With regard to restrictions on abortion, “the national consensus favors substantially restricting abortion,” Anderson said.

Here is the full text of the CNS Q-and-A with Anderson:

Q: There are those people who always say, “Well, Catholic politicians might be opposed themselves to abortion, but aren’t they supposed to represent their constituents even if those constituents are for legal abortion?” Otherwise isn’t the Catholic lawmaker imposing his/her religious views on their district, the country?

A: This argument — that a politician can be personally opposed to abortion but support its legality so as not to impose his or her own morality on the country was laid out in 1984 at Notre Dame by the late governor of New York, Mario Cuomo. The argument is even more problematic today than it was then for two reasons.

First, I can think of no other issue where it is acceptable to say, I believe that this action is the taking of innocent human life, but I am not going to legislate to stop it. Pope Francis has reminded us that human life is an absolute value and our laws have always recognized that principle when it comes to killing the innocent. Also, look at it another way. Imagine saying you’re opposed to racism but you refuse to work to end apartheid or that you are for equal rights for women but refuse to vote for equal pay for equal work. The position is essentially incoherent. When fundamental issues of justice are involved it cannot be simply a matter of majority opinion. On these issues politicians must exercise moral leadership. I recognize that this takes courage, but this is the kind of leadership we desperately need.

That said, today the argument makes even less sense. Thirty years ago, the argument rested on the contention that Catholics, as a religious minority in America, should not attempt to impose their “minority” views on the rest of the nation. But polling we commissioned with Marist demonstrates that now the opposite is actually true. Today, by more than 20 points (60 percent to 37 percent) a strong majority of Americans say abortion is immoral. About 8 in 10 want substantial restrictions on abortion, and a majority want it restricted to — at most— the rarest of cases: rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Catholic politicians who say that they have to follow the national consensus need to take a second look. A problem with their position is that the national consensus favors substantially restricting abortion.

Given the polling on this subject, it is time for these politicians to follow both their conscience and the national consensus. Otherwise they are following neither. More importantly what they are really doing is imposing on us the view of the one in 10 or so Americans who don’t want abortion restricted. It makes absolutely no sense.

Q: The Catholic Church has spoken against the immorality of abortion for its whole existence — why is it, then, do you think some Catholics don’t “get it” and insist on supporting legal abortion?

A: At a rate of three to one, practicing Catholics overwhelmingly agree that abortion is morally wrong. The confusion arises on the question of what to do about it politically. I think some politicians have sought to encourage that confusion by treating the issue of abortion as a matter of faith rather than a matter of justice. Catholic teaching maintains it is always wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being as a requirement of justice. And it is science — not faith — that leads us to conclude that the life developing in the mother’s womb is a human being. I don’t see where “belief” enters into it. Just because the Catholic Church teaches a moral rule does not make it a matter of faith. No one wants to impose matters of religious faith on anyone, but the protection of the innocent is a matter of justice that imposes an obligation on all members of society. I would urge every Catholic public official to prayerfully read St. John Paul II’s 1995 landmark encycIical, “Evangelium Vitae,” where this is made very clear.

Your question opens up a broader issue: How are Catholics to apply Catholic Social Doctrine to help build a more humane and just society. If we accept the fact that on an issue as important as abortion — an issue on which the Church has spoken so clearly — Catholic officials can simply say, of course I personally agree, but I don’t believe it is appropriate for me to act on this view, we are really undermining our ability to implement in a serious way other aspects of Catholic Social Doctrine. This rationale — some would say excuse — can be applied to many other issues. So a great deal hinges on whether Catholics continue to accept this type of reasoning.

In fact, I would say that this mindset is largely responsible for the failure of Catholics during the last 40 years to make very much progress in furthering the influence of Catholic Social Doctrine on a wide variety of national issues.  Polling data shows clearly that the American public by a large margin believes that the country’s moral compass is pointing in the wrong direction. Catholics should have a lot to say about righting the direction of that compass, but the “personally opposed” approach is a significant barrier.

For me, abortion is not the end of this process. It is the beginning. If we cannot mobilize Catholics to help end the horrific evil of 50 million abortions in the past 40 years, what do we really think we can change?

Q: So many “pro-choice” people constantly say that the Catholic Church might be against abortion and for saving babies but what about the mothers? They seem to think the Church has no outreach to pregnant women in need. Can you highlight a few ways the church helps pregnant women in need, single mothers, families with children who can’t make ends meet?

A: This is a great slander against Catholics. First, the Catholic Church is one of the greatest private sector provider of social services in the country. Period. And women, especially mothers are at the forefront of many of these services. Individually, Catholics are incredibly generous volunteers to help pregnant women in need through thousands of crisis pregnancy centers.

I see this every day with the volunteer work of the Knights of Columbus. Many dioceses do this as well, directly or through Catholic Charities. Look also at the work of, say, the Nurturing Network, the Gabriel Project, and the Sisters of Life, just to name a few examples. Local parishes are also active on an individual basis quietly helping families and mothers in need. I know many families that have taken in single, pregnant women or young mothers who needed a helping hand and have done this without fanfare.

Perhaps we could do a better job of telling our own story. But do we really think that “pro-choice” organizations do anything for women after they have had an abortion? Catholics, on the other hand, have developed extensive programs for post-abortion healing. This is needed and Americans understand it, with a strong majority telling our pollsters that they believe that in the long run, abortion does a woman more harm than good.

Q: You reference various polls that show a majority of Americans across all ages and political spectrums support some restrictions on abortion. So why do think lawmakers don’t “get it” on this and insist on fighting restrictions, and trying to expand access to abortion?

A: Good question. When politicians go against both their conscience and public consensus, we have to ask, “What is really going on?” I think it is a matter of strategic difference. The “pro-choice” lobby has made unrestricted abortion rights non-negotiable. For them, no other position on any other issue can compensate for what they consider an “anti-choice” vote. That forces many politicians to their side. But there does not seem to be an effective counter-weight for the pro-life position. Too many Catholics have fallen into the trap of trying to balance various issues in order to justify voting for a “pro-choice” candidate who they may like for other reasons. That is the problem I addressed at our recent Knights of Columbus international convention in Toronto.

I repeated there what I had said at a similar meeting eight years ago. First, I do not see how it is possible to find another issue that can “balance” the devastation of 50 million human beings killed by abortion. There simply is no other moral issue of that magnitude confronting us today. Second, I said that Catholics should draw a bright line between themselves and abortion by refusing to vote for any candidate who supports abortion rights.  I said we will never build a culture of life by voting for politicians who support a culture of death. It is time we make the right to life non-negotiable.

Finally, I think we need to have an honest conversation. The consensus among Americans supports substantial restrictions on abortion. A majority of Americans would eliminate all but the rarest abortions. Lawmakers could start there, passing legislation restricting and reducing abortions with broad popular support. Abortion isn’t an issue that can’t be solved. It’s an issue that needs to be looked at from the point of view of the vast consensus, not from the point of view of the tiny minority who oppose any restrictions.

Q: Do you see a day when Roe v. Wade will ever be overturned?

A: The short answer is “Yes.” Although it’s been 43 years since Roe v. Wade was decided, it is still not a settled issue. The Supreme Court’s reasoning in 1973 was deeply flawed. One of the dissenting justices at the time described the Court’s action as “an exercise of raw judicial power.” And that remains an accurate description. In the more than four decades since then the American people continue to want substantial restrictions on abortion.

Many state legislatures continue to pass legislation to restrict abortion. And anyone who has participated in the March for Life cannot miss the fact that the overwhelming number of marchers are young. We are winning the hearts and minds of the future. For all these reasons I think that a day is coming when the moral voice of the American people on this issue will no longer be ignored. These are all reasons why I think the “pro-choice” lobby remains so intransigent. They understand that their position is extremely fragile.

Copyright ©2016 Catholic News Service / U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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