April 26, 2004
Catholicism and politics

I've been rather amused lately watching all of the dust that's been kicked up over John Kerry's Catholicism and the attempts by some people to reduce the entirity of Catholic dogma to a litmus test on abortion. Most amusing has been the reaction to this attempt by Rep. Nick Lampson to put together a Catholic Voting Scorecard, which rates legislators on a broad range of issues, including "housing vouchers, welfare and raising the minimum wage". Apparently, some Republicans are upset that he'd dare to politicize a matter of faith. Who'da thunk it?

I think it's a good thing that we're having this discussion, because it's giving Catholics a chance to point out that there are other issues besides abortion. Of course, the deeper we get into this, the more clear it becomes that neither party hews all that closely to Catholic doctrine - an awful lot of Democrats support the death penalty and voted for the Iraq invasion, as we all know. Maybe that whole separation of church and state thing, which Steve Smith (permalinks bloggered - look for the April 23 entry) reminds us the Vatican reluctantly approved in 1960, isn't such a bad idea after all.

But if we really want to make the debate about whether or not John Kerry can be a good Catholic and vote pro-choice, then at the very least I think we ought to expand the conversation just a little, and ask those who are bearding Kerry if they really oughtn't be going after any Catholic politician who doesn't toe the line on birth control.

In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued his landmark encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (Latin, "Human Life"), which reemphasized the Church’s constant teaching that it is always intrinsically wrong to use artificial birth control—contraception—to prevent new human beings from coming into existence.

Artificial birth control is "any action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act [sexual intercourse], or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" (Humanae Vitae 14). This includes sterilization, condoms and other barrier methods, spermicides, coitus interruptus (withdrawal method), the Pill, and all other methods of artificial contraception.


Contraception is wrong because it’s a deliberate violation of the design God built into the human race, often referred to as "natural law." The natural law purpose of sex is procreation. The pleasure that sexual intercourse provides is an additional blessing from God, intended to offer the possibility of new life while strengthening the bond of intimacy, respect, and love between husband and wife. The loving environment this bond creates is the perfect setting for nurturing children.

But sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation. God’s gift of the sex act, along with its pleasure and intimacy, must not be abused by deliberately frustrating its natural end—procreation.


Ignoring the mountain of evidence, some maintain that the Church considers the use of contraception a matter for each married couple to decide according to their "individual conscience." Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. The Church has always maintained the historic Christian teaching that deliberate acts of artificial birth control are always gravely sinful, which means that it is mortally sinful if done with full knowledge and deliberate consent (CCC 1857). This teaching is definitive and irreformable. It cannot be changed and has been proclaimed by the Church infallibly.

There is no way to deny the fact that the Church’s ordinary magisterium (cf. Vatican II’s document Lumen Gentium 25) has always and everywhere condemned artificial contraception. The matter has already been infallibly decided. The so-called "individual conscience" argument amounts to "individual disobedience."

(Emphasis mine.) Got all that? My best wishes to you if you want to make that a key plank in your platform. And if you choose to ignore this while focusing on abortion, I'd like to know why. Your mandate seems pretty clear to me.

UPDATE: More from Slacktivist.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 26, 2004 to Show Business for Ugly People | TrackBack

You know, I wasn't even raised Catholic, so I don't get to say stuff like that ...

Posted by: Ginger on April 26, 2004 10:17 AM

Hmm. Well, I *was* raised Catholic, so I'll say it. :-)

Abortion is seen as the litmus test by the Vatican, and it seems like pro-life politicians use only that position and ignore others.

And even where abortion is concerned, there is a considerable shade of gray. My favorite example of this would be to ask people two questions:

1 -- Are you in favor of a complete ban on abortion, at any stage of the pregnancy, for any reason, including rape, incest or medical emergency?

2 -- Are you in favor of federally funded abortion-on-demand, no strings attached, at any stage of the pregnancy, and with a ban on waiting periods and parental consent?

I think it's a pretty safe bet that a very solid majority of Americans would say "no" to both questions -- thus the shades of gray. Most people favor a legal abortion option for at least a small number of women (even most who are opposed would grant exceptions for rape and medical emergency, for example), and with at least some restrictions and/or limitations (i.e. public funding, parental consent, stage of pregnancy).

I think it's pretty clear to politicians, though, that there's no emotional pull in banning birth control like there is abortion. (For even if you disagree with them, at least there can be a legitimate, heart-felt opinion that a fetus is human life and deserves the legal protection thereof.) Even if you don't believe it should be granted "human life" status, abortion is still unquestionably the taking of a life (in some form) and so it's easier to make an ethical and emotional argument. Taking an existing life and preventing a life from taking hold to begin with are two different things, and I'm pretty sure any politician knows that linking them is a losing platform.

Still, as long as you're going to ridicule someone for being a Catholic and holding a position against Church dogma, you should at least be consistent about it. And by failing to also point out other "transgressions" for which the Church position is way out of the mainstream (even among many Catholics privately), it could be said that those going after Kerry and others on that basis are guilty of selective indignation.

Posted by: Tim on April 26, 2004 10:41 AM

The stance of the Vatican on birth control, communion, or abortion, won't define Kerry or any other politician. The edicts of the Vatican shouldn't even be called out as an issue. The heart of the matter (which frightens the Kerry camp) is how the Vatican defines or influences the voting patterns of its faithful Catholic followers. Why else would all this be in the news?

John Kerry's religion is one of personal morality. I recently commented on the religious habits and influences of Sen. Kerry here and here. He will not allow himself to be defined by any person or entity other than John Kerry. That includes God and the Vatican.

Posted by: Chris on April 26, 2004 12:45 PM

There are a whole lot of Catholics in Africa (the Francophone countries) who would, if they firmly stuck to that encyclical, be dying of HIV/AIDS at an even greater rate than those populations already are.

Some Vatican preachings ought to be ignored. (I was brought up in the Church, so if you throw rocks, don't do it for that reason).

Posted by: Linkmeister on April 26, 2004 7:31 PM