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Catholic in Colorado

Stepping away for a moment from the travails of Ted Haggard, but sticking with the Rocky Mountain state,  an interesting article by Amy Sullivan in the New Republic on Bill Ritter, the Catholic, pro-life Democrat likely to become Colorado's next governor today. (Also see Melinda Henneberger's fine piece in a recent Commonweal.)

The take away point: we can see an emerging group of Catholic pro-life Democrats at once critical of the bishops (in a number of  regards) but also eager to reduce the number of abortions.

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Pro-life?From Ramesh Ponnuru:"...Beauprez said he'd support a ban on abortion with a life-of-the-mother exception; Ritter said he wouldn't. Beauprez said he opposes state funding for Planned Parenthood, while Ritter supports it."What kind of "pro-life Democrat" is Bill Ritter, the Democratic candidate for governor in Colorado, anyway? He says he is opposed to abortion and wants to reduce the abortion rate, but won't try to enact restrictions on abortion in state law. Based on Amy Sullivan's New Republic article, he may not want Roe overturned (although it may be that he just doesn't want to fight a losing battle to get the Democrats to end their support for Roe). This position sounds exactly like those of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. The only difference I can see is that Ritter doesn't say he "supports abortion rights" or is "pro-choice." Which doesn't seem like much...."

Why describe him as "pro-life" when he clearly asks not be referred to as such? And where exactly does the relevance of your comment "we can see an emerging group of Catholic pro-life Democrats at once critical of the bishops (in a number of regards) but also eager to reduce the number of abortions" lie? Perhaps a closer reading of the article is in order.

In all seriousness, I ask whether people really believe this is part of a broader movement of pro-life Democrats. All of these alleged pro-life candidates are in swing states, and there isnt one that you would identify as actively or aggressively pro-life. Ritter is a case in point. Personally pro-life for religious reasons, would sign law restricting abortions IF Roe v. Wade is overturned, but has no intention of actively seeking changes in the law on abortion, and will not consider this issue in appointing judges. Basically, you get someone who feels bad about abortion but doesnt intend to do anything about it. This is more of an electoral strategy than anything else. An attempt to bleed off enough values voters in some of the purple states to win. Does anyone really think the red meat progressives in the party will ever let moderate or conservative Dems rise to any sort of prominence? Look what they did to Lieberman.

Ah, the usual suspects are already out and about on this thread.It's probably true that Democratic leadership sought out values Democrats in areas where they thought it might make a difference ( just as Republicans court evangelical like politicians where they think it will help.) That's not the same as saying a candidate is insincere as some seeem to infer here. That struikes me as the usual politically tinged rash judgement some folks make out of ideology.This thread reminded me that ,a number of years ago, we were visited by friends from Colorado. The hubby, a pro-life coordinator in his diocese, and I agreed how important the "whole cloth approach was to persuading the body politic.Pace Diogenes, Janice and other usual suspects that appear here, a total values package by a candidate of either stripe would seem to me to be a desideatum.

Mr. Nunz,Orthodox Catholics are not ideologues. We are simply following Church teaching. And it's not a "whole cloth" approach that you liberals advocate, it's a "seamless garment" approach that the hapless Cardinal Bernardin proposed, which is now a dead letter. Bernardin's approach was to place on the same level innocent life with prudential judgments (e.g., war, the death penalty, et al.) in order to qualify and relativize the primacy of innocent life. And he had remarkable success with it for more than twenty years. But its essentially fradulent nature, in terms of Catholic theology, has been more than disproved by the present Pope.

Sean--Lieberman may be moderate to conservative on some issues--the war in Iraq, Israel, etc.--but he's pro-choice on abortion, the main topic of this thread.Ritter doesn't fit my personal pro-life views in all regards, but he's a welcome change to the Cuomo/Kerry squishiness on the issue. The main thing for the Democrats is to get pro-life visibility, in all of its forms, in the party and before the electorate again. And there is pro-life variation in the Republican Party, too. Frist and Hatch are anti-abortion, yet in favor of embryonic stem cell research. That's a much greater pro-life divergence, to my way of thinking, than to be anti-abortion yet in favor of contraceptive methods that prevent fertilization. Again, Ritter's not the perfect pro-life candidate, but neither are many Republican politicians.Janice--The "hapless Cardinal Bernardin"? You're criticizing him for being anti-war, anti-death penalty?? No less a very orthodox prelate named JP II was also a vocal opponent of war and the death penalty. Whether those issues are "prudential" or not, it seems a real stretch to denigrate the seamless garment approach. And I didn't know it is exclusively a "liberal" issue, or that placing abortion with those other issues would somehow "qualify and relativize the primacy of innocent life"? What's wrong with having a consistent ethic of life that places life itself--from conception to death--as the primary focus. There are several papal encyclicals that would back that approach up. I'm assuming a papal encyclical would qualify as orthodox, and I really don't see any differences in JP II's attitudes on life issues and BXVI's attitudes on those issues. perhaps you can point differences out for us.

Sorry for all the syntax errors in the above...a bad typist and guy in a hurry to go vote for a pro-life candidate, was at work. ;)

Pro-life candidates can be easily identified with one question. Are you in favor of legally restricting access to abortion? Those who will not go on record advocating for a change in law are not seriously pro-life. It's that simple.

Ah . . to be called one of the usual suspects. It has a nice ring to it.Robert,The problem with the so-called "seemless garment" approach is that it is usually used as a basis for explaining support of pro-abortion on demand and/or pro-euthanasia politicians because they have "the rest of the cloth." Also, it fails to recognize a heirarchy of moral values that the Church teaches. Abortion and euthansia are inherently and always contrary to God's Law, capital punishment and war aren't. Believe me, I am against the death penalty, but I must admit that I am far more convinced by the moral case made by its proponents than I am by Teddy Kennedy's abortion position.In "seemless garment" terms, it's like being satisfied with just the sleeves. Your arms might be warm, but you're still basically naked.As to Mr Ritter, I don't think I am supposing bad faith, I am recounting exactly what he has said his position is. He won't do anything about abortion except in a very unlikely circumstance. Bill,My point wasn't that Lieberman is pro-life, but that someone who doesn't toe the party line (which is increasingly leftist) won't be very effective within the Democrat party. I also agree that neither party can be termed pro-life - believe me - I had to write myself in for Congress today.

mlj - Because of the role of the Supreme Court surely the answer requires slight nuance.Sean - Your statement that the seemless garment approach is "usually used as a basis for explaining support of abortion" is indefensible unless you are acquainted with only a very unusual slice of the Catholic population.Concerning your response to Bill Collier, is it fair to conclude that an anti-war stance is leftist in your eyes? And, was Sen. Lieberman "punished" for being pro-war, for his failure to see the need for some modification of the Administratioin's Iraqi policies , for his "I know what's best attitude," or for some combinatioin of all of the above?

James.I will agree with you that my statement is indefensible if you can show me a single example of anyone using the seamless garment argument as a basis for criticizing or condemning a liberal, pro-abortion politician, and I mean a real one, by name.I have seen it used to criticize orthodox bishops like Chaput and politicians like Rick Santorum and George Bush, but I have never seen it used against a liberal politician - ever.The most famous current "seamless garment" proponent is Fr McBrien, and in his own words, abortion and euthansia are not "trump cards." Everything from positions on war, poverty programs, and environmental regulations carry equal weight according to him. This is simply not the teaching of the Catholic Church. To the extent Cardinal Bernadin's consistent ethic of life is used this way, it is just wrong.A consistent ethic of life means that you and I must agree as faithful Catholics that caring for the poor, for example, is our obligation and should be a goal of public policy, but we don't have to agree what is the best way to do it. The same is not true of abortion or euthanasia. A consistent ethic of life does not mean I can trade my obligation to protect innocent unborn human life for a solid position on food stamps or greenhouse gas emmissions.

"To the extent Cardinal Bernadin's consistent ethic of life is used this way, it is just wrong." We may agree; that hardly makes it the "usual" use of the late, good Cardinal's suggestion.As to the single example of someone who has used the article as grounds for criticizing Kennedy, Kerry, etc. - I offer (sheepishly?) my own name or those of any number of my friends. Perhaps, we do not qualify as "anyone." That is not an indefensible position.

Just asking:The current nationwide consensus seems to favor some legal restrictions on abortion but far less than the church permits.In view of that, what sorts of legal restrictions on abortion does a Catholic politician have to support to be acceptably 'pro-life'? It seems to me as though nothing less than enacting church doctrine into law will do. Is that correct?

When I first got involved with the pro-life movement more than 30 years ago, I was so caught up in the cause that friends and family gradually distanced themselves from me. Perhaps it was my revulsion at the thought of a doctor deliberately killing an unborn child or whatever, but I lived and breathed the issue.It didn't take long for me to change my approach --- but not my devotion --- to the pro-life cause. I still condemn induced abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, etc., but I also realize there are good people who disagree one way or another with the pro-life movement's 100% insistence on getting its political way. Good folks differ here.We pro-lifers can continue to insist on "my way or the highway," or we can try to work with other people of good will to promote respect for life in the public arena. We can continue to support alternatives to abortion. We can refuse to kowtow to technology used to extend our biological life at the expense of our belief in eternal life. We can see anti-war/pro-peace efforts as being integral to the pro-life cause. And, yes, we can even see anti-death penalty thinking as part and parcel of the pro-life cause (notwithstanding my own belief that there are those few occasions when the death penalty overrides life imprisonment as a just and appropriate outcome).In short, we can be "right" and alienate everyone else with our tactics, thus getting us nowhere, or we can change our approach --- albeit not our beliefs --- to promote respect for life. Finally, we can refuse to endorse candidates who (continue to) say one thing to get elected but fail to promote the "cause" once in office.

Joe--You running for office?If so, you'd get my vote. And that's even though I'm anti-death penalty in all instances. I also include protection of the environment as closely associated with the panoply of pro-life issues. Perhaps you do, too.

Bill, thank you for your prospective vote. However, I have several sins in my closet and don't want to insert myself into politics where my weaknesses and shortcomings might even flourish :)Which leads me to --------------------I need a postulator who can promote my cause to formal canonization. S/he must be an effective communicator, researcher, planner, PR person, negotiator, etc. Should be proficient in word processing, meet and deal, etc. Critical skill: convince the Vatican that, my sins notwithstanding, I merit formal promotion to the heavenly elite :)

How is the Pro-life rubric anything more than a feel-good synonym for 'anti-abortion', with euthanasia thrown in for good measure?

I think a lot of people share your observation. All the more reason to promote the "seamless garment/consistent ethic" approach. As others have noted, what good is there to be born --- only to die in poverty, etc. due to lack of healthcare, education, and other goods that many of the rest of us can take for granted?

The interesting thing for me is to note that Colorado's out going govenor is Roman Catholic, and I can't recall him initiating anything state wide to challenge Roe V Wade. Yet condemnation of Gov to be, Ritter is well noted.And Janice you should grow to be as "hapless as Cardinal Bernadine".

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About the Author

John T. McGreevy is the I.A. O'Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.