The Banality of the Separation of Church and State “Argument”, vis-à-vis Bishop Tobin and Congressman Kennedy
Four points, on the continuing discussion spurred by Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s statement that a true pro-life position requires the Catholic Church to support a healthcare plan that includes public funding for abortions:
- Cribbing a large dose of Robert George’s exposition on philosophy and theology (Backfill: By which I mean I’m doing some cribbing from Robert George, not that the Church is — the Church relies on sources more like St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, etc.), the Catholic Church recognizes a distinction between its teachings which are rooted in natural law, i.e. those derived from the observation and rational consideration of God’s creation, and those which are rooted in divine revelation. The Church should never advocate writing matters of divine revelation into secular law, but in matters of natural law, such as the right of all persons to the equal protection of man-made law, the Church has as much right to speak out as anyone. And as the only power possessed by the Church is the persuasive power to speak out — a power that depends heavily on the clarity and consistency of the ideas being communicated — the Church has not only the right, but the duty to oppose the spread and the codification into law of ideas that it believes to be contrary to natural law and to be potential sources of harm.
- We know now that contentious relationship between Bishop Thomas Tobin and Congressman Patrick Kennedy on life-issues dates back to at least 2007. We also know that Bishop Tobin had nothing to say in public about this dispute, until last month, after Congressman Kennedy stated that the Catholic Church’s pro-life position required support for a healthcare plan that includes government-funded abortions. To this statement, Bishop Tobin was compelled to respond, to stop an earthly prince from using his power and position to spread a poorly-thought out and destructive idea: that denying the protection of law to innocent lives is not only acceptable, but can be required, when it furthers a certain political agenda. Allowed to spread unchallenged, this idea can have dire consequences for individuals and society.
- Congressman Kennedy obviously is not the first Catholic office holder to support abortion. In 1983, in a speech delivered at Notre Dame University, New York Governor Mario Cuomo offered what many consider to be the pinnacle of the “personally opposed but publicly in favor” position on abortion. Some of Cuomo’s arguments are severely lacking, for example, where he argues that abortion should remain legal because it offers people the opportunity to do the right thing of their own free will. Of course if you were to suggest repealing other laws consistent with Catholic social teaching, for example minimum-wage laws, I doubt there would be much support from Cuomo-thinking liberals to be found on the basis of the opportunity it would provide for people to choose a course of action without interference from the state. And he never seriously addresses the issue of the duty of government officials to guarantee that all persons are treated with an equal right to life under the law.
But overall argument aside, Governor Cuomo was very clearly willing to state that the act of abortion was wrong…
For me, life or fetal life in the womb should be protected, even if five of nine Justices of the Supreme Court and my neighbor disagree with me. A fetus is different from an appendix or a set of tonsils. At the very least, even if the argument is made by some scientists or some theologians that in the early stages of fetal development we can’t discern human life, the full potential of human life is indisputably there. That – to my less subtle mind – by itself should demand respect, caution, indeed…reverence.Congressman Kennedy’s stated position, whether he understands what he has said or not, tramples upon this idea. His statement that a true pro-life position requires supporting an expansion of the government’s role in providing abortions is an argument that everyone must disregard whatever personal respect, caution and reverence for life they believe in to help to advance the agenda that he supports. Declaring that people should ignore their personal beliefs on serious moral issues, in support of a particular political agenda, is a long distance away from the position that Governor Cuomo’s words were attempting to stake out.
- Finally, since when does “separation of church and state” mean that religious figures can express public opinions on matters of their religion only when they agree with secular governing authorities?!?!