Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Biden, Abortion (again)…and now the USCCB

For some INEXPLICABLE reason, Joe Biden didn’t get the Catholic 101 memo. Or maybe he doesn’t read this blog, or any of the dozens of discussions available on-line. For crying out loud, it’s not like theologians are all that hard to come by, most Catholic colleges have a few. Knowing that the whole thing could blow up big-time, why not go out and hire one to think with you for a bit, huh? Like before you “Meet the Press?”

(Plus we’re cheap – while my colleagues in real academic fields consult on the side for serious money, theological moonlighting is pretty much limited to giving talks in parish halls. Two hours with thirty-odd souls and your take is 150 bucks, a glass of merlot out of a box and several Triscuits. Not that I’m not grateful.)

But jeepers, Joe, what planet have you been on?

"It's a personal and private issue... [I'm] against telling everyone else in the country that they have to accept my religiously based view..."

And then, apparently not learning one thing from the disastrous Pelosi outing, he decides to cite … Thomas Aquinas. No, I can’t talk about it, I’ll start screaming again.

The problem here isn’t some wildly arcane academic issue. The point isn’t that Joe six-pack has no business citing theologians. Trust me, lots of this stuff is boring, but it ain’t rocket science, and these politicians are hardly dummies.

Here’s the point, or what I suspect is the real point: Abortion is a really hard issue. And, for sorta understandable reasons and iffy reasons and lousy reasons, lots of women, not to mention their sisters and cousins and best friends from high school, have had them. Knowing this, it’s hard to look into a crowd and denounce a decision that you know has ripped through the lives of many of the faces in front of you.

(Yes, I know, I see the ghosts too.)

But it’s hard to pronounce judgment. Oh, it’s not because you aren’t “courageous” or “counter-cultural” (the congratulatory self-image of too many pro-lifers). It’s hard to pronounce judgment because you know that many women felt they had no choice. They had no job, no health insurance, no plan. No friends. Or maybe they come from my harsh and affluent suburb, where all these things – stability, insurance, resume-building, playdates – are assumed, except the failure part.

Much easier, more palatable, to displace the judgment – “I sort of agree with this but it’s not me, it’s my religion…it’s a Catholic thing, you don’t have to understand.”

No. I wish Biden would just say it: abortion is wrong.

But then say the rest, that overturning Roe will send it to the states, most of which will keep some form of abortion legal. That a vote for the “pro-life” party also happens to be a vote for the gang that will trample the weak and engorge the rich, the ones who scorn the social networks that make the choice for life possible and the love for neighbor concrete, visible and consistent. The pro-lifers will sleep well at night, justified in that world, as will the celebrity teenage moms, as they pose for magazines they would never buy.

Say the rest, Joe, that we can propose an American story capacious enough for the least among us. Say that you think this story can be redeemed, that leaven can work on the culture. Say it loud, that we can lift up life everywhere because we have yoked ourselves to the common good and we won’t let go.

Of anyone.

UPDATE: The Catholic bishops responded directly to Biden. And today we hear that they will take up this issue in their mid-November meeting, after the election. Given the recent back-and-forth, it is reasonable that in today’s public statement they “confirm the Catholic Church's constant teaching about the sanctity of all human life from the moment of conception and the intrinsic evil of abortion.”

But the following sentence gives me serious pause, in its seeming presumption of a simple linkage between “faith” and “politics”: “As the teachers of the faith, we also point out the connectedness between the evil of abortion and political support for abortion. I understand what’s at stake here, but this seems overtly political and, in the current context, seems to favor political posturing over the possibility of real social action.

The bishops were right to call Biden out. He may need to return the favor.