Action Alert!

writing Catholic doctrine into law?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Nov 25, 2009

The many vocal critics of Bishop Thomas Tobin-- from Chris Matthews to the Boston Globe editorial page and beyond-- are complaining that (as the Globe put it) "the bishop is insisting that the congressman use his position to enshrine church teachings into public policy." Not so.

Opposition to abortion is not based on some sectarian doctrine accepted only by the Catholic Church. The only "teaching" in question here is the ancient directive: "Thou shalt not kill." That moral imperative was written into Mosaic law, and advanced separately by Hippocrates, long before the Catholic Church was established on earth.

Is abortion the killing of a human being? The answer to that question depends entirely on scientific fact, not religious dogma. And the scientific facts settle the question clearly in the affirmative.

So when he says that Patrick Kennedy cannot vote to support the slaughter of the innocent unborn and remain a Catholic in good standing, Bishop Tobin is not demanding that the Congressman write Catholic doctrine into civil law. He is simply saying that a legislator cannot engage in grossly immoral public activity and still present himself as a good Catholic. The offense that Kennedy has committed-- and vows that he will continue to commit-- is a violation of a universal natural law, applicable to all men.

The Church condemns abortion in the same way that the Church condemns racism. It is wrong not just for Catholics but for all people, at all times, for reasons that everyone should understand. If it was wrong for Bishop Tobin to chastise Patrick Kennedy, then it was wrong for Archbishop Rummel to excommunicate the segregationist Leander Perez in Louisiana in 1962. Anyone who thinks that Pope Pius XII should have spoken out more forcefully against Hitler's racial policies should applaud Bishop Tobin for speaking out today. And those who criticize Bishop Tobin should-- if they are consistent-- believe that Pope Pius should have maintained an absolute silence about the Holocaust, to avoid the perception that he was trying to "enshrine church teachings [against racial genocide] into public policy."

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Chestertonian - Nov. 27, 2009 11:05 PM ET USA

    Bishop Tobin is trying to enshrine Church teachings in the heart and conscience of Patrick Kennedy, which is precisely what every bishop should be working for, in all Catholics. Thank God for his fortitude!

  • Posted by: Skip - Nov. 25, 2009 4:41 PM ET USA

    Phil, as usuual, you are right on target. Not to change the subject, but I must say that your portrait in this page has a striking resemblance to Phill Collins!