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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Schumer and the Catholics

(Reprinted from the issue of August 21, 2003)

Capitol BldgSen. Charles Schumer, the other New York Democrat, is at the center of a new controversy. Mike Long, of New York’s Conservative Party, says Schumer “has an anti-Catholic bias when it comes to the principles, traditions, and beliefs of the Catholic Church. If a Catholic possesses those views, Chuck Schumer is going to make sure [he] can’t advance in the judicial system.”

In the debate over the confirmation of William Pryor, attorney general of Alabama, to a federal judgeship, Schumer, noting that the Catholic Pryor opposes Roe v. Wade, has said, “When it comes to the separation of church and state, we have to be concerned.” Robert Novak notes that Schumer has taken the argument over religion in government into previously forbidden territory. With Pryor and other judicial nominees, he has made an issue of an individual’s “deeply held religious beliefs.”

Schumer’s defenders, on the other hand, point out that most of the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who share Schumer’s opposition to Bush nominees, are also Catholics. In fact this is the real problem: Some of the most “anti-Catholic” men in politics are nominal Catholics who call themselves “pro-choice.”

There is nothing such Catholics hate more than a Catholic who lives his faith. They can be counted on to insist that they merely refrain from “imposing their views on others” — which implies (1) that they are resisting a temptation other, more fanatical Catholics are prone to; (2) that acting on the truths of natural law is tantamount to establishing Catholicism as the state religion; and (3) that their own “views” are Catholic. All three of these propositions are highly doubtful. They serve only to give faithless Catholics superficial excuses for taking anti-Catholic positions.

The second of these propositions is the real nub of the question. Opposing abortion isn’t a specifically Catholic “view.” Not so long ago, even Planned Parenthood agreed that abortion “kills a baby.” It went without saying that everyone opposed it. There is no specific revealed truth on which Catholic opposition depends.

What has happened is a case of moral erosion. As with other moral truths, the Catholic Church has stood firm while others have defected from a traditional consensus, until what once appeared universal began to appear almost a Catholic peculiarity.

Imagine that the consensus against cannibalism began to dissolve. Imagine that Pope after Pope continued to insist that it was “intrinsically wrong” for human beings to eat each other, when even the Episcopal Church had made reasonable accommodations to the evolving spirit of the time, until the Catholic Church was the only prominent institution that still opposed the new dietary freedom.

In that case, we would be told that opposition to dietary “choice” was a weird relic of medieval Catholic theology. Liberals would say they were “not pro-cannibal, but pro-choice.” The rallying cry would be “Keep the government out of the kitchen!” The alleged principle at stake would be “the separation of Church and state,” a principle violated by laws telling people what they can eat, which is, after all, “a deeply personal decision.”

Enlightened Catholic politicians would say that they “disagreed with the Pope on this issue.” Many would be “personally opposed” to cannibalism, but unwilling to “impose their views on society.” I’m reminded of my old friend Phil Nicolaides’ quip about Ted Kennedy: “His religion is so private he won’t even impose it on himself.”

So when the Catholic Church becomes the last standing champion of a civilized standard, that standard becomes known as “the Catholic position,” and even supposed Catholics edge away from it, while insisting that they are still loyal Catholics. Just what they are being loyal to is the question.

It’s of course bad manners to question the sincerity of people’s religious professions, but let’s get real. How many of these liberal Catholics are “personally opposed” to what they support in law? How would a Catholic politician who was truly “personally opposed” talk and act? Wouldn’t he forcefully express his moral horror of abortion, even if he thought it shouldn’t be outlawed? Wouldn’t he endorse and personally support private agencies to discourage abortion and help young pregnant women find adoptive parents for their babies? Wouldn’t he try to make it clear in every way that he wished no woman would ever exercise her legal option to have the child killed?

Sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? You can hardly imagine a “pro-choice” Catholic acting like that. Most of the breed favor public subsidies for abortion, forcing even fellow Catholics to pay for what they regard as a hideous crime. They take the position that abortion is wrong, but should occur as often as possible.

Above all, if you really do hold the “views” you don’t want to “impose,” don’t you at least have a duty, even a passion, to share those views?

Shouldn’t your most ardent wish be to convert as many people as possible to your Catholic faith? Shouldn’t you at least explain the Catholic position, and defend your Church against false and loose accusations?

I have no illusion that such arguments will spur Senator Kennedy to a new career as a Catholic evangelist. I make them only to illustrate what a truly sincere Catholic, who was also “pro-choice,” might be like, if he existed. It’s his existence I strongly doubt.

As for the principle of separation of church and state, just how does that work? How broadly does this principle apply? Does Schumer think it forbids U.S. aid to a Jewish state, whose official religion is Judaism and where Christians are in effect second-class citizens? Is it fair that American Christians should be taxed to pay for this? Evidently Schumer has no objection to that. But then, neither do his nominally Christian colleagues.
Blurred Battle Lines

When the very definition of a Catholic is so debased, I don’t see much point in calling this or that politician “anti-Catholic.” The whole Democratic Party is arrayed against any serious Christian, especially one who applies his faith to defending unborn children. The Democrats’ position — and they can claim the backing of the U.S. Supreme Court — is that the Constitution itself is effectively anti-Christian.

When Schumer speaks of a judicial nominee’s “deeply held religious beliefs,” he means that the nominee actually believes in his religion, and therefore withholds his internal assent from secular humanism. Since secular humanism doesn’t count as a “religion,” despite its implications for all revealed religion, its establishment as a virtual state creed doesn’t violate religious neutrality. That’s why public schools can teach evolution, promote fornication, abortion, and sodomy, and undermine Christianity, but mustn’t start the day with even a brief, bland prayer.

Liberal Catholics do their part for the secular humanist cause by professing to be on the side of the Church while constantly serving the interests of its enemies. They will keep the battle lines blurred as long as they are allowed to get away with calling themselves Catholics. If they were exposed for what they are, we would have little to fear from the Schumers.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by The Wanderer
Reprinted with permission.

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