How Will History Judge Catholics in the 2008 Election?

Deal W. Hudson
October 24, 2008

The Catholic Church is often accused of complicity in a variety of moral evils, including the institution of slavery, the rise of the Nazi Party, and even the horror of the Holocaust itself.

Historians differ on the degree of blame properly assigned to Catholics. But they all agree on one thing: These evils were the result of Church teaching being ignored by the laity and acquiescent bishops who should have said more and with a louder voice.

Will historians a century from now look back on this election as the moment when Catholics in America fully embraced another intrinsic moral evil – abortion – directly contradicting their professed beliefs? Will historians say that, after 40 years of strong papal leadership opposing “the culture of death,” American Catholics chose to turn a deaf ear? That the U.S. bishops said too little, and with too soft a voice?

If Barack Obama is elected president on November 4 with substantial help from Catholic voters, the historical record will show precisely that. As Justin Cardinal Rigali has argued, Catholics will have voted to remove all legal restrictions to abortion, as well as taxpayer funding of abortion both here and abroad. Why? Because Barack Obama has promised, as his first presidential act, to sign the Freedom of Choice Act.

Just as many Catholics sold and owned slaves or remained silent during the Holocaust, Catholic voters may let loose the full force of another moral evil that contradicts the heart of their faith: “Human life is sacred – all men must recognize that fact” (John XXIII, Humanae Vitae).

Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton has recently reminded us that the voice of the Church was heard in the midst of Nazi Germany. In 1941, Bishop Clemens von Galen – the “Lion of Munster” – gave a homily condemning Nazi officials for many crimes, including the murder of the mentally ill. “The right to life, to inviolability, to freedom is an indispensable part of any moral order of society.”

Bishop von Galen’s “Three Sermons in Defiance of the Nazis” are breathtaking for their courage in face of the likelihood of arrest and possible execution. (Shortly after these sermons, the Nazis placed the bishop under house arrest until the end of the war. The Lion of Munster died of an appendix infection in 1946 and was beatified on October 9, 2005, by Benedict XVI.)

There are bishops speaking out – more than 40 and counting – and their voices are growing louder. The loudest of all is Archbishop Charles Chaput who, in addition to his recent book, Render Unto Caesar: Serving Our Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Public Life, has issued two public statements, the latest titled “Little Murders.”

Archbishop Chaput directly addresses the arguments made by Catholic supporters of Obama, including Prof. Doug Kmiec, who have done a disservice to the Church, confused the natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, undermined the progress pro-lifers have made, and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue instead of fighting within their parties and at the ballot box to protect the unborn.

Archbishop Chaput further notes the relative lack of conviction among Catholics on the issue of abortion compared to the abortion lobby. “Apparently they believe in their convictions more than some of us Catholics believe in ours. And I think that’s an indictment of an entire generation of American Catholic leadership.”

He is exactly right – and history will note this failure of Catholic leadership all the more if Obama is elected president. His policies will surely bring about an increase in the number of abortions, not the reduction he and his surrogates have promised.

Of course, what historians have to say is not the real issue; it’s what history will be recorded – the loss of life and the impact of these “little murders” on those who commit them and on families. History will also record the failure of the largest Christian community in the United States to protect it is most innocent and vulnerable, the unborn.

As Bishop von Galen reminded the Nazis sitting in his church on August 3, 1941:

“Thou shalt not kill!” This commandment from God, who alone has power to decide on life or death, was written in the hearts of men from the beginning, long before God gave the children of Israel on Mount Sinai his moral code in those lapidary sentences inscribed on stone which are recorded for us in Holy Scripture and which as children we learned by heart in the catechism.

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