Earlier this week, 55 Catholic Democrats in the House of Representatives issued a brief "Statement of Principles." Here’s its core:
We are committed to making real the basic principles that are at the heart of Catholic social teaching: helping the poor and disadvantaged, protecting the most vulnerable among us, and ensuring that all Americans of every faith are given meaningful opportunities to share in the blessings of this great country. That commitment is fulfilled in different ways by legislators but includes: reducing the rising rates of poverty; increasing access to education for all; pressing for increased access to health care; and taking seriously the decision to go to war. Each of these issues challenges our obligations as Catholics to community and helping those in need.
We envision a world in which every child belongs to a loving family and agree with the Catholic Church about the value of human life and the undesirability of abortion—we do not celebrate its practice. Each of us is committed to reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and creating an environment with policies that encourage pregnancies to be carried to term. We believe this includes promoting alternatives to abortion, such as adoption, and improving access to children’s healthcare and child care, as well as policies that encourage paternal and maternal responsibility.
In all these issues, we seek the Church’s guidance and assistance but believe also in the primacy of conscience. In recognizing the Church’s role in providing moral leadership, we acknowledge and accept the tension that comes with being in disagreement with the Church in some areas. Yet we believe we can speak to the fundamental issues that unite us as Catholics and lend our voices to changing the political debate -- a debate that often fails to reflect and encompass the depth and complexity of these issues.
I assume that the statement was drafted so as to gain the largest possible number of signatures; hence the reference in the first of the above paragaphs to the different ways in which the commitment to the basic Catholic social teaching could be embodied in laws and policies. Reasonable Catholics can disagree about how best to promote these ends. We may not be sure about which measures work best, about which levers in human nature we should be pressing now. (See, for example,
But it strikes me that there’s a difference between accommodating prudential disagreements about how to achieve a prospective good and silence regarding legislative efforts to limit access to abortions. There’s no reason why one cannot both undertake efforts to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and move toward taking abortion off the table as a last-resort means of birth control. The statement’s silence regarding the latter is telling. Taken together with its almost-Protestant emphasis on "the primacy of conscience," the statement amounts to an evasion of the Church’s clearly-stated position on abortion.
I wonder as well whether there are any Catholic members of the House who didn’t sign this statement.
Update: See this article and this article, as well as the first comment below. I pretended to be a social scientist for a few minutes and found the following: there are probably only 71 Catholics in the House at present (Robert Menendez having moved to the Senate and not having been replaced yet); and one, Madeleine Bordallo of Guam, is not a voting member. That leaves 15 Catholic Democrats in the House who didn’t sign the statement. Of the fifteen, six (Costello and Lipinski of Illinois, Cuellar of Texas, Kanjorski and Murtha of Pennsylvanis, and McNulty of New York) are pronouncedly anti-abortion (having earned a score of 25 or less from NARAL in 2005); one (Hinojosa of Texas) is a "moderate," earning a 45 from NARAL; the other eight have scores ranging from 85 (Kaptur of Ohio) to 100 (Bishop, Higgins, and Rangell of New York, Dingell of Michigan, Kucinich of Ohio, Tauscher of California, and Visclosky of Indiana). Of the signatories, 39 are on the high end of NARAL’s range, five are in the middle, and 11 look like pro-lifers (Langevin of Rhode Island, Kildee and Stupak of Michigan, Ryan of Ohio, Doyle and Holden of Pennsylvania, Taylor of Mississippi, Marshall of Georgia, Salazar of Colorado, Oberstar of Minnesota, and Lynch of Massachusetts).
While NARAL scores are a bit problematical as measures of a representative’s real position on abortion (I bow to anyone who has local knowledge that would correct or refine my classifications), they’re the best I can do on the fly. Given the political cover that the statement gives to Catholic representatives who score high on NARAL’s scale, I’m most interested in why eight of them didn’t sign. Are they the most "radically" pro-abortion Catholics in the House? Or the least willing to concede anything to those who believe that it’s possible for reasonable people to disagree about social welfare policy? I’m curious. Anyone know anything about the particulars?
Update #2: See Wheat and Weeds for another interesting point: there’s nothing in the statement about the principle of subsidiarity (see the quotes from the W&W post here), as well as this longer exploration of the tensions between subsidiarity and the welfare state.