Growing up in a Catholic community, I was taught that it was (prior to Vatican II which relaxed the rule) a sin to eat meat on Fridays. The Sisters in our school explained that when we ate with non-Catholics, we were to observe this restriction ourselves regardless of what our neighbors ate, but should not insist that they also abstain. Nor were we to even think ill of our neighbors since, as non-Catholics, the restriction did not apply to them.
Of course, Friday abstinence was not a “core principle” of the Catholic faith, and the relaxed standards from Vatican II rendered the issue moot. The more serious principle at work here was the Gospel message that we must “change our hearts,” or more colloquially, clean up our act. Throughout Christian teaching this admonition recurs — that we mind our own actions, words and thoughts. What it doesn’t tell us to do is to compel, coerce or force others to obey the rules that bind Catholics. Yes, we were taught to “admonish the sinner.” But Jesus himself said of this, “attend the log in your own eye before the speck in your brother’s.” Or more plainly put: Do what you know is right, but after you’ve spoken your mind about someone else’s misbehavior, persistence in that action is his or her responsibility, not yours. Even more simply, you can’t go to hell because someone else committed a sin.
Because the offense of abortion is so grave, some Catholics (even Bishops, we see) as well as other religious faithful have apparently presumed that the above caution does not apply (”US Catholic bishops OK possible rebuke of Biden over abortion rights,” June 18). It seems that admonishment is not sufficient. To prevent abortions, we must be required to resort to whatever means are needed to keep any human female who has passed puberty and is capable of becoming pregnant from undergoing that horrific procedure, including physically preventing the person from going to an abortionist. Surely, a baby in the womb is far graver an issue than a “speck in the eye.” Surely, we must literally prevent a person from committing this sin, no?
I say, no, sorry. The core teaching is to speak your peace, but desist if the other person persists.
Is President Joe Biden, a Catholic, committing a heinous sin by not using his executive power to assign legal punishments for abortions? Isn’t that what many bishops are asserting with their recent and upcoming statements of church policy on the matter? Isn’t President Biden excommunicated de facto for publicly declining to pursue the nullification of Roe v. Wade? It is my guess that Mr. Biden is acting exactly according to the Catholic teaching he received in his youth, and has a clear conscience. He stated that he disapproves of abortion. There is no record, to my knowledge, of his ever having been a party to one within his family or his sphere of personal influence. He has given his moral admonishment, as the church instructed him.
In my opinion, and this is my admonishment, the bishops who seek Mr. Biden’s excommunication are the ones who are out of line. In this case, the clergy are applying to the civil authorities to enforce with temporal penalties, moral laws that they have, frankly and admittedly, failed to convince their followers to obey. And the president is right to decline to accede to their demands. His is an assertion that the state is neither the giver nor the enforcer of the moral laws of Catholicism or of any other religious faith.
Thaddeus Paulhamus, Parkville
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