Today we continue our series of video/audio clips of Fr. Hehir’s public comments on Catholic Church teachings with the topic of Catholics voting for pro-abortion politicians. After the archdiocese accused of us of making “inaccurate” and “untrue” statements on this blog (an accusation which still has not been substantiated six weeks later) , we have shared video clips of Fr. Hehir’s comments about Catholic conscience exemptions and women priests that contradicted Church teachings, and suddenly the criticism stopped. Despite the lengthy (and expensive) meeting Archdiocesan cabinet secretaries had last week with outside lawyers to discuss options that might address the annoying problem of the anonymous bloggers, since we have received no subsequent criticism, we assume our apostolic ministry now meets with ecclesial approval. After the clip below, we compare what Fr. Hehir said on voting for pro-abortion politicians vs what Cardinal Ratzinger said on this same topic in 2004 as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Abortion is obviously one of the key issues of our time, and statements by an Archdiocesan cabinet secretary (and senior advisor to Boston’s Cardinal Archbishop) which do not condemn the evil of abortion and rather suggest a need to preserve access to abortions could cause some people–certainly not this blog, of course–to question Fr. Hehir’s orthodoxy and his positions on this important issue. So let’s now look at what Fr. Hehir said in this forum at Harvard Divinity School not long ago.
The topic was Thoughts on the Future of the Catholic Church. It took place on April 25, 2005, just six days after Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope. Among the other panelists was Prof. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, a noted feminist theologian. A Boston Globe report on the event said, “The four panelists hinted at or explicitly stated reservations about his enforcement of conservative orthodoxy when he ran the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith.” In response to a woman’s question from the audience about inclusiveness in the church and whether any hope of true transformation to a different model of church was possible, we share with you the audio version of what the Globe reported. First you’ll hear how Prof. Schussler responded, and then Fr. Hehir’s response. (If you are at work and can’t play the sound now, the transcribed comments are below).
Schussler: (0:30-1:05) “A woman told me at a Call to Action meeting during the election campaign that she was harassed in her parish because she had a sticker for Kerry on her car, she was told, and it came from Ratzinger, that she could not go to communion because she had the Kerry sticker on the car.”
Hehir: (fast forward to 2:15, after his comment about Vatican II) “If somebody tells somebody they can’t go to communion because they have a sticker on their car (audience laughter), then what’s needed is just elementary catechesis on the nature and logic of Catholic moral tradition. That is available. (audience laughter)”
Where do we start? First, we have the fact that this was a complaint by a member of the Catholic dissident organization, Call to Action–and communicated by the professor in the Harvard forum, who was also attending the CTA meeting–but we will move past that for now. Here are two excerpts from Cardinal Ratziner’s 2004 statement “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles.” The second passage is most relevant to this situation.
The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorize or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a “grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. […] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it'” (no. 73). Christians have a “grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. […] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it” (no. 74).
[N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]
Here is our attempt at fraternal correction. Fr. Hehir did not state anything about the evil of abortion and in his role as cabinet secreatry for social services, and he should have. He did not state anything about it being sinful for Catholic politicians to vote for abortion and grounds for them to not receive Communion. (For the record, he also overlooked this in his comments on the Ted Kennedy funeral) He did not state it would be formal cooperation in evil and sinful to vote for a candidate because that politician supported abortion. He did not state that voting for a pro-abortion candidate was permitted only if there were proportionate reasons. A bumper sticker implies financial and/or voting support for a candidate, and what Fr. Hehir said was whomever said support for a pro-abortion politician was grounds for not receiving communion needed elementary catechesis. Does anyone else read into this that he was criticizing Cardinal Ratzinger or his statement? Does anyone else interpret Fr. Hehir as suggesting that Cardinal Ratzinger , bishops, priests, and/or others of this viewpoint themeselves needed “elementary catechesis”?
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, in November 2007 Boston Globe interview, was quoted as follows:
Acknowledging that Catholic voters in Massachusetts generally support Democratic candidates who are in favor of abortion rights, O’Malley said, “I think that, at times, it borders on scandal as far as I’m concerned.” O’Malley draws line with Democrats (Nov. 15, 2007)
Then-Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis informed his archdiocese of the following in mid-2004:
Catholics in St. Louis who vote for political candidates supportive of abortion rights have committed a grave sin in the eyes of the Church, and should confess and do penance before receiving Communion. (“Voting for abortion rights candidate is a sin,” SLToday.com, June 25, 2004)
Do both Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Burke need elementary catechesis as well? We invite Fr. Hehir and the Archdiocese to listen to his public comments on women priests (that contradicted infallible Vatican teachings) and his public comments on Catholic Conscience exemptions (where he said, “if we don’t choose well” we could harm the rights of the person who wants an abortion), along with the above.
Perhaps after that, they might come back with a recommendation regarding who in fact is in need of elementary catechesis.