Can a faithful Catholic be pro-choice?

Father Kenneth Doyle / Catholic Courier    |    06.17.2019
Category: Columns


Q. Recently, Time magazine ran an article about Tim Ryan, a Democrat congressman from Ohio, who announced his campaign for president. The article says that he “was against abortion rights until 2015.” It also says that he is a devout Catholic and names his parish. Ryan is quoted as saying, “To me, my faith is about love and compassion.”

Having lived in Minnesota at one time, I know that in the Midwest it is a cultural expectation for Catholics to belong to the Democratic Party. Is it possible to be a Democrat and pro-life? And is it possible to be a devout Catholic and pro-choice? (Mt. Angel, Oregon)

A. It is not possible to be a faithful Catholic and adopt a pro-choice position on abortion. As the U.S. Catholic bishops stated in 1989 (“Resolution on Abortion”), “No Catholic can responsibly take a ‘pro-choice’ stand when the ‘choice’ in question involves the taking of innocent human life.”

As to whether it is possible to be a Democrat and still be pro-life, I believe that it is. In fact, since 1999 there has existed an organization called Democrats for Life of America, established to coordinate national efforts of pro-life Democrats.

Sadly, though, as an article in Politico in 2018 pointed out, pro-life Democrats “represent a dying breed in American politics.” Pro-life advocates, the article notes, “feel increasingly unwelcome in a Democratic Party that is moving left on abortion, as it did in 2016, when the party’s platform called, for the first time, for the elimination of the ban on federal funding of abortion.”

I should note that the church’s position is not meant as an absolute dictate with regard to a Catholic voter’s choice of candidates.

The U.S. bishops’ 2015 document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” says, “A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that position” (No. 34).

But the same document is quick to note: “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons” (No. 35).

Q. Our son, age 24, has severe cognitive delays. Would he be able to be confirmed? What level of understanding is required? (New Philadelphia, Ohio)

A. Your son would certainly be able to be confirmed, and should be. Canon 889 of the church’s Code of Canon Law states that the reception of this sacrament requires that “a person who has the use of reason be suitably instructed, properly disposed and able to renew the baptismal promises.”

But with regard to the developmentally disabled, the U.S. bishops’ “Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities” are even more expansive. Those guidelines, revised most recently in 2017, say that “persons who because of intellectual or developmental disabilities may never attain the use of reason can receive the sacrament of confirmation and should be encouraged either directly or, if necessary, through their parents, to receive it.”

This would be consistent with the thinking of Pope Francis, who has spoken strongly about the need to make the sacraments available to the disabled. In June 2016, he celebrated a Mass in St. Peter’s Square to mark the church’s Year of Mercy. Persons with disabilities proclaimed the first two Scripture readings, including by using Braille, and several altar servers with Down syndrome assisted the pope.

The day before, the pontiff had held an audience for those whose work involves catechesis for the disabled; with regard to holy Communion for the developmentally disabled, the pontiff noted that some might object on the basis that recipients might not understand what they were doing. Opposing that view, Pope Francis explained, “We all have the same possibility of growing, moving forward, loving the Lord, doing good things.”

Referencing Pope Pius X, who ruled in 1910 that children as young as 7 years old could receive Communion,

Pope Francis noted that “each one of us has a different way of understanding things. One understands one way and another in a different manner, but we can all know God.”

Questions may be sent to Father Doyle at askfat herdoyle@gmail.com.

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