The history of Catholic immigrants to the United States and their descendants is exemplary of the American dream, and intertwined with the Democratic party. I myself am a typical example of this Catholic Democratic legacy. My grandparents were immigrants, arriving here dirt-poor from Sicily. My father grew up in his father’s trade and was a commercial fisherman; my maternal grandfather was a cement mason. They were classic working-class people. Both of my parents were registered Democrats — New Deal Democrats — their whole lives. What the Democratic party, with its vital support for labor unions, brought to our country at the time helped my family survive and thrive, and made possible even greater opportunities for my siblings, my cousins, and myself.
It was a bit disconcerting, then, when on June 18, sixty Democratic members of Congress, all Catholics, issued a significant “Statement of Principles” in response to a decision by U.S. Catholic bishops to develop a teaching document on the nature of the Eucharist and its proper reception. In their statement, the members of Congress argue that “the Sacrament of Holy Communion is central to the life of practicing Catholics, and the weaponization of the Eucharist to Democratic lawmakers for their support of a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion is contradictory.” They go on to “solemnly urge” the bishops “to not move forward and deny [lawmakers] this most holy of all sacraments” over one issue.
The statement raises many troubling questions. While I speak only for myself in this column, the public nature of the statement invites a public response and provides an excellent opportunity for candid dialogue. In that spirit, allow me to begin the dialogue with comments on some specific passages from the statement.
As Catholic Democrats in Congress, we are proud to be part of the living Catholic tradition–a tradition that unfailingly promotes the common good, expresses a consistent moral framework for life, and highlights the need to provide a collective safety net to those individuals in society who are the most vulnerable.
A “consistent moral framework for life” would logically seem to exclude laws that enable the killing of the most vulnerable and innocent in society: the unborn. Surely the members of Congress know, as committed Catholics, that the early Church described abortion as a form of homicide, and that the Christian community condemned abortion as early as the first century in the Didache. Nor can we ignore the pain caused to many women, and others in their networks of relationships, by the emotional scars of abortion.
. . . we work every day to advance respect for life and the dignity of every human being.
Except, that is, those human beings who are still in the womb, or even partially born.
We are committed to making real the basic principles that are at the heart of Catholic social teaching: helping the poor, disadvantaged, and the oppressed, protecting the least among us and ensuring that all Americans of every faith are given meaningful opportunities to share in the blessings of this great country.
One of the “basic principles” of Catholic belief is rather blunt and simple: Don’t intentionally kill, or collude in enabling others to kill, innocent human life. Catholic principles build systematically on one another. The protection of innocent, defenseless life is first and foundational.
The above comes from a June 23 article in First Things which lists and answers 15 items in the Democrats’ statement.