Congratulations on becoming the second baptized Catholic to attain the office of President of the United States. Many Catholics feel somewhat alienated from American political culture, and thus feel a sense of pride when one of our own achieves high public office. Unlike some of our brothers and sisters, I do not refer to you as a “so-called” or “self-professed” or “alleged” Catholic. Like me, you are a Catholic by virtue of your baptism—an indelible mark of grace that cannot be undone—not by virtue of your moral or intellectual successes or failures. I certainly do not want my status as a Catholic to be judged by my moral transgressions, so neither do I judge yours.
Having said that, however, I have very grave concerns about how—or even whether—your Catholic faith informs your moral and political vision. In fact, solely by your own public statements and actions, you seem to have divorced your moral opinions from our shared Catholic faith. From a Catholic perspective, this makes your victory pyrrhic at best and cruelly ironic at worst. At best, you seem to hold moral positions that are in tension with Catholic doctrine. At worst, you have said that you will implement policies that not only contradict that doctrine, but will cause me and our fellow Catholics to participate in grave moral evil.
Like you, I am a sinner, by which I mean that I do or say things (or omit to do or say things) that are contrary to the moral doctrines of our faith. My failures of hospitably, generosity, temperance, and many other virtues are legion. But the only way that I can name these deeds or omissions as sin is by acknowledging the truth of the doctrines that I have violated. My concern with some of your public statements and actions is not simply that they are contrary to the moral teaching of the Church, but that they imply you do not believe that teaching is true — or worse — that you believe they are not true, which is to deny that sin is sin.
About abortion, for example, you have said, “It’s a woman’s right to do that. Period.” This is not an articulation of your felt need to make policy concessions to an immoral act in a democratic society. Rather, by rooting abortion in the most fundamental moral term that Americans know—rights—you mean that abortion is a morally legitimate choice. This necessarily implies, of course, that the Catholic Church’s position on abortion is not only wrong, but immoral; and thus that those Catholics who believe the teaching are themselves immoral.
The moral weight obtains in the belief, regardless of any action that one might take on the belief. For example, it is immoral to say that one race is superior to another, even if one never commits a racist act. Your position on abortion, Mr. President, necessarily entails that the Church is immoral in teaching its contradiction. In other words, you charge that the Church teaches falsehood in one of its most rigorously held moral doctrines.
You have made it clear that you will force your moral approval of abortion onto those of us who believe the Church’s teaching is true. You will increase public financing of abortion by directly funding Planned Parenthood. You will enact regulations that prevent states from denying Medicare reimbursement to abortion mills. You will rescind the Mexico City Policy, and thus force my tax dollars to pay for abortions in other countries. You have endorsed abandoning the Hyde Amendment from appropriations bills. And you will sign the so-called “Equality Act,” which makes abortion “health care” and will force Catholic hospitals and physicians to participate in your moral error or to stop practicing medicine.
Similarly, you have expressed your opinion that sexual activity between people of the same sex is moral and, thus, that those who believe otherwise are immoral. You have even gone so far as to officiate at a same sex “marriage,” not just violating the Church’s teaching, but flaunting it.
To be sure, we Catholics have a moral obligation to acknowledge same-sex attracted men and women as our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to treat them with the dignity that all humans possess. And many of us, myself included, have failed in that moral command. But to embrace the dignity of all people is very different from affirming the moral legitimacy of same sex conduct or marriage. Yet you have done so. And through the Equality Act and Do No Harm Act, you will force your fellow Catholics to be complicit in this and other errors related to sexuality and gender.
These examples (and there are many others) are not instances of moral failure, in which we all partake. Rather, they are examples of embracing express doctrinal error. And by propounding this error, you have caused public scandal. Already, major media outlets have said that you will represent a “different” way of being Catholic. They mean that you will disregard fundamental tenets of your faith. This is not only to cause scandal, but also to force others—including your Catholic brothers and sisters—directly to participate in grave moral evil.
As Catholics we are commanded to make disciples. This is true for the most humble to the most exalted among us, and it should be an animating principle of our religious and moral lives. Your public statements and actions are not merely in tension with that command; they are expressly and egregiously disobedient to it. You cannot simultaneously call the teachings of the Church false and challenge people to be converted to that teaching.
Mr. President, I will not call you a “so-called” Catholic. But I do challenge you to conform your moral words and actions to the teaching of the Church you profess to love, rather than by the moral extremes of your secular political party. “The truth will set you free,” Someone once said.
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