Catholics against the world

At least that's how it felt after looking at the response on the Tribune's website to my Tuesday column , "Quinn's quandary:  Faith or public service?" In it I defended the Catholic bishops' right to criticize Gov.Pat Quinn for attending a fund-raiser and giving support to Personal PAC, a rigidly pro-choice funder of rigidly pro-choice political candidates. I said that on a purely secular level Quinn can be criticized by anyone (including) me, for hanging out with Personal PAC extremists.

Judging by the response to my column, no one agreed. Or maybe no one who agreed had read it, or they had read it but decided not to comment. So, I will comment on the comments, acknowledging the good points and challenging some of the other points. In no particular order:

  • "If the church wants to play [in the political arena], then they should be taxed ..."  My comment: That might not be a bad idea. I don't know what the legal and constitutional ramifications are, but make them set up political action committees that can't receive tax-deductible contributions. But be careful what you wish for. The Catholic Church isn't the only church that has an appearance of political activity. Does the name, the Reverend Jesse Jackson ring a bell? Or all the ministers that "mobilized" their congregations to support Barack Obama's presidential and Harold Washington's mayoral campaigns? Activists "in the pews" provides Democrats and liberals with plenty of support. Funny how we never hear how the Catholic Church should butt out when it preaches social justice.
  • "Byrne, this boat has sailed long ago give it up. Right, and the Supreme Court once ruled in favor of slaveholders (Dred Scott v. Sandford). It's never too late for right and justice to prevail. There'll be no let-up from this corner.
  • Don't make doctors discuss the risks of an abortion. This is directed at proposed requirements that doctors explain those risks prior to performing an abortion. Pro-choicers oppose this because they reject suggestions that abortions carry risks. At least no more risks than removing a wart.  They also would have us believe that no doctor needs to be directed to discuss risks of any surgical procedure. This assumes that every abortion doctor and clinic in the county provides full and accurate descriptions of the risks.
  • "I'm sure you would love for the government to consult you and the rest of the mullahs before deciding on legislation just like Ahmadinejad has to but we don't live in a theocracy."   Put aside the offense of equating pro-lifers with the the fascists that run Iran. Truth is, many pro-lifers (including myself) would love to see the abortion question settled democratically, instead of by a decree of unelected justices. Pro-choicers don't want that because they insist that Americans, if left to decide the issue, would criminalize all abortions, an assumption not supported by public opinion polls. Pro-lifers too need to recognize that no court or the public will outlaw all abortions, especially those necessary to save the mother's life or to end a non-censenual pregnancy (rape and incest).
  • The bishops have no moral authority or credibility because they protected child sex abusers in the clergy. By extension that means that they have no moral authority or credibility about anything, period. The logical error of saying that their loss of credibility caused by child abusers strips them of all credibility is an obvious logical error. Your being wrong on one thing does not automatically make you wrong on another. Still, the church's critics have a point and the church will have to spend much time and effort repairing the self-inflicted damage (called doing penance). Catholics do believe in hell and the hierarchy and guilty priests will have much to account for.
  • The bishops attacked the rape victim who will receive a leadership award from Quinn. For not knowing the facts and for attacking the woman, the bishops apologized. Yes, they didn't know the facts; a true blunder on their part. But no, their original letter did not directly or indirectly attack the woman. The bishops did not apologize for supposedly attacking the woman because that's not what they did. The people who run Personal PAC know this, but they created this red herring to divert attention, and apparently with some it worked.
  • Can we compromise? One poster said a compromise would be to accept that you can't force a woman to have or not have an abortion. Nice try. Maybe I could take it seriously if feminist pro-choicers would give more than lip service opposition to China's forced one-child policy. One poster--and only one--bothered to answer the substantive question that I posed: Could we comprise by defining personhood at the onset of brain activity--which begins about six or eight weeks after conception. He objects to this compromise because "regular electrical activity [is] not seen until at least 6 months." I don't know if this is scientifically correct, but at least we have the beginnings of a dialogue here, and a possible compromise. You can find further development of this discussion herehere, here, here and here.

My column started as a defense of the bishops' right to openly participate in (not control) public discourse. I am not, as some posters seem to think, proposing to turn government over to Catholic clergy. Precisely because there is an objection to Catholics and other religions "imposing" their views on the body politic, I directed the discussion into secular considerations. By that measure, I found Quinn's alliance with Personal PAC to be a sign of his willingness to accept the support of extremists on the questions of abortion.
Interestingly, none of the posters seemed willing to address the secular questions that I raised or address the significance of Doe v Bolton. Too bad; I had hoped to find common ground.

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    Chicago Tribune contributing op-ed columnist and author of forthcoming historical novel, "Madness: The War of 1812." Reporter, editor and columnist for Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News. Freelance writer and editor.

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