The young man walked slowly toward his place of execution. Dressed in a crumpled suit and tie, he faced the firing squad and asked permission to pray. As a Catholic priest ministering to the faithful during the purge of the Church by Mexican revolutionaries, he was condemned to death. As the photographers and riflemen took aim, he raised his arms parallel to the ground, forgave his executioners and shouted, “Viva Christo Rey!”
A dozen or so years later at Auschwitz, ten prisoners were chosen to be executed by starvation in reprisal for an escape attempt. When one of them despaired for his wife and children, a bespectacled man in tattered prison garb calmly stepped forward and offered to take his place. His request was granted.
Twenty years later, a pregnant mother of three was diagnosed with an ovarian tumor. Her doctors advised an abortion to save her life. A physician herself, she knew the risks to her own health but refused, adamantly putting the baby’s life ahead of her own. Within a week of the birth of her fourth child, she was dead.
These three 20th century saints and martyrs; Fr. Miguel Pro, Fr. Maximilian Kolbe and Gianna Molla have inspired countless numbers of their fellow Catholics by their love for the Church, life, and their fellow man. Their lives are proof that sainthood is reserved not just for the giants of centuries past, but for anyone who lives their Catholic faith to the fullest and allows it to guide them in all things. The 21st century is also in need of men and women whose words and deeds will continue in defense of that faith.
Consider then, the recent release by 55 Catholic Democrats of the U.S. House of Representatives, of a document they call a “Historic Catholic Statement of Principles.” It is truly historic in that it displays a degree of hubris and presumption not witnessed since Senator Joe Biden’s own tender religious sentiment: “The next Republican that tells me I’m not religious, I’m going to shove my rosary beads down their throat.”
It is bad enough that the document contains outright falsehoods — “we work every day to advance respect for life and the dignity of every human being” — but its title suggests that this drivel is somehow a “Catholic statement” that speaks for the Church, rather than 55 politicians looking for votes. Forget the firing squads and concentration camps, these folks are facing death by polling.
On the whole, the document reiterates a study commissioned by Democrats in 2004 which contended that they are in accord with the Church on issues like the death penalty, immigration, gun control and increasing the minimum wage. Of course, none of these topics are covered by Canon Law, unlike the Church’s teaching on abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, which are.
The document, which was released through the office of Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), quizzically states, “We believe the separation of church and state allows for our faith to inform our public duties.” It is unclear how the Catholic faith of Ms. DeLauro informs her to vote “no” on vouchers for private and parochial schools, oppose school prayer, oppose a law banning physician-assisted suicide, oppose faith-based charity initiatives, support embryonic stem-cell research, oppose banning gay adoption, and maintain a perfect 100 percent approval rating by the pro-abortion group NARAL.
While not all of the signatories to the document are as blatantly in conflict with Church teaching as Ms. DeLauro, the acknowledgement that they are “in disagreement with the Church in some areas” comes pretty near its definition of heresy: “the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same” (Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2089). Worse, because they hold positions of authority, they are further at risk of causing scandal, another grave offense.
In years past, American Catholic politicians could use the “I’m personally against it” gambit at length in their roles as brave defenders of the faith with infrequent or mild reproach from Mother Church. But under the beneficent papacy of the German Shepherd that may be changing. The 55 Democrats state, “In all these issues, we seek the Church’s guidance and assistance but believe also in the primacy of conscience.” Their prayers for assistance were quickly answered.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops responded to the Democrats, particularly reminding them in the area of conscience that, “As members of the Church, all Catholics are obliged to shape our consciences in accord with the moral teaching of the Church.” As the good bishops make clear, the “primacy of conscience” canard would negate the very need for Church teaching.
The would-be Thomas Mores conclude their statement by invoking Pope John Paul II’s Christifideles Laici: “we believe the Church is the ‘people of God,’ called to be a moral force in the broadest sense.” The USCCB responded in kind from the same document:
Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.
Unlike their illustrious and sainted predecessors, some of these Catholic Democrats don’t seem to have the stomach for that defense.