Instead of engaging with the text of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s recent remarks at Notre Dame, Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter has attacked Chaput for saying that it might sometimes be necessary to deny communion to abortion-supporting politicians. Winters claims such a stance makes no sense because, “There are many reasons why someone might not support a certain piece of legislation that would restrict or criminalize abortion.”
But what about cases in which the politician’s reasons for opposing pro-life laws are well known? This is precisely the case with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi has explicitly endorsed a “right to choose” and elsewhere offered as her reason that, “women should have that opportunity to exercise their free will.” Pelosi’s votes in favor of abortion are not a matter of prudence. They are a matter of principle—deliberate, dogged, and unashamed.
There are arguments for a stance like Pelosi’s, but we should not pretend that any of them are Catholic. As Pelosi’s own pastor, Archbishop George H. Niederauer, wrote in a response to her public statements, “It is entirely incompatible with Catholic teaching to conclude that our freedom of will justifies choices that are radically contrary to the Gospel—racism, infidelity, abortion, theft.”
Some fear that prudential considerations (which are necessary for any principled politics) are increasingly invoked as an excuse for infidelity rather than used as a tool for faithful citizenship, and Winters’ dubious use of prudence is not likely to reassure them. But all this is somewhat beside the point, for the reality today is that many of our self-identified Catholic politicians feel no need to work against life under cover of insincerely invoked prudential grounds. Instead, they support abortion rights on principle and in the open.
It’s also worth noting that Winters misreported the actual event. In the original news report Winters cites, we are informed that Chaput was asked “why there is so much disunity among Catholics on the question of Catholics in political life standing clearly with the church on major moral issues such as abortion.” Winters rewrites the exchange so that denial of communion is introduced as the subject of a controversial question. Chaput is now “asked why Catholics were so divided over the issue of whether or not to deny communion to pro-choice politicians.” This small error is simply the first false brushstroke in Winters’ portrait of a man embattled and alone.
Winters concludes with a transparent attempt to drive a wedge between Chaput and his fellow bishops. He claims that Chaput has called them “cowards” because they fear driving Catholic politicians out of the political life. But Chaput said no such thing, nor is there is anything cowardly in the desire to ensure a vigorous Catholic voice in the public square. On the contrary, it is a goal that Chaput himself has, I would submit, consistently and even courageously sought to advance.