Back in my pro-life atheist days, long before I had kids, I used to spend a lot of time on bulletin boards debating abortion. One thing that always astounded me were the number of self-proclaimed Catholics who supported abortion rights. Many of whom unabashedly defended their own abortions, too. Who insisted they had every right to call themselves “a Catholic in good standing” despite choosing to support the heinous evil of abortion.
I’ll admit: I was frighteningly back then naive about the number of Catholics who dissent from Church teaching on major moral issues. But then I converted myself. And suddenly I was forced to deal with the people who wanted all the rights and privileges of being Catholic but none of the responsibilities. I often found myself beside them in the pews, then behind them in the Communion line. It made me really think about what it means to call yourself a Catholic.
So I read the Catechism, which beautifully articulated not only my special purpose in life, but why that special purpose rendered the act of abortion unacceptable:
Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstances claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being (CCC, 2258).
In other words: God gave us life for the ultimate purpose of living in loving union with Him. And as the Author of Life, God is the only person with the authority to take it away.
Consequently, Catholic abortion supporters have only two possible choices. They must believe that 1) God does not create us, or 2) the authority to take life is not solely God’s domain. The problem with the first is that it is essentially atheistic. The second, while acknowledging God’s existence, attempts to put man on the same level as God.
It’s the practical, everyday ramifications of the “pro-choice Catholic” philosophy, however, that lead us to the real reason these terms are oxymoronic: abortion advocacy is a spiritual cancer that permeates the most important aspects of one’s practice of faith, ultimately rendering the person’s relationship to Christ and his Church virtually meaningless.
And as we know, those who support abortion rights almost always also support contraception, which the Church also calls “intrinsically evil” (CCC, 2370). After all, how can anyone who supports abortion logically condemn any of the other chemical abortifacients available that achieve the same end? Think about it: have you ever met a pro-choice Catholic who didn’t also use and/or promote contraception?
The Church is clear in her teachings and has been from the beginning: abortion is evil, always and everywhere. It’s a mortal sin that’s never justified under any circumstances. Meaning that people who procure an abortion, assist in one, or promote and support abortion rights are committing mortal sin. You know, the deadly kind. The only way to be reconciled with God and His church for these sins is the sacrament of Confession. Yet no one who’s convinced she’s wiser than the Church’s 2,000-year Sacred Tradition against these things is going to contritely confess those sins to a priest.
Which leads us to the “the source and summit of the Christian life”: the great privilege of communion with Jesus Christ through the Eucharist. “In the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself,” (CCC, 1324). The Lord invites us to partake of His own divine flesh and blood and it’s only fitting that we spiritually prepare ourselves for so great and holy a moment. Accepting the Eucharist while we knowingly are guilty of unabsolved mortal sins is, in the words of St. Paul, committing the worst sin of all by “profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (Mt. 8:8). The Church reaffirms that individuals have a responsibility to accept Christ’s sacrifice in a state of grace: “Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion” (CCC, 1385).
For someone who has already rejected the Church’s teachings about God’s sovereignty over human life, the sanctity of life, the fecundity of marriage, and the necessity of Confession, it’s no large step to disregard the Church’s beliefs about the sacredness of Holy Communion, too. As is likely witnessed at Masses with some of our more notorious pro-choice Catholic politicians, these people have no more regard for the Eucharist than they do for the rest of their self-professed belief system.
I can’t help but wonder at those pro-choice Catholics who insist they believe in the Real Presence. If you truly believe the Catholic Church really can turn bread and wine into God himself, what’s your basis for denying the full moral authority of that Church? Even as an atheist, I remember hearing what Catholics believed about the Eucharist and thinking, “Whoa, that’s crazy!” But I also remember that flicker of fear in my heart, the voice that whispered, “But what if it’s true?” It scared me, because it was obvious to me that any institution that had the authority to summon God himself into the room was one that demanded my full obedience.
Can pro-choice Catholics truly not see how self-serving it is to give their stamp of approval to the Church’s teachings on social justice or the Eucharist, while rejecting so much of the rest? Personally, I’ve never understood how those in our ranks who pick and choose what to follow can have any faith in the parts they DO agree with. I mean, if the Church could make such egregious mistakes about abortion and contraception (and women’s ordination and homosexuality, etc.), how can you have faith it’s right about ANYTHING?
More to the point: why would anyone cling to a label that represents beliefs and practices they find contemptible?
For the record, we’re not talking about Catholics who struggle to accept some of the Church’s teachings. We’ve all been there and it can take time to find the answers and receive the grace you need to truly commit to a complex and difficult teaching. In no way do I condemn those who suffer interior spiritual struggles or suggest they abandon the faith because they can’t accept everything immediately. But there is that person, and then there is the Catholic who intractably dissents from Church teaching, who publicly and unabashedly sets his own wisdom above that of the Church. Who proudly proclaims his dissent and doesn’t hesitate to try to convince others to dissent. This includes laity, priests, and yes, even bishops. These are the folks whose dissent is a grave scandal to our faith…that I challenge to explain why they insist on superficially participating in a religion they insist is so odious and flawed.
When Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of his time for hypocritically calling themselves “rabbis” while living scandalous lives, He taught us that words are important and that titles should be backed up by integrity. Jesus knew that such people are a source of scandal for the church as a whole and for the faithful as individuals. The hypocrisy apparent in the pro-choice Catholic position is a major impediment to our goal of becoming a “holy people” and creates barriers for non-Catholics that greatly encumber our ability to share the Gospel. No doubt, Christ would have harsh condemnation for those who proudly call themselves both.
Obviously, no one can force a pro-choice Catholic to stop referring to himself as such. But as members of Christ’s church, we have a responsibility to not only point out these individuals’ hypocrisy when it’s encountered, but to ensure non-Catholics understand why abortion support is in no way “Catholic.”
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Misty converted to Catholicism from atheism 13 years ago, just a week after becoming a mother to her first child. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom, she worked full-time as a magazine writer and editor. She has been married to her best friend for nearly 20 years and looks forward to many more decades by his side. Her days are now spent cooking, doing laundry, freelance writing, and homeschooling her five children. After spending so much of her life in spiritual darkness, she revels in the joy of being Catholic. Without a doubt, the Lord’s greatest gift to her has been saving her from a life without Him.