This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Yo, Archbishop Burke - I Dare You to Excommunicate Me

The AP reports that St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke, never one to avoid publicity, has asked the University of St. Louis (which is a Jesuit school, so it is not a diocesean asset considered his personal property) to discipline coach Ray Majerus for thinking for himself.

Someone show the Archbishop this blog, either so he can be educated or so that he will retaliate against someone more able to joust with him intellectually on the finer points of abortion policy than a basketball coach or a Senator.

Archbishop - I dare you to excommunicate me. In fact, I double dare you. This is because I would then be entitled to state my side of the case to you, which means you might have half a chance of learning why I and most of the Catholics in both the U.S. and your Archdiocese disagree with you on abortion policy.

To put it bluntly, your Excellency, you are so wrong it is embarrasing.

Your degree is in Cannon Law, not public policy - and it shows every time you open your yap.

I hope I have your attention.

The error you make is in equating support for legalized abortion with support for the procedure itself. What legalized abortion means is that no one is prosecuted when an abortion is performed. It does not mean that society necessarily likes abortion or that Catholics who refuse to pass laws subjecting doctors to prosecution. It means that we find it unwise to turn abortion into a black market activity where abortions are still obtained, but in less sanitary conditions. It does not mean we endorse abortion for teens or couples with inconvenient pregnancies. That would be excommunicable.

When we say we do not believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned, it does not mean we support abortion on demand. It means that we believe that overturning Roe v. Wade and the right of privacy would have the effect of overturning ALL judicial supervision of state legislative majorites when they interfere with majority rights (an avowed position of Justices Thomas and Scalia). Under the theory of republican government (small r), minorities must have recourse against majority power - and this recourse is often in the court system.

We don't even believe that abortion must be available in all cases. Most of us believe that some regulation of late term abortion is necessary, provided that an acception is made for medical need. How medical need is defined can be tinkered with through legislation - one need not overturn Roe to do it. I am of the opinion that Congress could move the begining of citizenship to the start of the third, or even sometime in the second, trimester. Adjusting the terms of citizenship is the province of CONGRESS, not the state legislatures. You cannot excommunicate me for disagreeing with you on the finer points of constitutional theory - especially when you are WRONG.

There are more appropriate ways to deal with abortion than the criminal law. Criminalizing abortion in the first trimester would make every miscarriage the possible subject to a public investigation as to whether it was in fact the result of a voluntary abortion. As a Pastor, you cannot favor this, as women who have recently lost their babies should not be in any way subjected to the whims of prosecutors out to make points with authoritarian voters (and you know that would happen if first trimester abortion was criminalized). As a husband who has lost children to miscarriage, I urge you to recant on any policy that would inject the state into the lives of women at such a trying time. Keeping the state out of this time is the essence of the right of privacy.

A more appropriate way to stop abortion is to gaurantee a living wage through tax benefits. This will decrease the need for abortion without actually banning the procedure.

The Church could actually take the lead on this by both excommunicating Catholic business owners who refuse to pay a living wage, using its lobbying arm in the USCCB to encourage the enactment of a living wage tax credit for each child, regardless of parental income, and in PAYING A LIVING WAGE ITSELF. The Church is notorious for not doing this, especially to its female employees.

The Church could also grant free tuition and a stipend to both parents whenever a teen gets pregnant in both Catholic secondary and univeristy settings. As the largest private education provider in the nation, the church could prevent quite a few abortions by doing this. It hasn't, so maybe the Archbishop should EXCOMMUNICATE HIMSELF.


Blogger Andrew Haines said...

I see that not a whole lot of people comment on your posts (which is unfortunate, since I think you offer good topics for discussion). Thus, I will offer my two-cents in the hopes that it might start a little conversation...

First, I disagree primarily with your initial argument: namely, that in supporting legalized abortion we are not compromising our Christian ethics, because we are providing 'safer' environments for abortions to be procured. While I do agree that having dirty environments will only harm more women, the fact of the matter remains that the archbishop, arguing from the Catholic position, is obligated to view the objective evil of abortion (the killing of innocent human life, i.e. murder) as something altogether impermissible. Although it may go against all conventional mindsets of probability, the only hope Christians should be aimed toward is the total and utter end of abortion, not of its mitigation; in other words, the archbishop's perspective is one that considers abortion as an inherently evil act (which it is, by its very definition and its place in the plan of God for humanity as seen from the Catholic perspective.) A similar argument can be construed regarding contraception and premarital sex: "You shouldn't have sex before marriage, but if you do, protect yourself and use contraceptives." There can be no "if you do." You simply should not. To do so would be sinful, and impossible to condone with any truly Christian ethic.

While I won't speak on the topic of the archbishop's case against the coach (because I don't know anything of it), I hope that my portrayal of the Catholic position is helpful in seeing why Burke has made the stance he has. Unfortunately, it's not a matter of his flock agreeing with him; it's a matter of magisterial teaching and authentic Catholic doctrine. When Christ saw his flock, he was moved, "because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things." We need pastors that teach. We need flocks that long for truth and understanding.

2:50 AM

Blogger Michael Bindner said...


Thanks for writing. You, like the Archbishop, don't get my point.

There is a difference between the morality of abortion and the public policy regarding abortion.

I agree that abortion is a moral evil and I oppose it.

Magisterial teaching involves personal morality, not good public policy. The Archbishop is sinning by not sticking to what he knows.

The evil that is abortion is all the more reason to oppose it effectively. Banning the procedure would be, has been and is ineffective as well as unjust, particularly if done by sacrificing a basic tenant of our democracy (Federal supremacy over state legislative majorities when individual rights are violated). The Archbishop is obliged to seek the wise counsel of those of us who actually are expert in public policy, rather than excommunicating us if he disagrees.

Note that there are no longer laws against either fornication or contraception. They don't work. BTW, not using contraception when fornicating is actually a graver sin in my opinion, since the risk of disease to ones partner is increased. The Church is actually investigating that proposition.

Since you brought up Contraception, it is not the great evil the Vatican says it is, because as I have said previously on this blog, prior to gastrulation the blastocyst cannot be considered as having had a human soul. Each stem cell in that blastocyst is a potential full human being (provided you could find a way to provide it a new blastopore). Since that is the case, the entire organism must be regarded as potential human life.

1:46 AM

Blogger spacestevie said...

Well, I have problems with Archbishop Burke for reasons other than his stand on Abortion. His rather shameful attempts to seize the assets of the St. Stanislas Church in St. Louis (which has functioned under a lay board which controls its assets independent of the archdiocese since its founding in 1878) has generated much animosity and has been divisive of Catholics here in St. Louis. The St. Stanislas Church was the reason that Pope John-Paul II visited St. Louis. He has proved a divisive force for the church and has made no attempt at reconciliation. Instead, he has practiced intransigence and threats. Not a true man of Christ in my opinion.

6:12 PM

Blogger Andrew Haines said...

Spacestevie, is this an ad hominem against Archbishop Burke, or a discussion of abortion rights and their legal protection?

Michael, I do indeed see where you are coming from, even though I solidly disagree with your position. Your argument of separating the illegality and immorality of abortion does make a lot of sense from the juridical point of view. While I do not know much about legislative theory, though, I must continue to comment from the Catholic position (i.e. the morality of abortion qua abortion). In that case, my first post suffices.

In the case of your contraception/fornication remarks, I still heartily disagree. You are right that neither law probably ever worked, and the reason is that both are such private acts that no one ever cared to think of the law (even if it did exist). Abortion, on the other hand, is much less private act, and to be sure one with much graver objective consequences, which any human being can distinguish in his or her heart (as you previously noted the intense emotional pain associated therewith). As I wrote before, even if making abortion legal keeps it "clean," a Catholic voting to make it legal (specifically, with that intent) just simply does not fly; the objective evil of that act is so heinous that it cannot be willfully legalized.

I guess what I'm saying is, even if you are right that legalized abortions really do hurt less women each year, no orthodox Catholic could ever vote to make it that way, since legality certainly a step toward consent. "The wages of sin are death," and it seems that our sin in the matter of abortion is bound to cause death--both of children and their mothers. There's no easy way to get out of it. We're stuck. But voting to legalize abortion in any circumstance is not ultimately ethical.

3:06 AM

Blogger Michael Bindner said...

Your argument about the morality of abortion ignores the fact that "legalizing abortion" is not a position. Abortion is legal. There is no vote required to legalize it.

The burden of proof is on those who would make it illegal to state how this is to be done.

The Archbishop is silly if he think he can exommunicate, deny communion or admonish people for not supporting legislation WHICH HAS NOT YET BEEN PROPOSED.

I wish to lessen abortion and have proposed legislation to do so on several occassions.

While the sanitary conditions of any abortion performed are a concern, this is perhaps downplaying the hazard just a bit. While abortion is butchery - abortion performed by non-doctors is double butchery, since women subjected to this have a significant chance of dying or losing fertility long term.

A policy that forces women into such situations cannot be ethical. The preferred policy is to design a system of laws where young women and the parents of pregnant girls do not need to SEEK an abortion.

Also, the state by state policy contemplated by the pro-life movement is also unethical, because it simply channels abortion to states where it is legal, much in the same way pregnant women and girls travel from 83% of counties without abortion facilities to the 17% of counties where such facilities are available.

As such, overturning Roe would be INNEFFECIVE. It would also have the consequence of removing remedies from individuals who are the victim of state law which violates their equal protection rights. Since states are quite adept at passing such legislation, seeking this remedy is also profoundly immoral.

As I stated in a previous blog entry at, the key question is not the morality of abortion, but when legal rights can be granted to a child.

Restricting abortion without conveying full civil rights to the child is simply regulating medical practice, which is violative of privacy. The only way to make it "unprivate" is to make the child the subject of law in its own right. The LEGAL question is, then, when can full rights be given to the child.

Catholic teaching on extraordinary measures to support life are instructive here. Clearly, if a child can be born and survive without extraordinary measures, that child deserves legal protection. That is the minimum boundary.

There is also a point in the pregnancy that, no matter what, measures should never be required. When a child has a life ending genetic defect, heroic measures are immoral as they prolong the suffering of the child and waste resources. If the child were given LEGAL rights at conception, there would be an obligation to provide such measures, even though doing so would be IMMORAL. Therefore, the LEGAL protection of the child must not come prior to the point that such defects usually prove fatal. This is usually the first trimester. It is an unfortunate side effect that most abortion occur during this time period - which makes me wonder about the abortion statistics themselves. I suspect that many of the "abortions" that are performed are actually normal D&C's provided by Planned Parenthood in the course of normal prenatal care when a miscarriage has already occurred or an ultra-sound has shown the fetus is already dead.

Even if this is not the case, restricting first trimester abortions will make all miscarriages subject to public legal proceeding, either because some prosecutor suspects that the obstetrician is providing abortion or because some ambulance chaser has convinced the mother of a miscarried infant to sue the obstetrician for the loss of a pregnancy that was most likely genetically defective (most of them are), making all cases of miscarriage by that obstetrician evidentiary. This would also be bad public policy.

I have left a large grey area in the second trimester. This is an area that should be debated. One artifact of the Partial Birth case is the wider knowledge of the truly gruesome nature of the D&X abortion. These are not only gruesome, they are also unsafe. Perhaps in the second trimester, the only abortion procedure that should be legal is induction (forcing the birth of the child without doing any damage to it). In these cases, unless some other gaurdian comes forward to adopt the child, it would be allowed to die.

The alternative, of source, is to use economic means to reduce the demand for abortion. This is where the focus of the movement should be - especially as the economic policies these proposals replace can also be called unconscionable under Catholic social teaching. The sad fact is, many of the folks Catholics are in bed with in the pro-life movement resist a preferred option for the poor (since they believe in a prosperity gospel). When you lie with dogs, you are likely to get fleas.

As I stated in my original post, and have stated to the Bishops, before they excommunicate anyone for opposing a law which has not been proposed (don't get me started on how the pro-life movement is more about fundraising than abortion), it must first begin to put into place economic measures on its own to protect life - like providing free tuition to teens who find themselves pregnant (including the fathers) and paying a living wage to its employees (which it does not do) and excommunicating instead those Catholic business and stock owners who do not provide a living wage to their employees.

9:37 AM

Blogger Michael Bindner said...

A final thought. I am probably giving the Archbishop more respect than his political position deserves. Most Catholics and Catholic politicians tend to ignore him. This is serious if it keeps them out of church in so far as the community suffers by the absence of its members (I could care less about the effect on the hierarchy).

In dealing with the flaws in his position, I am giving him the respect of dialogue (or at least that respect to those who hold his position). I am offering a great gift by pointing out the flaws in the standard RTL position. If the movement deals with these objections seriously they might have some success in reducing the number of abortions and being regarded as an appendage of the Republican Party. Currently, aside from the limited success enacting the Partial Birth Abortion Law (which will be modified or repealed by Hillary or Obama), their main successes have been electoral (much to detriment of the Iraqi civilian population and our military families) and in fundraising - thereby making their leadership rich.

3:43 PM


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