The Pope's Moral Courage

The public reaction to John Paul's recent encyclical on critical moral issues reveals the new rules of political discourse.

I want to comment on John Paul's eleventh encyclical, that is, the eleventh encyclical since he became Pope. I applaud the Pope for this document. This encyclical is specifically speaking on the issue of end-of-life ethics--doctor-assisted suicide, abortion, active euthanasia--and he roundly criticizes those things. There are also some comments on birth control, as you would expect, and the use of human embryos or fetuses as objects of experimentation. He takes a strong position on these issues. I think there is a tremendous and beautiful moral consistency in this document.

I think most of the people who object to this are completely and utterly muddled in their thinking--such thinking that could justify, for example, doing research on aborted fetuses. I'm not going to get into that issue, I've talked about it before. We have talked about D & X abortion--dilation and extraction. This is when you have a late-term child who is delivered alive except for the head, which stays in the uterus, and then the skull is crushed and the brains are sucked out so they can be used for research because that is worth money. The child that could have been delivered alive was killed with 90% of its body outside of the woman's body, only its head remaining inside the body because then it is technically not a human being. It doesn't require protection. Its living brains can be sucked out of its skull so that they can use them. I responded to this pathetic and barbaric practice that does go on in this country under the protection of the law, and is encouraged and made legal by President Clinton. It is encouraged in the sense that fetal tissue research was encouraged by his law. It provides a market for this kind of thing.

I am glad that there is a figure of responsibility and visibility who is standing up and towing the line morally and consistently on these issues. There is a hint (and I think there is in this latest proclamation) that those who do not abide by the more critical life and death issues here are not people who are going to be welcome in the Roman Catholic Church. In other words, if you go along with abortion, or you perform abortions, or you campaign for abortion, then there may be some question about your membership in the church. By golly, that is as it should be.

I just get so bugged by people who get up in arms about this kind of proclamation. "How dare the Pope say what people can and can't do with their private moral lives." By golly, what is the Pope anyway? He is the spiritual leader over a group of people who have joined his organization because they allegedly believe in what he believes and they submit to his leadership. That's like saying, "Who are you to throw me out of your atheist club because I believe in God?" Well, atheists don't believe in God. That's what they are about. If you want to join a club and you believe in God, join some other club, but don't join a club that is inconsistent with your core beliefs. That seems to be common sense.

If there are politicians who promote abortion and abortion is seen by the Pope as a serious crime against humanity--which I agree it is--then he has every right in the world to say they can't have communion. They should join some other religion. Their lives are a public affront to what the Catholic Church believes. That is his job. And that is his privilege.

When the Pope makes this kind of statement, you always have groups who start complaining about separation of church and state--like, the Pope is messing around in politics. Abortion is political, and religion should stay out of politics. When you hear someone make that kind of statement, have them read the First Amendment. Open it up and make them read it because the First Amendment places not one single restriction on private involvement in politics, regardless of your religious belief. It does not matter if your opinions are animated by religious concerns or not, you have a right to have a voice and a vote in this country. Any individual can influence the process based on his conscience. That is the way it works in America.

Some might say that the Pope is not an American. All right then, the Bishops who are enforcing the Pope's position are American. Same point. They have the authority to do that in their organization, and they have the right in the context of this country and our political system to voice their concerns--even if they are religiously motivated. The First Amendment says, "The government shall not establish religion." It doesn't say that individuals shall not influence public policies with religious intent or religious motivation. It's just not there. This is one of the most ridiculous and bizarre canards raised against this kind of thing. The easiest way to get around it is to just read the First Amendment. Read it to them. It is very clear.

There is another problem with this. It is a problem that I noticed after the last Promise Keepers convention. The LA Times had an article pertaining to people with religious concerns being squeezed out of the public arena. It hasn't always been like this. There has never been this bizarre dichotomy between religious beliefs and moral motivations, on the one hand, and public policy on the other, with the suggestion that never the twain shall meet. It has never been like that. There has been a rich integration of the religious and the public square in the history of this country.

When this debate started heating up, the point of view was something like this: "You keep your religion to yourself. You keep religious issues inside your religious community. Leave politics to us. That's our turf. All right? So you stick with the values stuff, the morality stuff, the relationship stuff, the counseling stuff--the soft stuff. Keep that to yourself. We will do the hard work of politics." Then what happened is they co-opted all of the moral issues and called them political.

In other words, it was like all the moral things were for the church. Politics deals with the hard issues. Then they said, "By the way, this moral issue over here on homosexuality, that's ours. This moral issue on abortion, that's ours, too. Doctor-assisted suicide, hands off." They began co-opting all of the moral issues. They have taken everything out of the domain of private religion. In the Catholic community the Pope is vigorously applying moral principles and now they say, "You can't do that." Why? "Because it influences someone's public life. When you do that kind of thing, Pope, you are having an impact in the public square."

What they are saying is, You must have a faith that is silent to the outside world (and read here "real world"). You must also have a faith that has no politically incorrect impact on the outside world. Another way of saying it is, If your faith has any relevancy whatsoever to real life, then you are out of line.

The irony is, those with religious concerns--particularly Christian religious concerns-- have been forcibly squeezed to the margins of the debate. They have been squeezed out of the debate, saying that it is illegitimate even to have opinions within your own community and talk about them if they influence the outside, secular, political community. In other words, You can't have a faith that is relevant. It must stay irrelevant, and then they fault Christianity because it is irrelevant. Well, it is not irrelevant at its heart. It is very relevant, but it has been silenced to a great degree through political pressure by people who make comments like this when the Pope talks about abortion.

There is an exception to this. If you campaign vigorously on religious grounds for politically correct ideologies--homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, abortion on demand, the right to die--well, then you can speak in any public venue in the country--public schools, public places, on Capitol Hill. No hindrance. You might even get a government invitation. Rev. Jesse Jackson is an example of that. Nobody beefs about him being a reverend speaking up for political ideologies. Why not? Because he is campaigning for politically correct issues.

When did somebody say, "Listen, you religious people, you have to shut up if you are campaigning against capital punishment, or for religious pluralism, or for accepting of homosexuality. That is an inappropriate incursion of religious thought in public life." Have you ever heard anything like that before? "Religion is private. Politics is the public domain. Talk all you want about morals and ethics, but public policy is our domain."

Then what happened is they politicized all the moral issues, as I said, and they took that from us, too. What that leaves us with now that we can talk about is--virtually nothing. We can talk in private about our faith statements and about God and Jesus, but we can only do that if it doesn't make a difference. Pretty sorry, huh? That is where I think the Pope finds himself, and I know there are going to be more attacks coming out based on these proclamations of the recent encyclical.

Again, my hat is off to Pope John Paul and his moral courage to stand in the gap for these critical end-of-life issues, and that he is willing to speak plainly and defend these issues even in the face of tremendous opposition.

Greg Koukl