A Catholic bishop in North Dakota recently gave an interview in which he gave some of the strongest comments yet from a Catholic Church leader on the thorny questions of what to do about Catholic politicians who support abortion.
Bishop Samuel Aquila makes it crystal clear he believes there is a process by which Catholic officials should confront pro-abortion politicians and that they should be “expelled” from the Church if they don’t back down from supporting abortion.
Responding to the question, “How should the Church respond to Catholic politicians who support legalized abortion,” Bishop Aquila says: “Their particular bishops can use the process of correction that is given to us in sacred Scripture, especially in Matthew’s Gospel. Our Lord tells us to speak to the person, and then take two or three others with us if he does not change.”
“If he still does not change, the Church can speak to him, which is done through the bishop. [The bishop] exercises the authority of Christ. Christ then says that if that person is still obstinate and will not change, treat them as a tax collector or Gentile. Expel him,” Bishop Aquila adds.
Far from delighting in throwing people out of the Catholic Church, Aquila said, “We do this out of love for the person, seeking his conversion. He needs to understand that the salvation of his soul is in jeopardy because of the positions he is taking.”
“Catholics are called to defend human life, particularly that of the unborn. The Church’s teaching is clear. If we don’t challenge public officials who reject this teaching, we leave them in their sins and confuse the faithful,” the bishop said.
Thomas Peters of CatholicVote.org applauds Bishop Aquila in a blog post responding the interview.
“Strong words, yes. But if we do not believe in and speak this strongly about protecting innocent life, how can we speak strongly about other important issues?” he said, adding that Aquila is “unambiguous about what the rules for disobedient Catholic politicians ought to be.”
The comments come just two months after Vice President Joe Biden, an abortion advocate who calls himself a Catholic, met with Pope Benedict XVI at The Vatican. Although Biden is a Catholic, he has had a troubled relationship with the Catholic Church over his pro-abortion views. In January, the vice president said he thinks Catholics can support abortion. In the interview with the Delaware News Journal, Biden talked about how he can reconcile his pro-abortion views with his Catholic faith.
“It’s very difficult,” Biden says. “I was raised as a Catholic, I’m a practicing Catholic, and I’m totally at home with the Catholicism that I was raised in and this whole culture of social responsibility.”
Last Fall, the nation’s Catholic bishops elected a new president who has excoriated Biden on pro-life issues. Archbishop Timothy Dolan has been a strong friend and ally and has been called a “hero” by leading pro-life advocates in part for speaking out about Catholic politicians who support abortion.
“It bothers me if any politician, Catholic or not, is for abortion,” Dolan has said. “Because in my mind, we’re talking about a civil right, we’re not talking about a matter of Catholic Church discipline. We can’t allow the noble pro-life cause to be reduced to a denominational issue.”
In 2008, Dolan took House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice-President Joe Biden to task for misrepresenting Catholic pro-life teachings.
“Church tradition is equally clear that bishops are the authentic teachers of the faith. So, when prominent Catholics publicly misrepresent timeless Church doctrine – as Biden and Pelosi regrettably did (to say nothing of erring in biology!) – a bishop has the duty to clarify,” he explained.
“Does the baby alive in the womb (a biological, not a doctrinal, fact) deserve the full protection of the law or not? Does one have the right to terminate the life of another at will? Can we consider one form of life – that of the innocent, fragile baby in the womb – inferior and expendable?” Dolan asked.
And, for the new New York Catholic leader, the answer is clearly no.
“We cannot be mute on this premier civil rights issue of our day,” he says.