By Paul Gray
Catholic News Service
MELBOURNE, Australia (CNS) — An American bishop visiting Australia has defended the right of Catholic bishops to publicly rebuke politicians, including Catholics, who support pro-abortion laws.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver said that the abortion issue is one of basic human dignity and not just an issue of concern to Catholic sectarians.
“These are not sectarian issues,” he told The Record, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Perth, Western Australia. “We’re not saying Catholic legislators ought to promote belief in the Trinity.
“Abortion is about killing somebody else. It’s about human beings,” he said. “Do you keep quiet if someone’s going to kill someone else, or do you speak up? And if you don’t speak up or you say people have a right to kill someone else, can you honestly say you’re in communion with the church?”
Archbishop Chaput said that those American bishops who spoke out on abortion during the last presidential election campaign in 2004, including himself, were not trying to make a name for themselves.
“We’re just trying to be faithful to our role as bishops, and we want to remind our people that you can’t be a Catholic if you’re not a Catholic in ritual and how you lead your life,” he said. “And how one votes, and how one leads if one’s a political leader is the way you live your life.”
Archbishop Chaput was in Australia for a young adult congress called “2028 Congress: The Church and the Next Generation.” The July 6-8 congress in Canberra was sponsored by the Australian Catholic Young Adults Network and Australian Catholic Students Association.
Archbishop Chaput, who regularly is outspoken on immigration issues in the United States, said he was fascinated by the contrasting receptions received by his comments about the two topics.
“The people who were strongly critical of me for speaking about life issues at the time of the last presidential election have been very encouraging for me to speak up on the immigration issues,” he said.
“It seems to me that those who claim separation of the church and state often do that because of a particular issue, not because they have a particular theoretical commitment to separation,” he said. “If I speak about something they don’t like, I should be separated. If I speak about something they support, they’re happy. It’s very odd.”
He added, “And it cuts both ways, liberal and conservative. What I hope we develop are people who are Catholics, who aren’t actually liberal or conservative, but who are just simply Catholic.”
Archbishop Chaput said that there is a hierarchy of moral issues, with an issue like abortion being more “foundational” than issues like immigration.
“Foundational means that the rest of the system, whether it be a moral system or a theological system, has its basis on these foundational issues. For example, the right to life, the dignity of the individual from the moment of conception through natural life, is a foundation on which we build our understanding of just immigration laws, because just immigration laws depend on your belief in the dignity of individuals,” he explained. “If you don’t believe that, you’re going to have very different immigration laws than if you do believe in it.”
Another example, the archbishop said, is belief in the Trinity as more foundational than belief in the Immaculate Conception.
“Both are absolutely true, but they’re not equally foundational,” he said.
The archbishop said that the church’s teaching against capital punishment is another example of a teaching that is not as foundational as the prohibition against abortion.
“The church teaches that you don’t kill your brother, even if your brother is guilty,” he said.
However, Archbishop Chaput said that one is without exception “and the other has exceptions. They are not foundationally the same.
“There can never be a situation, one incidence, where abortion is a moral act,” he said. “There can be incidences where capital punishment is a necessary act to protect society and therefore a moral act, a morally acceptable act.”