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A Message for Catholic Democrats
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput talks about abortion.
By Fred Barnes
Weekly Standard
08/26/2008 1:23:00 PM

CHARLES CHAPUT, THE CATHOLIC archbishop of Denver, won't be delivering an invocation or giving a blessing at the Democratic convention here. He is one of the most influential Catholic leaders in the country, but he wasn't invited to appear at the convention. Or wasn't invited until the Washington Times reported he'd been overlooked, perhaps purposely. That story prompted a hasty invitation from the Democrats last weekend. The archbishop declined.

Too bad--because Chaput has a message for Democrats, especially Catholic Democrats, that they aren't likely to hear from anyone else. He says he could never vote for a pro-abortion candidate like Barack Obama. But he says he respects Catholics who do, so long as they are struggling mightily to turn the Democratic party against abortion on demand. Sadly, few are, Chaput told me.

The archbishop makes a persuasive case for political engagement by Catholics and other Christian believers. He defends the separation of church and state. However, "separation of church and state is very different from the separation of faith and politics." Political involvement, he says, is required in "the commandment to love our neighbor" and the "duty" to provide "moral witness."

Chaput took sharp exception the claim by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Meet the Press on Sunday that neither doctors nor the Catholic church haven't determined when human life begins. "The point is, that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose," Pelosi said. She described herself as "an ardent practicing Catholic."

She's wrong, the archbishop said in a statement citing both Catholic theologians and Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. "Ardent, practicing Catholics will quickly learn from the historical record that from apostolic times, the Christian tradition overwhelmingly held that abortion was grievously evil," Chaput wrote. "In short, from the beginning, the believing Christian community held that abortion was always, gravely wrong."

And that includes St. Augustine, who was mentioned by Pelosi for having said human life begins at three months after conception. That's true, Chaput told me yesterday when I talked with him at his home on the grounds of the John Paul II Center for New Evangelization in Denver. But St. Augustine was strongly opposed to abortion, he said.

The archbishop fears opponents of abortion now "are tempted to give up, even in the church." In recent years they've tried the strategy of quiet persuasion to increase the support for the pro-life position. "That was a failed strategy," he says. Now, he says, abortion is often treated in the political community "as just another issue."

He insists the fight to protect unborn children is "winnable because it's true and it conforms with human dignity." Americans are "good people," he says, "who respond to the truth."

Chaput is particularly critical of Catholic political figures who favor an unrestricted right to an abortion. With them, the media often emphasizes whether they should be denied communion, he says. Focusing on that issue, he says, is a distraction from what's really important--"the horror of abortion."

But he discusses it anyway. All Catholics "living in grave sin or who deny the teachings of the church should refrain from receiving communion." For well-known figures, the prohibition is even stronger. Chaput writes:

Especially because of their high public profile and the public confusion caused by their views, Catholic officials who act against Catholic teaching in their political service on a foundational matter like abortion should not present themselves for Communion.

Besides his duties as archbishop, Chaput is an intellectual force in the Catholic Church and, increasingly, in American politics. And it's in his new book Render Unto Caesar, that he forcefully takes on pro-abortion Catholics in politics. "Saying we're Catholic and then rejecting Catholic teaching is dishonest," he writes. "It shows a lack of personal integrity."

Chaput is sympathetic to Catholics who feel they can "in good conscience" vote for pro-abortion candidates. "I respect them. I don't agree with their calculus."

But he limits his respect to those who "don't reflexively vote for the candidate of their party. They don't accept abortion as a closed matter. They refuse to stop pushing to change the direction of their party on the abortion issue. They won't be quiet. They keep fighting for a more humane party platform--one that would vow to protect the unborn child."

The platform drafted by Democrats is far cry from that, even dropping the word "rare" from the prior Democratic view that abortions should be "safe, legal, and rare." The head of NARAL Pro-Choice America addressed the Democratic convention yesterday.

If a convention speaker steps forward to denounce abortion and call for a new party plank in favor of barring abortion, the delegates would no doubt be stunned. If one did just that, Archbishop Chaput would be thrilled. But he's not holding his breath.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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