It is the nature of man to develop successively more and more fact out of and
beyond what he neonately and circumstantially was led to believe (evolving
civilization). The Supreme Court is an excellent
example of that supercession.
ps - 'God is prochoice' (bumper sticker) -makes absolutely no sense whatsoever-
August 1, 2005 Los Angeles Times
Catholic judges and a higher authority
Roberts' nomination raises questions about jurists caught between the law of
the land and the laws of their church.
By MICHAEL McGOUGH
It's interesting to note that Catholic judges who abide by Roe vs. Wade — or
say they will — have been bystanders in the recent debate over potential
conflicts between a public official's religious beliefs about abortion and his
official duties. But that is changing with the Supreme Court nomination of John
G. Roberts Jr., who, if confirmed, would be the fourth Catholic on the
According to a column on this page by Jonathan Turley, Sen.
Richard Durbin of Illinois asked Roberts how he would react if the law required
a ruling that the church considers immoral. Roberts reportedly replied that he
probably would have to recuse himself. That exchange has been denied by Durbin,
but whether it happened or not, the report has unleashed a furor over what
trumps what for a sitting judge, faith or law?
In the case of Roberts, I'd say we already know the
As a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals, he told the
Senate Judiciary Committee that "nothing in my personal views would prevent me"
from applying Roe as an appeals court judge. That doesn't mean that he might
not overturn Roe as a Supreme Court justice, given that the high court isn't as
constrained to follow precedent as a lower court. But on the basic question of
whether or not the law trumps faith for a judge, Roberts has spoken.
A more interesting question arises from the other side of the
equation: If law trumps religion for a Catholic judge, how will his church
Catholic antiabortion activists and some bishops have
suggested that canon law requires that Catholic politicians who support
abortion rights be denied Holy Communion. Two provisions are often cited in
this regard: Canon Law 1398, providing for the excommunication of anyone who
"procures" an abortion (a stretch even for some pro-lifers as they try to apply
it to politicians) and Canon Law 915, which denies Communion to those who
"obstinately persist in manifest grave sin."
On the website of the American Life League, President Judie
Brown has urged Catholic bishops to warn 72 pro-choice Catholics in Congress
that they are in violation of Canon Law 915.
"It is clear that each of these elected officials is either
ignorant of church teaching or has made a conscious decision to ignore it,"
Brown said. "The job of the bishop is therefore quite simple and
straightforward: to teach the truth, to warn the offender, and if that does not
work, to deny the sacrament to the offender."
But why don't Brown and others in her camp target judges as
well? "We have chosen," Brown told me, "to focus on elected officials at the
state and national level when asking [bishops] to enforce Canon Law 915 and
deny Holy Communion to professed Catholics who also publicly support abortion,
because they are creating scandal."
But couldn't the same thing be said about judges? "We have
not exposed their hypocrisy yet," Brown said, adding that her group was
concerned about Roberts because his comments about recognizing Roe as "settled
law" "do not bode well for his alleged Catholic identity."
The American Life League is more purist than other pro-life
groups, and Catholic bishops disagree about whether and to what extent pro-
choice Catholic politicians should be called on the ecclesiastical carpet.
Bishops with a more liberal view can take comfort in a statement issued by the
U.S. Conference of Bishops last year.
The decision to withhold Communion from "Catholics in
political life," the statement said, "rest[s] with the individual bishop in
accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles."
But for those bishops who do take a hard line against pro-
choice legislators, there is no excuse in theology or logic for holding back
from sanctioning Catholic judges — such as Supreme Court Justice Anthony M.
Kennedy — who vote to affirm or apply Roe vs. Wade.
Not targeting judges might be explained by the differences
between legislators and adjudicators. Judges (in theory anyway) are ruling on
the basis of a disinterested reading of the law, not their personal beliefs.
But pro-choice members of Congress can similarly argue that their pro-choice
votes are a reflection not of their own views but of the desires of their
Whether the public official's defense is "the polls made me
do it" or "precedent made me do it," isn't the moral issue the same?
Of course, denying Holy Communion to judges would pose a
bigger PR problem for a bishop or even an interest group — but in which book of
the Bible or papal encyclical is it written that public relations overrides