Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Faith of Rosa and the Faith of the Catholic Church

Do I have a right to make prudential judgments? Yes, I do that” -- Rosa DeLauro

US Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s faith, Catholicism, is brought to center stage in today’s Hartford Courant front page story, “Rosa’s Faith.”

Some Catholics may quarrel with some points in the story. Their quarrel may begin with its title, “Rosa’s Faith.”

In so far as Rosa’s faith differs from the faith of her church on matters of Christian doctrine, it is not, and cannot be, Catholic faith.

Prudence, valued by DeLauro, and conscience do not always march together hand in hand.

Catholics must take care to conform themselves to their faith; it cannot be the other way around. The Catholic struggle is to understand the faith and to conform one’s conscience, in one’s daily life, to Catholic teaching. When one trims the faith to make it fit one’s comfortable notions, one has stepped outside the Catholic universe. This temptation is one that Catholic politician are especially prone to. It must be an informed conscience as well as prudence that directs Catholic action. The problem with prudence is that, in a world hostile to the Catholic faith, the prudent thing to do, more often than not, is to follow in the rut of convenient circumstances. What is prudent for the politician, as has often been said, is to go along to get along, and prudence can lead the weak-minded, uninformed conscience far from the faith. Catholic politicians occupy a teaching function in the world, and as such they have an obligation to talk about their faith in a way that does not mislead other Catholics. They have an obligation, in other words, to be prudent in their speech and actions.

DeLauro fails this test very early on in the story.

Consider the following short paragraphs:

“Luisa DeLauro, Rosa's mother, was a devout Catholic, a deeply faithful woman who saw the church's mission as promoting social justice while adapting to the world around it. So she chose to have her daughter born at what became Grace-New Haven, now Yale-New Haven Hospital, not the Hospital of St. Raphael, which was run by the church.

“Rosa DeLauro is known today for her fast-talking, idea-a-second style, but when she recalls her early years, she speaks slowly, thoughtfully.

“’The Catholic hospital would have saved me and not my mother’ if her birth had been a risky one, she said. ‘Grace-New Haven would have tried to save both, but if they couldn't, they would have moved in the direction of my mother. My parents, practicing Catholics, exercised that judgment. They exercised prudential judgment, Catholics 64 years ago.’”

DeLauro seems to be laboring under the misapprehension that in cases in which difficult births may lead a doctor to choose whether to save the life of the fetus or the mother, a Catholic doctor must always choose to save the life of the fetus.

That is not true. DeLauro’s church teaches that the doctor must try to save both the mother and the fetus. If one or the other’s life cannot be saved, the doctor must then make a prudent medical decision which of the two it would be best to save. It may be the mother, or it may be the child. A predisposition to save the fetus does not accord with an informed Catholic conscience. A pre-decision in favor of the mother would expose the doctor to charges of feticide; a pre-decision in favor of the fetus would expose the doctor to charges of murder. The Catholic Church, through its cannon law, assigns religious penalties to both theologically criminal acts. In the case cited by DeLauro, the Catholic doctor must make a medically prudent decision based upon a conscience informed by the teaching of his church. If he does so, he has acted both prudently and conscientiously.

In cases of abortion – where the life of the mother is not in danger – Catholic doctors have a religious obligation to act in favor of life. That obligation is also morally binding on Catholic politicians. These obligations are congruent with the secular charge in the Hippocratic Oath that states that the first obligation of a doctor is “to do no harm.” Abortion becomes a theologically criminal act only when the abortion is “directly procured.” And, of course, religious sanctions are not applied to non-Catholic politicians.

Catholic politicians are not in danger of excommunication when they support, let’s say, partial birth abortions, because their support is not a direct procurement of an abortion. They may be denied communion, the Eucharist, because communion signifies communality in the faith of the church.

The various positions of DeLauro’s church on such matters as abortion, the obligations of Catholic doctors in cases of difficult births and the denial of communion as a penalty are available to anyone through Catholic encyclopedias. It would take about five minutes for DeLauro, or any reporter, to research these matters on the internet.

A note of caution is proper here: Since I am not a theologian –neither are DeLauro or David Lightman, the Hartford Courant reporter who wrote “Rosa’s Faith" -- I am here writing under correction. This means that some of the statements I have made here may not be theologically correct. If they are incorrect, I will correct them or publish corrections in this spot when they are successfully challenged.

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