By Herb Silverman
Founder and President of the Secular Coalition for America and Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry
Q: U.S. Catholic bishops are defending their direct involvement in congressional deliberations over health-care reform, saying that church leaders have a duty to raise moral concerns on any issue, including abortion rights and health care for the poor. Do you agree? What role should religious leaders have — or not have — in government policymaking?
I wouldn’t want to be on a plane with a pilot who had never before flown, nor would I seek sexual guidance from a Catholic bishop who, presumably, had never “flown.” I also think Catholic bishops should have no moral authority when it comes to matters involving sex. The Catholic faithful may choose to live their lives based on pronouncements by priests, bishops, and the pope, and I support their right to do so. But bishops have no right to impose their sectarian beliefs on the rest of us.
Catholic bishops have injected themselves into Congressional deliberations over health-care reform for one primary reason, their updated scarlet A–abortion. And abortion is, after all, first a matter of having sex–which Catholic clergy condemn when it is outside of marriage; when it is within marriage if birth control is used; when it is between homosexuals (whose marriage they would also condemn); and even when it is with oneself (masturbation). Reasons for having abortions vary greatly, and include pregnancy that threatens the mother’s health or life, pregnancy that comes from rape or incest, likelihood of seriously deformed or incurably ill baby, an inconvenient pregnancy, an inability to support and care for a child, a dislike of children. Catholic clergy ignore individual cases with their one-size-fits-all pronouncement about abortion. Americans should be allowed to make up their own minds about the need for and morality of abortion, and should not be denied on the basis of the Catholic theology of sin.
This is not to condemn those from either the left or the right whose faith motivates them to enter the political arena or engage in political issues. However, whatever the motivation, Congress needs to make sure their policies are backed for good secular reasons. That is why we have as law the Three Commandments: don’t steal, murder, or commit perjury. Most of the other seven are sectarian and deal with whom, how, and when to worship. These are properly left for individuals to decide.
Since there are good secular reasons for providing health care for the poor, I see nothing wrong with Catholic bishops and other religious people advocating for reform. Unfortunately, if the bishops don’t get their way on abortion, the signs are that they will try to scuttle health care reform for millions of Americans. The irony is that some women have abortions because they could not afford contraception and cannot afford to provide for a baby because of our inadequate health care system. As far as I can tell, the biblical Jesus said nothing about abortion, but had a lot to say about the poor. Perhaps some Catholic bishops should ask themselves, “What would Jesus do?”