Archbishop Chaput Warns Pro-Life Catholics in the U.S. over Aligning too Closely with Either Party

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver recently warned that aligning oneself too closely with a political party on life issues hurts the pro-life message. His suggestion?  Pro-life Catholics need to stop bickering among themselves.  We see this often, especially in the Catholic blogosphere and media.  Some proponents of legal efforts to end abortion (e.g.) criticize those who think social programs can reduce abortions.  Some proponents of social efforts to reduce abortions (e.g.) suggest the legal battle over abortion is a lost cause.  This either/or dichotomy must end if we are to have any credibility, the Archbishop Chaput insists.  These individuals who insist on a false dichotomy are crippling the pro-life movement because they divide it from within.  Social programs and grassroots efforts can effectively reduce abortions while the longer, more tedious efforts to change abortion laws are continually initiated.  It is one of the great ironies and tragedies that some pro-lifers are contributing to the culture of death, mostly unwittingly, by means of their partisanship and lack of hope.  If one is truly pro-life, then one should not only vote pro-life, but should also be working in ones’s parish, community, and pregnancy clinics–Catholics especially.  We are all about faith AND works…so let’s not just vote every few years and sound-off on our blogs–let’s get out there and WORK.

CNS reports:

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The pro-life community must not become too closely aligned to one political party, waste energy on internal bickering or become diverted by false arguments, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver told an Irish audience.

Addressing the Irish chapter of Human Life International Feb. 8 in Dublin, the archbishop offered a list of do’s and don’ts on “building and promoting a culture of life” from the American perspective. Abortion is prohibited in Ireland, except to save the life of the mother.

“Americans now have a kind of schizophrenia about the abortion issue,” Archbishop Chaput said in his speech posted on the Denver archdiocesan Web site. “Most believe abortion is wrong. But most also want it legal under some limited circumstances.”

He strongly criticized the U.S. abortion industry for its “very shrewd political lobbyists” and its “public relations machine that would make George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth look amateur.”

But he also acknowledged that the U.S. pro-life movement has made some mistakes.

“The fast pace of party politics, and the illusion that politics rules the ‘commanding heights’ of our society and can fulfill our Christian social obligations, makes political life very addictive,” he said. “And this illusion gets dangerous when defending the unborn child is too closely identified with any particular politician or, even worse, one specific party.

“The more pro-lifers tie themselves to a single political party, the less they can speak to society at large,” Archbishop Chaput said. “In the United States, Catholics — both on the right and the left — have too often made the mistake of becoming cheerleaders for a specific candidate.”

He also said he has sometimes been “baffled by how much energy is wasted on internal pro-life bickering.”

“Acrimony within the pro-life movement is a gift to the other side,” the archbishop warned. “It’s also a form of theft from the unborn children who will suffer the consequences of our division.”

Another area to be avoided, Archbishop Chaput said, is the creation or acceptance of “false oppositions” or options that involve “either/or” choices. As an example, he cited “so-called pro-life organizations” that have argued for an end to the legal struggle against abortion in favor of efforts to find “common ground” and reduce the number of abortions.

“Did Americans take a gradual, social improvement road to ‘reducing’ racism?” he asked. “No. We passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nor have I ever heard anyone suggest that the best way to deal with murder, rape or domestic abuse is to improve the availability of health care and job training. We make rape illegal — even though we know it will still sometimes tragically occur — because rape is gravely evil.”

Archbishop Chaput also rejected arguments that Americans who oppose abortion should “put this ‘divisive issue behind us.'”

“There’s something a little odd about rhetoric that tells us we are the ‘divisive’ ones, and lectures adult citizens about what we should challenge, and when we should stop,” he said. “In a democracy, we get to decide that for ourselves.”

In his list of “do’s” Archbishop Chaput urged his audience to “keep hope alive,” as Americans do with the March for Life that brings hundreds of thousands to Washington each year, and to use new technologies such as blogs, social networks and YouTube channels to deliver the pro-life message, especially to young people.

“The new Internet, if used well, can break through the wall of silence pro-lifers often face from an unfriendly media establishment,” he said.

But the Denver archbishop also said it was important for pro-lifers to “be strategic.”

“Being sheep in the midst of wolves doesn’t mean we can also be dumb as rocks,” he said, citing St. Thomas More as “a very adroit thinker and a shrewd, intelligent and prudent political leader as he tried to avoid execution.”

That lesson calls for a “big dose of realism” in the pro-life community, he said.

“We should never dream or whine about all the things we could do with the million euros we don’t have,” Archbishop Chaput said. “We need to focus on the 10 euros we do have.

“History shows that guerrilla wars, if well planned and methodically carried out, can defeat great armies,” he added. “And we should never forget that the greatest ‘guerrilla’ leader of them all wasn’t Mao (Zedong) or Che (Guevara), but a young shepherd named David, who became a king.”

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Kyle Cupp

    I agree. If the pro-life movement unites itself too closely with party politics, then party politics defines the movement’s identity, and its objectives become dependent on a preferred politician being in power.

  • S.B.

    Good post, although I wonder if it needs to be made clear that there are people on both sides who are guilty of this: “These individuals who insist on a false dichotomy are crippling the pro-life movement because they divide it from within.” That is, there are people who, during the last election, insisted that we ought to abandon any attempt to address abortion through the law, and vote for politicians who want abortion protected as a sacred human right, because those politicians are somehow magically going to reduce the abortion rate more than any legal effort ever could.

    On that point, I just came across a passage in a book by a sociologist who has studied abortion extensively: Kristin Luker, Salsa Dancing Into the Social Sciences: “A quick look at California abortion statistics showed that abortions had doubled every year since the law was liberalized in 1967, until the number leveled off at a rate of about 100,000 abortions a year in 1972.”

    Doubling every year for 5 straight years is a huge, massive, tsunami-like effect — and there is absolutely no precedent for social welfare spending having even a small fraction of that effect.

  • S.B.

    Some proponents of legal efforts to end abortion (e.g.) criticize those who think social programs can reduce abortions.

    This should actually read: Some proponents of legal efforts to end abortion criticize those who made fraudulent claims about the extent to which social programs could reduce abortions.

  • feddie

    Well said, Poli.

  • Christopher Blosser

    “…and there is absolutely no precedent for social welfare spending having even a small fraction of that effect.”

    Speaking of which.

  • Michael J. Iafrate

    If the pro-life movement unites itself too closely with party politics, then party politics defines the movement’s identity, and its objectives become dependent on a preferred politician being in power.

    “If”? 😉

  • Mike J.

    I’m confused. Was the link you provided an example of the divisiveness that the archbishop is criticizing? I jest, but only somewhat.

    Just because the report doesn’t find a significant effect on abortion rates, doesn’t mean that a better social safety net won’t reduce abortions. The study linked shows that *existing* funding and efforts have had marginal effects, if any. What likely wasn’t addressed is how the social safety net is *perceived* by those considering and obtaining abortions – which is certainly what will affect their decisions.

    Mike J.

  • TeutonicTim

    Comment removed by editor.

  • Largebill

    I have great respect for the Cardinal, but I think he is recommending we slam the gate after the horses are out. Starting in the 1960’s and 1970’s the pro-abortion forces aligned strongly with one party. Since then it has reached the point where there is no room for anyone with an opposing view in that party. This is not likely to change until the two parties which currently divide power are replaced. Problem is third parties don’t have a chance of succeeding unless there is a major issue for to grow around that supersedes other concerns. The Republican party would not have come into existence without the evil of slavery. Maybe if enough people come to recognize the evil of our day they will leave both parties in enough numbers to be effective. It is easy today for 99% of people to see that slavery was an evil stain on our nation. When will we see that abortion is equally evil?

  • wj

    This article by MacIntyre, apropos the 2004 election, seems relevant:

  • M.Z. Forrest

    As is true with nearly all causes, there is a tendency to confuse tactics with strategy. Tactically it may be wise to align with a party to achieve a particular goal, like say parental notification. Strategically, ultimate success will not result until both parties agree on the need to end abortion.

  • Morning’s Minion

    Chaput is exactly right, but the good archbishop has himself sent many confused signals on this issue. Over the past few years, he has adopted this kind of sensible stance in the cool post-election period, but has tended to make intemperate statements in the hot pre-election period, that could be construed as telling Catholics they could only validly vote for one party (although Chaput has always been smarter and more nuanced than others like Burke or the Texas pairing of Farrell and Vann on this point). So while a few years ago he said that Catholics could legitimately puruse a strategy of abortion reduction that kept it legal, a few months back he was attacking Douglas Kmiec in appopriately personal terms for saying as much.

    But he is exactly right on the issue, and I think MZ’s distinction between strategy and tactic makes a lot of sense. The pro-life movement can and should support the kinds of legal restrictons typically pushed by Republicans and the kinds of socioeconomic measures typically associated with Democrats that reduce the incidence of abortion. After all, the Declaration on Procured Abortion is very clear that the strategy should be two-pronged. If somebody is stressing one angle to he detriment of the other, it s typically because the person has aligned himself with a major party.

    Thus the NRLC can oppose universal health care and play down its opposition o stem-cell research when the Republican candidate inconveniently supports it, and a huge chunk of the Catholic blogosphere discusses the future of the Republican party not as a curious outsider but as vested insider, and tends to put free market and anti-statist ideology ahead of the second prong of the strategy (ironically, the goal of making abortion illegal means employing “big government” towards achieving one’s ends). A good friend of mine, an African-American man, who grew up in inner-city Chicago is disgusted by Catholics trying to downplay the poverty angle when it comes to abortion. Unlike most middle-class white suburban Catholic bloggers, he has seen it up close and personal. And yet when I or anybody else raises the link, the reaction is often to go to great lengths to disprove any link whatsoever– and that would challenge their inappropriate political positions.

    For sure, there are many on the left who similarly downplay the importance of legal restrictions, and turn the simple argument that criminalization would not eliminate abortion to the far dubious argument that criminalization would have no effect on the abortion rate whatsoever. But this position is dwarfed within the Catholic blogosphere and elsewhere by those who lean the other direction.

    In conclusion, a united approach is essential, and for a crucial reason. The only way any progress will be made towards legal protection of the unborn will be to persuade the great “moderate middle”, those who favor some legalized abortion but remain concerned about it. And the way NOT to persuade these people, as we have seen in the last election, is to sit too closely to the modern Republican party and everything it stands for. Of course, it should not join the Democratic party either- though there seems to be little chance of that happening. Only a principled consistent ethic of life, standing apart from the two prevailing ideologies, has a chance at persuading the people who are open to persuasion.

  • kurt

    MM’s response is right on the mark. I can’t improve on any thing he has written, but would respond to S.B.’s comment “That is, there are people who, during the last election, insisted that we ought to…

    I’m sure you can find someone. But the vast majority of Catholics who voted for Obama in the last election did not “insist that we..” It was a matter of (I’m guessing about half the Catholic faithful) determining that we (as an individual) would vote for Obama.

    It was the response from a portion of the other side that insisted that others HAD to vote a certain way. I am unaware of anyone receiving threats of denial of the sacraments, dismissal from parish councils, prohibited from speaking at Catholic institutions, or told they are outside the bounds of the faith because of their vote for McCain. We who voted for Obama were called to explain our vote and did the best we could. But with rare exceptions, we certainly didn’t insist that others had to do likewise.

    This is not a small matter, but is the crux of the whole question.

  • Michael J. Iafrate

    Chaput is coming to Toronto to speak. Should be interesting.

  • LCB


    It hasn’t been about whom one must vote for, it’s been about whom one may not vote for.

    Many who have insisted a Catholic may not vote for Obama did not vote for McCain either. Merely that Obama represented a level of evil so grave that voting for him was not morally permissible.

  • kurt

    Chaput of Denver told an Irish audience.

    Chaput is coming to Toronto to speak.

    Love him or hate him, he does get around. Are Capuchins allowed to retain frequent flyer miles?

  • David Raber

    The problem is not so much Catholics who identify with the Republican party too closely on the abortion issue, but those Catholics who apparently think that to be a good Catholic is naturally to be a good Republican across the board. Call them Weigel Catholics. The phenomenon seems to come from an undue influence on Catholic traditionalists by right-wing Protestantism.

    Who was it who said, “In America even the Catholics are Protestants”?

    To work in another couple of old saws, some American Catholics who seem to be “more Catholic than the Pope” are actually more like old-school Epicopalians–the denomination that used to be defined as “the Republican Party at Prayer.”

    The Archbishop’s recent comments show, perhaps, that the Church itself will not be, and does not want to be seen as, that kind of a lap dog. Let’s hear it for the Archbishop!

  • Michael J. Iafrate

    The Archbishop’s recent comments show, perhaps, that the Church itself will not be, and does not want to be seen as, that kind of a lap dog. Let’s hear it for the Archbishop!

    Let’s make sure the stress is on “recent” comments. His not-so-recent comments SCREAM “lap dog.”

  • Kurt

    The phenomenon seems to come from an undue influence on Catholic traditionalists by right-wing Protestantism.

    David, I would respectfully disagree.

    For several decades there were attepts to exend the ‘Moral Majority’ and ‘Christian Coalition’ movements to conservtive Catholic citizens. While millions of dollars were spent, these attempts all miserably failed. A meaningful alliance between right wing Protestantism and Catholic traditionalist has been unsuccessful.

    The political mobilization of Catholic traditionalists came when this strategy was abandoned, in favor of a different alliance — with wealthy Republican Catholics. The latter has provided the resources and the connections with the GOP leadership and with the previous administration while the former has provided the ground troops. And since this alliance developed, traditionalist Catholics have marched in lock-step with the RNC.

  • M.Z. Forrest

    Catholic tradionalists aren’t generally enamored with the GOP. The term thrown around a few years ago was neo-Catholics. In my reading of traditionalists, most tend to fall in the apocalyptic camp, tending to believe the modern Church and our State cannot be redeemed. A more moderate reading of the same would be that a lot them tend to believe in disengagement from the political process and more generally from civil society. Of course, there are plenty in the various Church camps that would fit the label apolitical, generally half in any group.

    Before I get battered on the neo-Catholic term, often they are confused with traditionalists. Probably the biggest difference between the two groups is that neo-Catholics don’t generally make references prior to JPII or Vatican II. This wouldn’t be so bad except that a number of the documents implicitly (and often explicitly) reference earlier documents and the modern interpretations often go in direction contra the understanding in those earlier documents. Centesimus Annus immediately comes to mind.

  • LCB


    As a Catholic Traditionalist I would say my opinion is as follows:

    the Church and our modern State can not be rectified with each other, and that overall disengagement is the most appropriate course of action because our society is no longer civil. Further, the majority of problems and sicknesses experienced by the Church in our current era result precisely from too much engagement with the State and the modern world. We have allowed the sicknesses of that world to infect us to a limited degree, and we must be truly counter-cultural.

    How some folks understand being counter-culture as “completely and totally imitating the culture in every possible way” is beyond me.

  • Mickey Jackson

    The good Archbishop’s words are quite wise. If there’s one thing I took away from this election season, it’s the need for a “third way” when it comes to a means of reflecting the Consistent Life Ethic in politics. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans get it right. Obviously, the Democrats are in the pockets of NARAL and Planned Parenthood. However, the Republican Party isn’t exactly a great alternative; the first “pro-life” Republican presidential candidates, Reagan and Bush I, supported a Constitutional ban; Bush II supported the rape/incest exception; and finally, in 2008, Mccain indicated that his primary beef with Roe v. Wade was that it allowed individuals, rather than states, to decide whether it is permissible to kill unborn children to individuals. Pro-life Catholic who insists that Catholics may only legitimately vote Republican is like someone who has a loaf of bread and gives away half, then gives away half of what’s left, then gives away half of what’s left from that, etc., etc., etc. Eventually, there’s nothing left. The Republican Party is getting away with giving us less and less, and lots of Catholics (including very sincere pro-life leaders such as Father Pavone of Priests for Life) are still buying it hook, line, and sinker and insisting that even if the GOP nominated a pro-choice candidate (ala Giuliani), one would be obligated to vote for him simply because he represents the “pro-life party.” Unless we want the movement to simply fizzle and eventually die, we have to reverse this trend now.

  • Pauli

    Good post. Reminds me of Lincoln’s note from 1862: “The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party; and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to affect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true; that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By His mere great power on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun, He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.”

  • grega

    I sure hope the ‘third way’ meme takes off in a big way – this will help to keep Republicans out of power for years to come.
    Most voters are no one trick ponies – thus of course plenty of very fine catholics proudly voted for this rather thoughtful religious Obama guy –
    a man by the way who rather eloquently articulates his deep sincere religious believes.
    The majority of our citizens are in general pretty comfortable with the laws of the land.
    Nevertheless I bet that the Obama administration will do more to actually ‘get’ to the folks who actually abort for social reasons –
    Let’s face it a position that would disallow abortions in case of incest, rape and if the health of the mother is in danger is a non starter in ALL democratic western societies.

  • Pauli

    That’s a good link Christopher supplied. I blogged on it. more proof that CACG is effectively a democrat front group.