On Kmiec's New Book: "Can a Catholic Support Him?"

Memo to Obama Campaign: Order 100,000 copies of Doug Kmiec’s new book "Can A Catholic Support Him?" and distribute them to the parish council members of every Catholic church in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Denver, Colorado and St. Louis, Missouri

Those who have been following this blog will know that Doug Kmiec served in the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations, was Dean of the Law School at Catholic University, and is a lifelong pro-life activist. They will also know that he endorsed Barack Obama this spring and was subsequently denied Communion at a Mass in California. They may have forgotten, as I did, that Kmiec had endorsed Mitt Romney before he dropped out of the race.


Many will be surprised that a law professor is capable of such easy-to-read prose. After watching a campaign protest, Kmiec laments what the nation’s political life has become: "a nation that chooses up sides readily and considers opposing viewpoints almost never. Rather than seeking ‘a more perfect union,’ we look for reasons to dislike one another. In some cases, we have been angry so long and with such intensity, the idea of finding common ground or pursuing a common good is unthinkable." These are the words of someone who desperately loves his country and wants its politics to embody that love.

Obama is the vehicle to which Kmiec has fastened this love of country in 2008. Obama’s call for change gains much of its strength from the blunders of Bush 43. But, Kmiec sees a more important source in "the hope-filled yearning of the American heart and mind for a revived understand of the human person as committed to one another, and not merely oneself. This tradition of community and social responsibility has long been an aspect of American Catholicism."

Kmiec is clearly a big fan of Obama but his political shift is also a turning away from the GOP. He notes his concern for the bellicosity of Bush 43’s foreign policy and the Republican Party’s failure to interest itself in social justice. But, it is abortion where Kmiec increasingly finds the GOP deficient, arguing that the pro-life movement is deceiving itself when it bets all its chips on "the remote possibility that after thirty-five years, the next president may appoint someone new to the Supreme Court of the United States who in turn – in a case not yet filed, accepted for review, briefed, or argued – might be able to persuade four of the other existing judges to overturn, against the principles of stare decisis, the decision in Roe, and then further persuade the individual legislatures of the fifty states and their governors to sign into law protections for human life." In short, according to Kmiec, both 2008 candidates are pro-choice.


Every prelate who is thinking of denying Communion to politicians or anybody else should read Kmiec’s chapter describing what happened to him in April of this year. Only a Catholic really understands what a traumatizing thing it must have been to be denied communion. Someone in the communion line shouted "Are you judging this man, Father?" to which the priest replied "He has judged himself and been found unworthy." Kmiec refuses to name the priest (or his religious order) but that hubristic judgmental attitude suggests it was a young priest, one who has yet to learn that sympathy with the human condition that the Lord epitomized in His own ministry. Also, a forgetful priest: He forgot that immediately before the taking of communion, the people of God acknowledge our unworthiness by saying, "Lord I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed." We know we are not worthy to receive communion for our own merits but we know, too, that the healing word of God was spoken on a hillside in Jerusalem two thousand years ago.

This book is a great help for those Catholics who are wrestling with their voting decision, not only in this election, but in all elections. While Kmiec focuses on Obama, the issues are perennial and will come up so long as Catholics are engaged in public life. His final chapter on "Catholic Officials and Catholic Voters – When Law and Morality Disagree" is a short, concise introduction to an enormously complicated topic. In short, this book is a must read for all serious Catholics. You may agree with Kmiec or not, but you cannot ignore his arguments.

Michael Sean Winters


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10 years 3 months ago
The pro-life movement has won enactment of literally hundreds of state laws related to abortion -- laws that empirical studies have shown save many lives, despite the severe limits imposed by the Supreme Court's rulings. Studies by both pro-life researchers and pro-abortion researchers agree about this effect, although of course the pro-abortion side uses different language to describe it. These laws include informed consent laws (some of which now require the woman seeking an abortion to be offered ultrasound images of the unborn child), waiting periods, and parental notification and consent laws. All of these laws, and any other law that would "interfere with" access to abortion, would be nullified by the FOCA, and the FOCA would continue in full force even if Roe v. Wade was overturned. Cardinal Justin Rigali, in a September 19, 2008 letter to members of Congress, explained with great clarity the sweeping power of the language contained in the FOCA: "First it [the FOCA] creates a 'fundamental right' to abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy, including a right to abort a fully developed child in the final weeks for undefined 'health' reasons. No government body at any level would be able to 'deny or interfere with' this newly created federal right. Second, it forbids government at all levels to 'discriminate' against the exercise of this right 'in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.' For the first time, abortion on demand would be a national entitlement that government must condone and promote in all public programs affecting pregnant women." Rigali added: "We can’t reduce abortions by promoting abortion. . . . We cannot reduce abortions by insisting that every program supporting women in childbirth and child care must also support abortion. No one who sponsors or supports legislation like FOCA can credibly claim to be part of a good-faith discussion on how to reduce abortions."
10 years 3 months ago
This is a critical election for the pro-life movement. It is quite possible that the next President will nominate two or more Supreme Court justices. If Senator McCain becomes President, we may have the best chance since Casey -- and quite possibly the best chance since 1973 -- to see Roe overturned. If by contrast Senator Obama becomes President, his Supreme Court nominations could consign the pro-life movement to another 40 years in the wilderness. It saddens me to see Mr. Kmiec align himself with forces within the Church working against the pro-life movement, particularly at this critical juncture.
10 years 3 months ago
I find Dr. Kmiec's sudden change of heart from being a stauch Romney supporter to jumping on the Obama campaign full throttle puzzling. Actually, he was more than a supporter of Romney- he an official advisor and campaigned for him in print extensively, including writing for National Review Online. Was not the "bellicosity of Bush 43’s foreign policy and the Republican Party’s failure to interest itself in social justice" of concern at that time? After all, Gov. Romney also had indicated his support for the Iraq War, and presumably shared the GOP approach (or lack thereof)to social justice. Sorry, but the argument that Dr. Kmiec's support of Sen. Obama was a natural outcome of his political thought is as believable as the man from the Catholic Church in Scranton (as you quoted in this blog a few days ago) saying to the NY Times that he is now a McCain supporter after voting for Sen. Clinton in the primaries because of life issues.
10 years 3 months ago
My previous thoughts are only a political curiosity. I am much more intrigued that despite repeated comments by Sen. Obama to the contrary, there is a concerted effort by Dr. Kmiec to convince others that Sen. Obama is an asset to the pro-life cause. As one example, in taking the focus away from the judicial aspects of abortion, here is what Dr. Kmiec wrote on Catholic Online (www.catholic.org). "This much I know: If it’s a choice between giving a boost to the work of my fellow parishioners who week after week in thinly-funded, crisis pregnancy centers, open their minds and their hearts and often their homes to pregnant women (and Obama has spoken approvingly of faith-based efforts) and a Supreme Court Justice to be named later who may or may not toss the issue back to the states, I think I know which course is more effectively choosing life." There is no argument here, except there is no reason one cannot do both. The thousands who take part in the annual March for Life do so to cry out against the injustice sanctioned by Roe v. Wade. These are often the same people that staff those crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which Dr. Kmiec lauds. But, Roe v. Wade aside, is there really any documentation that indicates Sen. Obama's support for CPCs? Here is his campaign's response to a questionnaire submitted by an organization that advocates unlimited access to abortion (http://www.rhrealitycheck.org): "Does Sen. Obama support continuing federal funding for crisis pregnancy centers? Why or why not? No." One of the tenets of Dr. Kmiec's argument seems to be that the GOP has exploited pro-life sympathies to win voters. I can agree with that. The reality is that neither party offers Catholics a solidified vision of a good and just society. But to suggest that Sen. Obama, who own words point to an unqualified support of abortion, offers more hope to pro-life voters is wrong.
10 years 3 months ago
It is also highly significant that Obama wants to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which is among the most successful "abortion reduction" policies ever achieved at the federal level. By even the most conservative estimate, there are more than one million Americans alive today because of the Hyde Amendment. Indeed, the pro-abortion groups periodically put out papers complaining about this effect. According to a 2007 NARAL factsheet, "A study by The Guttmacher Institute shows that Medicaid-eligible women in states that exclude abortion coverage have abortion rates of about half of those women in states that fund abortion care with their own dollars. This suggests that the Hyde amendment forces about half the women who would otherwise have abortions to carry unintended pregnancies to term and bear children against their wishes instead." In 1993, the Congressional Budget Office (at that time under Democratic control) wrote, "Based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and from States that currently pay for abortions using state funds, the federal government would probably fund between 325,000 to 675,000 abortions each year [if the federal government resumed Medicaid funding for abortion]. The increase in the total number of abortions would be smaller, however, because some abortions that are currently funded by other sources would be partially or totally paid from federal funds . . ." Although Speaker Nancy Pelosi and most other Democratic congressional leaders are hostile to the Hyde Amendment, the law has been extended anyway because President Bush issued a letter in early 2007 saying that he would veto any bill that weakens any existing pro-life policy. However, because the Hyde Amendment (and a number of similar provisions that govern other federal programs) must be renewed annually, things could change quickly under a president determined to re-establish federal funding of abortion on demand.
10 years 3 months ago
One must question Kmiec's motives. It is well known that he has long desired a federal judgeship. He feels that his work for Republican administrations warranted one. The Republicans never delivered so now he is on the attack. ''What good does it profit a man to gain the whole world and to lose his soul?'' But for an appointment to the federal bench...... As to the allegation (and that is precisely what it is) that he was denied communion, unless Kmiec is willing to name the perpetrator, he should be givne no credibility on this issue. It is the equivalent of a woman who once said that a nun told her that her mother was going to hell because she did not have a veil on in church (back when women were required to cover their heads). Anyone can say any outrageous thing, but how can veracity be determined if one is unwilling to give the alleged perpetrator the opportunity to respond. Milbo
10 years 3 months ago
What about the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) that Obama said that he will sign the day he is inaugurated as President? Might that be a conscientious reason that one might choose not to vote for Senator Obama?
10 years 3 months ago
Barack Obama, since securing the nomination, has sent out teams of surrogates to assure certain audiences that Obama would advance the cause of ''abortion reduction'' and seek ''common ground.'' This is a calculated ''messaging strategy,'' that requires the surrogates to attempt to deflect attention way from from the fact that Barack Obama's record is as far on the pro-abortion side as it could be, and he is firmly committed to an agenda of abortion-related policy changes that, if implemented, would greatly increase the numbers of abortions performed. Here are some distinctions between Senator McCain and Senator Obama that Professor Kmiec would prefer that you not think about: McCain opposes Roe v. Wade and wants it overturned. Obama has pledged that he will nominate to the Supreme Court only justices committed to retain Roe v. Wade. (His running mate, Senator Biden, said last year, ''I strongly support Roe v. Wade. . .That's why I led the fight to defeat Bork. Thank God he is not in the court or Roe v. Wade would be gone by now.'') But Obama wants to go much further. Obama is a cosponsor of S. 1173, the so-called ''Freedom of Choice Act'' (FOCA, S. 1173), a proposed federal law that, separate and distinct from Roe v. Wade, would invalidate any state or federal law or policy that in any way would ''interfere with'' access to abortion. Indeed, on July 17, 2007, Obama stood in front of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and pledged, ''The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.''


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