During his campaign for the presidency, Senator John Kerry has tried in various ways to square his self-description as a "believing and practicing Catholic" with his unalloyed record of support for abortion-on-demand, including partial birth abortion. Perhaps the senator's most succinct statement of his case came in St. Louis this past January: "What I believe personally as a Catholic as an article of faith is an article of faith...(But it is not) appropriate in the United States for a legislator to legislate personal religious beliefs for the rest of the country."
In other words, Senator Kerry believes that the Catholic Church's pro-life position is a sectarian position, whose imposition on a pluralistic society would be constitutionally unwarranted -- something like the Catholic Church trying to force all Americans to abstain from hot dogs on Fridays during Lent.
This is simply not true. For the past thirty-one years, the Catholic bishops of the United States have made public arguments that can be engaged by any serious person on behalf of the right to life. You don't have to believe in Petrine primacy, seven sacraments, or the two natures of Christ to engage the Catholic pro-life argument; you don't even have to believe in God. You simply have to be willing to take elementary embryology and elementary logic seriously. For the senator to suggest that the Church's position is sectarian is either woefully ignorant or deliberately mendacious.
The bishops of the United States must address this sorry misrepresentation of their teaching -- soon, crisply, and preferably as a united body.
Leaving this distortion of the nature of the Church's pro-life position unchallenged would have several serious consequences. It would further corrupt the public debate, which would decay into a non-argument between mis-named "sectarians" and misguided "pluralists." The bishops have done the entire country a great service these past thirty years by using a vocabulary in defense of the dignity of life that everyone, irrespective of religious convictions, can understand. If that genuinely ecumenical, public approach is successfully labeled "sectarian" -- and by a Catholic, no less -- lasting damage will be done to our political culture.