Saturday, May 12, 2007

Medieval morality

Pope Benedict XVI, der Panzerpappen, der Pappenfüher, or simply 42 made a revealing statement to reporters during a recent trip to Brazil. In apparently his first "press availability" ever since becoming pope, he was asked if the Mexico City politicians who had voted to legalize abortion in the first trimester had "excommunicated themselves," he replied:

"The excommunication was not something arbitrary," the pope said. "It is part of the Code (of Canon Law). It is based simply on the principle that the killing of an innocent human child is incompatible with receiving communion, which is receiving the body of Christ. Thus, (the bishops) didn't do anything new or anything surprising or arbitrary."

The linked article continues:

His statements left journalists wondering whether the pope had really just spoken of the excommunication of politicians. And what ramifications could that possibly have for many politicians in liberal Western European countries and the United States where abortion is legal?

Later, journalists bombarded the pope's spokesman, Federico Lombardi, with questions about what, exactly, the pope was trying to say. "If the bishops haven't excommunicated anyone, it's not that the pope wants to," Lombardi said. "Legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist." He said that politicians who vote in favor of pro-abortion legislation are excluding themselves from communion. He added, however, that the pope had not set any new policy with his statements. Under Catholic law, being denied communion is a milder sanction than being excommunicated.

So the pope is an old man, and we should just write off what 42 said to his mishearing over the jet noise? Oh ho, Spotty doesn't think so. It is apparent he believed that Mexican bishops had affirmatively taken the step of excommunicating the offending legislators, and that such action was plainly called for. It was only later that the press secretary, in a very Reaganesque moment, said no, no, the Holy Father meant something else; he misspoke himself.

Spot thinks that the pontiff committed the cardinal sin (is that a pun?) of candor in his earlier off-the-cuff remarks. Were Justices Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito, Roman Catholics all, worried about excommunication when they considered and decided Gonzales v. Carhart? Were they more worried about saving their own skins than deciding the case on its constitutional merits?

What happens when Americans consider the imposition of Shari'ha law? We freak out. We even recently helped Ethiopia invade Somalia to prevent the institution of a Shari'ha law regime. Apparently no legal regime at all is better. We are honest-to-god secularists when it comes to Shari'ha law (think Katie here), but we react differently when the moral precept comes from a more, er, mainstream religion in the U.S.

But we shouldn't react differently under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Secular is secular. There are substantial numbers of people in this country, a majority Spot thinks, who don't think that abortion has anything to do with religion, or that if it does, they don't care because they don't subscribe the precept, or because they believe that a woman's sovereignty over her own body is a trump card.

These people would say: Don't like abortion? Fine, don't have one. But don't impose your medieval morality on me.

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