Archbishop of Kansas City Joseph F. Naumann has further explained the motives for his public admonishment of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius for her support for legal abortion. The archbishop’s May 9 column, citing her recent veto of an abortion law reform bill passed by the Kansas legislature, had warned Governor Sebelius not to present herself for Holy Communion until she has publicly repented.
Writing in his column for the archdiocesan newspaper The Leaven, Archbishop Naumann repeated that Governor Sebelius must seek “to repair the public scandal of her long-standing support for legalized abortion.” He said he had personally received a number of letters both in favor and opposed to his actions regarding the governor. The archbishop explained that he was using his column to collectively respond to some of the critical letters he had received.
Addressing the question of why Governor Sebelius was “singled out” for public discipline, when others in elective office hold positions similar to hers, the archbishop said the governor holds the highest elective office in Kansas, making her “the most prominent Catholic in public life.”
Archbishop Naumann noted that his admonishments to the governor had begun before her veto of new abortion restrictions and added that his public request to her was not about any one action, but rather concerned her “30-year history of advocating and acting in support of legalized abortion.”
The archbishop described why the governor’s support for permissive abortion laws is scandalous, explaining that giving scandal means more than shocking or upsetting others. He said scandal is instead when “one’s action leads someone else to sin. Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil.” He also reiterated Catholic teaching that Catholics can receive Holy Communion only when free from mortal sin, saying that the bishop can intervene to stop scandalous actions both for the good of the sinning individual and to protect others from being misled.
Archbishop Naumann said Governor Sebelius’ support for abortion leads others to question the “moral gravity” of abortion. The governor’s continued reception of Holy Communion, coupled with her support for legalized abortion, convey the erroneous message that, “You can be a good Catholic and support legalized abortion,” he wrote.
The archbishop insisted that no one has asked the governor to ignore her oath of office, but rather that Governor Sebelius, as a Catholic, was obligated both to oppose “laws and judicial decisions that fail to protect the lives of the innocent” and to “do all in her power to work to change the law.” He said the governor must extend to the unborn the “maximum protection possible” under the limitations imposed by the Supreme Court.
In response to people who have complained that opposition to legal abortion is an imposition of Catholic doctrine, the archbishop countered that the right to life is not an exclusively religious issue. In fact, Archbishop Naumann said policies prohibiting abortion are like other policies that prohibit stealing, racism, or murder. Governor Sebelius’ expressed opinion that she is personally opposed to abortion, the Archbishop of Kansas City said, is similar to pro-slavery arguments before the Civil War. “Being pro-choice on a fundamental matter of human rights was not a morally coherent argument in the 1850s, nor is it today,” he said.
The archbishop cited as precedent for his actions St. Louis Archbishop Joseph Ritter’s 1946 threat to excommunicate a group opposed to desegregation in Catholic schools.
He also rejected the idea that Catholic disciplinary action only targets Democrats, noting that the Archbishop of New York Cardinal Edward Egan made a similar request to former Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. He encouraged Catholic Democrats to remain Democrats, but to change “the extremist position of the party on abortion.”
Archbishop Naumann said Catholics should also work to persuade others not to have abortions, but they also must change laws that permit the killing of innocents.
Lastly, the archbishop addressed those who claim that the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church discredits it from being able to address moral social issues like abortion.
“In logic,” he explained, “this type of argument is termed ‘ad hominem.’ It is an attempt to attack personally one’s opponent in a debate, rather than make substantive arguments about the issue being debated. It is usually an indication of a weak position by the person making the ‘ad hominem’ argument. What is needed is a substantive discussion of this important social and moral issue, not personal attacks!”