Archbishop takes his media lumps

Leader of Denver's Catholic community a lightning rod for nation's pundits

Oct. 23, 2004

by David Kopel

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput made the front page of The New York Timeson Oct. 12, in a story that also ran in the Rocky Mountain News.Two days later the Newsreported Chaput's complaints that "a lot of what I said in the original interview was simply ignored." And, "I was disappointed with the misleading nature of the Timesstory." The archbishop was right that much of what he said in an eight-page interview did not appear in the story; Chaput's full interview is available at  As for being misrepresented, Chaput seems half-right.

The transcript shows that the archbishop repeatedly refused the Times'invitation to say that voting for John Kerry was a sin. Nevertheless, the Timeswrote, "Archbishop Chaput said a vote for a candidate like Mr. Kerry who supports abortion rights or embryonic stem-cell research would be a sin that must be confessed before receiving Communion."

Although the Timeswent too far in phrasing, it was correct about the inescapable logic of Chaput's remarks: abortion is an evil under all circumstances, voting for a pro-abortion candidate is a form of cooperating with evil, and a person who cooperates with evil should go to confession.

On the whole, both Denver papers have been fair in their news stories about the controversy over Catholic voting. But on the column side, Postblogger Dani Newsum (Aug. 11) called Catholicism a "cult of men with terminal cases of arrested sexual and psychosocial development." The Postnever would have published an article in their print edition using similar invective about the Buddhist sects which have an all-male celibate priesthood. It does the Postno credit to be associated with such attacks on any religion.

Newsum's Oct. 14 column mistakenly assumed that Chaput had said that Kerry was evil. Actually, Chaput had said that abortion was evil. She then demanded, "What about Rudolph Giuliani" and other pro-abortion Catholic Republicans?

In the archbishop's interview with the Times,he had already said, "if Rudy Giuliani is a Republican nominee the next go around, you're going to see the Republicans screaming at the church for making such a big issue of a pro-life matter, because - if I understand Mr. Giuliani's position - he is in favor of abortion."

PostWashington columnist John Aloysius Farrell (Oct. 17) likewise went too far by claiming that Chaput and Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan "mimic Mullah Omar and his Taliban oafs" - as if there were no difference between religious leaders who speak out during free elections and tyrants who obliterate freedom and who rule without elections.

The thesis of Farrell's column was that "For 40 years the Republican Party has paid little more than lip service to the anti-abortion cause."

The record suggests otherwise. The Reagan administration in its first term lobbied for a "Human Life Amendment" to overturn Roe v. Wade. The amendment passed out of committee, but was defeated 49-50 on the floor of the Senate. Under Reagan, Congress passed and the president signed a law prohibiting federal employee health programs from paying for abortions (except when the mother's life was in danger). In 1987, Reagan imposed a "gag rule" preventing some federally funded medical clinics from counseling about abortion. In 1988, Reagan signed a law prohibiting the District of Columbia government from subsidizing or performing abortions.

Reagan's successor, George H.W. Bush, vetoed 10 bills because they would have facilitated abortion, including a bill which would have overturned the Reagan gag rule.

Farrell asserts that Catholic leaders are fools because the current Republican administration has not attempted to prohibit abortion or to prohibit private stem-cell research. In contrast, the National Journal,a centrist political weekly with enormous influence among Washington's political class, headlined that President George W. Bush has been a "Promise Keeper" on social issues such as abortion.

While Bush and his anti-abortion allies in Congress have not pushed for currently-impossible prohibitions, they have recognized that politics is the art of the possible, and have enacted the Partial-Birth Abortion Act, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (an infant who somehow is born alive during abortion is considered a person, and cannot be killed), and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (someone who kills a pregnant woman and her child is guilty of two murders, not one). Moreover, Bush restored the previous Reagan and G.H.W. Bush policy (which had been overturned by Clinton) of prohibiting U.S. taxpayer funding for abortions in other countries, including a U.N. program which forces women in China to have abortions.

Disclosure: As a matter of policy I favor legal abortion, although as a matter of law I think Roe v. Wade had no legitimate basis in the Constitution.

Correction: My Sept. 11 column about long-range naval support for American ground forces should have referred to Sea-Launched Cruise Missiles, not naval artillery.


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