Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Analysis of Cardinal Rigali and the Health Care Bill

Source: CNSNews.com - Top Catholic Cardinal Says 'No Way' Catholic Members of Congress Can Support Senate Health Care Bill That Funds Abortion

I know some people are going to miss the point and accuse Cardinal Rigali of waffling on the issue, so I thought I'd link this article here because of the great clarifications it makes.

Cardinal Rigali was asked if it was mortal or venial sin to vote for a pro-abortion bill.

Rigali replied:

“People have to follow their conscience, but their conscience has to be well-formed,” said Rigali. “And you have to make sure that when it is a question of doing something that has a provision, if it has a provision in it for abortion, then this is absolutely wrong by every standard and not by the standards of the Catholic Church as you see here today.  It’s the standards of Christian, standards of the natural law.

“Everyone is called. Yes, no, any bill, any bill that has abortion in it is in our opinion to be rejected,” Rigali continued. “But keep in mind that health reform as such is a wonderful, wonderful thing. But a bill that includes it, there’s no way in the world that it can be supported and if it comes down to that.  Once again we have the coming down as we examined in other questions. If it comes down to that, then we would urge, urge, a rejection because health reform is necessary, it has to be reformed, and it can’t be killing.”

Some people will claim he is not giving a straight answer on the question, but the truth is, he is giving us the information we need.

  1. Conscience must be well formed
  2. Abortion is absolutely wrong, and can never be supported
  3. Health Care Reform is good
  4. However, Health Care Reform which supports abortion can never be supported, and must be rejected.

From this, we can reason:

  • A person with a well formed conscience knows abortion can never be supported
  • The Senate Bill has abortion support
  • Therefore a person with a well formed conscience can never support the Senate abortion bill.

Fr. Sirico, in this article offers an excellent commentary on this, which is well in keeping with the teaching of the Magisterium:

“When you ask if something is a mortal sin or a venial sin, you’re asking a question with regard to the individual act,”

“When we’re talking about the broad morality of the thing, we’re talking about as it exists in natural law,” he said.  Abortion and funding abortion violate the natural law and are gravely immoral. But for a person to commit a mortal sin, Sirico said, three conditions must be met: the act must be gravely wrong, the person must know it is gravely wrong, and the person must deliberately choose to do it.

“So, the reason the cardinal seemed like he wasn’t answering the question directly is because you can’t judge this along every congressperson, because it depends on their individual knowledge and their individual act of free will,” Sirico said.

“And so, it is grave, and if a person knows that it’s grave, and acts upon it freely, they may have committed a mortal sin,” he said.

Of course with the Church giving strong notice of the grave evil of abortion, the claims of not knowing it is gravely wrong is shrinking drastically.  Vatican II has taught, in Gaudium et spes #16:

Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.

If one claims to be a Catholic, then it stands to reason that one must follow what the Church teaches with authority.  On the issue of abortion, the Catholic Church is quite clear:

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator. (Gaudium et spes #27)


For God, the Lord of life, has conferred on men the surpassing ministry of safeguarding life in a manner which is worthy of man. Therefore from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes. (Gaudium et spes #51)

A Catholic who would claim invincible ignorance to the teaching of the Church must confess gross ignorance not only to the teaching of the Church, but also gross ignorance to the knowledge of the authority of the magisterium, if they would ignore the teaching of the bishops speaking out on abortion in America.

A Catholic Politician knowing that the Church teaches abortion is gravely evil, and knowing this freely chooses to vote in favor of laws protecting or expanding abortion rights does indeed seem to be guilty of mortal sin.

So Rigali is pointing out that a Catholic who believes abortion is acceptable to vote for does not have a well formed conscience, and if he knows that abortion is condemned as evil and supports it all the same with this full knowledge, they are knowingly cooperating with a grave evil.

That's mortal sin.

So what are we obligated to know, and what is invincible ignorance?

Thomas Aquinas makes this distinction:

Now it is evident that whoever neglects to have or do what he ought to have or do, commits a sin of omission. Wherefore through negligence, ignorance of what one is bound to know, is a sin; whereas it is not imputed as a sin to man, if he fails to know what he is unable to know. Consequently ignorance of such like things is called invincible, because it cannot be overcome by study. For this reason such like ignorance, not being voluntary, since it is not in our power to be rid of it, is not a sin: wherefore it is evident that no invincible ignorance is a sin. On the other hand, vincible ignorance is a sin, if it be about matters one is bound to know; but not, if it be about things one is not bound to know. (ST I-II, Q76, A2)

So, to be invincible ignorance, it would have to be something which a man is unable to know, even through the study which was available to him.  If he could have found out, if he had bothered to look, it is not invincible, but vincible ignorance.

Could a Catholic Pro-abortion politician find out about the grave evil of abortion?  Certainly.  He only needs consult the magisterium.  Is he bound to know it?  He is, if he would be an informed Catholic in relation to his task of making laws.

So by failing to learn what he is bound to learn, the Catholic pro-abortion politician is committing a sin of omission, and by acting in a way contrary to how he is required to act, he is performing a sin of commission.

Now, not knowing (As Fr. Sirico pointed out) just how responsible each politician is for his or her own ignorance, we cannot say definitively who is guilty of mortal sin.  All we can do is to instruct and to remove ignorance, so that those who do not know the truth might choose truth over error.

If the person is instructed, and chooses to remain in their error to do evil, then they will answer to God for it.

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