The first positive sign is that Woodward eventually points out--after an initial erroneous description of papal teaching-- that the abortion issue cannot be put on a par with issues like the death penalty and the Iraq War:
But this line of reasoning [the much misused "Seamless Garment" line of reasoning] is fraught with peril. For the pope, the bishops and — if polls are to believed — for most practicing Catholics, abortion is the taking of innocent life and therefore violates the most fundamental of human rights. By contrast, the pope's opposition to capital punishment is conditional, not absolute, and the church's application of just war principles is open to reasoned debate. When it comes to abortion, there is far less room for discussion.
Source: Kenneth L. Woodward, N.Y. Times, 5/28/04.
Not only is there far less room for discussion when it comes to abortion--there is no room for discussion as to a Catholic supporting abortion. In a culture that shrinks from any absolutes--except maybe when it comes to the evil of tobacco or "homophobia"--the Catholic Church announces that direct abortion is intrinsically evil. That is the source of the conflict because our culture finds any absolute, non-negotiable moral stand intolerable.
Woodward also reports that the U.S. bishops may release their task force report on the issue of pro-abortion politicians earlier than anticipated because of the controversy. An early release would be a sign that our opinions do count. When you write a letter to the editor or e-mail a bishop, your voice can have an impact on evolving events. Woodward in the paragraph quoted above faces the reality of Catholic teaching, instead of hiding behind the misuse of the Seamless Garment argument that falsely puts abortion, the death penalty, and war on the same moral level. They emphatically are not on the same moral level. The death penalty targets convicted criminals, not the innocent. The decision to go to war in Iraq was motivated by Saddam Hussein's defiance of the U.N. on disarmament. The Iraqi dictator was also a genocidal tyrant who routinely engaged in torture, mutilation, and massacre as an open and official instrument of state policy directed at innocent civilians.
From reading Woodward's column, it appears that he anticipates that the task force may favor telling the pro-abortion politicians to voluntarily refrain from receiving the Eucharist. The task force may even recommend imposing some lesser sanctions such as barring such politicians from making speeches at Catholic institutions. That is some progress, even if it fails to live up to the full moral imperative. Yet, no committee or task force can tie the hands of a courageous bishop. Some bishops will continue to be bold and apostolic on this issue. They will continue to move the ball down the field even if all we get is a field goal.
The truth is making progress when even someone like Woodward recognizes the moral problem of pro-abortion Catholic politicians and the sophistry of the excuses made in the past by such luminaries as former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. Yet, Woodward himself has room to grow. He refers to the stand of Bishop Sheridan of Colorado Springs as "eccentric" for calling on Catholic voters who vote for pro-abortion politicians to refrain from the Eucharist unless they repent and go to confession. Sheridan just stated the obvious, but the obvious becomes "eccentric" when compared to the timidity of many other bishops. It reminds me of one Catholic biblical scholar who refers to Jesus as a "Marginal Jew." I guess Bishop Sheridan should take comfort that on this issue he is the "Marginal Bishop." He has good company in his so-called "eccentricity."
In addition, the title of Woodward's piece "A Political Sacrament" is vaguely offensive, if not outright blasphemous. The Eucharist is not a political sacrament in spite of the best efforts of pro-abortion politicians to make receiving the Eucharist a false public statement of their standing as Catholics. The Eucharist is, like all sacraments, an Ecclesial Sacrament. It is a sign of unity and communion with the Catholic Church. And that is the source of the problem for the politicians. On this Memorial Day weekend, it is good to recall the famous World War II saying, dating from Pearl Harbor, to "praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition." Keep praying and keep speaking out. The truth is our ammunition.