Tag Archives: John M. Haas

Is Catholic health care a thing of the past?

Matthew Rarey: consolidation, regulation, and persecution pose a three-fold challenge . . . 

Health care providers are taking a beating from ObamaCare, and Catholic hospitals and physicians fighting to keep the faith are no exception. Many suspect that the end game is not only a singlepayer system, but a shutdown of faith-based delivery.

“Catholics should be worried,” warns John M. Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center. “It’s not so much a Catholic identity issue within Catholic health care, but fierce and relentless threats from government and a profound shift in cultural attitudes regarding issues such as contraception.”

Such threats have already forced the Church out of other social ministries — including adoption services — thanks to laws and mores condoning same-sex “marriage.”

Regulatory culture

A statue of the Blessed Mother stands in front of Loretto Hospital in New Ulm, Minn.

A statue of the Blessed Mother stands in front of Loretto Hospital in New Ulm, Minn.

John F. Brehany is executive director and ethicist of the Catholic Medical Association, an association of individuals across the country dedicated to learning, implementing, and sharing their faith in the health care industry. Most of its 2,000 members are physicians.

He cites two factors militating against a robust Catholic identity in health care.

“First, the federal government is actively hostile to the Catholic faith and at best indifferent to the protection of conscience rights in organized medicine,” Brehany says. Of particular concern is the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate. This employer requirement to provide insurance plans covering contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization procedures is “proving a real challenge to the Catholic institutional presence in health care.”

The U.S. Supreme Court heard cases seeking the mandate’s repeal in late March and is expected to give its ruling at the end of June.

Second, says Brehany, is the financial pressure being exerted upon health care providers to stay in business. To “cut more costs out of the delivery structure, many are consolidating,” he notes. Encouraging this trend is the need to comply with ever more burdensome federal regulations — a costly procedure that’s putting many physicians out of private practice.

“Government has so ramped up regulations and penalties for compliance with federal law that private physicians are being driven out of business and joining hospitals,” Brehany explains. “They can’t afford the software systems and lawyers necessary to letting them know whether they’re in continual compliance,” thus avoiding crippling penalties. When Catholic hospitals consolidate with non-Catholic hospitals for similar reasons, these consolidations can pose “a challenge to maintaining a robust Catholic identity.”

Consolidation, not compromise

John Haas

John Haas

In 2012, Catholic Healthcare West relinquished its formal Catholic identity in order to expand its network to include non-Catholic hospitals, thus increasing its marketing power and profitability. Now called Dignity Health, it may be a harbinger of further consolidations by which Catholic health care providers drop their Catholic identity for the sake of the bottom line.Despite that change in name and formal identity, “there’s more than meets the eye with the Catholic Healthcare West issue,” Haas notes. Dignity Health’s transformation was made in consultation with the Church and approved by former San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer. It has promised to run its Catholic hospitals in accord with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) document Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.

“But it now means that the overarching system of Dignity can bring non-Catholic hospitals into the system and have them continue doing things Catholic hospitals can’t,” says Haas, citing sterilization procedures. “Dignity has said none of its hospitals can perform abortions, however. There’s still a strong Catholic moral influence.”

Haas says that consolidation is the trend of the future.

“You can find almost no freestanding hospitals anymore — they’re all entering into collaborative arrangements to survive,” he told Legatus magazine shortly after returning from a meeting in Rome, where he is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. “When a non-Catholic hospital or system puts pressure on a Catholic partner to do things not in accord with moral law, that’s where the threats come in.”

The National Catholic Bioethics Center, led by Haas, gives ethical guidance to Catholic health care providers considering collaborative arrangements with non-Catholic entities, helping them stay true to their Catholic identity. A major concern is maintaining the principle of non-material cooperation with evil.

The NCBC worked with one Catholic health care system for over a year to maintain its integrity through the consolidation process, Haas says. The $620 million deal did not happen until the NCBC affirmed that no ethical or religious directives would be broken.

“What came into play were tubal ligations, contraception, and sterilization, which are such a miniscule part of the overall delivery of health care but in our day and age, such a neuralgic issue,” says Haas.

Peter Breen

Peter Breen

For now, vigilant bishops are key to ensuring the Catholic identity of Catholic health care, Haas says. However, a game changer may be in the works: The Obama administration’s repeal of conscience provisions, which had allowed health care providers to receive federal funds despite refusing to perform procedures the Church deems unethical, could threaten the very existence of Catholic health care.

“You often hear people saying with great bravado that a Catholic hospital would close down before it did abortions [to receive the government funding so vital to their operation],” he notes. “If it came to that and a Catholic hospital refused to do abortions, the state could take it over and say this institution exists by our leave as a non-profit. It’s happened before in Church history, but not yet here in America.”

Catholic health care in the catacombs?

Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel of the Thomas More Society, says the movement in politics to devalue faith-based ministries has turned into active hostility.

Concerning mergers between Catholic and secular health care institutions, Breen says “there’s a real fight over whose ethics will win out.” In a case not yet made public, the Thomas More Society is defending a Catholic doctor that a secular hospital involved in a partnership with a Catholic hospital refused to hire because of his opposition to administering abortifacient birth control.

Even more ominous, Breen cites a recent suit that the American Civil Liberties Union filed against the USCCB because its Ethical and Religious Directives bars abortion.

“I don’t mean to be apocalyptic,” says Breen, “but if Catholic bishops are unable to set ethical guidelines for institutions calling themselves Catholic, we’re going to have a hard time maintaining an official relation between the Church and not-for-profit Catholic health facilities. If the ACLU is successful, we’ll be put in a tough spot as a Church.”

Joseph Piccione, senior vice president for mission and ethics at Peoria, Ill.-based OSF HealthCare System, says he’s hopeful yet realistic about the continuance of that fundamental part of Catholic discipleship and identity: caring for the sick.

“When we see how Catholic ministries have struggled to remain active even in oppressive communist regimes, we know that we have a learned flexibility from their example,” says Piccione, who holds a licentiate in theology as well as a civil law degree. “We need to be quick on our feet and find ways to continue to serve. Why? Because that’s what the Lord wants of us.”

MATTHEW A. RAREY is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.

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Divine Providence and the HHS mandate

John Haas writes that the Supreme Court will meet on the feast of the Annunciation . . .

John Haas

John Haas

It’s been said that a coincidence is nothing other than God remaining anonymous. In other words, there are no coincidences in God’s Providence.

It’s common for Catholics to refer social events and political developments to the mysteries of their faith. These mysteries may not explain secular developments, but they do help us see the invisible but certain hand of God at work among us.

The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments this month regarding for-profit companies who object on religious grounds to providing insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-causing drugs and devices for their employees and families as mandated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

HHS issued the mandate under the heading “preventative services” as part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare. Breast cancer exams clearly fall into this category of preventative medicine, but contraceptives and abortifacients do not. To view these as preventative services is to look on fertility as a pathology to be corrected and pregnancy as a disease to be prevented.

The owners of Hobby Lobby, a for-profit company, are evangelical Christians. They refuse to provide such coverage, claiming that it would violate their consciences as well as the Constitution’s First Amendment guaranteeing religious liberty. The company refuses to provide the coverage, and the government could put it out of business with crippling fines up to $1.3 million per day for not providing it. Because of divided lower court decisions, Hobby Lobby’s case has made its way to the Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments on the case on March 25.

This of course brings us to a remarkable coincidence — or more accurately, face to face with Divine Providence. March 25 is the Feast of the Annunciation which commemorates the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary informing her that she would carry the Savior of the world in her womb.

It’s remarkable that the Church coordinated in its liturgical calendar the celebrations of the Annunciation and Christmas long before science proved that a new human individual comes into being at conception, nine months prior to birth. Because certain groups want to advance their contraceptive and abortion agendas, they ignore science.

Not all societies avoid these scientific truths in the interest of some social agenda. Germany, for example, has its Embryo Protection Law, which describes the embryo as coming into being “at the moment of the fusion of the nuclei of the two gametes.” The German law, the statement of scientific truth, shows a compatibility with revealed truth: Jesus was conceived in a virgin’s womb nine months before his birth.

In 1995, Blessed John Paul II issued his powerful encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) which repeated in the strongest language the consistent teaching of the Church in defense of innocent human life. “The moral gravity of procured abortion,” he wrote, “is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder” (#58).

The saintly Pope then put the full weight of his office and Church tradition behind this teaching: “Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his successors, in communion with the bishops, who on various occasions have condemned abortion, I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s tradition, and is taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium” (#62).

John Paul chose to issue his encyclical on the inviolable sanctity of human life on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation! The apparently arbitrary date the Supreme Court justices selected to hear arguments about the HHS mandate was actually a date chosen for them — a date, not to put too fine a point on it, of cosmic significance: the day on which the Church celebrates in awe and wonder the incarnation, God becoming man in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

As March 25 approaches and the justices’ deliberations commence, Christians must seek the intercession of the Blessed Virgin that they hear and ponder the truth presented to them as Mary had done at the words of Gabriel — and that they pay heed to the deepest human and divine truths hidden in coincidences.

JOHN M. HAAS, PH.D., is president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and founding president of the International Institute for Culture. He is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and serves on its Directive Council.

A time for change

Dr. John Haas says in vitro fertilization is beneath the dignity of human beings . . .

Dr. John Haas

Dr. John Haas

It became apparent the student was becoming impatient with my lecture in a course on Catholic social doctrine. He finally put up his hand and blurted out, “What kind of society do you want, anyway?”

“Well,” I said, “just for starters, a society in which pornography is illegal, abortion is outlawed, the sale and distribution of contraceptives is prohibited, and divorce is very difficult to obtain.” The student literally leapt out of his chair and declared, “You’re crazy! How could you ever hope to have a society like that?”

“You know,” I replied, “that is precisely the kind of society in which I grew up.”

There have been such radical cultural shifts since the ’60s that it’s difficult to believe that the world could ever be any other way. However, when I was a teenager in Pennsylvania, contraceptives were illegal. Pornography was not to be found. Playboy came along and offered free subscriptions to any minister, priest or rabbi who requested it on church or synagogue stationery! They targeted society’s moral guardians with the express purpose of breaking down resistance to sexual immorality.

The “old” morality, however, did not simply disappear. Some worked diligently, indeed relentlessly, to undermine and overthrow it. You would think that they would now be satisfied that they had achieved their goals. However, they still don’t rest. Now they want to force Catholic employers to provide contraception in their employee health plans. They want to deprive physicians and hospitals of conscience protections if they’re opposed to performing abortions. They want to gain state recognition of same-sex “marriage.” They want to lower the age of sexual consent.

A number of years ago there was a front page story in the New York Times: “The Job at Fertility Clinics No One Wants.” That job was to dispose of the excess embryos remaining from infertility treatments. Why would fertility clinic lab technicians who had engendered microscopic human embryos have any qualms about disposing of them? Because deep in their hearts they knew that they’re not dealing merely with microscopic undifferentiated biological material, but with human beings of great worth and value.

Deep in their hearts, abortion advocates also know it’s wrong. That’s why they speak of “choice” without ever mentioning what is being chosen. They’ll speak of the “termination of a pregnancy” without saying what in fact is being done: the murder of a child. When a mother delivers her child, that also “terminates a pregnancy,” but the end result is very different from that of an abortion.

Pope John Paul II was actually somewhat encouraged that individuals tried to hide what they were doing by the language they used because it showed they knew it was wrong. “Especially in the case of abortion there is widespread use of ambiguous terminology, such as ‘interruption of pregnancy,’ which tends to hide abortion’s true nature and to attenuate its seriousness in public opinion. Perhaps this linguistic phenomenon is itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience” (Evangelium Vitae, #58. 1995).

There are many in our society who want to hide the reality of things — or who simply cannot face reality. A presidential candidate claims that determining when life begins is beyond his pay grade. U.S. Supreme Court justices claim we cannot know when life begins. Other societies, however, seem a bit more capable of facing reality. The secular country of Germany, for example, has an Embryo Protection Law which forbids experimentation on human embryos. Abortion is admittedly legal in Germany, but it’s much more restricted than in the U.S.

Catholics and other pro-lifers are often asked how they can oppose embryo freezing and destructive experimentation on embryos since in vitro fertilization (IVF) is legal and widely practiced in the U.S. After all, if something useful isn’t done with them, they’ll simply go to waste. However, the Church would welcome the legal prohibition of IVF since it’s beneath the dignity of human beings to be engendered in Petri dishes by lab techs rather than by the loving embrace of parents. The Church would also welcome the prohibition of IVF since many embryonic lives are lost in the attempt to bring a new life to term.

But our society does not have to be as it is. In Costa Rica, IVF has been unconstitutional since 2000 because it violates human life. If human life is so protected in Costa Rica, it ought to be conceivable that the same protections of human life could be put in place in the U.S. The social disorder in which we live today can be corrected. That’s why we work so hard to bring about social change. We have to be as persistent and relentless as those who, for whatever misguided reasons, work against the good of human life.

Virgil once declared, “What a toil it was to found the Roman Empire!” We Catholics can expect no less toil and struggle in building up a culture of life. And as we work doggedly and tirelessly, we need to remind ourselves that society does not need to be as it is! It can be better.

John M. Haas, Ph.D., is president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and founding president of the International Institute for Culture. He is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

A reformed Church

Reforms in the Catholic Church over the past 8 years are a model for the world . . .

Dr. John Haas

Critics and the media continue to level charges that the Catholic Church’s leadership has done virtually nothing in response to the problem of sexual abuse. One wonders if these detractors simply read salacious headlines rather than investigate the facts.

Tremendous reform has occurred. Indeed, more reform has taken place in the Catholic Church than in any other social institution in which the abuse of minors has occurred. In 2002, U.S. bishops approved a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. They hired the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to conduct an independent investigation of the problem. They established a National Review Board (NRB) chaired by a woman, Justice Anne M. Burke, stifling critics who claimed an absence of women in leadership roles. The NRB monitors the policies of the bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection and oversees its annual audit. Five of its current 13 members are women.

When the report was first issued, the chairman of the NRB’s research committee, Robert Bennett, said that the sexual abuse of minors was a broad social problem and that a focus merely on the Catholic Church would be a disservice to children. Regrettably, however, that is exactly what has happened.

Media reports of sexual abuse by school teachers, Scout leaders, swim coaches and others are few and far between despite being far more pervasive than those in the Church. In March, a judge ordered the Boy Scouts to release over 1,200 “perversion files” with Scout leaders who had molested boys. In April, a headline shouted “Sex Abuse Pervasive in USA Swimming” with reports of molesting swim coaches going unchallenged for decades. In 2002, Dr. Charol Shakeshaft of Hofstra University prepared a report for the U.S. Department of Education. It found that 6-10% of U.S. high school students have been sexually abused or harassed. “The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests,” she declared. However, the mainstream media continues to ignore this essential finding.

Many have heard of the sexual abuse by clergy in Germany’s Catholic schools. However, at the time these reports were surfacing, it was learned that a prestigious private boarding school had its own unspeakable record of abuse. The Odenwaldschule is a UNESCO model school whose administration would arrange to have students provide “entertainment” for visitors and whose male students regularly had sexual relations with teachers’ wives. Where were the headlines proclaiming that a UNESCO model school was engaged in the systematic molestation of children? In fact, when the report of the Odenwaldschule first appeared it was under a headline decrying abuse in Catholic schools!

None of these other social institutions have put safeguards in place that even begin to approach those established by the Church. There is nothing on a national level that tracks abusive school teachers, for example. Such negligence by these other institutions leaves more children at risk.

Church reforms have been extensive. When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he arranged for abuse cases to be moved to his own office — not to cover them up, but to deal with them more expeditiously. Pope John Paul II’s 2001 decree Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, drawn up by Cardinal Ratzinger, amended Canon law in 18 places to allow a more effective response to charges of sexual abuse. Priests are now more easily disciplined and laicized.

Other reforms continued. Virtually every diocese in the country posts abuse policies on its website. Most dioceses have a victims’ assistance coordinator — a layperson to whom abuse can be reported if the victim is uneasy approaching a cleric. The Church has also adopted a “zero tolerance” policy, meaning that if a priest admits to any past sexual activity with a minor or is found guilty of it, he may no longer function as a priest.

All were shocked by the sexual abuse in Ireland’s Catholic and state institutions. But it was underreported that the Church has been addressing the problem for some time. In 1996, the Church in Ireland published Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response. The bishops’ Committee on Child Abuse commissioned independent research into the problem. Their 2003 report was A Time to Listen. The National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland had its inaugural meeting in 2006 and was headed by Justice Anthony Hederman. Four of its current members are women.

Pope Benedict XVI severely criticized the Irish bishops for their handling of the abuse cases, and four offered their resignations. And the Holy Father recently met with abuse victims during his trip to Malta, not shying away from public acknowledgment of Church members’ sins — and the Church’s desire to make amends. None of this expresses complacency.

Critics should recognize and applaud the reforms in the Catholic Church — and urge other institutions working with young people to be equally as bold and as far-reaching in establishing programs to protect children.

John M. Haas, Ph.D., is president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and founding president of the International Institute for Culture. He is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Editor’s Note: While Dr. Haas’ commentary is off the topic of bioethics, he gives an astute assessment of the situation. We will return to publishing bioethics-related material in the next issue of Legatus Magazine.

Vatican calls for moral science

Dignitatas Personae addresses the complex moral issue of stem-cell research . . .

Dr. John Haas

May Catholics use a life-saving product derived from human embryonic stem-cell research? The answer may well be different depending on whether one is a researcher or a patient. The Vatican’s most recent document on bioethics, Dignitas Personae, addresses the question.

“The use of embryonic stem cells or differentiated cells derived from them — even when these are provided by other researchers through the destruction of embryos or when such cells are commercially available — presents serious problems from the standpoint of cooperation in evil and scandal” (DP #32).

Of course, there are no life-saving products that derive from embryonic stem cells. Despite years of hype, the most promising developments in this field have been made using adult stem cells, including the newly discovered induced pluripotent stem cells, which have most of the same properties as the embryonic but do not involve the destruction of embryos. An induced pluripotent stem cell is developed from a fully developed human body cell. Through various complex manipulations, it is reprogrammed and reverts to an earlier stage of development.

Dignitas Personae says the “criterion of independence” is roundly critiqued. Those who claim that the use of embryonic stem cells and their derivatives is permissible so long as someone else destroys the embryo face a contradiction. They cannot pretend to be free of moral responsibility when others commit injustices from which their own research benefits.

During the Clinton administration there was an attempt to get around the ban on federal funding of destructive embryonic stem-cell research (ESCR). The administration proposed making arrangements with scientists in the private sector who would kill the embryos, making the cells obtained through this act available to researchers using federal funds. They appealed to a “criterion of independence.” That might have met the letter of federal laws, but it does not pass the demands of the moral law since it would make those doing research with the federal funds morally complicit in the destruction of human embryos.

Some contend that this is too high a standard, especially for Catholic researchers of good conscience. But the Vatican replies that “the duty to avoid cooperation in evil and scandal relates to their ordinary professional activities.” Dignitas Personae therefore concludes that “there is a duty to refuse to use such ‘biological material’ even if there is no close connection between the researcher and the actions of those who” kill the embryo (#35).

Dr. Edward Furton

Dr. Edward Furton

The problem is only heightened when public law permits and even encourages the destruction of embryonic human life. The written law of the state must follow the unwritten law that God has inscribed into human nature if it is to be a true law that binds us in conscience.

Researchers, it seems clear, are bound not to work with embryonic stem cells, regardless of the good that might result, and despite the distance between the original act of destruction and present use. But does the same restriction apply to those who might benefit from any future lifesaving discoveries that may derive from embryonic stem cell lines?

Here the Vatican does not give a definitive answer, though one is perhaps suggested. The Vatican has stated that parents may make use of certain vaccines that have a distant origin in tissues derived from elective abortions to immunize their children when no other alternative is currently available. This is permissible (when done under protest) in view of the great goods of life and human health. This same reasoning may apply more broadly to those in the health care profession who need to be protected against the transmission of disease while engaged in their important work. Indeed, there are grounds for supposing that when the goods of health and life are at risk, the use of these products on a temporary basis (until such time as alternatives are available) is generally permissible for anyone in need of them.

This line of reasoning may apply to therapeutic products that result from ESCR, though there are some important differences between the two cases. For example, the vaccine case differs from that of research with human embryonic stem cells since there are principally only two cell lines used for vaccine production, and the fetuses were killed for reasons entirely unrelated to the production of vaccines. On the other hand, there is the ongoing destruction of human embryos for purposes of research involving human ESCR.

Would a similar conclusion follow concerning any life-saving treatment that may eventually derive from embryonic stem cells? Though the general outlines of an answer are suggested, there is no definitive response.

One thing is clear, however. Being pro-life in a biotech age can present us with gut-wrenching and mind-twisting moral dilemmas. We should pray for the day when all society, including research scientists, will respect each individual human being from his or her very inception. This is what Dignitas Personae urges us to work and pray for. Only moral science can be good science and produce the kinds of personal and social goods we all desire.

John M. Haas, Ph.D., is president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and founding president of the International Institute for Culture. He is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Edward J. Furton, Ph.D., is a staff ethicist and the director of publications for the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

Abortion and the disintegration of the state

Can a United States citizen conscientiously vote for a political candidate who supports legalized abortion? Perhaps we should let Pope John Paul II answer that question. These words are from his powerful 1991 encyclical Evangelium Vitae.

“This is what is happening at the level of politics and government: The original and inalienable right to life is questioned or denied on the basis of a parliamentary vote or the will of one part of the people — even if it is the majority. This is the sinister result of a relativism which reigns unopposed: The ‘right’ ceases to be such, because it is no longer firmly founded on the inviolable dignity of the person, but is made subject to the will of the stronger part.

“In this way democracy, contradicting its own principles, effectively moves towards a form of totalitarianism. The state is no longer the ‘common home’ where all can live together on the basis of principles of fundamental equality, but is transformed into a tyrant state, which arrogates to itself the right to dispose of the life of the weakest and most defenseless members, from the unborn child to the elderly in the name of a public interest which is really nothing but the interest of one part.

“The appearance of the strictest respect for legality is maintained, at least when the laws permitting abortion and euthanasia are the result of a ballot in accordance with what are generally seen as the rules of democracy.

“Really what we have here is only the tragic caricature of legality; the democratic ideal, which is only truly such when it acknowledges and safeguards the dignity of every human person, is betrayed in its very foundations: How is it still possible to speak of the dignity of every human person when the killing of the weakest and most innocent is permitted? In the name of what justice is, the most unjust of discriminations practiced: Some individuals are held to be deserving of defense and others are denied that dignity?

“When this happens, the process leading to the breakdown of a genuinely human co-existence and the disintegration of the state itself has already begun” (#20).

By John Paul’s analysis, legislators who support and vote for abortion are contributing to the disintegration of the state itself and undermining our democracy. As he said, “To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others” (#20). Such a society, he said, “is already on the path to the most alarming corruption and the darkest moral blindness” (#24).

Any politician who would claim to be personally opposed to abortion but would support its legalization is engaged in a “tragic caricature of legality,” is betraying democracy, is contributing to the establishment of a “tyrant state,” and is on “the path to the most alarming corruption and the darkest moral blindness.”

These are the words of John Paul II. We have Catholic politicians who say that they are personally opposed to abortion, and we have no reason to doubt that they are personally opposed to it. However, they then, as we know, usually go on to insist that they cannot “impose their beliefs” on others. But it is not a matter of imposing their beliefs on others but of protecting the innocent in society which is their civic duty. The inviolability of the innocent is not a revealed religious doctrine recognized only by the adherents of a particular religion but a mandate placed on all by the natural moral law.

Public servants — whether legislators, executives or judges — must work for the public good. To those who claim they are personally opposed but cannot force their beliefs on others, John Paul said: “Abortion goes beyond the responsibility of individuals and beyond the harm done to them and takes on a distinctly social dimension. It is a most serious wound inflicted on society and its culture by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. As I wrote in my Letter to Families, ‘we are facing an immense threat to life: not only to the life of individuals but also to that of civilization itself.’ We are facing what can be called a ‘structure of sin’ which opposes human life not yet born” (#59).

The form of government we utilize is no safeguard against injustice. Democracy can be as brutal as totalitarianism. And an unjust law is equally unjust whether it is enacted by a majority vote or a single tyrant. To quote John Paul again: “When a parliamentary or social majority decrees that it is legal, at least under certain conditions, to kill unborn human life, is it not really making a tyrannical decision with regard to the weakest and most defenseless of human beings?

“Everyone’s conscience rightly rejects those crimes against humanity of which our century has had such sad experience. But would these crimes cease to be crimes if, instead of being committed by unscrupulous tyrants, they were legitimated by popular consensus” (#71)?

Every conscientious American knows the answer to that question.

John M. Haas is president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and founding president of the International Institute for Culture. He is a member of the Medical Moral Commission of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.