Reactions to Question of Conscience

Author: Readers

Editor’s note: The following letters were received through the magazine’s React Online form.

I read with interest the article,“Question of Conscience” and found it very intelligent until the author addressed the issue of pro-choice politicians. Appleby’s assertion that such a politician is respecting the priority and inviolability of conscience and that somehow that justifies his voting for laws that allow the taking of human life is really very disingenuous. The only way the inviolability of conscience could be given a higher priority than the protection of the unborn is if such politician really did not believe that before birth human beings are entitled to full human rights. Such a position is in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Catholic Church and could only be explained as being the result of poor catechesis or faulty conscience formation on the part of said individual.

I might also add it shows a profound ignorance of or disregard for basic human biology. Catholic politicians who oppose laws that offer protection for the unborn cannot honestly claim that it is their intention to defend the weak and the and vulnerable. To do so represents glaring hypocrisy of the part of Catholic politicians. I am surprised that Appleby did not recognize such a gaping hole in the integrity of what was otherwise such a well-reasoned argument.

Rosemary Bogdan
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Regarding “Questions of Conscience” by Scott Appleby, my response is WAKE UP SCOTT! There is a real world out there to discuss. My question to you is: Has the Notre Dame Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies ever done anything to end the war on terror?

Sure we want to address the “root causes of terrorism.” but in the meantime we must defeat terrorism now or our grandchildren will not live in a society suitable for living.

Catholics believe in the concept of a “just war,” Catholics also believe that abortion is intrinsically evil, not “safe, legal, and rare.” Catholics believe that there are non-negotiable issues like abortion and fetal stem cell research.

To win the war on terror, first lead with massive force, then gain control, and then allow freedom to flourish. Any other way will lead to unimaginable disaster Mr. Appleby.

To answer your question, NO, I would not vote for Senator Church! I won’t vote for ex-altar boy John Kerry either.

Bob Armstrong ‘60
Farmington Hills, Michigan

After reading Scott Appleby’s “Questions of Conscience” in the Autumn 2004 issue of Notre Dame Magazine I felt as if my four years at Notre Dame had once again come into focus. I recalled that my conscience, indeed the direction to my life had taken shape in those fondly remembered years. Due largely to that experience I chose the Peace Corps over acceptance to law school and found myself in another formative experience.

I now find myself at what I consider another “threshold experience”—voting for president of the United States, a vote I now consider my most important. In my 11th presidential election I recall a quote from St. Louis native and poet T.S. Eliot. “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Appleby put all that I experienced at Notre Dame and in the Peace Corps into a world view I recognize. I “know the place for the first time.” It is about respect for human life, indeed all life and the cornerstone is integrity.

It is, however, about respect for life in its broadest terms not in its narrowest, one issue sense. The candidate who takes this fundamental principle and applies it to the direction in which he hopes to take the country has my vote.

My angst over my vote on November 2nd has been largely dispelled because I feel I have found the candidate who has the broadest grasp of the issue of “right to life.” He knows that America can only lead if we demonstrate an understanding of human rights in all its manifestations.

Integrity is the cornerstone of my president’s leadership. As Appleby says, “The dignity and inviolability of (all) human life is the cornerstone for sound domestic as well as foreign policy.” To focus and ruminate on pro-life or pro-choice fails to focus on the much broader picture of our role in the world. To fail to recognize and act upon man’s inhumanity to man and nature is the greatest “sin.”

Once again, thank you Notre Dame and thanks Scott Appleby for putting the presidential election in perspective. I’m no longer “on the fence.”

Stephen Michael Murray ‘61
Saint Louis, Missouri

Having served 10 years in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, I would like to share some insight from the point of view of real legislators.

I went along with most of Appleby’s article, “Questions of Conscience” until I got to the part on abortion. Isn’t protection of life a primary tenant of the Catholic faith?

How then, can a Catholic politician vote to allow the taking of life? By doing so he/she becomes complicit with the acts that are allowed. It is a violation of the moral integrity of that individual.

Rationalization that it is a woman’s right to decide might work for others but not for someone professing to be Catholic. I have known many such legislators who have used that rationale to calm their conscience.

The primary reason a Catholic politician would take that position is because they fear losing an election and it is an easy way out.

It takes moral courage to stand up for your beliefs and vote as you must in the face of angry voters and supporters. Too many do not feel the issue important enough to take that risk and are carried along with the wave of popular culture.

One reason for that is they do not really believe the teaching of the Church.

Various polls have shown that a large percentage of Catholics do not support the Church’s position on abortion. This is sad. Some of the responsibility for this rests with Church leaders who have also shied away from controversy and have not impressed their congregations with the importance of the issue

For example, in 1992 our own University gave the Laetare Medal to Daniel Moynihan, an active pro-abortion U.S. senator. Now, Sen. Moynihan did many fine things in his life, but recognizing him as the outstanding Catholic layman is certainly a mixed message.

Is it any wonder that we have Catholics all over the map when it comes to basic beliefs? How do you think the Lady on the Dome feels about all this?

Lee Taddonio ‘62
Murrysville, Pennsylvania

Thank you to Scott Applepby for so clearly explicating the wrong-headed logic of so many liberal Catholic politicians. Let me get this straight—it is wrong for a Catholic politician to advocate a change in the law that permits the murder of the innocent unborn, but OK to use the coercive power of the law through confiscatory taxation to redress social ills? Talk about having your priorities backward. It is especially ironic that he cites the Declaration of Independence—that document that declares the right to “LIFE, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Mary Blonigen ’80
Hilliard, Ohio

Kerry, Kennedy, Daschle, Leahy, Biden, Harkin, Dodd, Collins, Reed, Murray, Landrieu, Mikulski, along with the likes of McBrien, Greeley, and Curran are proof that saying you are a Catholic doesn’t mean a thing. Their god is freedom to choose. The University of Notre Dame can also say it is Catholic and it doesn’t mean a thing. Their god is academic freedom. Hopefully the bishops will soon bring some meaning to being Catholic. The pope has already made it clear. You are only free to choose what is right and only the Truth shall set you free.

Tom Wich ‘63
Clarendon Hills, Illinois

The article was very thought-provoking. However, unlike a typical candidates interview it contained no “sound bites” that could be played over and over.

The suggestion of a Marshall Plan for the Middle East indicates a lack of familiarity with the original—a great deal of wealth resides in the Middle East, petro-dollars, and the failure is on the part of those governments to use them properly. The United States no longer has the wealth to solve all the problems of the world.

James J. Mikulski
Deerfield, Illinois

It is unfortunate that Notre Dame Magazine chose to publish Professor R. Scott Appleby’s essay, “Questions of Conscience” just before the general election, considering some of its potentially misleading content. Under the guise of a fictitious politician, Appleby repackages the argument advanced in 1984 by New York’s then-Governor Mario Cuomo in a speech given at Notre Dame. In that speech, Cuomo aggressively argued that as an individual Catholic he is obliged to adhere to Church teaching, but as a public official he is under no such obligation to act in accordance with the Church. Like Cuomo, Appleby argues, for example, that a Catholic politician can think as he wishes about abortion privately, but that his public actions regarding abortion should be guided by respect for the primacy of individual consciences. The consequence of this self-serving argument is that not only can one use it to undermine Church teaching on abortion, but it can be invoked any time a Catholic politician finds his public actions at odds with the Church. Sadly, Cuomo’’s argument—echoed in Appleby’s essay—has become the intellectual benchmark that Catholic politicians, including Senator Kerry, still use today to defy the Church sinfully, repeatedly, and very publicly while piously (complete with folded hands and a bow) claiming he is still a Catholic at heart.

To Cuomo and Appleby (I suspect), theological debate within the Church as well as the long lead times required for authoritative definition of Church doctrine is not viewed as evidence of the Holy Spirit working in history to reveal truth, rather it is taken as evidence that the Church is a fallible human institution whose teachings one can accept or not, each according to his conscience. As Catholics, we believe that while all men are created equal, all consciences are not subsequently formed equally. An adult Catholic has the affirmative duty properly to inform and form his conscience; part of the formation of that conscience involves the acceptance of and obedience to the clearly and consistently expressed tenets of the Church, which is the divinely ordained organ for the teaching of its Founder, Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, I believe Appleby, as did Cuomo, would argue that serving the people of a pluralistic democracy in which church and state are separate justifies—even demands—a Catholic politician act against the Church if, in his estimation, it serves the common good. If not, as Appleby observes ruefully, “The cost of integrity can be high.” Therefore, the real problem for a Catholic politician is not so much a question of conscience as much as it is a question of which master to serve.

The damage caused—especially by pro-abortion—Catholic politicians acting in accordance with the rationale promulgated in Appleby’s essay is real both in terms of lives lost and the widespread scandal to the faithful. I remain hopeful that once this election cycle is over, the Church, in Her wisdom, will speak definitively on how She expects Catholic politicians to conduct themselves in the future.

Vincent C. Muscarello, M.D., ’79
Burr Ridge, Illinois