When St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke resigned from the foundation board of the city’s Catholic children’s hospital last week, his decision ignited intense outrage in the blogosphere and his own backyard. Detractors labeled him a bigot and a bully, slammed him for mixing religion and politics, and accused him of allowing personal bias to trump concern for sick children.
The proximate cause for Burke’s public lashing was his disapproval of the decision by the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation to feature abortion-rights activist Sheryl Crow at its Catholic fundraiser. Burke had privately asked the board to replace Crow because her public support for abortion rights and embryonic-stem-cell research could confuse or scandalize Catholics. The board refused his request. So Burke resigned and held a press conference to distance himself and his Church from Crow’s views.
Those views are well-documented. Crow is among the most strident and outspoken celebrity supporters of abortion rights and embryonic research. Whether headlining a Rock for Choice concert or the NOW-sponsored March for Women’s Lives, lobbying Iowa legislators to kill a cloning ban or urging Missouri voters to enshrine embryonic research and research cloning as constitutional rights, Crow frequently uses her fame to promote positions contrary to Catholic moral teachings.
Crow has the right to her opinions. But it makes no more sense for Burke and the Catholic institutions he oversees to lend Crow a platform than for Planned Parenthood to appoint Burke emcee of its next Gala for Choice.
Some critics have argued that Burke had no business objecting to Crow because many Catholics disagree with his views on these issues. Yet Burke’s stance reflects more than his private opinion; it is also the official teaching of the Catholic Church. The Church holds that abortion is a serious moral evil because it destroys innocent human life, and it opposes embryonic-stem-cell research and cloning for the same reason. Church teaching insists that one must never cooperate in these acts or give even tacit approval to them. There are no exceptions allowed — not for socially conscious rock stars, not for fiscally conscious charity organizers, not even for bishops operating under the glare of media scrutiny.
That glare can be intense and intimidating. Many religious leaders have learned that they receive more flattering press if they focus their political pronouncements on the fight against poverty or global warming and avoid issues like abortion. Burke surely learned this lesson. The same critics who loudly told him to stay out of politics in 2004, when he criticized Sen. John Kerry’s views on abortion, voiced no such concern in 2005, when he protested Missouri’s Medicaid cuts.
Today’s religious leaders increasingly face a double standard when it comes to their public pronouncements: They can say what they want as long as they express politically correct views or stay mum on hot-button social issues. Where secular pundits and celebrities are given free reign to plead their case to the public, religious leaders are derided as theocrats for injecting religiously derived moral principles into political debates. This stifling of religious voices is intended to prevent religious conflicts in the public square. But it also prevents the most fundamental form of deliberation necessary to the functioning of a pluralistic democracy: honest debates about right and wrong, good and evil, truth and falsehood.
Burke’s resignation from the foundation board clarified how seriously the Catholic Church takes its teaching about the sanctity of human life from its earliest stages. That teaching may not be popular or politically correct, but Burke has the right to defend it. To vilify him for speaking out because he wears a bishop’s mitre is the epitome of religious intolerance. Such intolerance should frighten religious believers and free-speech defenders of all political persuasions.
– Colleen Carroll Campbell, an NRO contributor, is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a former speechwriter to President George W. Bush, and author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. Her television show, Faith & Culture, airs weekly on EWTN.