I said yesterday that the New York Times was repeating itself about Catholics, abortion, and Obama. I suggested that the Times was letting its enthusiasm for Obama get in the way of solid reporting. Here is another example of what I mean.
From yesterday’s article by John Broder:
Archbishop Chaput…has said that a vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights or stem cell research, like Mr. Obama or Senator John Kerry in 2004, was a sin that must be confessed before receiving communion.
From an October 12, 2004 Times article by David Kirkpatrick and Laurie Goodstein:
In an interview in his residence here, Archbishop Chaput said a vote for a candidate like Mr. Kerry who supports abortion rights or embryonic stem cell research would be a sin that must be confessed before receiving Communion.
Except that the Times’s 2004 assertion was a false when it was made, and it is false now. Archbishop Chaput has never said any such thing, and most certainly did not in the 2004 interview. I have read the entire transcript of that conversation, and you can too if you go to the Archdiocese’s website. If you do read it you will discover this pertinent exchange (and I quote from the transcript, with added emphasis in CAPS at one place):
NYT: Archbishop Burke in St. Louis…issued a statement basically stating that it’s a sin if you vote for a pro-choice candidate. I believe that he was saying even if it that wasn’t the reason you voted for him, that you voted for a pro-abortion politician that is still something that you ought to confess.
AB: I don’t believe that’s where you should start. The place to start would be, does our voting for someone make us responsible for what that person does as a legislator or as a judge? …Well, if we didn’t know they were going to [do] something wrong, our participation is remote, but if we knew they were going to do something wrong and we APPROVED OF IT, our responsibility would be really close, even if we knew they were going to do something wrong and we voted for them for another reason, we would still be responsible in some ways….Now, if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes.
Later in the interview (and in the only other relevant exchange), Archbishop Chaput made more clear his disagreement with the position attributed to Archbishop Burke: “[Y]ou shouldn’t receive communion, IF YOU ARE IN FAVOR OF ABORTION.” (My emphasis again.)
Though the Times (then and now) may not understand or care to notice, the difference between what Chaput actually asserts and what they attribute to him is huge. It is a distinction indispensable to understanding Catholic moral teaching. (In truth, it is essential to any sound account of moral responsibility.) The distinction is that between “formal cooperation” in evil, which means doing something to promote another’s bad act with a will to further that act — that is, “approving” of it or agreeing with it — and “material
cooperation,” which means doing something which as a matter of fact furthers another’s bad act, but where one accepts that aid (to another’s bad act) reluctantly, for proportionate reason, because the aid is part and parcel of some morally upright project. It is the distinction between what one intends and what one accepts as a side effect. It is the difference between murdering civilians in Iraq by igniting a car bomb in a market, and killing them accidentally, in a cross-fire between opposing combatants.
Someone might say that the New York Times is a secular paper and that its reporters can’t be expected to grasp such subtle distinctions. Well, they should be expected to, just as any science reporter at the Times is expected to know the difference between mass and density. Besides, the distinction relied upon by Chaput is not subtle, or obscure.
Maybe, in an electronic age where Lexis/Nexis is taken to establish what happened, we should expect to feel like every day is Groundhog Day. That’s the Bill Murray flick in which Murray’s caddish TV reporter puts the moves on the lovely Andie MacDowell, and then again, and again, and again until he gets what he wants — all set against the annual appearance of a four-legged weathervane named “Phil” in downtown Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Even so, the Times article yesterday is grossly unbecoming that august paper. The Archdiocese of Denver protested strongly and unmistakably to the editors when the Kirkpatrick/Goodstein story ran, for getting the Archbishop wrong on precisely the point that Broder repeated yesterday almost verbatim, with no trace of qualification, and without mentioning that Chaput at least thinks he was misunderstood.
PS: Raymond Burke never said, either, that “it’s a sin to vote for a pro-choice candidate.” Period. Full stop. His position was and is on all fours with that of Archbishop Chaput.
PPS: Read Chapter 12 of Archbishop’s new book Render Unto Caesar for a full and accurate account of the “wafer wars” of 2004.