The Dred Scott Decision and the Unborn

Here in Baltimore, the annual meeting of the USCCB has just begun with an address by Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I., president of the Conference. Here is an excerpt. His comparison between the Dred Scott decision and the legal destruction of human life by abortion advocates is especially striking. [emphasis mine]

(Thanks to Rocco Palmo for posting the text of Cardinal George’s address.)

The Pope invites us to place our hope in what lasts forever. We have recently finished a contest for the presidency in which both candidates invited us to hope in change. Perhaps that is the difference between a vision that looks at what is ultimate and one that, by the very nature of things, is most concerned with what is less than ultimate. No political order conforms fully to the Kingdom of God. Separation is built into our faith itself, yet we can hope and work and pray that things political and economic not impede or contest the things that are of God.

We come to this Assembly in the interim before a new presidential administration takes office in our country. Symbolically, this is a moment that touches more than our history when a country that once enshrined race slavery in its very constitutional order should come to elect an African American to the presidency. In this, I truly believe, we must all rejoice. We must also hope that President Obama succeed in his task, for the good of all. The odds against success are formidable. We are internally divided and, in a global order, we will be less the masters of our economic and political fate. Nevertheless, we can rejoice today with those who, following heroic figures like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were part of a movement to bring our country’s civil rights, our legal order, into better accord with universal human rights, God’s order. Among so many people of good will, dutiful priests and loving religious women, bishops and lay people of the Catholic Church who took our social doctrine to heart then can feel vindicated now. Their successors remain, especially among those who quietly give their lives to teaching and forming good and joyful children in Catholic schools in African American and other minority communities.

We can also be truly grateful that our country’s social conscience has advanced to the point that Barack Obama was not asked to renounce his racial heritage in order to be president, as, effectively, John Kennedy was asked to promise that his Catholic faith would not influence his perspective and decisions as president a generation ago. Echoes of that debate remain in the words of those who reject universal moral propositions that have been espoused by the human race throughout history, with the excuse that they are part of Catholic moral teaching. We are, perhaps, at a moment when, with the grace of God, all races are safely within the American consensus. We are not at the point, however, when Catholics, especially in public life, can be considered full partners in the American experience unless they are willing to put aside some fundamental Catholic teachings on a just moral and political order. The hubris that has isolated our country politically and now economically is heard, but not usually recognized, in moral arguments based simply and solely on individual moral autonomy. This personal and social dilemma is not, of course, a matter of ultimate importance, for America is not the Kingdom of God; but it makes America herself far less than she claims to be in this world. . . .

In working for the common good of our society, racial justice is one pillar of our social doctrine. Economic justice, especially for the poor both here and abroad, is another. But the Church comes also and always and everywhere with the memory, the conviction, that the Eternal Word of God became man, took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, nine months before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This truth is celebrated in our liturgy because it is branded into our spirit. The common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice. If the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision that African Americans were other people’s property and somehow less than persons were still settled constitutional law, Mr. Obama would not be president of the United States. Today, as was the case a hundred and fifty years ago, common ground cannot be found by destroying the common good.

Tomorrow’s discussion of Faithful Citizenship should be a lively one. Stay tuned.

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