Kerry's Abortion Position

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," April 2, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: "Personal story" segment tonight, you may have heard that some Catholic clergy are angry with John Kerry over his abortion position and other public stands that contradict church teaching. Today, Kerry met with Cardinal Theodore Mccarrick of Washington, D.C.

And joining us now from Philadelphia is Dr. Larry Chapp, chairman of the Theology Department at Desales University and author of the book, "God Who Speaks." And from South Bend Indiana, Father Richard McBrien, the chairman of the Theology Department at Notre Dame.

Father, I begin with you. As you know, Kerry was denied communion by the archbishop of St. Louis, Raymond Burke. Is he in trouble with the Catholic church?

FATHER RICHARD MCBRIEN, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME: Well, I didn't know he was actually denied communion. I thought Archbishop Burke said he wouldn't give him communion if he came forward. He's in trouble with a few bishops including Archbishop Burke, but he's not in trouble with the bishops as a whole. I think you've got to take very seriously the silence of the other bishops regarding this matter. They have not jumped up and endorsed Archbishop Burke's approach.

In fact, after the bishop's meeting last November, they made it very clear that they were reluctant to apply a spiritual penalty so grave as the denial of communion on an issue like this.

O'REILLY: OK. Now it's confusing to non-Catholics and even to Catholics. I mean, I don't know. Kerry is a very, very ardent proponent of reproductive rights, which means that he voted against banning partial- birth abortion, that he's for every aspect of abortion, stem cell research, all of that. All right, he's way out on the left on that issue. And -- but some people say unless he himself has an -- you know -- pays for an abortion or participates in that, that's not sinful. I mean, can you define it for us?

MCBRIEN: Well, see, it's complicated. And this is the no-spin zone. And I'm not going to spin for you, Bill. But the fact of the matter is it's a complicated issue because there's the moral dimension and then there's the political dimension. And the bishops made very clear in their 1983 pastoral letter on the challenge to peace that people of goodwill can differ in the way these first principles like all life is sacred, how those first principles are applied in the midst of changing circumstances in a pluralistic society.

Now I'm not here to defend any of Senator Kerry's votes. I'm not here as a politician, but as a theologian. But all I'm saying is that we've got to be very careful in simply leaping from the moral dimension to the political in saying anyone who votes this way or that way on a particular piece of legislation, that means that they are in fact opposing the teaching of the church and the sacredness of life. I mean, that would be - it would be just as wrong to say that about a conservative Republican or a more conservative Democrat who supports...

O'REILLY: Or somebody who was - yes or the death penalty. Right?

MCBRIEN: Yes. No. Who supported the preemptive war in Iraq. Pope John Paul II was emphatic in opposing on moral grounds...

O'REILLY: And - but I think the death penalty's a clearer example. The church is against the death penalty.


O'REILLY: And many millions of Catholics support it.

MCBRIEN: That's right.

O'REILLY: All right, doctor, do you see it the same way? Or is there something here that we're missing?

LARRY CHAPP, PHD, DESALES UNIVERSITY: No, I don't see it the same way. I think in the general course of events, Father is absolutely correct. There is a separation of church and state. And we don't want to make too easy an equation between the moral and the political.

But there are some moral issues that are so fundamental and so defining, that they do cross over into the political. And you've got it exactly right. John Kerry is not simply an anguished Catholic trying to figure out how to interface his faith with a difficult public issue. He is an ardent advocate of abortion rights. He voted against the ban on partial birth abortion. He voted against the Fetal Protection law. He has said he will not support anybody in the Supreme Court who is pro life.

This is an outspoken advocate for abortion. This is a fundamental human life issue. And I think the silence of the bishops is appalling. And I think they ought to be out front and center. And I think John Kerry should be in trouble on this issue.

O'REILLY: All right.

CHAPP: The Catholic church has been beaten up for not speaking out enough against the Nazis and this sort of thing. So liberals, when they want to beat the Catholic church with regard to not speaking out on their issues, can't have it both ways, it seems to me.

O'REILLY: But you know, I think you're right in a sense, but I don't know whether I would deny Kerry communion and kick him out of the church, even though on paper it looks again - see look, he might be saying I'm coming at it from a constitutional point of view, not a personal point of view. I don't believe the government has a right to interfere. He could make any excuse he wants. I don't know if you go that deeply into the soul and say you can't take communion.

CHAPP: Well, there were people who made that argument with regard to slavery. I mean, there are some issues that a Catholic cannot equivocate on. And abortion is one of those issues. John Kerry should not be a public advocate of abortion. It just - it seems to me that if the bishops don't do something, that we're going to have the spectacle potentially of a Catholic president signing into law pro-abortion legislation. And I think that would be absolutely appalling to the average Catholic in the pew, who's already seen certain scandals over the past year that we don't necessarily want to revisit right now.

O'REILLY: All right. How do you feel about that, father, if Kerry gets elected and signs and revokes the partial-birth abortion ban or something like that?

MCBRIEN: Well, I don't want to get into the political specific issues. I'm not aware of Kerry advocating abortion. This is a legislative matter.

CHAPP: Oh, please.

MCBRIEN: Please. Bill, you and I talked a couple years ago in the intense heat of the sexual abuse scandal. Do you remember any bishops denying themselves or staying away from communion because they covered up criminal behavior, because they...

O'REILLY: No, we assume they went to confession. And...

MCBRIEN: Well then...

O'REILLY: know, and all of that.

MCBRIEN: ...maybe Kerry is going to confession.

O'REILLY: Yes, but if you go to confession, then you have to stop doing it. You know, I mean, you know, it's one of those deals.

MCBRIEN: The bishops have done their public mea culpa.

O'REILLY: Well, let Father go ahead. Go ahead.

MCBRIEN: Bill, are you aware of any bishops who have stopped doing it, so to speak, who have resigned from office? I don't want to confuse the two issues. What I'm saying here -- and I'm not out to attack any bishops. What I'm saying here is we got to -- this is a very steep, slippery slope. It is one thing to say that the church has a clear position on abortion with which I agree. It's another thing to say that Catholic politicians who don't vote exactly the way certain bishops think they should vote should be denied communion. That is a very serious step to take.

O'REILLY: All right.

MCBRIEN: And that's why Cardinal Mccarrick and Cardinal George of Chicago and others have advocated a very careful, go-slow approach on this.

O'REILLY: Very good, gentlemen. I thought that was a very good discussion. And I want - you know, obviously the audience to decide. I just want to point out that Republican -- 65 million Catholics in this country, if you go to church and you're Catholic, you vote Republican. If you don't go to church, you vote Democrat. I don't know what that means. I'm throwing it out.

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