Angelo Cardinal Sodano Angelo Cardinal Sodano
Former Secretary of State, Roman Curia
Cardinal Bishop of Suburbicarian See of Ostia
Nov 23, 1927
Jun 28, 1991
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English Papal Knighthood for a Pro-Abortion Catholic Politician
Apr 05, 2005
The Catholic Herald recently carried an interesting item about Julian Hunte, a pro-choice Catholic politician in the West Indies who was awarded a papal knighthood Sept. 19. Hunte was made a Knight of the Grand Cross Pian Order. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano bestowed the honor in a New York ceremony.

(September 2004) As the Herald story notes, the award is especially interesting in light of the debate currently swirling in the United States over the eligibility of pro-choice Catholic politicians for the Eucharist.

Hunte, the Minister for External Affairs of Santa Lucia, recently concluded his term as president of the United Nations General Assembly. The Vatican recognized him for his role in a resolution regarding the work of the Holy See in the United Nations.

Hunte was also, however, the deciding vote last year on a bill in the upper chamber of the St. Lucian parliament that decriminalized abortion in that Caribbean nation. In December, that measure passed by five votes to four, with Hunte in favor.

"I think every woman must have a choice. I am a pro-choice man," Hunte said during a parliamentary debate before votes were cast.

"A woman must be the one who will decide what she wants to do in any given situation. I respect the views of those who feel it is wrong. This is their right. I will give them that right, as I will give the woman the right to determine how she wishes to treat her life," he said at the time.

Some Catholics in St. Lucia were, therefore, opposed to the Vatican honor.

Fr. Linus Clovis, for example, was appalled, according to the Herald.

"It makes a mockery of what we stand for and it compromises us because now the public perception on abortion will be: 'What are you complaining about? The Vatican does not see anything wrong with it.' "

Clovis has appealed to the pope to overturn the decision.

American Catholics will no doubt be struck by the contrast between the Vatican award to Hunte, and the refusal of some American bishops to allow pro-choice Catholic politicians to speak on diocesan property or at Catholic colleges, and most recently, to receive the Eucharist.

For anyone familiar with the patterns of Vatican diplomacy, however, Hunte's knighthood is hardly surprising. The Vatican's classic approach to political forces with which it disagrees might be dubbed "constructive engagement." The idea is that it's better to keep lines of communication open than to burn bridges. It's as important to encourage positive acts as to condemn negative ones; after all, Hunte was honored for supporting the Holy See in the U.N., not for his vote on abortion. Public excoriations may be momentarily satisfying, seasoned Vatican diplomats argue, but they rarely produce forward movement.

A senior Vatican official once expressed the idea to me this way: "Not every sentence of a heretic is heresy."

Outside the Eucharist debate, one clear example of the principle would be John Paul's 1987 visit to Chile, when the pope appeared on the balcony of the presidential palace alongside Augusto Pinochet. John Paul was criticized for doing so, but behind the scenes, Vatican sources say, he warned Pinochet that he had to go. The year after the visit, a national plebiscite rejected military rule.

The same psychology was implicit in John XXIII's and Paul VI's Ostpolitik, the policy of engagement with the Socialist world. Obviously the Catholic church did not approve of atheistic Communism, but these two popes calculated that their capacity to steer the Soviet bloc in a positive direction would be enhanced by dialogue.

Not all Catholics, of course, find this logic morally persuasive. During the Cold War, many felt that the Vatican, especially in the person of Secretary of State Agostino Casaroli, had sold out believers suffering behind the Iron Curtain, and had confused the broader public about the Church's anti-Communist stance. (Indeed, some within the Vatican itself held this view). Similarly today, some Catholics argue that "constructive engagement" with Catholic politicians who defy church teaching on a matter as fundamental as abortion amounts to fecklessness in the face of evil. Again, there are some officials in the Holy See who lean towards this position.

Yet the center of gravity in the Vatican is closer to constructive engagement than to public confrontation. That's one reason the American debate over pro-choice politicians and the Eucharist seems destined to remain just that -- an American debate.
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