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Cardinal Rigali, Republican Lobbyist

Kathleen Reeves

Cardinal Rigali manipulates Catholic morality to bring it perfectly in line with Republican policy, though it doesn't reflect the “Catholic” line on war, poverty, and health care. But listen: those issues are just not that important.

Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia believes that our national and global cultures are hostile to children, as Catholic Online, via LifeSiteNews, reports.

Now that contraception and abortion are safe and legal in many (though by no means all) places, we see children as troublesome inconveniences, says the Cardinal, who is Chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Ah yes, back when children could legally toil in coal mines and mills—that was when we truly respected our young. 

Rigali was responding to what he perceives as the “funding of abortion” in all current health care reform proposals. He says,

“It should not be surprising that the neglect, and even the death, of some people are offered as a solution to rising health care costs. Population control advocates have long espoused aborting children in the developing world as a misguided means for reducing poverty.”

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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And it should not be surprising that Rigali sends the discussion careening towards population control when we were supposed to be talking about health care for Americans. The “neglect, and even the death of some people” is not on the horizon, as Cardinal Rigali supposes—it’s already happened. People have experienced dehumanizing neglect and, yes, people have died because they don’t have health coverage.

Cardinal Rigali also encourages Americans to fix our economy by having more children. As this argument is full of holes, he doesn’t lean on it too heavily, portraying himself, instead, as a crusader against death:

"Death is not a solution to life’s problems. Only those who are blind to the transcendent reality and meaning of human life could support killing human beings to mitigate economic, social or environmental problems."

I wonder, is Cardinal Rigali a crusader against the death penalty? You’ll find his name nestled up against “pro-life” plenty of times, but defending the lives of assumed criminals doesn’t seem to be a high priority for him. He did mention the death penalty in a statement in 2004, which discussed a Catholic’s civic duty—that is, to think as a Catholic and to vote as a Catholic. He says, “The role of Catholics in politics. . .is to have a voice on policies that reflect the truths of the natural law.”


Fair enough. Cardinal Rigali sets forth some of the policy issues in which the Church is most interested, including abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, the death penalty, gay marriage, poverty, workers’ rights, peace, and the environment. And then he gets to his point:

Not all these issues are of equal gravity. Prudent judgments made by thoughtful Catholics can lead to different legitimate approaches to solving the problems of poverty, immigration, healthcare and acceptable military force. Some issues, however, because they lie at the foundation of society and address fundamental aspects of what it means to be human, must be considered first and foremost.

As Catholics we revere life and find the destruction of innocent human life abhorrent. Abortion is an act evil in itself because a fetus in the womb is a complete human being in the process of development. The person is innocent and defenseless from attack. Since abortion destroys this life, it is intrinsically evil. In a similar way embryonic stem cell research by its nature destroys a fertilized egg – an embryo – that would otherwise mature until birth. Regardless of putative benefits to medical science, the cost is the destruction of innocent human life.

Let’s be clear. It may be confusing to you to vote “as a Catholic,” because “Catholic” positions on abortion, contraception, embryonic issues and gay marriage are usually found in one party, while the “Catholic” line on war, poverty, and health care is inconveniently reflected in the other party. But listen: those other issues—war, poverty, whatever—are not that important.

And what about the death penalty? In the statement, Rigali claims (italics his),

As Catholics, we hold in highest priority the right to life and our duty to defend innocent human life. This principle applies directly to the protection of unborn children as well as to the Church ’s opposition to embryonic stem cell research, cloning, assisted suicide and euthanasia.

He goes on (italics mine),

On a different level, we also vigorously oppose the death penalty. Although it does not involve the taking of innocent human life, we consider it cruel and unnecessary for the defense of society, an affront to human dignity.

Not innocent—in whose eyes? For a man who purportedly believes that God is our only judge, Cardinal Rigali is unexpectedly deferential to the judgment of the state and to its power to kill.


In a way, I admire Rigali for being so honest about his priorities. High-ranking Catholics often claim to care about the death penalty, when it’s clear that their sympathies lie with fetuses over purported murderers. But Rigali is as clear as he can be without directly defying Church teaching: "People on death row are guilty. I’m not going to say they deserve what’s coming to them, but you catch my drift.” Abortion is “abhorrent”; the death penalty—murder—is only “unnecessary.” Prevention of assisted suicide is more important than the prevention of heart disease, HIV, or diabetes, and fighting gay marriage is more crucial than fighting poverty.

I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that this statement was released the week before the 2004 election. Cardinal Rigali’s manipulation of Catholic morality to bring it perfectly in line with Republican policy was disgusting and embarrassing five years ago, and it’s just as repugnant today, when our country is finally making strides on something the Catholic Church has long advocated for: health care as a right, not a privilege.