Henry Hyde’s Response to Mario Cuomo’s Argument for Pro-Choice Catholic Politics

by Kathryn Jean Lopez  |  published on January 8, 2015

Former Illinois congressman Henry Hyde responded to the famous Mario Cuomo Notre Dame speech, about being privately pro-life but pro-choice in politics, with one of his own:

The combination of passion and ignorance can be deadly, and so let us remind ourselves that we ought to argue these matters seriously without taking ourselves with ultimate seriousness; it suggests that we ought to make clear our opinions. May I do so briefly, bringing matters down from the theoretical to the practical: What should we do to facilitate a debate on religious values and public policy that strengthens the integrity of the Church and the political process?

I would suggest in the first place that we insist on rigorous intellectual consistency in these arguments. Not a few observers have noted that many of the same voices who hailed the American bishops as “prophetic” when they tacitly endorsed the nuclear freeze now find the bishops “scary” when the issue turns to abortion. This is hypocrisy. The bishops have the clear right (and, in Catholic theory, responsibility) to make clear what they think are the appropriate moral criteria for forming and shaping public policy, on issues ranging from national security to domestic welfare policy to abortion. If the bishops enter the public arena to propound these criteria, they have an obligation to do so in language and imagery that is accessible to a pluralistic audience, and not just to Catholics. In our democracy, the bishops clearly have the right to go farther, and to suggest what in their prudential judgments the public policies most likely to meet the test of their moral criteria would be. In Catholic theory, the bishops’ prudential judgment is to be weighed seriously and respectfully; it is not weighted with the same gravity, however, as the bishops’ teaching about the normative moral framework that should guide public policy.

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