Abortion & Hell-Fire
May 1990By John C. Cort
The debate over abortion is heating up again. Its hottest point so far was reached when, from a jail cell where he had been serving a sentence for his involvement in an anti-abortion action, Bishop Austin Vaughan warned Governor Mario Cuomo of New York, a practicing Catholic, that he is in danger of going to hell if he persists in declining to work to limit legal abortion. John Cardinal OConnor of New York got into the fray when he defended the bishop, who is one of his auxiliaries.
Some days later The New York Times reported that Bishop Vaughan said he was amazed at the furor he ignited with his remark. Let me say, first, that I am amazed at Bishop Vaughans low threshold of amazement. He has in effect said that not simply Governor Cuomo, but (what is probably) the majority of Catholic office-holders and state and national convention delegates in this country are all in danger of going to hell. This is a pretty amazing charge.
But let me also say that I greatly admire Bishop Vaughan for his courage in trying to block an abortion clinic and going to jail. If more bishops, priests, and laypeople had that kind of courage, maybe Catholics would be free of the charge that we have not worked hard enough to end abortion.
But what bothers me most about these episcopal threats of hell-fire (and the San Diego bishop who refused communion to a pro-choice candidate for public office) is that they fail to make a distinction between personal and public morality, between moral and legal rights.
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