The Bishop and the Atheist

Frank Pavone
April 7, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

Bishop William Weigand of Sacramento has something to say to pro-abortion politicians who claim to be Catholic. So does Doris Gordon, an atheist and the founder of "Libertarians for Life."

On January 22, 2003, Bishop Weigand preached the following words:

"As your bishop, I have to say clearly that anyone - politician or otherwise - who thinks it is acceptable for a Catholic to be pro-abortion is in very great error, puts his or her soul at risk, and is not in good standing with the Church. Such a person should have the integrity to acknowledge this and choose of his own volition to abstain from receiving Holy Communion until he has a change of heart."

He made explicit that fact that his words have direct application to Gray Davis, the Governor of California, who is pro-abortion and says he is Catholic. The bishop's homily made national news. And many of the faithful are saying It's about time.

Yet to speak this way is the duty of a bishop. More surprising to many is that an atheist would say the same. My friend, Doris Gordon, founded "Libertarians for Life" ( and recently wrote an article, "A Libertarian Atheist Answers Pro-Choice Catholics." She issues this challenge:

"The Church holds that such children are human persons with rights, yet the "personally opposed" hold that it should be a woman's choice to destroy them if there is a credible reason for such a position, what is it? Opposition to legal abortion cuts across the religious and political spectrum. I'm an atheist. I was born and raised Jewish. Catholicism had nothing to do with my coming to understand why abortion is a wrong, not a right, and why it should not be legal."

Both Bishop Weigand and Doris Gordon are calling for consistency. If one claims to be Catholic, he/she should accept the teachings of Catholicism. It's as simple as that. Holy Communion, moreover, reinforces the need for consistency. Communion means "union with." To receive Communion is not magic. It is, rather, the summit and source of all our efforts to think, desire, choose, and live in union with Jesus Christ. When one knows the definitive teaching of Jesus as expressed in the Church, and deliberately refuses to accept it, he/she rejects "communion" at that moment. It no longer makes sense to receive physically the One whom you have rejected by clinging to your own conflicting doctrine.

Moreover, both the bishop and the atheist are saying that abortion is wrong not because the Church says so, but because of what abortion is. The taking of a child's life is simply not a civilized act. Nor is stealing. The Church teaches against stealing, but we don't hear people complain that laws against stealing are an imposition of religious doctrine. They realize that stealing does not only violate religious doctrine; it violates basic human rights. So does abortion. That truth isn't so hard to understand. But if we forget, then fortunately, we have both bishops and atheists to help us.