I started my young adulthood working with the greatest public servant I’ve ever known, a pro-life, Roman Catholic, Democratic United States Congressman named Gene Taylor. I was always impressed with the fact that Congressman Taylor was not "pro-life" for electoral concern, but he really believed his church’s moral teaching on abortion, and, beyond that, the man just loves babies. One of the saddest realizations of my life was that men like Gene Taylor are not the future of the Democratic Party (or, maybe, come to think of it, the Republican Party either).

On the National Review website today, Father Thomas Williams, dean of the theology school at Rome’s Regina Apostolorum University , looks at the place of abortion in the Democratic Party, in light of the recent statement on religion and public life issued by Roman Catholic Democratic Members of Congress. Citing the document’s appeal to conscience and disagreement on the abortion issue, Williams writes:

More “progressive” Catholics have often had recourse to the image of “big tent” Catholicism, appealing for a broader acceptance of heterodox opinions within the Church. The image is apt, in that Catholicism does embrace a rich and varied array of opinions, emphases, schools of thought, theologies, spiritualities, and apostolates. At the same time, even the most enormous of tents has its boundaries, beyond which it is possible to stray. The statement makes a feeble attempt at defending the claim that the “big tent” of Catholicism can cover abortion.

That is a tough case to make. Just as you don’t have the polytheistic wing of Islam or the seal-clubbing wing of Greenpeace, you don’t have the pro-abortion wing of the Catholic Church. Certain non-negotiable moral standards define Catholicism just as surely as doctrinal beliefs do. We all advocate a big tent, but it can stretch only so far until it rips asunder.

Moral teaching is just as essential to Christianity as its doctrinal beliefs are. The earliest Christian writings, such as the Didache and the Letter of Barnabas speak of the “two ways,” one of which leads to life and the other to death. Both texts (and this is in the first and second centuries of the Christian era) speak explicitly of abortion as an element of the second way — that of death — and as directly opposed to the Christian spirit. Since its beginnings, Christianity has viewed abortion as an abhorrent crime against God and man.

Williams concludes by asking the signers of the document, to work instead toward another goal:

I would like to make a counterproposal. Rather than asking Catholicism to embrace its antithesis, why not forge a true “big tent” Democratic party where all are welcome, even those who are pro-life? Better yet, why not return to that noble strain of politics that prided itself on its defense of the most vulnerable members of society? Why not forego the precious support of abortion power-brokers and rediscover the roots of the Democratic party? No number of “historic” statements could match the impact of a lived commitment to true social justice.

Williams’s suggestion is so sensible it is disconcerting. He is right to see that abortion is not just one issue among many. It is the defining issue of the age. It’s probably not realistic to hope that the Democratic Party will return to a pro-life stance, given, as Williams points out, the power of the interest groups involved. We may never again see two pro-life national political parties and the day may come when we don’t even see one pro-life national political party. But, one never knows.

And, if that day ever comes, I still know all the words to "Happy Days Are Here Again."