American Catholic bishops weighing in on American politics
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Last week, the American bishops of the Catholic Church wrapped up a crucial meeting in the midst of what has turned out to be a very busy fall. With hundreds of bishops speaking about the need to vote with properly formed consciences and the extent to which a candidates’ stance on the issue of abortion should inform an individual’s vote, there was great interest in their Fall General Assembly.
It is too early, as some may have expected, for the bishops to address the question which has been hotly debated in Catholic circles. That question is, of course, whether Catholics can vote, in good conscience, for a candidate for office who supports abortion when another, pro-life alternative candidate exists. Of course, this is a terse summary of the situation surrounding Catholics and abortion. A number of similar questions require answers, such as can “Pope John XXIII Catholic” Vice President-Elect Joe Biden and “ardent, practicing Catholic” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi be said to be faithful Catholics despite their efforts to flout Church teachings on critical moral issues?
I think we will all benefit from time to decompress from the effects of the campaign’s heated and divisive rhetoric before we examine these questions as they relate to the Obama Presidency. Indeed, time alone may reveal that President-Elect Obama’s promise to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) “first thing” as President was political pandering to the radical Left, and his personal ambition and political deftness (as well as our prayers) may drive him to the center on the issue of life. *
Freedom of “Choice” Act
Nevertheless, FOCA, which has become an icon for what amounts to Doomsday for pro-life Americans – a reversal of the Mexico City Policy, elimination of the Hyde Amendment, destruction of conscience clauses – was discussed at some length during the bishops’ meeting. In his closing statement on Wednesday, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), while congratulating Obama, warned that
“FOCA would coerce all Americans into subsidizing and promoting abortion with their tax dollars…Aggressively pro-abortion policies, legislation and executive orders will permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans, and would be seen by many as an attack on the free exercise of their religion.”
Cardinal George and a handful of his brother bishops warned that such actions would leave the Catholic Church no choice but to close the doors of hundreds of Catholic hospitals since they could no longer refuse to provide abortions. This would inevitably result in a serious decimation to millions of Americans’ access to quality health care and would be anything but a boon to women.
Thousands of pro-life doctors would have no choice but to quit practicing medicine because they object to conducting abortions as part of legally required care. Religious leaders would have no choice but to remain silent on abortion because they would be accused of making hate speech since FOCA would federally prohibit any “interference” in abortion. Millions of pro-life Americans would have no choice when their tax dollars and insurance premiums would be used to help others get abortions.
Blessing the unborn
While is may seem that we may be without recourse in the political arena for the time being, the bishops are making efforts to change the culture. During their meeting, the bishops approved the “Blessing of a Child in the Womb,” which reads thus,
“May almighty God, who has created new life now bless the child in your womb. The Lord has brought you the joy of motherhood: May he bless you with a safe and healthy pregnancy. You thank the Lord today for the gift of your child: May he bring you and your child one day to share in the unending joys of heaven.”
This new blessing makes it abundantly clear that the new life created in the womb is, in fact, a child of God, and any family seeking this rite in their church will bear powerful witness to their fellow Catholics about the sanctity of the unborn life. With our nation’s 67 million Catholics in a broad state of disarray on what the Church teaches on various moral issues (viz. Nancy Pelosi, Doug Kmiec, etc.) the bishops are coming to the painful realization that this is not the age of the well-educated laity.
Cutting off ACORN
Lastly, we might file this item in the “better-late-than-never” column, the Chair of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), Bishop Roger Morin, reported that it had not been giving funds to ACORN, the controversial, partisan organization which has been implicated in extensive criminal activity and voter registration fraud, since June. Consequently, no funds from the annual CCHD collection were given to ACORN to register Mickey Mouse and myriad other characters to vote.
Despite these assurances that ACORN will no longer be receiving Church funds, the CCHD reputation is irreparably tarnished and some bishops, like Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Alabma, are refusing to participate in the annual CCHD collection – the chief source of the group’s funds.
It doesn’t seem like anything earth-shattering emerged from the bishops’ meeting, but it did serve to demonstrate that they are steeled for the fight as they lead their flock through this challenging time. And that’s something in which I choose to take comfort.
* I readily admit this is, perhaps, too optimistic since his “Transition Team” website, change.gov, gives the following statement in President-Elect Obama’s “Women Agenda”: “Barack Obama understands that abortion is a divisive issue, and respects those who disagree with him. However, he has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women’s rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as President. He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in that case.” (http://change.gov/agenda/women_agenda/)