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Catholic Bishops, Obama, and Abortion

fdl-avatar.jpgThe GOP isn’t the only group having trouble deciding on post-election message discipline and policy direction. From John Allen at the National Catholic Reporter:

Two things seem clear from the U.S. bishops’ much-anticipated discussion of abortion and politics during [the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’] fall meeting in Baltimore: The bishops are united in making the fight against abortion their top political priority, but they’re no closer to agreement on what to do about Catholics, especially Catholic politicians, who won’t fall in line.

The hardliners are easy to understand: it’s all about abortion, and anything short of an outright ban on all abortions is condoning murder. Period — end of discussion. Their more moderate colleagues, on the other hand, point out that (a) even with a GOP sweep, there’s never going to be an outright legal ban, and (b) Democrats are much more committed to addressing the underlying issues that lead some women to consider abortion — lack of education, poverty, etc. Jesuit Thomas Reece looked at the results of the November elections and noted that despite the push by some conservative bishops, the laity rejected their rhetoric. His description of the majority of lay Catholic voters also could describe the more moderate bishops: "These pragmatic pro-lifers wanted results not rhetoric."

Chicago’s Cardinal George, the head of the USCCB, will get headlines for his warning to Obama about abortion, especially the Freedom of Choice Act. The adoption of a new "Blessing of a Child in the Womb" will also get some attention. But other bishops had a different message.

DC Archbishop Donald Wuerl stated he would not refuse Vice President-elect Biden communion. Similarly, Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City, SD (South Dakota!) noted, “A prophecy of denunciation quickly wears thin."

Completely under the radar in the secular press, however, are the elections that chose bishops to chair various USCCB committees. When the results of the secret ballot were announced, it was apparent that the hardliners took it on the chin. Outspoken conservative KC KS Bishop Joseph Naumann lost his bid (59-165!) to head up the Committee on Pro-Life Activities. (Naumann made headlines for telling Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to refrain from taking communion, amend her life, and apologize for her public stance on abortion.) Also painful to conservatives was the election of Archbishop Wuerl to head the Committee on Doctrine.

Whatever the bishops say in their official statements, that 165-59 secret ballot vote speaks volumes. The hardliners may get the headlines, but there are a lot of more pragmatic bishops who are getting tired of the shouting.

But that won’t stop the hardliners. Does their whine sound familiar? It’s the same one that we’re hearing from folks like Limbaugh in the secular conservative world: "We just weren’t conservative enough."


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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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