Catholic bishops & their flocks

omalleyblessesJohn Leo’s column in the April 17 U.S. News & World Report is one of the better commentaries to date about Catholic bishops, Catholic politicians and public policy on abortion. Leo points out the crucial role played by Mario Cuomo, who in his 1984 speech “Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor’s Perspective” explained how he reconciled his church’s teachings on abortion with his responsibilities as governor of New York.

Leo mentions that Gray Davis took a more aggressive approach toward the bishops who are, at least in theological theory, charged with leading the church:

Davis, replaced by Schwarzenegger after his recall last year, skipped all of Cuomo’s angst and the usual hand-wringing about not imposing his personal beliefs on a pluralistic society. He simply ignored what the church and his local bishop had to say, repeating over and over that he is “100 percent pro-choice and proud of it.” He became the first major American Catholic politician to define his abortion stance by simply telling his church to take a hike. When the bishop of Sacramento suggested that Davis refrain from taking Communion, Davis put out a statement suggesting that the bishop refrain from “telling the faithful how to practice their faith.”

Some readers of GetReligion have raised a good question: Why are the bishops more concerned about abortion than about the death penalty or other social issues on which the church has made declarations? Leo takes a shot at it:

Protection of fetal life has been theologically developed and defined over the years as essential to Roman Catholic belief, in a way that, for instance, Pope John Paul II’ s opposition to the death penalty has not. The bishops must be in shock when they look around and see that an entire generation of Catholic politicians has turned out to be a group of enablers for the spread of a practice that the church clearly defines as “intrinsically evil.”

Leo’s conclusion — that the bishops “probably should raise their voices a bit and just keep trying to persuade Catholic pols, present and future, to take their religion seriously” — does, as he grants it may, sound weak. But it also sounds like the best that pro-life Catholics can hope for in the “separation of faith and self” atmosphere that prevails in so much of American culture (and among some Catholics).

Elsewhere in the same issue of U.S. News, Paul Bedard’s Washington Whispers column offers another tantalizing morsel of religion-related punditry. Bedard asks George Stephanopoulos, who helped give us the grating slogan “It’s the economy, stupid,” to offer similar nuggets of advice for the 2004 election. Stephanopoulos offers seven points, and this is the sixth:

“Catholics count.” His hint to Kerry: “The swing vote is white Catholics.”

Would GetReligion’s readers like to break out their decoder rings on this hint? It sounds like “separation of faith and [the Catholic Soccer Mom's] self.”

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  • Elias Reeves

    How can Kerry call himself a “believing and practicing Catholic” if he can’t practice making unpopular decisions like opposing abortion? What does a politician’s Catholicism mean if it doesn’t obey the teachings of their own pope on such a basic issue?

    I also was impressed with the arrogance of the Gray Davis quote about bishops not telling the faithful how to practice their faith. Amazing!

    “Ubi episcopus, ibi Christus,” “Where the bishop is, there is Christ.” -St. Ignatius of Antioch

  • J. Mark

    Gray Davis, Republican?

  • Jill

    There is a sad disconnect that happens between the time the final “Thanks be to God” sounds and the time they get behind the wheel of the car to drive home on Sunday morning. If anything of the Spirit is proclaimed during the homily it doesn’t get past the holy water font at the back of the church. I don’t know why these folks even bother to call themselves Roman Catholic. They’d make better Episcopalians and wouldn’t have to worry about being excommunicated by their bishop over some minor, inconvenient issue such as abortion!

    (Oh, by the way, I am pro-life and Anglican.)

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    > Gray Davis, Republican?

    Well, *that* was a sloppy mistake, and I’ve corrected it. Leo’s column mentioned that a few Catholic and Republican governors, such as George Pataki and Arnold Schwarzenegger, also are in conflict with Catholic teaching, and I somehow mixed Gray Davis into that list.

  • J. Mark

    > Gray Davis, Republican?

    > Well, *that* was a sloppy mistake, and I’ve corrected it. Leo’s column

    > mentioned that a few Catholic and Republican governors, such as George

    > Pataki and Arnold Schwarzenegger, also are in conflict with Catholic

    > teaching, and I somehow mixed Gray Davis into that list.

    Everyone is entitled to a sloppy mistake. What intrigued me was this was the only place in the entire post where a specific political party identifier was used (and then incorrectly). I found it to be quite an interesting sort of ghost.

  • alicia the midwife

    I find it interesting that the majority of the media just don’t ‘get it’ on the intrinsic difference between abortion and capital punishment. Abortion is the murder of an innocent, and has been opposed by the Church since the days of the apostles (read the Didache and the early church fathers for corroboration). Capital punishment is ending the life of a guilty person with the intent of protecting society. If one reads what the Pope has actually said about capital punishment, one will find that it is much more carefully nuanced than as absolute ban. It is more that, with what we have available to us today, it should be possible to protect society without having to put criminals to death.

    There are areas in which a faithful Catholic (lay or ordained) can have a legitimate difference of opinion with the Pope and the Bishops – these areas are often called ‘prudential judgement’. Abortion, euthanasia, contraception are NOT such areas – there is clear and consistent dogma that has been proclaimed and defined since the Church began – and if one disagrees with this, one is not Catholic. One is Protestant (i.e. one who protests the Church’s clearly defined dogma).

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