Hey, Politico! Quote the bishops?

canacatholicmedjpgThis is one of those days when it’s easy to see why The Politico keeps making mainstream media people — a key cog in Democratic Party conversations — so nervous here in Washington, D.C. The new kids inside the Beltway continue to produce stories that stray way outside the borders of the establishment talking points.

So if you care about debates about cultural and moral issues, you have to read the Carrie Budoff Brown story that ran with the headline, “Stem cell decision ignites right’s ire.” The key is that the story frames the debate in precisely the terms that the White House wants to avoid, which is to contrast the president’s words with his deeds. Here’s the top of the piece:

He called for reducing abortions and seeking common ground on one of the nation’s most divisive issues — promises that led some on the right to think maybe, just maybe, Barack Obama was a different kind of Democrat.

But no more.

A series of decisions in the past two months — capped by an announcement Monday that he’s abolishing Bush-era limits on embryonic stem cell research — has led to a reassessment of Obama by some Christian conservative and other religious leaders, who now charge him with inflaming the very cultural divisions he once pledged to heal.

To cut to the chase, the progressive wing the evangelical-Catholic world that backed Obama has some explaining to do.

Here’s a crucial voice, in a long passage from the story that underlines the growing divisions inside the evangelical world:

Joel C. Hunter, an evangelical pastor and member of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said he senses unease among abortion opponents because they aren’t getting the full picture of Obama’s intentions since the decisions leaked out before Obama set the terms of the discussion.

For example, the stem cell executive order was first reported Friday, but aides didn’t explain the administration’s plans until Sunday. By then, abortion opponents were fueling suspicions about Obama’s intentions, Hunter said.

Hunter said supporters such as him should have been armed with information to explain the decision to others. …

“Overall, there is still a desire to see him in the best light,” Hunter said. “I think the ones who are screaming bloody murder right now are the ones who may not have been reachable to begin with. But there are a whole lot of us on their e-mail lists — and we have people who want to think the best of the president — but they are getting all this mischaracterization and false information.”

It would be interesting to know what, precisely, Hunter thinks is “false information” that is spreading in pro-life networks. What the story seems to document is a sincere disagreement on a crucial issue in science and Christian doctrine and a simple fact — taxpayers are now funding research that many believe they have scientific and doctrinal reasons to oppose as profoundly immoral. That hair has now been split and that’s a fact.

But I do have a journalistic complaint that can be stated in a simple question: Where are the voices of the mainstream Catholics? We hear from the Catholic right and we hear from people working with the pro-Obama Catholic left. But where are the bishops? Where are the establishment Catholics? Did anyone call the U.S. Catholic bishops? Did anyone call the archbishop of Washington, D.C.?

This is especially important, in light of the rise of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Here is a passage in a new Michael Gerson op-ed that lays out that issue:

It is probably not a coincidence that Obama has chosen a Roman Catholic — Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius — to implement many of these policies as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Obama has every right to a pro-choice Cabinet. But this appointment seems designed to provide religious cover. It also smacks of religious humiliation — like asking a rabbi to serve the pork roast or an atheist to bless the meal.

Sebelius, though strongly pro-choice, was capable of occasional compromise. But she consistently fought against the serious enforcement of Kansas’s late-term abortion restrictions. Kansas became a magnet for late-term abortions. Still, Sebelius insists that “my Catholic faith teaches me that all life is sacred.” This puts her in the same category as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Biden — Catholics who assert the sanctity of life while defending legal abortion. It has also earned Sebelius a firm rebuke from her archbishop.

In other words, Obama’s team has set up an open clash with Rome on a variety of issues, including the moral standing of late-term abortions and the right to legally restrict abortions in any way. This is territory that is thick with landmines for the evangelical-Catholic left, in part because the American public — check the Pew Forum numbers — clearly want to see compromise here, with the government seeking middle ground that mixes legal restrictions on abortion, especially after viability, and new efforts to support mothers and their children. Keep an eye on the actions of Democrats For Life.

But — Hey! Politico! — where are the mainstream Catholic voices? Where is the archbishop of DC? There’s a story here. Clearly there is a growing rift in the evangelical world. But how about the Catholic mainstream in America?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

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  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    I’m wondering if the word “right” in the Politico headline should be capitalized.

  • Martha

    It certainly raises an interesting question: by appointing a Catholic that has been instructed by her bishop not to present herself at the altar for Holy Communion, does the President and his advisers believe he is making a choice appealing to the majority of American Catholics?

    And is he correct?

  • SjB

    I have wondered if the mainstream Catholics remains silent on this subject because they do not support abortion (far left position), but they also do not support the Vatican’s opposition to birth control (far right position)? It may be difficult for them to be involved if they cannot completely support either side? Or are they like a number of moderate American Christians – they focus on their immediate circle and do not follow politics and/or Christian issues?

    Regarding the problem of unity among the Catholic Bishops:
    Here is a report by Judie Brown on 3/10: http://www.renewamerica.us/columns/brown/090310 She provides a great number of links in her article that might be useful to you.

    There is an attempt by the laity to pressure Bishops to take action in the cases of public officials who support pro-abortion bills. It is worth noting who all of these petitions (11,400+ as of today) will be sent to. http://www.pewsitter.com/petition

    Obama is setting himself up for problems with the Vatican on abortion, embryonic stem cell research, conscience clauses for medical personnel, and etc. I have a lot of questions about Obama and his input from Pelosi, Biden, et al. Is Obama intentionally attempting to orchestrate something through the divisions among Catholics?

    Is Obama purposely attempting to change our health care provider system by challenging the Catholics first? Will they walk away as they did over the adoption issues with gays? On the one hand: the Catholic hospitals and clinics can choose to close rather than bow to his anti-life agenda. That is a serious consequence in our health care system. On the other hand: the Catholic health providers can choose to change/compromise and conform to his agenda. This can already be seen in this news report on the Caritas Hospital: http://catholicism.org/boston-catholic-hospital-caritas-christi-surrenders-to-abortion.html

  • Joe

    One of the things about Politico is that they focus on actual players in policy and look for people who are not going to give predictable answers. Everyone knows what the Bishops are going to say about this and Democrats for Life, despite your efforts, are non-players in DC and inside the party.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Somewhere in the media I would like to see an in-depth look at the courage–or lack thereof–of cultural Catholics as opposed to the courage of those Catholics who are real Catholics who genuinely value the sacredness of all human life. I thought about this as reading “The Righteous,the unsung heroes of the Holocaust” by Jewish historian Martin Gilbert. It is clear from his well researched book that those we now call “cafeteria” or “cultural” Catholics would be the ones most likely to become partakers of the anti-life Nazi culture of Germany if they lived then. On the other hand the mini-biographies in the book of “The Righteous” who were faithfully Catholic or Evangelical clearly shows they were willing to actively resist their anti-life culture–even at the risk of their own lives–unlike the cowardly, promotion and popularity seeking political “Catholics” of our culture.(who, of course, are never portrayed in this negative, but very accurate, way in the MSM.)

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Note: I should also add that many Orthodox and Lutheran Christians for whom genuine Faith was all-important were among The Righteous in Gilbert’s book.