Catholics: racist, sexist and all wrong

catholics-and-politicsPolitico ran a jaw-droppingly bad story on the role of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in battles over abortion. It reads like a histrionic op-ed but it’s actually a news story. And it’s written by David Rogers, no less — a reporter who should know better.

The story accuses the bishops, without even the slightest attempt at substantiation, of racism and sexism. All in the first two paragraphs. No. really. Here’s the lede:

Thirty-three years ago this fall, a bitter, race-tinged fight over abortion matched Roman Catholic bishops and the House against the nation’s first popularly elected black senator, Republican Ed Brooke of Massachusetts.

And . . . that’s it. I guess we’re supposed to take Pope David Rogers’ words as the truth because he never even explains what in tarnation he’s talking about. The words “Brooke” and “race” literally never re-appear in the story. We move right on to the charge of sexism:

Now, with health care reform on the line, the same male-dominated church hierarchy is dictating to the first woman speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic herself and past ally for the bishops on everything from human rights in China to tax credits for low-income families.

Um, okay. Dictating? Really, Politico? This is just such a bizarre opening to a story, that I don’t even know what to say. Is Rogers really saying that the Catholic bishops only cared about Ed Brooke’s support of abortion because he was black? Is Rogers really considered “simply . . . the best congressional reporter in the country“? Because that’s just ignorant. I mean, I’m no historian or theologian but I’m pretty darn sure traditional Christians have opposed abortion for a couple thousand years. And not just when black Republicans support it.

And while the work of the bishops to keep taxpayer funding of abortion out of the health care bill is a great topic, I’m pretty sure political advocacy — even by churches — is legal. It’s not a sign of a theocracy or dictatorship. And it’s not like Pelosi’s sex is the reason why the bishops are working to get her to allow votes on abortion funding. It’s because of her position as Speaker of the House. Again, call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure the Catholic bishops would be pressing for an up-or-down Stupak vote even if the Speaker had a Y chromosome.

The rest of the story reads, like the first two paragraphs above, as a pro-choice op-ed. Here’s a sample:

“We have 53 million people already under Medicaid, and now we’re going to add about 33 million uninsured?” asked Richard Doerflinger, an associate director with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It applies to a new situation, but it is not qualitatively a new situation.”

Or is it?

The political reality is the anti-abortion movement has largely succeeded in Washington by applying Hyde restrictions to what are captive populations reliant on the government.

The rest of the piece includes an argument in favor of health reform in general — written by the reporter of the “news article” himself. Then he explains how insurance companies marketing plans to individuals in the new government-run exchanges would have to tailor their health plans to comply with the restrictions on taxpayer funding of abortions. And this could even have spillover effects on people who don’t have insurance plans subsidized by taxpayers. Explaining that is not a bad idea for a story, although it’s only a brief portion here.

He then gets back into the politics, where he uses scary language to describe Catholics engaged in the political process:

Speaking in Baltimore on Monday, Chicago Cardinal Francis George, president of the USCCB, defended its tactics, saying the church must ensure that “issues that are moral questions before they become political remain moral questions when they become political.”

Watching it all with a special perspective is Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), who once studied for the priesthood and counseled the bishops to hold firm with the speaker and fellow leaders.

“They were wearing down. I told them time is on our side,” Kildee told POLITICO. “The Catholic Church is great at politics. They’ve been around for 2,000 years. If you go to the Vatican library, you can find correspondence between the pope and Genghis Khan.”

“What about the separation of church and state?” a reporter asked.

“In law,” Kildee said, smiling broadly. “Not in politics between the church and politically minded people.”

Gee, I wonder who the reporter was who asked the question about church and state? Perhaps the reason why Rogers wrote such an embarrassingly bad piece is because he (or another reporter) doesn’t understand what the First Amendment says or means? I don’t know, but Rogers clearly should not be permitted to write about anything related to the Catholic Church again — or until he deals with some of his anger issues.

Perhaps it’s time for some enterprising reporter to look at this trend of folks thinking separation of church and state means that Catholics shouldn’t have input in the political process. (Of course, this Washington Post poll indicates that 61 percent of Americans support the Stupak amendment principle, so it’s not just Catholics who are weighing in on the matter.) Still, it seems like there is a bit of a double standard about coverage of religious groups’ political activism. If you’re advancing progressive causes, you’re “speaking truth to power” but if you’re advancing conservative causes, you’re “dictating” and leading the country into theocracy.

For better, less angry reports on Catholic bishops’ involvement, check out the Washington Times, Associated Press and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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  • Darrell Turner

    Mollie, you make a good point about how much support or criticism the bishops get based on what issues they’re discussing. This works on both sides of the political spectrum. Back in the 1960s, Bill Buckley’s National Review said John XXIII didn’t know what he was talking about when he issued an encyclical on social justice issues, but later the same publication decried critics of Paul VI’s encyclical on birth control. In the 1980s, the MSM thought the bishops were heroes when they issued statements on the nuclear arms race and economic justice, but when it came to issues such as abortion or homosexuality, they were told to mind their own business. It seems as though few people, at least in the world of media, appreciate or understand the “seamless garment” approach.

  • neo

    Its quite a leap to call it a couple of thousand years of opposition to abortion. That is hyperbole. The truth is the ancients, the jews, didn’t have this concept which is why the bible doesn’t touch the subject except for when a pregnant woman is harmed. The medieval church had the concept of the quickening or when the baby kicked. Its because they didn’t know they were pregnant before that time. This is why up until Humanae Vitae true abortion was never addressed. So in this context the true opposition to modern abortion is only 50 years.

    My concern is the hypocrisy on the bishops part. They praise the stupak amendment, but they are not admonishing those that still chose to vote against health care with the amendment. And 7 of them are catholic. This is after Pope Benedict has said that every person should have access to health care. And its one of the corporal acts of mercy.

  • Doak Campbell

    I read in the comment section a letter from “Neo”. I hope you reply to him and set him straight. The Church from its earliest teachings in Roman times was against abortion. Where does he get his history from? This is sad.

  • jh

    That article made me so mad when I read it. I don’t get astonished as to these things anymore but this one pushed the extreme meter

    On a note on the article dealing with the Congresswoman. I was gorrifed when I read that but it appears she migh have been very misquoted

  • michael

    When I saw that screed yesterday, I wondered how long it would it would be before it showed up here.

    That is truly a bad, thoughtless piece.

    And Neo, you are simply incorrect.

  • Mike Hickerson

    Isn’t it obvious that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is sexist? It has over 200 members, but not a single woman!

    Sorry – couldn’t resist. :)

  • Chris Bolinger

    That one made me LOL, Mike. Thanks for the day-brightener.

  • Mollie


    Thank you so much for the link about that Hill story. I ended up just deleting that portion from the post so as not to perpetuate the error of the Hill.

    On that note, The Hill says that they corrected the story — but they didn’t. They just added a note at the end saying they corrected it.

  • Mollie


    While some people — such as Nancy Pelosi — have advanced the argument you’re making, it’s not actually true.

    Here is a compilation of quotes from early church fathers addressing abortion. (

    Here, for instance, is from the Didache (The teaching of the 12 Apostles):

    1 There are two ways, one of life and one of death; and between the two ways there is a great difference.

    2 Now, this is the way of life: . . . do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant.

  • Bill

    The ancients didn’t have this concept [against abortion]? The Hippocratic Oath was quite specific:

    “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.”

    (Translation from the Greek by Ludwig Edelstein. From The Hippocratic Oath: Text, Translation, and Interpretation, by Ludwig Edelstein. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1943.)

  • Stoo

    I wonder if the confusion is to whether or not it counted as an abortion, as opposed to a woman’s act on her own body, pre-quickening? Wiki tells me “Abortion laws and their enforcement have fluctuated through various eras” and while I’d be interested to read more I’d ideally like to steer clear of

  • Michael

    >Perhaps it’s time for some enterprising reporter to look at this trend of folks thinking separation of church and state means that Catholics shouldn’t have input in the political process.

    There was a book written about this already. It’s called “Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life” by Abp. Charles J. Chaput. It came out in 2008.

  • Padraic


    “Render Unto Caesar” is a great book. I would also recommend “God and Caesar” by Cardinal George Pell.


    Thank you so much for writing this piece. It is sad how personal biases so obviously distort ‘journalism’ these days.

  • Victor Morton

    “I wonder if the confusion is to whether or not it counted as an abortion, as opposed to a woman’s act on her own body, pre-quickening?”

    Not really … an abortion was always understood as an abortion, and related to an event 9 months before birth, not 6 months.

    What *has* been disputed over:

    (1) Whether “abortion” counted as a full “homicide” and/or the legal concept “murder.”

    (2) The matter of ensoulment and/or related theological concepts such as personhood.

  • Peggy

    Neo also claims that Catholics should be voting for the bill. The bishops, while crowing over Stupak, have not said that the House bill is a-okay. It still violates their other principles. Further, there’s no pro-life or Catholic social justice requirement to vote for the Dems’ approach to “healthcare reform.” Access to healthcare does not require govt insurance programs. Some bishops have explicitly decried the bill for its violation of “subsidiarity”, the idea of decisions being made at the most local level, starting with family, eg.

    Darrell: Not all Catholics don’t agree with the silly applications of the “seamless garment” either. They don’t have to.

    The article is quite a screed. There seems to be an uptick in the press against the Church’s participation in this process. They lost. They’re mad [Heck, I'd be happy for them to stay out of this mess, too, since they apparently favor the Dems' evil plans en toto.]

  • blestou

    A wall of separation between the press and state.

    Now, that would be a neat summary of the First Amendment.

  • Levine B.

    It’s so weird to read this after encountering things like it many times today… I feel like there is an onslaught of thoughtless articles about religions. Such a coincidence — I came to this page from looking at this terrible “art piece” about Muslims:

  • Darrell Turner


    I’m not sure what point you’re making in your response to my comments, nor am I sure whether you’re agreeing with me or disagreeing with me. Can you clarify both your use of a double negative in your first sentence and what you mean by silly applications of the “seamless garment?”

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Whether it is the media or politicians–they know there is a large pool of anti-Catholics in the U.S. So better to tap that hatred than carry on a rational debate on, for instance, biologically when does human life begin??? Or should the tax money of people (Catholic or non-Catholic) who believe that abortion is tantamount to murder be used thereby coercing them to take part in a procedure they abhor??? (A lot different than the issue of money for job stimulus).

  • Julia

    The “seamless garment” argument is from Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago -it is not an official teaching of the Church. It mixes the absolute of abortion with prudential matters that are not so clear cut.

  • Young Geezer

    Perhaps the references to race is just lazy and habitual journalism rather than a veiled attack? Has anyone ever mentioned Ed Brooke without also mentioning that he’s “the first popularly elected black senator blah blah blah”? I, for one, have never heard someone discuss Ed Brooke without also mentioning that fact, almost as if it was part of his name.