John Allen has an interesting piece, in which he discusses the vitriol directed by some on the American Catholic right against Obama, and how it contrasts with the more measured tone of the Vatican. This seems to be causing some consternation in the United States, causing one bishop to exclaim to Allen “What is it that Rome doesn’t get?” As Allen notes, the day after his election, L’Osservatore Romano had an editorial calling Obama a “choice that unites”. Earlier this week, the pope issued a cordial statement (I find it quaint that the Vatican still issues telegrams!) in which he stated the hope that Obama would help build “a truly just and free society, marked by respect for the dignity, equality and rights of each of its members, especially the poor, the outcast, and those who have no voice” and “promote understanding, cooperation and peace among the nations.” As Allen notes:
“Vatican diplomats have repeatedly expressed optimism about what Obama’s presidency is likely to mean for the church’s foreign policy interests, especially in the Middle East and Africa. Whatever one makes of it, it’s a fact that the only people in the Vatican willing to take on Obama, at least so far, have been Americans.”
Nobody doubts the sincerity and uncompromising stance of Benedict on the abortion issue. So what gives? Allen speculates:
“Inevitably, however, the situation also highlights a basic contrast in Catholic culture on the two sides of the Atlantic. Catholics in Europe, even the most ferociously conservative, generally do not have a single-issue focus on abortion. They’re no less pro-life, but perhaps because there’s no prospect of rolling back abortion rights in most European nations, it’s not their signature crusade. In the States, abortion is the elephant in the room during any conversation about Catholics and politics, but not so across the water, and not so for the pope.”
I fear the problem is the dualism of much of the political discourse in the US, the us-versus-them mentality (this mentality also affects how it engages with the world, as we have seen to our great detriment over past eight years). It’s the old problem of so many American Catholics thinking that because Republicans are often more closely aligned with the Catholic position on abortion than the other side, then a faithful Catholic must identify with this particular movement. Most Europeans would view this blinkered view as ludicrous. But just take the case of Douglas Kmiec and the vehement and nasty attacks on him by those who considered him a “traitor”.
So, if and when Obama starts promoting FOCA, then we must oppose vigorously. But the kind of preemptive hysteria coming from some elements of the Church after his victory was wholly improper, and quite distasteful. Where were these voices when Bush was engagingin an illegal war and occupation and instituting torture? For Catholic voices should have been just as strong on this issue, without fear of offending their supposed allies. Consistency is key, for without consistency, Catholics will be seen as merely another cog in an uncompromising partisan movement, and will never make inroads on the issues that matter.