Steven Waldman of Beliefnet.com notes that Catholic clergy are conspicuously absent from Barack Obama’s selection of religious leaders invited to participate in his inauguration.

We’ve reported already on two of the people invited by Obama: Evangelical pastor Rick Warren and homosexual Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson.

Obama’s third pick is Rev. Sharon Watkins, president and general minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who will deliver the sermon at the national prayer service to be held the day after Obama’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

(For those who are unfamiliar with Rev. Watkins’s denomination, the church is described in this Jan. 10 New York Times article as “a small, liberal-leaning Protestant denomination with 3,754 congregations and about 690,000 members in the United States and Canada.”)

Correction: There will be a fourth Protestant participant at Obama’s inauguration; the Rev. Joseph Lowery, the civil rights leader who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., will deliver the benediction at the inauguration ceremony.

While all four of Obama’s picks are Protestants — albeit ones with highly disparate doctrinal outlooks — Beliefnet’s Waldman points out that before 1990 it was routine to include a Catholic representative among clerical inauguration invitees.

Waldman suggests the exclusion of non-Protestants this time around is due to the fact that “the Obama folks got so tangled up in the culture war politics — balancing on gay rights, gender and race issues — that they forgot, or downplayed, old-fashioned religious base-covering.”

We suspect Obama’s omission of a Catholic participant was a whole lot more intentional than that. This year’s Democratic National Convention in Denver also notably excluded an invitation to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, unlike invitations extended at previous conventions to bishops such as Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles at the DNC in 2000 held in that city.

Why the contemporary reluctance among Democrats to grant Catholic bishops a voice at functions they have organized? Perhaps it’s because they fear that virtually any Catholic bishop they invite will call the nation’s attention to the Democratic Party’s failure to respect the sanctity of life of the unborn, because of the party’s formal commitment to the promotion of abortion rights.

In fact, that’s exactly what Cardinal Mahony did by raising the issue of abortion in both the homily and the invocation that he delivered to the Democrats who assembled in his city in 2000. “O God, we trust that you will keep us ever committed to protect the life and well-being of all people but especially unborn children, the sick and the elderly, those on skid row and those on death row,” Cardinal Mahoney prayed in the invocation.

The U.S. bishops have become even more forceful in the intervening eight years in speaking out about the moral obligation of every American in public life to defend the lives of the unborn. And they specifically called Obama to account on this issue following his election, with their Nov. 12 statement decrying the anti-life Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) that Obama has promised to sign into law as president.

So it’s only reasonable to speculate that Barack Obama — who by general consensus is the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever elected to the White House — is not eager to afford one of the Church’s American shepherds another high-profile opportunity to remind him that this obligation to respect the sanctity of the lives of unborn Americans applies very specifically to all of Obama’s actions during his upcoming presidency.

— Tom McFeely