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Barely a week after the elections marked a dramatic shift in the battle over life issues, the nation’s bishops’ conference gathered to reinvigorate its own defense of life.
BY Joan Frawley DesmondREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
BALTIMORE — Barely
a week after the elections marked a dramatic shift in the battle over life
issues, the nation’s bishops’ conference gathered to reinvigorate its own
defense of life.
At its semi-annual meeting in
Baltimore Nov. 10-12, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also staked out a
firm defense of religious freedom.
Not only did the election to the
presidency of a strongly pro-abortion candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.,
animate the bishops’ meeting. The election of Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., as the
first Catholic vice president raised expectations that their conference might
adopt a unified national policy regarding the reception of the Eucharist by
pro-abortion Catholic politicians.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston,
who once participated in civil rights protests demanding full equality for
black Americans, rejoiced that a black American could be elected president. But
he questioned the criteria many Catholics used to assess the candidates.
“We have to get the message out that
there is no new way to be pro-life, as some abortion-rights supporters
suggested during the campaign,” said Cardinal O’Malley.
During the 2008 campaign,
pro-abortion Biden publicly contested Church teaching on abortion.
As the bishops gathered, the
American Life League, Maryland Right to Life, Defend Life and the Catholic
Media Coalition organized a prayer vigil, press conference and a full-page ad
in USA Today designed to apply Canon 915 to
voting. The canon states: “Those … obstinately persevering in grave and
manifest sin are not to be admitted to holy Communion.”
But the bishops’ conference
leadership didn’t vote on Communion-related issues. Instead, the conference
president, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, announced plans to issue a
letter on the “present political situation” that would restate Catholic
teaching on abortion, advocate the rights of Catholics to engage the political
process, and affirm the bishops’ desire to work with President-elect Obama for
the common good.
Issues related to Canon 915 were not
included in an outline of the letter circulated during the meeting.
Cardinal O’Malley explained the
bishops’ caution regarding a more aggressive implementation of Canon 915. “I’m
not enthusiastic about asking people to deny Communion to other Catholics,” he
said. “We leave it to individuals to take responsibility for their decision to
receive the Eucharist. Our teaching involves every Catholic, not only
The election of a Democratic
president who has a strong pro-abortion agenda, along with strong Democratic
majorities in the House and Senate, lent special urgency to unscheduled but
critical discussions regarding potential threats to the religious freedom of
both individual Catholics and Church-run institutions. At issue is the Freedom
of Choice Act, proposed legislation that Obama has vowed to sign into law if
passed by Congress. (See related front-page story.)
At the opening of the meeting,
Cardinal George issued a powerful statement that compared the historic election
of an African-American as president of the United States with the previous,
equally historic election of the first Catholic president.
Though Obama was never “asked to
renounce his racial heritage,” Cardinal George noted, “John Kennedy was asked
to promise that his Catholic faith would not influence his perspective and
decisions as president a generation ago.
“Echoes of that debate remain in the
words of those who reject universal moral propositions that have been espoused
by the human race throughout history, with the excuse that they are part of
Catholic moral teaching,” the conference president continued.
contrast to the celebratory mood of bishops’ meetings in the 1980s, when
pastoral letters on nuclear weapons and economic policy drew wide attention
from the media and earned the approbation of anti-nuke groups, the mood at the
November conference appeared subdued, even tentative.
more than 100 bishops issued statements clarifying the moral priority of
Catholic teaching on abortion prior to the election, the outcome caused many to
doubt the impact of their public witness.
Gray, director of Catholic polls at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied
Research in the Apostolate, was quoted in Our Sunday Visitor, pointing out that, in several cases, bishops’ statements did appear to
have an effect.
as Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., pointed out, “The election
didn’t produce many ‘pure’ votes: California passed a referendum upholding
traditional marriage, and many voted for the presidential candidate based on
should be careful about pinning hopes on elections and exaggerating their
meaning,” he said. “But the outcome is a concern for everyone who cares about
low priority many Catholic voters assigned to life issues also frustrated
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, author of the best-selling Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our
Catholic Beliefs in Public Life
and an outspoken Catholic leader during the election.
archbishop said he would welcome a stronger position articulated by the
bishops, if only because it would make his work easier. “Without a unified
position, those of us who speak out are branded ‘mavericks,’” he noted.
the presidential campaign, Archbishop Chaput publicly requested that Sen.
Biden, while in Denver for the Democratic Party Convention, “refrain from
presenting himself for Communion if he supports a false ‘right’ to abortion.”
not always possible to wait for perfect collaboration,” Archbishop Chaput
concluded. “We have a teaching of the Church. That is more important than
Joan Frawley Desmond filed
from the bishops’ meeting