National Catholic Register

Commentary

D.C.’s Double Standard on Bishops

BY Paul Kengor

March 8-14, 2009 Issue | Posted 2/27/09 at 12:07 PM

 

Catholics should brace themselves for a bunch of maddening double standards relating to faith and a Barack Obama presidency.

For instance, they can expect it to be okay for the new president to talk openly and warmly about his relationship with God, unlike George W. Bush, who was pilloried anytime he even responded to questions about his faith. We saw an early example during the campaign, when Obama was given an hour by CNN to ruminate about his faith in the “Compassion Forum” at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

One can merely recall the explosion of rage when a presidential candidate named George W. Bush merely invoked Christ as his favorite “philosopher-thinker.” This double standard will be all the more infuriating, given the mainstream media’s lack of interest over the only Christian church that Obama ever joined: the political church of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

But Catholics should ready themselves right away for an especially troubling double standard: a wholesale attack on their bishops by the mainstream media, bloggers and a wide swath of Obama supporters. Why? What’s going on?

In the immediate days after the election of Obama, the bishops sought with great vigilance to warn their flock and the American public of the impending human disaster known as the Freedom of Choice Act, which Barack Obama promised will be the “first thing” he signs as president.

There has never been a more radical piece of pro-abortion legislation in American history, poised to wipe out countless reasonable, bipartisan statewide restrictions on abortion, from parental-consent laws to freedom-of-conscience exemptions for Catholic medical personnel who refuse to participate in abortion procedures. Second only to Roe v. Wade itself, this act would constitute the greatest affront to unborn human life in American history.

It has been made possible strictly because of the election of Barack Obama as president — an election made possible by a strong majority of millions of American Catholics (54%) who voted for Obama. The bishops painfully realize that the flock is in large part responsible for what will likely be a stark, bloody spike in this modern holocaust.

Amazingly, traditionally pro-life Catholics, who somehow think they voted for a modern incarnation of Jack Kennedy, have unwittingly voted to begin subsidizing millions of abortions with their tax dollars and force their Catholic brothers and sisters in obstetrics programs to do abortions. They truly know not what they’ve done. I’m haunted by the explanation of what one Catholic Obama supporter told my priest, “I voted for Obama, but it’s okay, because I didn’t vote for him on abortion.” Lord, help us.

Consequently, the bishops are now ready for a battle.

This was made clear at the conclusion of the annual fall assembly meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference, which drew a line in the sand and vowed to fight the imposition of the Freedom of Choice Act. FOCA “would be an evil law that would further divide our country,” concluded the bishops, “and the Church should be intent on opposing evil.”

Well, the bishops need to put on the full armor of God, because this will be a definite battle. The bishops will be angrily scolded and told to return to their parishes and shut up and butt out.

Obama’s supporters, especially the “pro-choice” crowd, which includes nearly the entirety of the mainstream media — indeed, there’s no other issue where the dominant media is as united as supporting abortion — will pound the bishops for daring to take on Obama, especially on abortion. These people will start squawking about the so-called “separation of church and state,” words that don’t exist in the Constitution. They will abuse and misuse the phrase as a club to whack the bishops, to argue that the Church’s view on abortion is a private, religious matter that must be kept out of the public square.

This will, of course, be extremely hypocritical, another of those faith-based double standards that the political left either doesn’t notice or conveniently ignores when in its interests. In fact, liberals eagerly embrace religious people when they’re on their side, from Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement to the “social justice” nuns and priests who’ve joined them on everything from Central America policy in the 1980s to immigration in 2008.

Obviously, the Obama campaign — and liberals everywhere — were more than happy to have Catholics like Doug Kmiec, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Bob Casey Jr., and even a group called “Catholics for Obama” campaigning for Obama over the last year. They were enthusiastically encouraged to integrate — not separate — church and state.

And when it comes to the bishops specifically, this double standard is even more acute. Let’s take a walk down memory lane for a moment:

In the 1980s, particularly in 1982 and 1983, as part of its “peace through strength” policy to try to bring the Soviets to the negotiating table, the Reagan administration pursued the MX missile and Pershing II missile. A number of bishops, such as Raymond Lucker, objected strenuously, and the conference of bishops took up the issue.

The point man for the Reagan administration on this effort was Bill Clark, a devout Catholic and close Reagan adviser, who enlisted an old Catholic friend, Clare Boothe Luce, in an attempt to convince the bishops that the administration’s intentions were peaceful — to spark disarmament, not to prepare to wage and win a nuclear war. For the bishops, it was Cardinal Bernardin who was the chief liaison in dialoguing with the Reagan administration.

This split between the Reagan White House and the American bishops received tremendous attention in the media, especially in The New York Times and Washington Post, who were thrilled with the bishops’ opposition to Reagan. The nuclear freeze movement applauded the bishops, rolling out the red carpet at every protest it planned around the world, quickly thrusting a megaphone or microphone in front of them. Separation of church and state? What’s that? Never heard of it!

Amazingly, even the media of the Soviets — no lovers of the Catholic Church and religion generally — were behind the bishops. Over at Pravda, it appeared the Evil Empire suddenly had a Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus conversion. Rather than gulaging and shooting priests and banning them from hospitals, radio, TV and all forms of media, the Soviets were now big fans of the Catholic bishops. The Kremlin had gotten that old-time religion.

In short, the entirety of the political left loved this; from moderate Democrats to liberals to socialists to communists, they all adored the bishops for this good work. America’s bishops were welcomed into the public square with open arms.

But, alas, that will not be the case this time around — when Barack Obama looks to sign the Freedom of Choice Act and boldly take “abortion rights” where they’ve never gone before. This time, the bishops will be told they are violating church-state separation — and to beat it.

My advice, then, to the bishops, is to be ready. They must carefully consider this crucial “public relations” aspect of their campaign to stop FOCA and Obama on abortion generally. The tack of pro-abortion activists will not be to argue with the bishops on the merit of FOCA and unrestricted, taxpayer-funded abortion. In any direct debate on FOCA, the pro-FOCA forces will lose handily. No more than maybe 5% to 10% of Americans — the extremists — would agree with this insane legislation.

The “pro-choicers” know this. So, instead, they will play the “separation-of-church-and-state” trump card, and many uninformed Americans will take the bait. If you find it hard to believe that so many Americans could be so easily hoodwinked, remember, again, that 54% of Catholics voted Obama president, despite his promises on things like FOCA, and despite the innumerable eloquent warnings by their bishops; these tens of millions of Catholics are primed and poised to be duped again.

The bishops should be ready to go on CNN and calmly ask why it was okay for them to protest Reagan’s nuclear polices in the 1980s, to join the civil rights movement in the 1960s, to counter conservative Republicans on immigration the last eight years, and to have Catholics around the country campaign for Obama in 2008, but now, suddenly, it is considered out-of-bounds for them to speak out against the nationalization and federal funding of unrestricted abortion. That point cannot be made emphatically and frequently enough.

Winning hearts and minds also requires winning in the media. The bishops have their work cut out for them.

Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).