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Public Theology: Berserk Bishops: A Threat to Democracy?
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Berserk Bishops: A Threat to Democracy?
It may be time to begin to question the role of Catholic bishops in a democratic society. They think the most important thing to do is fight Obama on abortion.

By Ed Knudson

It appears that the election of Barack Obama has caused Roman Catholic bishops to go berserk. At a recent meeting in Baltimore it is as if they were screaming and jumping up and down like "an ancient Scandinavian warrior frenzied in battle and held to be invulnerable." They were getting ready to engage in actions which would be "recklessly defiant" of the next president of the United States who was elected with a large majority of Americans and even 54 percent of Catholics. (Quotes from Websters on "berserk")

So, what were the bishops so worried about at their meeting? Was it catastrophic economic decline caused by excessive Wall Street greed, creating unemployment at numbers we have not seen for a long time, wiping out the retirement savings of millions of older people, forcing millions more out of their homes by foreclosure, leading to the possible end of the car industry in this country as we know it? Was it terrible new reports of war casulaties in Iraq, Pakistan and Afganhistan? None of these.

Were they ready to celebrate with many in the country the election of a new president who promises hope and change and a chance to break down the barriers separating Americans from one another? Nope. Here's the headline coming out of their meeting: "Catholic bishops will fight Obama on abortion." Yes, abortion is the very biggest and most important issue, so important that these bishops want to fight against the new president, so important that these bishops apparently want the world to know that there is nothing else the church should stand for, nothing that is more crucial for this country at this time of history, nothing that more deserves the attention of morally serious people. When I read that headline I thought to myself, the bishops have gone berserk.

Now, here is the big problem. What the country does indeed need is more credible moral authority. A president engaged in systematic public lying in order to convince the country to go to war in Iraq. To do so he had to scare the hell out of the American people about terrible terrorists who want to destroy us. The entire class of business professionals have been thinking and acting in a way leading to a total failure of the financial system. There is a tremendous need in the country for political and economic leaders to act in a more civil and moral manner. But then along come the Catholic bishops, exemplars of moral authority, and they act in what can only be called the worst form of small-minded, irrational, and politically motivated ways. It is terribly sad for anyone who wants to see a more uplifting and moral discourse in public life today.

I realize that not all the bishops talk in such hostile ways, who realize that their are other important moral issues other than abortion. But all the bishops do allow those few to speak up in such a way that the few come to define the many, at least as reported in the secular press. In the AP story by Rachel Zoll "several bishops said they would accept no compromise on abortion policy. Many condemned Catholics who had argued it was morally acceptable to back President-elect Obama because he pledged to reduce abortion rates." Notice the word here, these bishops "condemned" others who disagreed with them, according to this writer. What is one to think about persons in positions of moral authority who then feel that it is proper to engage in public condemnations? For me, it had better be a mighty important matter to engage in condemnations. Unfortunately, abortion is not such a matter. I believe that the Catholic bishops as a whole must find a way to stop allowing a few of their number to speak in such a way as to lead to this kind of reporting in the secular press.

The abortion issue is not so important.

-----------------------

Catholic bishops will fight Obama on abortion

By Rachel Zoll, Associated Press Religion Writer, November 12, 2008

BALTIMORE The nation's Roman Catholic bishops vowed Tuesday to forcefully confront the Obama administration over its support for abortion rights, saying the church and religious freedom could be under attack in the new presidential administration.

In an impassioned discussion on Catholics in public life, several bishops said they would accept no compromise on abortion policy. Many condemned Catholics who had argued it was morally acceptable to back President-elect Obama because he pledged to reduce abortion rates.

And several prelates promised to call out Catholic policy makers on their failures to follow church teaching. Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, Pa., singled out Vice President-elect Biden, a Catholic, Scranton native who supports abortion rights.

"I cannot have a vice president-elect coming to Scranton to say he's learned his values there when those values are utterly against the teachings of the Catholic Church," Martino said. The Obama-Biden press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Diocese of Kansas City in Kansas said politicians "can't check your principles at the door of the legislature."

Naumann has said repeatedly that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic Democrat who supports abortion rights, should stop taking Holy Communion until she changes her stance.

"They cannot call themselves Catholic when they violate such a core belief as the dignity of the unborn," Naumann said Tuesday.

The discussion occurred on the same day the bishops approved a new "Blessing of a Child in the Womb." The prayer seeks a healthy pregnancy for the mother and makes a plea that "our civic rulers" perform their duties "while respecting the gift of human life."

Chicago Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is preparing a statement during the bishops' fall meeting that will press Obama on abortion.

The bishops suggested that the final document include the message that "aggressively pro-abortion policies" would be viewed "as an attack on the church."

Along with their theological opposition to the procedure, church leaders say they worry that any expansion in abortion rights could require Catholic hospitals to perform abortions or lose federal funding. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago said the hospitals would close rather than comply.

During the campaign, many prelates had spoken out on abortion more boldly than they had in 2004, telling Catholic politicians and voters that the issue should be the most important consideration in setting policy and deciding which candidate to back.

Yet, according to exit polls, 54 percent of Catholics chose Obama, who is Protestant. The new bishops' statement is meant to drive home the point in a way that cannot be misconstrued.

"We have a very important thing to say. I think we should say it clearly and with a punch," said New York Cardinal Edward Egan.

But some bishops said church leaders should take care with the tone of the statement.

Bishops differ on whether Catholic lawmakers should refrain from receiving Communion if they diverge from central church beliefs. Each bishop sets policy in his own diocese.

"We must act and be perceived as acting as caring pastors and faithful teachers," said Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City, S.D.

Dr. Patrick Whelan, a pediatrician and president of Catholic Democrats, said angry statements from church leaders were counterproductive and would only alienate Catholics.

"We're calling on the bishops to move away from the more vicious language," Whelan said. He said the church needs to act "in a more creative, constructive way," to end abortion.

Catholics United was among the groups that argued in direct mail and TV ads during the campaign that taking the "pro-life" position means more than opposing abortion rights.

Chris Korzen, the group's executive director, said, "we honestly want to move past the deadlock" on abortion. He said church leaders were making that task harder.

"What are the bishops going to do now?" Korzen said. "`They have burned a lot of bridges with the Democrats and the new administration."






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Date Added: 11/18/2008 Date Revised: 11/18/2008

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