Adding my name to “An Open Letter to President-Elect Barack Obama”

Originally posted at Vox Nova with many signers:

An Open Letter to President-Elect Barack Obama

November 14, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama,

As American Catholics, we, the undersigned, would like to reiterate the congratulations given to you by Pope Benedict XVI. We will be praying for you as you undertake the office of President of the United States.

Wishing you much good will, we hope we will be able to work with you, your administration, and our fellow citizens to move beyond the gridlock which has often harmed our great nation in recent years. Too often, partisan politics has hampered our response to disaster and misfortune. As a result of this, many Americans have become resentful, blaming others for what happens instead of realizing our own responsibilities. We face serious problems as a people, and if we hope to overcome the crises we face in today’s world, we should make a serious effort to set aside the bitterness in our hearts, to listen to one another, and to work with one another

One of the praiseworthy elements of your campaign has been the call to end such partisanship. You have stated a desire to engage others in dialogue. With you, we believe that real achievement comes not through the defamation of one’s opponents, nor by amassing power and using it merely as a tool for one’s own individual will. We also believe dialogue is essential. We too wish to appeal to the better nature of the nation. We want to encourage people to work together for the common good. Such action can and will engender trust. It may change the hearts of many, and it might alter the path of our nation, shifting to a road leading to a better America. We hope this theme of your campaign is realized in the years ahead.

One of the critical issues which currently divides our nation is abortion. As you have said, no one is for abortion, and you would agree to limit late-term abortions as long as any bill which comes your way allows for exceptions to those limits, such as when the health of the mother is in jeopardy. You have also said you would like to work on those social issues which cause women to feel as if they have a need for an abortion, so as to reduce the actual number of abortions being performed in the United States.

Indeed, you said in your third presidential debate, “But there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, ‘We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.’”

As men and women who oppose abortion and embrace a pro-life ethic, we want to commend your willingness to engage us in dialogue, and we ask that you live up to your promise, and engage us on this issue.

There is much we can do together. There is much that we can do to help women who find themselves in difficult situations so they will not see abortion as their only option. There is much which we can do to help eliminate those unwanted pregnancies which lead to abortion.

One of your campaign promises is of grave concern to many pro-life citizens. On January 22, 2008, the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when speaking of the current right of women in America to have abortions, you said, “And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president.”

The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) might well undermine your engagement of pro-life Americans on the question of abortion. It might hamper any effort on your part to work with us to limit late-term abortions. We believe FOCA does more than allow for choice. It may force the choice of a woman upon others, and make them morally complicit in such choice. One concern is that it would force doctors and hospitals which would otherwise choose not to perform abortions to do so, even if it went against their sacred beliefs. Such a law would undermine choice, and might begin the process by which abortion is enforced as a preferred option, instead of being one possible choice for a doctor to practice.

It is because of such concern we write. We urge you to engage us, and to dialogue with us, and to do so before you consider signing this legislation. Let us reason together and search out the implications of FOCA. Let us carefully review it and search for contradictions of those positions which we hold in common.
If FOCA can be postponed for the present, and serious dialogue begun with us, as well as with those who disagree with us, you will demonstrate that your administration will indeed be one that rises above partisanship, and will be one of change. This might well be the first step toward resolving an issue which tears at the fabric of our churches, our political process, our families, our very society, and that causes so much hardship and heartache in pregnant women.

Likewise, you have also recently stated you might over-ride some of President G.W. Bush’s executive orders. This is also a concern to us. We believe doing so without having a dialogue with the American people would undermine the political environment you would like to establish. Among those issues which concern us are those which would use taxpayer money to support actions we find to be morally questionable, such as embryonic stem cell research, or to fund international organizations that would counsel women to have an abortion (this would make abortion to be more than a mere choice, but an encouraged activity).

Consider, sir, your general promise to the American people and set aside particular promises to a part of your constituency. This would indicate that you plan to reject politics as usual. This would indeed be a change we need.


To which I add my name with the others:


Fr. John Zuhlsdorf


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Fr J says:

    BRAVO! Something of the principle of your “five rules of engagement” is underscored here and I “salute” you, Fr Z, for it! You have renewed faith, hope and primarily exemplified “love.”

  2. Anyone wavering over adding his signature may find Victor’s dissent on Dale Price’s site worth reading:

  3. Ed the Roman says:

    And as I dissented, this letter is like asking FDR in 1944 to negotiate an end to the war.

    I mena, it COULD happen, but it would REQUIRE a miracle.

  4. “I mena, it COULD happen, but it would REQUIRE a miracle.”

    And since when did miracles cease to happen? There is always hope…hope will help you cope.

  5. Drew says:

    The spirit of the letter is a very gracious, very much in the spirit that Pres.-elect Obama talked about. I applaud it. Truly. Right now. I am clapping. Commendable.
    Since dialogue and compromise is a two-way street, what “particular promises to a part of your constituency” are the signatories meeting Pres-Obama with? What areas are they willing to let go in the spirit of compromise, or areas they will take up, against their interests? I didn’t see any mention of that.
    Again, very commendable. I hope it is a new day in American politics. This letter is a step in that direction.

  6. little gal says:

    As someone who frequented Vox Nova- the source of this letter- I find it ironic to see the names of those who signed this petition, as they were outspoken Obama supporters and voted for him. They discounted the many statements issued by the bishops who clearly instructed Catholics on how to assess the presidential candidates according to Catholic teaching as well as the entreaties of other posters that abortion is not ‘just another’ Catholic social teaching.

  7. BobP says:

    Excellent letter.

    Since so many Catholics voted for him, he may just read it.

  8. Jim says:

    We will know within 30 days after Obama is sworn in whether this very courteous approach produces fruit. We should remember to pray for his conversion.

  9. Phil Steinacker says:

    I’m with Ed the Roman except I expect no such miracle. I am more inclined to accept the path our nation has taken as fully compatible with God’s intention to take His Church into a period of persecution for His own reasons.

    We are about to be tested – IMHO. The Winner has already been declared. The only question is where we all choose to line up during our lifetime.

    Writing such a letter will do nothing except give cover to the Vox Nova folks who drafted it. Well, that’s not quite accurate. It will also allow those who feel such letters actually accomplish anything beyond good feelings to get it all out of their system. Once done, we can all settle into the realization of what exactly we are called to confront, and how to best go about it in prayer and love.

    Please understand I intend no criticism of those who write such letters. Very fine Catholics I know in Maryland are proposing similar tactics. I will post, however, a request by the Maryland Catholic Conference asking Catholics to send to politicians from Obama on down regarding FOCA, and the retort by a prominent Maryland Catholic who is – as he puts it – far from being a super-conservative. It provides a significant contrast to the letter above.

    This ain’t going to be easy, folks, but let’s get the routine, ineffective tactics dispensed with now, so later we can say we actually “tried that” before we finally got serious – whatever THAT will mean.

  10. Phil Steinacker says:

    This is the e-mail recently sent out by the Maryland Catholic Conference promoting a letter-writing campaign against FOCA:

    Radical abortion bill considered by Congress Take Action!

    Urge your senators and representative to oppose FOCA

    A radical bill called the “Freedom of Choice Act,” commonly referred to as FOCA, that would eliminate modest regulations on abortion has been introduced in the U.S. Congress and is co-sponsored by Maryland Sens. Barbara Mikulksi and Ben Cardin and Maryland Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger and Chris Van Hollen. The incoming administration previously said it would sign this legislation into law if it is passed by Congress. Click the”Take Action” link at the top of the page, enter your ZIP code and click “Go” to ask these Maryland lawmakers to remove their names from this dangerous bill.

    FOCA creates a “fundamental right” to abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy that substantially undermines the supposed goal of keeping abortion “safe, legal and rare” claimed by many supporters of “choice.” No governmental body at any level would be able to “deny or interfere with” this right, or to “discriminate” against the exercise of this right “in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.” For the first time, abortion would become an entitlement the government must condone and promote. If enacted, FOCA would:

    • Eliminate regulations that protect women from dangerous abortion clinics
    • Force taxpayers to fund abortions
    • Require all states to allow partial-birth and other late-term abortions
    • Subject women to abortions by non-physicians
    • Violate the conscience rights of nurses, doctors, and hospitals
    • Strip parents’ of their right to be involved in a minor daughter’s abortion decision

    Click the “Take Action” link in the top right corner of your page, enter your ZIP code and then click “Go” to contact your senators and representative in Congress. Urge them to remove their names from this dangerous bill…tell Congress to pledge now to oppose FOCA!


    This is the e-mail response to the MCC’s letter campaign request by a local Catholic who copied it to a friend of mine. I like his style. He is forceful, clear, uses respectful but direct language, and Catholic. Now THAST’s what I call a LETTER!


    Pardon my candor, but I have great difficulty with this request. It exemplifies the startling moral ambiguity that Pro-Life Catholics constantly find in the position of our Hierarchical and Archdiocesan leaders. We all know that legislation like FOCA is totally in the hands of the persons we elect to public office. Their clearly stated positions prior to election are properly viewed by them as mandates of the electorate when they are successful at the polls.

    Senators Mikulski and Cardin have unflaggingly promoted abortion on demand and have been elected and re-elected by a heavily “Catholic” electorate. Catholic institutions have consistently given them praise and adulation, indirectly lending support to their candidacies. Our recently elected Representative is similarly pro-abortion. President-elect Obama is a Senatorial sponsor of FOCA. He has publicly stated his support for FOCA and has taken the most radical stand of any President in favor not only of abortion but of the destruction of those children who survive abortion.

    The election of these persons has certainly, in their minds, validated their positions as commands of the electorate, including the Catholic vote. MCC must know, as those elected officials do, that the horse is out of the barn on FOCA, Partial Birth Abortion, Marriage and Pro-Life judicial appointments as a result of the recent elections. Unquestionably, the elections will be seen as a “referendum on abortion”. Writing to our pro-abortion Senators Mikulski and Cardin, to our pro-abortion newspaper, or to the radically pro-abortion President-elect is obviously an utter futility and any request that we do so now, after the elections, is tinged with a degree of irony, if not hypocrisy.

    The only effective protest against this monstrous assault on human dignity would have been in the voting booths…but the Archdiocese, the MCC, the NCCB and the parish priest were toothless tigers during the campaigns. Instead of mounting a full-scale, serious attack on the murder of millions of children in utero, our pulpits and our official publications were tellingly meek, lame and submissive during the electoral campaigns when strong truths strongly stated could have changed the direction of this cultural disaster. No, I don’t think I’ll write to Mikulski, Cardin, Dutch Ruppersberger, Chris Van Hollen or Frank Kratovil or John Kerry or Patrick Kennedy and certainly not to the Sun…not surprisingly, they only laugh at Catholics and our Church.

  11. Howard says:

    I hardly know where to begin with this one.

    First, I’m sure whoever is pope sends some sort of congratulations to each new head of state or government. It would not surprise me if Raul Castro got a letter from Pope Benedict and Kim Jong-Il from Pope John Paul. Those are required because one of the lesser roles of a pope is, after all, that of diplomat, but it would be a mistake to read into such a letter a meaningful hope for improvement.

    What do I mean by a reasonable hope? Well, what is a reasonable hope of winning a war, as required in just war theory? It may not mean a 51% projected chance, but it surely means something other than “the laws of physics do not forbid success; only everything we’ve ever learned about human behavior forbids success”. In other words, it still has to be reasonable, and something more than a wish. Maybe Obama will convert to the pro-life cause, and maybe Kim Jong-Il will become a discalced Carmelite next year. Neither is strictly impossible, but can anyone say we have *reasonable hope* for either change?

    Sending a letter like this to Obama will do as much good as pointing Kim Jong-Il to It will not really convince him of anything other than that the letter-writer is naive and not to be taken seriously.

  12. Michael says:

    Howard I agree with you 100%. I however signed the petion that is asking that Barack Obama release his legal long form birth certificate! Alan Keyes is taking up the case in California and there is huge movement across the country for this. I believe Barack Obama is hidding that he is not a US natural born citizen. Check out Worldnet daily website for info regarding this as well as Drudge report links to article in a major news website as well as the petition link. There is an interview with Phil Berg a former attorney general from PA who happens to be a liberal democrate who is taking this case to the Supreme Court and the Supreme court said Barack Obama has til December 1st,2008 to show is legal birth certificate. The talk show is with Alex Jones and was held yesterday Nov.17th. I will pray for Barack Obama’s conversion while at the same time do all I can by signing the petition and sharing the news where ever I can, that a pro abortion/ pro homsoexual marriage/ socialist/communist doesn’t become the 44th president of the United States of America. I belive we have a chance here to divert our country from something awful so awful that we will never recover! We come a long way in the fight against abortion lets keep fighting!!

  13. Mark says:

    The Illinois State Lottery turned up the numbers 6-6-6 the day after the election… the name Obama means “he is with us” in Persian. Obama’s origins are shrouded in secrecy and he has promised to increase the human sacrifice of abortion in this country as his number one priority. And you think a letter will change his mind? If he is the beast of Revelation as some think he is, how ironic that Americans, including Catholics, voted him into power. And now, “he is with us”. God help us and God have mercy on us. I fear the Chastisement is upon us.

  14. Phil says:

    Reading a remark like this one

    “The Illinois State Lottery turned up the numbers 6-6-6 the day after the election… the name Obama means “he is with us” in Persian. Obama’s origins are shrouded in secrecy and he has promised to increase the human sacrifice of abortion in this country as his number one priority. And you think a letter will change his mind? If he is the beast of Revelation as some think he is, how ironic that Americans, including Catholics, voted him into power. And now, “he is with us”. God help us and God have mercy on us. I fear the Chastisement is upon us.”

    is enough to prove that dispensationalist end-time chastisement-mongering is alive and well among professing Catholics. It is about time that that Catholics shake themselves free of such sensationalist “last days” and “left behind” theology.

  15. Virgil says:

    I echo the BRAVO!

    This letter is constructive. It lays out specifics. And, most importantly, it is issued with a tone of respect.

    This kind of action will go much much further than whining about the Apocalypse and denying communion.

    I believe the President-elect is truly a man of good conscience. His public statements on most issues reflect a well-formed opinion, reflected in well-thought policy choices.

    On abortion, we disagree. But I really believe he wants to work together with pro-life folks.

    Bravo, ancora!

  16. Ed the Roman says:

    How can someone with a well-formed conscience vote against the Illinois Born Alive Protection Act and lie about it?

    He wants to work with pro-life folks to the extent that he wants polling numbers that make the Congress fear to cross him, and he wants support on other issues, but There. Is. Nothing. to support the idea that he is going to work with with us on abortion anymore than there is top make us think Moqtada al Sadr is going to work with State on extending the Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq.

  17. Howard says:

    I would have much preferred something more along the lines of Churchill’s famous speech:

    We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
    we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
    we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
    we shall fight on the beaches,
    we shall fight on the landing grounds,
    we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
    we shall fight in the hills;
    we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

    Telling Obama that pro-life Catholics look forward to cooperating with him on everything but abortion and gay marriage greatly reduces the stakes for him; it reassures him that he need fear no retalliatory strikes against his other interests.

  18. BobP says:

    “The Illinois State Lottery turned up the numbers 6-6-6 the day after the election”

    Good grief. Must we fight abortion with superstition, which is a violation of the FIRST Commandment? On top of racism, hate-mongering, and childish name calling, no wonder we find ourselves spitting in the wind. We have to act in good faith if we want to make just a little progress. I think the letter does that.

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