NPR piece on the resurgence of bishops in the public square

On the site of National Public Radio there is an audio story about the fact that strong Catholic bishop are beginning to regain their voice in the public square.

My emphases and comments:

On Social Issues, Bishops Flex Political Muscle

by Barbara Bradley Hagerty

Pope Benedict XVI is known for his conservative theology, but it’s his predecessor’s legacy that is playing out in U.S. politics today. [In the first sentence the writer brings in the theme of "politics".] A generation of U.S. Catholic bishops who were selected by John Paul II is conservative on social issues, and they are willing to mix it up in the public square to push their views[That is a fair statement, despite the use of "politics" in the first line.]

Exhibit A: the health care overhaul. On Nov. 6, the night before the House of Representatives voted on heath care, Speaker Nancy Pelosi received some visitors. One was Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, an anti-abortion Democrat, [Nearly a contradiction in terms.  But let’s make this into "authentic Catholic Democrat".] who wanted to amend the House bill to permanently strip federal funding for abortion. Critics say that would make it harder for all women to pay for abortions. Stupak brought with him two representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said they would not support any bill without that amendment.  [That implies that Stupak brought two bishops with him.  I don’t think he did.]

As Stupak later put it, "We want to send a message: If you start messing with abortion and health care, you’ve got a problem."

The meeting was a turning point. Pelosi allowed a vote on the amendment the next day. It passed.

Stance Criticized

Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro, a pro-choice Catholic, [No.  She is a pro-abortion Catholic, which is to say "pro-abortion ‘Catholic’".] says she was dismayed that the bishops seemed to be elevating abortion over every other issue, including the health care needs of the poor[She pits the bishops against the poor.  Does that sound even slightly plausible?  Perhaps DeLauro doesn’t have a clue for what she is talking about.  Or, if she does, then is she mendacious?]

"In their quest to push on the issue of abortion," she says, "they failed in the church’s mission. [And she is an expert on the Church’s mission, while the bishops are not?] They really act like a bunch of lawyers who are instructing members how to vote on arcane House rules." [And she is acting like a servant of Satan, abetting the killing of the innocent.  She is also giving public scandal to Catholics by her actions, which indicate that she sets her Catholic faith at lesse than her support of something that is objectively and intrinsically evil.]

DeLauro says the bishops are rejecting the tradition established by John F. Kennedy that Catholic politicians vote according to their conscience, not the dictates of Rome[Do you see anything wrong with this?  Let’s start with her premise: That what JFK did in Dallas during his election bid was acceptable.  In fact it was not.  But I guess in ancient Carthage there was also a traditional of sacrificing babies to Moloch…. so….]

"The activity that the Catholic bishops have engaged in implies that the church will determine and dictate public policy," DeLauro says.  [DeLauro is just plain dumb if she thinks this.  And if she doesn’t then she is being deceptive.  Does any serious person think that the Catholic bishops want to dictate public policy?  The want a voice in public policy to be sure.  But dictate?  DeLauro, you’re duplicity is showing!]

‘Moral Issue’

But John Myers, the archbishop of Newark, N.J., says bishops have every right to lobby Congress and influence laws.

"I don’t think it was improper because what we talked about is moral issues, and if anyone has the responsibility and the right to speak out on moral issues, it is religious leaders," Myers says. [Unless you are like pro-abortion Democrats like DeLauro, who believes that religious leaders should be seen and not heard, that they have fewer rights than the rest of Americans.  I wonder if she thinks it is okay for Catholic clergy to vote.  Someone should ask her.]

He says bishops are becoming more assertive because they feel the country is reaching a moral tipping point: Abortion remains legal, President Obama lifted a ban on stem cell research, and a few states are allowing same-sex marriage.

Watershed Moment

The bishops’ frustration seemed to boil over in May when the University of Notre Dame awarded an honorary degree to Obama, who supports abortion rights[No.  Pres. Obama does not "support" abortion rights.  He aggressively promotes abortion and would even withhold medical assistance to a child who survived an abortion so that he or she would die.]

Prominent church leaders criticized the university for the invitation. The local bishop, John D’Arcy, boycotted the event.

"Some would call that a betrayal of Catholic teaching and of the church to which Notre Dame is attached," he told a local radio station. "And I would agree with that."

Cardinal Francis George, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the invitation "an extreme embarrassment," while Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York said it was "a big mistake."

"I think the Obama visit to Notre Dame was a real watershed moment," says Father James Martin, an editor at the Catholic magazine America. "That really drove the bishops to distraction, [What a curious way to put that.  It is as if Martin is implying that they had a "hissy fit" or a "case of the vapors".] and I think that really prompted a lot of them to be more vocal than they would have been 20 to 30 years ago."

The Legacy Of John Paul II

Martin says the bishops are irked by the new political landscape. And there’s another factor: These bishops are part of the John Paul II generation, elevated in part because they shared the late pope’s conservative theology.

"I think what you’re seeing is people that are much more likely to be outspoken about social issues that they consider important to the Catholic Church," says Martin. " [And surely he is right.]  And you’re also seeing a new president who’s a Democrat and with whom many of these bishops disagree. So I think all these things are coming together to form a kind of perfect storm."

And now those bishops are flexing their [long atrophied] muscles. They told Catholics in Maine to vote against a law allowing same-sex marriage. It was overturned last month. In Washington, D.C., the archbishop announced that Catholic Charities may have to cancel contracts with the city to provide services to the poor if a similar law passes this month.

Holy Communion

And then there is the battle between Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., and his parishioner [his subject], Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy. Because of Kennedy’s support of abortion rights, Tobin suggested to him, privately, that he refrain from taking Holy Communion. After Kennedy made the exchange public, the bishop took to the airwaves. [I am glad that that was reported well.  At first this was all private.  Kennedy made it public.]

"The point is that for any Catholic in public office, his first commitment has to be to his faith," Tobin told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. "Not just for a Catholic, but for a member of any religious community. No commitment is more important than your commitment to your faith, because it involves your relationship with God."  [Do I hear an "Amen!"?]

George Weigel, a conservative Catholic analyst at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and author of several books about the popes, says it’s about time the bishops stood up and acted as "boundary guards" of Catholicism[That is actually a pretty good description.  There is a lot of room under the Catholic umbrella.  But at a certain point you stray from under its protection.]

"Bishop Tobin finally broke through this tribal reluctance to criticize the Kennedy family and said, ‘No. Excuse me, I’m the guy when it comes to defining Catholic identity in Rhode Island, not you.‘ "  [Do I hear an "Amen!"?]

But DeLauro says the bishops are using Holy Communion as a political weapon, and that makes her and her fellow Catholics on the Hill uncomfortable.  [I bet it does.  That is because she and her pro-abortion "Catholic" crowd are guilty of something terrible, and she knows it.]

"I think every Catholic member of this body who walks into a church to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist has at the back of their mind that they could be potentially denied," she says. ["At the back of their mind…".  Hey DeLauro!  That’s called your conscience.]

Now, Catholic senators will have to consider that issue as they vote on their version of health care overhaul. The bishops have sent a letter, saying they will oppose any bill that contains funding for abortion.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Someone should write this letter:

    “Dear Rep. DeLauro,

    Did you have a problem when Archbishop Rummel excommunicated 3 Catholic politicians for opposing school desegregation? Was he stepping over the line? Should he and other bishops have remained silent on school desegregation and other civil rights issues?

    Make a public statement denouncing what was done by bishops in the 1960’s, or shut the —- up.”

  2. irishgirl says:

    Does anyone else see this, or is it just me….whenever a woman gets elected into political office, the tone of her words gets real arrogant? I guess she wants to be ‘one of the boys’ and forget her manners!

    NPR always plays the liberal side of things, anyway….it is no friend of the Church, just as the rest of the MSM…sheesh….

  3. Randy says:

    Why does stripping abortion funding hurt the poor? Only if you believe abortion helps the poor. That kind of begs the question. If the bill goes forward without public funds for abortion then the bishops would likely support it. That would bug many Republican Catholics but when you get away from the life issues most bishops lean Democrat. Who’s fault is it that abortion and health care are bing lumped together?

  4. Agnes says:

    Margaret Sanger wanted to help the poor. The correct term isn’t pro-choice. It’s genocide of a particular underclass – the most vulnernable, the most voiceless of humanity. The Dems either can’t wrap their heads around this or have taken a malicious bent. Bravo to our Bishops for finally stepping up to the plate. We need you to guard your flock against the attacks of many well-dressed wolves!

  5. cregduff says:

    Let’s not forget, dear friends, that H.H. Pope Benedict also bears responsibility – and laudably so – for urging the Bishops back into the public square.
    Let’s recall what he was harkening during his April visit to the States last year. Leading by example, he was pretty clear in his address at the old Yankee Stadium (which, as far as the public square goes – doesn’t get any better).
    These are fruits of that visit, sown, watered and now taking deep root in the hearts of our bishops.
    I am offering prayers of thanksgiving for this positive development. I really think this may be the beginning of the pendulum beginning to swing back from it’s long swing, in one direction. Perhaps the Notre Dame scandal was the impetus that gave the critical mass necessary to change the public face of the dicussion in this country. But we need to see it’s origin in Benedict XVI’s holy wisdom. /Ed Casey

  6. EXCHIEF says:

    There is so very much wrong here and so much I am tempted to say…but I’ll confine it to this: so, JFK established a tradition that exceeds that of 2000+ years of Church history? I don’t think so.

  7. JMody says:

    She is acting like a servant of Satan … I think the only intellectually honest question here is her level of complicity, because intentional or not, she and her ilk DO serve Satan. Theirs is not the mere lack of opposition which would correspond to Pope St. Felix III’s admonition — “Not to oppose error is to approve it; and not to defend truth is to suppress it” — or Christ’s warning to the lukewarm. Rep. DeLauro and all her so-called-Catholic colleagues actively promote practices that even the pre-Imperial Romans suppressed when they encountered Moloch-worship in Palestine and North Africa. About the only difference is that they think they serve sexual liberty instead of a supernatural entity.

    Pray for them.

  8. catholicmidwest says:

    FrZ, above you have:
    “Pope Benedict XVI is known …playing out in U.S. politics today. [In the first sentence the writer brings in the theme of “politics”.] A generation …in the public square to push their views. [That is a fair statement, despite the use of “politics” in the first line.]

    The vast majority of people in the US (and probably also elsewhere, including a fair number of Catholics) can no longer distinguish between politics and morality. This situation has been developing for quite some time, and unfortunately is nearly complete now. This is why the teachings of the church almost always get codified as “power” or “politics.”

    Religion, particularly (but not only) in the US is understood popularly as an exertion of power. It’s unfortunate.

  9. JMody says:

    And when did George Weigel become “conservative”? But I digress …

  10. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Stupak brought with him two representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said they would not support any bill without that amendment. [That implies that Stupak brought two bishops with him. I don’t think he did.]

    I worked with several political advocates from the NCCB when I was in D.C. in the mid 90’s. I read the passage as saying there were two representatives from the organization, not bishops themselves.

    The NCCB Headquarters takes a lot of heat about their 300+ employees. While only a part of the operation, those advocates did a very good job. They were definitely worth the money.

  11. catholicmidwest says:

    The church, large and small, strives mightily to rephrase the equation in terms of love, but “love” is a word that has too many meanings, and due to the controversies over divorce, medical ethics, homosexuality and the like, that word (and notion) has also been widely reduced to “politics.”

    The church would do far better to find another way to explain that she is not *mostly* about power and politics. To be honest, even the church can be consumed by politics now and then, but anyone who knows scripture knows that politics is not her foundation and can never be.

    The history of preaching in the Catholic church says that new formulations for reaching people can be very effective. Without changing one iota of truth, the faith can be presented so that people are drawn more readily to her and understand her more clearly. It may be time for that. I propose that we endeavor to find a way to speak of Christianity whose language is not caught up in the language of politics.

    This new formulation may involve using one of the many meanings of love with more precise or meaningful nomenclature, or it may involve using one or more of the other properties of the faith–such as truth–which are intimately related to the power of love theologically.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

  12. catholicmidwest says:

    Perhaps it would also be fruitful to examine the Old Testament and the New, in order to understand precisely how governance external and internal to the “people of God” has worked with salvation history.

    This is a puzzle and there has to be a strategy for handling it.

    [PS, my comments in this thread go together and are a response to Fr Z’s original posting. I’m not disputing anything anyone else is saying.]

  13. catholicmidwest says:

    And of course, so as not to be misunderstood, I want to make it clear that this would not be a retreat. On the contrary, once some headway is made in the formulation, the “hot” issues could be explained in a way more understandable to peoples’ souls (their essential interests) and a huge logjam in comprehension might come about.

    This is what “dialogue,” a word so horribly overused and abused in some circles, is all about.

    My comments come from the belief that the Church is really beneficial to people at their deepest interests. I think a lot of people are just “stuck” on the words and other common tokens of meaning and can’t get any further the way things are.

  14. chironomo says:

    The left has a perspective that’s difficult to put a finger on, but can be best summarized as this:

    They see the situation as a threat to their political agenda as though Bishop Tobin is attempting to control the political actions of Rep. Kennedy by threatening “you vote the way the Church tells you to or else we will deny you communion“. That’s where the language about communion being a “weapon” comes from. They see the church trying to influence a morally neutral question: Abortion-Yes or No? Sure, pro-abortion groups also work to influence the agenda, but they don’t have as “powerful a weapon” as witholding communion (actually, they can vote or not vote for the politician…a much more powerful influence!) and so they see it as unfair or some kind of “abuse of power” by the church.

    They see the two sides of the question as neither right nor wrong from a moral point of view, because they have no moral point of view. To them, it is merely a matter of which is politically in agreement with their agenda.

    That’s why they believe they were consistent when supporting the Bishops in the 60’s who chastised anti-integration politicians. On that issue, the Bishops were in agreement with their agenda. That’s why the “support of the poor” thing keeps coming up. If the Bishops came out and supported Government Health Care, it would be fun to see if NPR would come out and criticize the Church’s “meddling in politics”.

  15. catholicmidwest says:

    PS, sorry, instead of “logjam” I mean “breaking of a logjam.” Posting in real time without the ability to fix typos is difficult. [You might have to “think before posting”?]

  16. Jaidon says:

    I think that perhaps the movement of the left has just gone so drastically out there by now that the bishops have no choice but to be more assertive, or rather merely seem more assertive by standing up for the natural law and the Faith, especially from the point of view of those who are always on “the cutting edge” so to speak.

  17. Girgadis says:

    Father, loathe as I am to disagree with you, I don’t think the pro-abortion Catholics know they are doing anything wrong. They would have to care, in the first place, whether or not they were in conformity with the Church, and they don’t. As was apparent at Ted Kennedy’s funeral and has been for decades, the Kennedys (some of them, at least), like the Kerrys, Pelosis and Bidens, are cultural Catholics who care most about what will garner votes. I have seen the dispute between Bishop Tobin and Patrick Kennedy completely propagandized both by detractors and ignorant Catholics alike. If Bishop Tobin told Kennedy he wanted him to introduce legislation on behalf of the church on a moral matter such as abortion or birth control or face excommunication, that could be problematic. We know that’s not what happened here and that the bishop was acting out of his obligation as a shepherd of souls to counsel a subject who had been corrected privately but refused to change his erroneous ways. People who know nothing about Catholicism have accused Bishop Tobin of using the Eucharist in the same way corrupt people use money to sway politicians. It’s painful to hear that sort of thing, but it’s necessary to hear it, imho, so that it can be countered with the truth.

    catholicmidwest, you hammered the nail on the head. People can’t distinguish between politics and morality and sadly, too many of them call themselves Catholics.

  18. Giradis: They know they are going against the teachings of the Church.

  19. Girgadis says:

    Father yes but my poorly-made point is that they don’t care and think they are above the authority of the Church on moral issues.

  20. Dave N. says:

    “These bishops are part of the John Paul II generation, elevated in part because they shared the late pope’s conservative theology.”

    This doesn’t seem historically accurate. I can easily think of several bishops (our friends Abp. Mahoney and Bp. Trautman just to name a couple) that don’t fit the bill.

  21. bookworm says:

    “If anyone has the responsibility and the right to speak out on moral issues, it is religious leaders,” Myers says.”

    Speaking of responsibilities and the right to speak out on moral issues… a document that should be required reading for ALL Catholics in public office is “The Obligations of Catholics and the Rights of Unborn Children,” Abp. Myers’ very first pastoral letter, written in 1990 when he was bishop of Peoria, Ill. It’s readily available online, just google the title, or search for “Bishop Myers abortion pastoral”.

    Its most often quoted line is “There is, and can be, no such thing as an authentic pro-choice Catholic.” It also addresses the issues of whether Catholics can ever rightfully vote for pro-choice candidates or approve less than ideal abortion laws, and under what circumstances (e.g. choosing the lesser of two evils).

  22. Dear Father: You are performing a tremendous service with the articles and your comments which you place on your site. Thank you! May I suggest the reasons the American bishops are gaining traction today are two-fold: they are the right men for the job, but, more importantly, they know they have the full support of the Pope. The late Cdl. O’Connor, in an ad limina visit to the Vatican, rose in response to criticism of the American bishops by John Paul II for “weakness” in an informal session, and stated that too many times bishops had been left “dangling in the wind” by the Vatican when they had spoken out on moral issues to their flocks. Cdl O’Boyle of D.C. comes to mind who suspended 50(?) priests who were preaching pro-contraception FROM THEIR PULPITS. They appealed to Rome and Paul VI, who could not stand confrontation, instead of supporting the Abp., tried to appear conciliatory. The parishioners, thinking the Cdl. had overreached, began to support the priests.

  23. William: Then think of what will happen when bishops will support their priests.

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