by Andy Kirchoff
It’s been a tumultuous 3 years for the U.S. Catholic Bishops. The Obama Administration’s HHS mandate caught even the most liberal Catholic by surprise, and the economic recession has forced many a Diocese to either close or consolidate many parishes and schools. At the administrative level, the Bishops’ Conference is undergoing a period of “generational shift”: as many elderly Bishops retire, Pope Benedict XVI has often assigned young, conservative-leaning Priests to take their place. Many prominent laity have quietly retired from influential positions in the USCCB’s lobbying arm (the retirement of 30-year USCCB lobbying veteran John Carr being the most recent example), leaving a void that only the new “John Paul II” generation of Catholics seems eager to fill. Demographic shifts among the laity, largely due to immigration, continue to transform parishes and schools from “close-knit” mono-cultural institutions into multi-ethnic communities.
Needless to say, these changes are having profound impacts on the Bishops’ political advocacy. It has left them open to charges of “Republican partisanship” because of their strong pro-life advocacy and their admirable defense of their religious freedom, even as their lobbying efforts include promoting issues such as immigration reform, environmental sustainability, and other causes more often associated with political liberalism.
Additionally, for some Catholics, the Bishops’ efforts to be pro-life without being partisan aren’t enough. A petition to “stop the scandal” of Obama’s appearance at the Catholic Charities annual Al Smith Dinner has been making the rounds among conservative pro-life Catholics, despite Cardinal Dolan’s insistence that his decision to host the dinner doesn’t amount to an endorsement. Likewise for liberal Catholics, opposing Paul Ryan’s budget plan isn’t enough; no, protests at Georgetown University and castigations of Ryan “the Ayn Rand worshipper” are the response the Bishops should take, as far as these “more Catholic than the Pope” types are concerned.
The reality that escapes both of these sects (and other rabble-rousing groups within the Church) is that the Bishops’ method of non-partisan advocacy is the correct course of action, from both a Catholic and a political point of view. Indeed, it is because of these lobbying methods that the USCCB commands bi-partisan respect on Capitol Hill. It’s also the reason why Obama’s HHS mandate is causing such angst among even the most liberal Bishops in the Conference today.
Catholics of all political persuasions would do well to support their Bishop’s recent advocacy campaigns, rather than whining that these efforts are somehow insufficient. As a Catholic who also happens to be a Republican, I applaud the Bishops’ method of utilizing their moral authority without descending into partisan politics. To quote my own Ordinary, Cardinal Francis George, “The Church cannot be seen as yet another political party, because it would lose its moral voice.”
Nowhere is the fruit of this strategy more apparent than in Arizona, where the Diocese has been careful to both praise Gov. Jan Brewer’s laudable pro-life/pro-religious liberty legislation as well as denouncing her trademark immigration legislation, sb1070.
Contrast the Diocese’s statement regarding HB2625…
“PHOENIX (May 11, 2012) — The Bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference are grateful that Governor Jan Brewer has signed HB 2625 into law.
HB 2625 will be very helpful in protecting religious liberty for religiously affiliated employers who have an objection to abortion inducing drugs and contraceptives.
This new law will not preempt the HHS contraceptive mandate, if it is upheld. However, if it is not, religious freedom in Arizona will be better protected.
We also want to especially thank the bill’s sponsor Representative Debbie Lesko, as well as Senator Nancy Barto, for their tremendous effort in shepherding HB 2625 through the legislative process and their unwavering support of religious liberty.”"
…with their reaction to today’s injunction regarding sb1070:
PHOENIX (Sept. 19, 2012) — Yesterday, in accordance with the earlier U.S. Supreme Court ruling on SB 1070, the injunction was lifted against the provision essentially requiring state and local officers to inquire about the immigration status of any person stopped, detained, or arrested, if there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is not lawfully present in the United States.
With SB 1070 now in effect, it is imperative that racial profiling does not occur in its implementation. In particular, the Arizona Catholic Bishops are sympathetic to the difficult situation facing police officers throughout Arizona who will face intense scrutiny while trying to properly implement this new law without unjust discrimination.
As we noted in our earlier statements, this provision of law does not fix the broken federal immigration policy in our country, but has the possibility of heightening fear in the immigrant community, sowing seeds of distrust, and separating families.
Accordingly, the Arizona Bishops will continue to work with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in advocating for comprehensive immigration policy reform that will address needed border security, provide legal avenues for workers to assist employers in our country, and to resolve the legal status of nearly 12 million hard working people who now live in the shadows.”
These are very different reactions to very different pieces of legislation, but that doesn’t mean the Bishops are “showing weakness” or are “politically schizophrenic.” It’s an acknowledgement that morality transcends political partisanship. In a hyper-charged political environment, that’s a message that desperately needs to be heard, and one that all Americans – and indeed, all people – will benefit from.
So, fellow conservative Catholics: How about a prayer of thanksgiving for the Bishops, instead of a whining session? I guarantee you that Obama – who only reluctantly accepted Cardinal Dolan’s offer to pray at the DNC in Charlotte – fears the former more than the latter.