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Babette Francis

Reports of the annual  fall (autumn)  meeting  of the United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops read  like a post mortem on the US elections;  there are lessons  here for  Australia.   Meeting in Baltimore   a week after the  majority of Catholics  voted for pro-abortion Barack Obama, the bishops focussed  intently on   the issue of abortion.

In the  opening address, Cardinal Francis George,  Archbishop of Chicago and president, 
USCCB,  acknowledged the symbolic importance of the election of an African-American
president, but  placed it in the context of the abortion debate that has raged in the US for more than a generation.

He said  racial and economic justice are pillars of our social doctrine in working for the
common good of our society,  but the common good "can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice," he continued, to
resounding applause from his brother bishops.

"If the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision that African-Americans were other people's
property and somehow less than persons were still settled constitutional law, Mr. Obama
would not be president of the United States. Today, as was the case 150 years ago, common
ground cannot be found by destroying the common good."

Catholic League president Bill Donohue commented: "More bishops spoke up this past election season about the horrors of abortion than ever before. Predictably, they were hammered not only by those who are squarely in the pro-abortion camp, but also by apologists for abortion who ascribe to a ‘common ground’ approach: This group is comprised of men and women who feign an interest in pro-life issues, but who nonetheless work tirelessly for pro-abortion politicians. It is not certain whom they have fooled.

“Among those not fooled is Cardinal George. Nowhere in his magnificent address did he cite the need for an increase in the minimum wage or the welfare budget as an adequate response to ending abortion. Indeed, he picked up on the ‘common ground’ lingo only to say that the ‘common ground cannot be found by destroying the common good.’

“No one is against social and economic measures that might reduce the likelihood of abortion. But no one who is seriously interested in putting an end to killing in the womb would ever suggest that such policies are sufficient. That is why Cardinal George’s statement today is so important".

Among the bishops who made strong pro-life statements was Bishop Bruskevitz of Nebraska who said there could be no compromise on "Vile Intrinsic Evil Such as Abortion"

Bishop Joseph F. Martino of Scranton, PA tackled the problem of pro-abortion Catholic
politicians head-on. "We are going to have to speak as firmly as possible to Catholic politicians who are not merely reluctant to vote pro-life, but are stridently anti-life," he said.

He also spoke of "canonical measures" such as excommunication, noting, "We have to have something like that. I cannot have the Vice President-elect [Biden]  coming to Scranton saying he learned his values there, when his values, at least in the area of abortion, are utterly against the teachings of the Catholic Church."

Bishop Robert Conlon of Steubenville, Ohio agreed. "Some people may think it's time for a truce, but we're dealing with a moral absolute. There's nothing here that allows for common ground. We're talking about a human being whose life cannot be compromised."

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Hermann observed that the bishops should not be afraid of mere
criticism for defending Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life, when any of them would be
willing to give up their life to end abortion. "Any bishop here would be willing, would
consider it a privilege, to die tomorrow if it meant ending abortion,” he said. “We should
dedicate the rest of our lives to taking any kind of criticism, whatever it is, to stop this horrible genocide."

Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago said that were Catholic hospitals forced to
participate in abortion they would be closed down. "It could mean discontinuing obstetrics in our hospitals, and we may need to consider taking the drastic step of closing our catholic
hospitals entirely.  It would not be sufficient to withdraw our sponsorship or to sell them to
someone who would perform abortions. That would be a morally unacceptable cooperation in evil. I do not think I'm being alarmist in considering such drastic steps.  We need to respond in a morally appropriate, responsible fashion."

Philip  Lawler,  author of "The Faithful Departed: The collapse of Boston's Catholic
  analysed some of the differences between the bishops' statements prior to the
election, which may have been responsible for the Catholic vote going to Obama.  Lawler asks:

"Is it reasonable to think that in one American diocese it would be morally justifiable for a
voter to cast his ballot for Barack Obama  but for a Catholic voter in another diocese the same vote would be sinful?  Is it possible that the moral principles which should guide Catholic voters differ from state to state and diocese to diocese?

"Of course not.  Local issues may differ from state to state and town to town. But a
presidential race involves nationwide issues. Particularly this year, when the key questions
confronting Catholic voters are issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and stem-cell
research, a voter's moral bearings are not altered by his geographical location. If it is immoral to vote for Obama (or McCain, for that matter) in Florida, it is immoral to vote for him in Oregon.

"Yet in the past few weeks, different American bishops have issued radically different
statements on the moral responsibilities of Catholic voters. Some bishops have instructed
Catholics to consider abortion as the most important moral issue in this year's campaign; others have said, just as clearly, that abortion must be seen as one among many issues.

"Like the rest of us, bishops can be caught up in the intense passions of a hard-fought electoral contest. Like the rest of us, they have their own political preferences, tugging in one direction or another; they have their own friends among the political candidates and their supporters. Bishops are not infallible in their political judgments; their public statements may be inaccurate, illogical, or prone to misinterpretation.

"Nevertheless, even when those human factors are taken into account, this campaign season has been an unusually confusing one, for anyone who looks to the American hierarchy for moral guidance. Just in the past two days, Catholic World News has carried News Briefs in which two American bishops pointed in opposite directions:

"In South Dakota, Bishop Blaise Cupich warned voters against racism. 'Voting for a candidate solely because of that candidate’s support for abortion or against him or her solely on the basis of his or her race is to promote an intrinsic evil,' Bishop Cupich said. Thus he put  racism, which has not been a major issue in this year's campaign, on the same level as abortion, which has. His warning could only work to the advantage of a candidate who is a member of a racial minority-- that is, Obama, who is also the candidate most thoroughly committed to legal abortion on demand. In Texas, on the other hand, Bishop Rene Gracida stated unequivocally that a Catholic cannot in good conscience vote for Obama. But if a vote against Obama is morally suspect in South Dakota, and morally obligatory in Texas, where does that leave a voter in, say, Kansas?

"The contrasting statements by American bishops has produced a striking contrast in the state of Arizona, where Bishop Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix has produced a hard-hitting booklet entitled Catholics in the Public Square, arguing that abortion is the paramount issue in this campaign, and distributed over 100,000 copies to parishioners in his diocese. In neighbouring Tucson, Bishop Gerald Kicanas has not given permission for pro-life activists to hand out Bishop Olmsted's booklet in parishes......

"Much of the confusion about the American bishops' statement can be traced to "Faithful
a document released by the USCCB. That document has been used as the basis
for starkly contrasting approaches to the moral issues of this year's campaign. Some bishops
claim that Faithful Citizenship instructs Catholic voters to give primacy to the issue of
abortion; other bishops say that the same document obliges voters to consider a wide range of other issues.  Indeed it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the statement was deliberately
designed to allow such different interpretations.....

"Has any American bishop actually repudiated Faithful Citizenship? Not quite. But in
Scranton, Pennsylvania, Bishop Joseph Martino came closest, criticizing the organizers of a
parish forum for their reliance on the USCCB document rather than his own uncompromising
pastoral letter on the moral duties of Catholic voters. 'No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese'.   Bishop Martino said.....

"The US bishops' conference has no teaching authority, except insofar as it speaks for all the individual bishops. When individual bishops issue conflicting statements, a compromise
document from the USCCB only aggravates the ensuing confusion.

"The question confronting Catholic voters is a simple one, and admits a simple answer. Is it, or is it now, morally permissible to vote for a candidate who favors the unrestricted legal
slaughter of unborn children? You may question Bishop Gracida's prudence if you like, but at least he has responded to that question with a clear, simple answer."

More complimentary towards the bishops was  Father Euteneuer, President, Human Life
International, who  mentioned the "strong pro-life stances" of Archbishop Raymond Burke, head of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature; Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver; Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon; Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas; Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth, Texas; Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, Pennsylvania; and Bishop William Malooly of Wilmington, Delaware.

He said they are "representatives of a group of other bishops who have made their voices
heard forcefully on the Catholic voting issue..... The wind of courage is not just blowing in the United States", continued Father Euteneuer pointing to statements made by bishops in Canada, Kenya and the Philippines as signs that prelates around the world are "applying their authority in an astonishing fashion."

Presidential candidate John McCain won the Catholic vote in two states where prelates made particularly vigorous efforts to increase awareness of Sen. Barack Obama’s position on abortion. While the president-elect, according to exit polling data, won the Catholic vote by a 54-44% margin nationwide-- slightly higher than the overall nationwide 52-46% tally-- Sen. McCain won the Catholic vote in Missouri and Pennsylvania.   Catholics in  Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, and California were  also less likely than Catholics in 2004 to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate.

A positive initiative from the USCCB meeting was a  new document that provides blessings for unborn children.  Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville called the blessing "a very tangible way to witness pastorally and sacramentally to the life of the unborn child.” He presented the blessing as a way for churches to bless the unborn children of expecting couples or mothers and to provide spiritual support for the baby. The new “Order for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb" will be available to Catholic leaders in English and Spanish and will appear in future editions of the church’s Book of Blessings. “May Almighty God, who has created new life now bless the child in your womb, the Lord has brought you the joy of motherhood: may He now bless you with a safe and healthy pregnancy. You thank the Lord today for the gift of your child: may He bring you and your child one day to share in the unending joys of heaven."

This blessing could not have come at a better time.  The election of Barack Obama sets the
stage for a series of potential executive and congressional acts that could remove all the 
restrictions achieved on abortion since the Roe v. Wade decision. The most pernicious of these is the "Freedom of Choice Act,"  (FOCA) which Obama has promised will be the first bill he signs into law as president.

It is estimated that FOCA alone would result in 125,000 more abortions a year in the  US.  That figure does not take into account other measures, such as Obama's pledge not to
renew the Mexico City Policy and to repeal the Hyde amendment. As a result of Obama's
victory, there will not only be hundreds of thousands of additional abortions, but American
taxpayers will be paying for them.

Another positive outcome of the bishops meeting was the decision to  cut off all funding for a group embroiled in controversy over claims of voter registration fraud and embezzlement.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which supports anti-poverty and social
justice programs nationwide, will no longer make grants to the Association of Community
Organizations for Reform Now,

At the end of the USCCB meeting, Cardinal Francis George warned the Obama
Administration, on behalf of all the US bishops, that "aggressive pro-abortion policies,
legislation and executive orders will permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans, and would be seen by many as an attack on the free exercise of their religion."

While the  statement  "written at the request and direction of all the Bishops,"    begins on a
conciliatory note,  most of it is directed at the issue of the rights of the unborn. "The
bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States welcome this moment of historic transition and look forward to working with President-elect Obama and the members of the new Congress for the common good of all."  The statement notes  that the 1973 Roe v Wade decision was "bad law" and that   FOCA which Obama has promised to sign is even "more radical."

  "....... The fundamental good is life itself, a gift from God and our parents. A good state
protects the lives of all. Legal protection for those members of the human family waiting to be born in this country was removed when the Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade in 1973. This was bad law. The danger the Bishops see at this moment is that a bad court decision will be enshrined in bad legislation that is more radical than the 1973 Supreme Court decision itself.

"In the last Congress, FOCA  was introduced that would, if brought forward in the same form today, outlaw any "interference" in providing abortion at will. It would deprive the American people in all fifty states of the freedom they now have to enact modest restraints and regulations on the abortion industry. FOCA would coerce all Americans into subsidizing and promoting abortion with their tax dollars. It would counteract any and all sincere efforts by government and others of good will to reduce the number of abortions in our country.

"Parental notification and informed consent precautions would be outlawed, as would be
laws banning procedures such as partial-birth abortion and protecting infants born alive after a failed abortion. Abortion clinics would be deregulated. The Hyde Amendment restricting the federal funding of abortions would be abrogated. FOCA would have lethal consequences for prenatal human life.

"FOCA would have an equally destructive effect on the freedom of conscience of doctors,
nurses and health care workers whose personal convictions do not permit them to cooperate in the private killing of unborn children. It would threaten Catholic health care institutions and Catholic Charities. It would be an evil law that would further divide our country, and the
Church should be intent on opposing evil.

"On this issue, the legal protection of the unborn, the bishops are of one mind with Catholics and others of good will. They are also pastors who have listened to women whose lives have been diminished because they believed they had no choice but to abort a baby. Abortion is a medical procedure that kills, and the psychological and spiritual consequences are written in the sorrow and depression of many women and men. The bishops are single-minded because they are, first of all, single-hearted.

"The recent election was principally decided out of concern for the economy, for the loss of jobs and homes and financial security for families, here and around the world. If the election is misinterpreted ideologically as a referendum on abortion, the unity desired by President-elect Obama and all Americans at this moment of crisis will be impossible to achieve. Abortion kills not only unborn children; it destroys constitutional order and the common good, which is assured only when the life of every human being is legally protected. Aggressively pro-abortion policies, legislation and executive orders will permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans, and would be seen by many as an attack on the free exercise of their religion.....

Cardinal George quoted Psalm 127, vs. l:  "If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labour; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil."



Member Organisation, World Council for Life and Family

NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the UN