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Bishops to present concerns on abortion, other issues to politicians
Patricia Zapor
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Wednesday, November 12, 2008
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BALTIMORE (CNS)—With a new administration and a Democratic-dominated Congress about to take office, the U.S. bishops will spell out their concerns about policies and laws that might make abortion more readily available.
After a total of nearly three hours of discussion in public and private sessions Nov. 11 during their annual fall meeting, the bishops gave their president, Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, a set of concerns about abortion and other matters to raise in a public statement he will issue on their behalf. The statement was to be completed for final approval Nov. 12.
Key to their discussion was concern that they restate the church's opposition to abortion and interest in protecting unborn children, particularly focused on potential legislation and executive orders President-elect Barack Obama might issue to relax federal policies related to abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.
The bishops discussed the topic at length in executive session in the morning and came to their open afternoon session with a set of five lengthy points that the statement would include. Nevertheless, they spent another hour listening to various bishops making their cases to emphasize one angle or another.
The statement would be directed at Obama and his administration, but several bishops expressed concern that it be used as a teaching tool for all people.
The first point said the cardinal should draw on points he made in his presidential address to open the bishops' meeting in which he talked about the historic significance of the lection of the nation's first African-American president but also said that the common good can never be adequately obtained in any society that offers legal abortion.
The other four essential elements the bishops want reflected in the cardinal's statement are:
- That they wish to work with the new presidential administration, especially in areas such as economic justice, immigration reform, health care for the poor, education, religious freedom and work for peace.
- That the church is intent on opposing evil and the bishops are united in teaching and defending unborn children from the moment of conception. Their draft proposal emphasizes opposition to legislation known as the Freedom of Choice Act, a bill that has been perennially introduced in Congress but that has failed to advance out of committee. The most recent version of the bill seeks to override any state laws that might restrict abortion in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court. The high court's 1973 Roe decision legalized abortion virtually on demand.
As a candidate, Obama told a Planned Parenthood group that he would sign the Freedom of Choice Act.
- That the bishops recognize the presidential election was decided primarily on the basis of voters' concerns about the economy, that "even issues such as the Iraq War and universal health care, let alone abortion rights, were of secondary importance."
- That the bishops want to express their gratefulness for Catholics in political life who work to protect the life of the unborn and vulnerable and point to their desire that all Catholics in public life be fully committed to the common good.
During discussion on the proposed statement, several bishops said they want it to emphasize that, since voters had other primary concerns, Obama's election should not be taken as a mandate to proceed with abortion policies that many of those voters would oppose.
Some of the bishops seemed to prefer the statement take on other issues, such as how the church responds to Catholic politicians whose political actions seem to conflict with church teaching.
Bishop Joseph F. Martino of Scranton, Pa., said though he realized the statement would not address that topic, "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 noted that in ages past, U.S. bishops took canonical measures against Catholic politicians who supported institutional racism.
"We have to have something like that," he said. "I cannot have the vice president-elect (Joseph Biden) coming to Scranton (his childhood home) saying he learned his values there, when his values are utterly against the teachings of the Catholic Church."
Others encouraged narrowing the statement's focus, yet others wanted it expanded in various ways, including inserting quotes from Pope John Paul II.
For instance, Bishop John J. McRaith of Owensboro, Ky., suggested including protection of the unborn as one of the areas in which the bishops are seeking to collaborate with the administration, "rather than separating it out. If they choose to do so, fine. But let's presume they are willing to cooperate with us in all these areas."
Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., recommended emphasizing Obama's campaign call to personal responsibility.
"That was a message that resonated with the prominent Catholics who decided to support him and it may be the basis for seeking common ground," he said.
Some bishops recommended the statement specifically not take an attacking posture, instead seeking a "prophetic voice."
Bishop Donald W. Trautman, of Erie, Pa., said the tone should be "prophetic, challenging...strong, in the best biblical tradition"
Bishop Cupich said it's important that the statement be prophetic. "What we need is a prophecy of solidarity, speaking for those without a voice, for the community we serve and the nation we live in," he said. The statement, he said, should be perceived as coming from bishops who are acting "as caring teachers."
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, R.I., said toward the end of the discussion that if the statement were to include everything heard in that session, "you might as well just reprint 'Faithful Citizenship,'" the bishops' 2007 document on political responsibility.
He said instead the final version should be concise, taking a lesson from Obama's own successful campaign strategy, which focused narrowly on change and hope.

"That carried him to the presidency," Bishop Tobin said. The bishops need to find a similar succinct approach, he said, "less political, less politically correct and more prophetic. We need somehow to reclaim the prophetic voice on this issue.

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