Catholic progressives are used to feeling the heat from some bishops who give the impression that abortion is the only life issue. It’s not every day that you hear a Catholic bishop directly challenge self-identified “pro-life” groups for their selective moralizing and crass tactics. Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg – a moderate who has also questioned religious leaders’ apocalyptic denunciations of the Obama administration’s contraception coverage requirements as part of the Affordable Care Act – jumps into the fray on his blog:
I am convinced that many so called pro-life groups are not really pro-life but merely anti-abortion…We heard nothing from the heavy hitters in the prolife movement in the last week when Florida last night executed a man on death row for 34 years having been diagnosed as a severe schizophrenic
Many priests grow weary of continual calls to action for legislative support for abortion and contraception related issues but nothing for immigration reform, food aid, and capital punishment. And, this is a big one, priests don’t like unfair attacks on things they highly value and esteem, like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services.
Bishop Lynch is responding to trends I wrote about recently in a new report that uncovers how pro-life groups like the American Life League are waging a relentless campaign to undermine the church’s most respected social justice ministries. He doesn’t beat around the bush:
From time to time, I suspect when these organizations need money, they try to stir up a hornet’s nest or storm by attacking a Catholic organization, usually falsely accusing them of being anti-life, pro-contraception, either pro or soft on abortion, etc. The storms start small enough and then occasionally grow in size. It’s simply a money raising scheme with little regard for the human lives which they allege they seek to protect – well maybe it is only pre-born human life in which they are interested.
It’s refreshing to hear a bishop stand up for the church’s consistent ethic of life tradition in a way that puts public pressure on conservatives who usually receive a free pass from the hierarchy.
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More than a few Catholic bishops spent this election feverishly warning their flock that voting for Barack Obama put their souls at risk and posed a grave threat to religious liberty. Now that the president has been re-elected with a majority of Catholic voters, leaders of our nation’s most influential church have some self-reflection to do at their national meeting in Baltimore this week…
Catholic bishops have every right to oppose birth control and same-sex civil marriage, even as research shows a majority of Catholics support both, and a recent study in St. Louis found greater access to contraception significantly lowered abortion rates. The real challenge for bishops today is a growing perception that they are simply cheerleaders for the Republican Party. In fact, Catholic social teaching has long put economic justice, respect for immigrants, universal health care, environmental stewardship and labor rights at the center of its tradition. The Vatican’s call for sensible regulations of global financial markets and stark warnings about climate change are to the left of many Democratic leaders. Catholicism is not a single-issue religion, and the church’s “consistent ethic of life” framework has long recognized that being “pro-life” must include defending the sanctity of life outside the womb.
In recent years, a vocal minority of conservative bishops have drifted from this proud tradition. Bishops launched a “religious freedom” campaign this summer, led by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, largely aimed at the Obama administration’s requirement that most employers must offer contraception coverage to women at no cost under the health care reform law. Catholic churches are exempt. Catholic hospitals and universities, which in some states already provided birth control coverage to their employees with little controversy, do not have to pay for coverage under an accommodation that requires the insurance company to pick up with tab. While reasonable people disagree over this policy, and details must still be worked out for some Catholic institutions that self-insure, the apocalyptic rhetoric of some church leaders suggests that President Obama is waging a war on the Catholic Church — a theme adopted in Mitt Romney’s campaign ads.
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Analysis of religious voters in last night’s elections presents a complex picture of the role of faith in politics in 2012. Below are key findings from national exit polls and exit polls in key states, followed by religious context affecting the election.
President Obama won the Catholic vote by a 2-point margin, 50%-48%. This victory lags behind his 54%-45% advantage among Catholics in 2008 but precisely mirrors the president’s overall 2012 margin of victory. Mitt Romney won white Catholics by a 19-point margin, 59%-40%, an improvement on John McCain’s 52%-47% advantage in 2008. Those who attend religious services weekly or more often favored Romney by a 15-point margin, 57%-42%. Those who attend less often favored President Obama 56%-42%, nearly identical to his 57%-42% advantage among these voters in 2008. Twenty-five percent of 2012 voters were Catholics, and 27% of voters in 2008 were Catholics. Catholics have sided with the winner of the popular vote in every presidential election since 1972.
Nationwide, white evangelical voters favored Romney by a 57-point margin, 78%-21%, a 4-point improvement upon John McCain’s 74%-24% advantage in 2008. However, this change mirrors President Obama’s decreased support among white voters overall.
White evangelical voters comprised 26% of the electorate this year, an identical share to 2008 despite a massive, well-publicized effort by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition to turn out conservative evangelicals in record numbers.
OHIO — In the most heavily contested state, President Obama improved upon his 2008 performance among white evangelicals. In 2008, white evangelicals favored John McCain by a 71%-27% margin. Last night they favored Romney by a smaller margin, 70%-29%. These results are particularly noteworthy because Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition focused heavily on Ohio. Reed did not deliver the results he predicted in the most crucial state for Republicans. Thirty-one percent of Ohio voters this year were white evangelicals, as compared with 30% in 2008. In 2008, the President lost Ohio Catholics, 52%-47%. This year, he lost them by a 54%-44% margin.
COLORADO — Colorado white evangelicals’ candidate preferences (77% for Romney, 22% for President Obama) aligned closely with white evangelicals nationwide, a small change from McCain’s 76%-23% advantage and less of a swing than the white vote overall. White evangelicals made up 25 percent of the state’s electorate in 2012, compared to 21 percent in 2008.
VIRGINIA — White evangelicals favored Mitt Romney over President Obama by a margin of 82% to 18%, compared to John McCain’ 79%-20% advantage in 2008. White evangelicals comprised a declining share of the state’s electorate, decreasing from 28% in 2008 to 23% in 2012.
Last night three states passed ballot initiatives in favor of same-sex marriage, and a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage was defeated in Minnesota. Religious crosstabs are not yet available. Support for same-sex marriage has increased among every religious demographic in recent years, but before last night opponents had won all 32 state-level ballot question on the issue. Supporters of marriage for same-sex couples conducted extensive outreach and messaging to the faith community, and religious opponents also invested heavily into these campaigns.
In Florida and California, faith-based community organizing groups mounted victorious campaigns against anti-tax ballot initiatives. PICO National network affiliates helped advance sound fiscal policies that reject austerity and ask the wealthy to pay their fair share. In Florida, voters resoundingly rejected by a 58% to 42% margin Question 3, a constitutional amendment that would have decimated public education and social services in the state. And in California by a 54% to 46% margin, voters approved Prop 30, which will raise an estimated $6 billion in revenue for schools and social services in the state through a tax increase on people earning over $250,000 and a small temporary increase in the sales tax. The clergy and congregations of PICO organizations played key roles in these fights, contacting over 1.6 million voters.
With unemployment hovering near 8%, the political environment was much more challenging for President Obama than in 2008. While his share of key religious demographics declined, his overall margin of victory was also smaller. He also faced highly organized conservative religious opposition.
The battle for the Catholic vote was particularly fierce, and the slim margin of victory Obama achieved with Catholics reflect that sharp division. “A diverse coalition of social justice Catholics, especially Latinos, helped tip the scales this year,” said John Gehring, Catholic Program Director at Faith in Public Life. “While bishops doubled down against same sex marriage and demonized President Obama as an enemy of religious liberty, they were clearly out of touch with many Catholics. If the GOP has some reflecting to do about its inability to reach an increasingly multicultural country, Catholic leaders could benefit from similar soul searching when it comes to their own diverse flock.”
U.S. Catholic bishops mounted a highly politicized confrontation with the Obama administration over contraception coverage and religious liberty. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched a nationwide, two-week “religious freedom” campaign over the summer that made national headlines as part of their fight against the Obama administration’s contraception coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act. In Kansas, the state’s Catholic bishops sponsored a rally at the state capitol that featured Republican Governor Sam Brownback. Shortly before the election, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, IL, and Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, IL, issued statements implying that voting for Democrats put Catholics’ salvation at risk.
However, other Catholic leaders declined to take part in the bishops’ offensive and mobilized around economic issues. Catholic nuns responded strongly to Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s erroneous claim that his federal budget plan — which includes steep cuts to programs for the poor such as Medicaid and food stamps, as well as tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans — was consistent with Catholic social teaching.
NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice group led by Sister Simone Campbell, organized “Nuns on the Bus”, a nine-state tour through Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states highlighting the work of Catholic-sponsored social service agencies that serve those on the economic margins and stand to be harmed by Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal.
With tremendous grassroots support and media attention across America (and additional tours in the following months through Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, Virginia, New York and Michigan), “Nuns on the Bus” successfully reaffirmed the unique contribution of women religious to America’s social fabric and refocused the public debate on the critical moral choices facing voters in November’s presidential election and beyond. These efforts highlighted the religious aspect of the economic and fiscal debates that dominated the Presidential campaigns.
On the Religious Right, Ralph Reed boasted that his Faith and Freedom Coalition would register and turn out record numbers of socially conservative Christians on election, turning the tide for Mitt Romney. While his efforts received copious media attention, evidence of results are lacking. White evangelicals’ share of the electorate was identical to 2008, and their movement toward Romney mirrored that of white voters as a whole.
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This week, over 18,000 Faithful America members signed a petition asking USCCB President Cardinal Timothy Dolan to turn down an invitation to appear at the Values Voters Summit — the annual gathering of Religious Right figures and right-wing politicians. The signees were particularly concerned that in this election year, Dolan’s appearance would amount to an implicit endorsement of Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan at what essentially will be a Republican campaign event.
Today, the Archdiocese of New York confirmed to Bold Faith Type that Cardinal Dolan will not be attending the Summit. Archdiocese spokesman Joe Zwilling said the Cardinal’s office did not even receive an invitation as far as they could tell, but that His Eminence would not be going either way.
Unfortunately, Dolan appears to be turning down a pseudo-partisan electoral event for the real thing, agreeing to give the closing Benediction just after Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention next week.
Dolan’s office is attempting to qualify his appearance as “not an endorsement” but simply a “priest at prayer.” Unfortunately, at a time when the Cardinal has presided over a highly-politicized national campaign against the current administration, called VP candidate Paul Ryan a “great public servant” who he is “anxious to see…in action,” and walked back his own conference’s criticism of the Catholic congressman’s draconian budget plan, Dolan doesn’t need an official endorsement to send a loud and clear message.
This hyper-partisanship represents a real split from the recent approach of the Catholic Church in America, which has taken pains to stay above party politics. Past leaders have recognized that Catholics fall across the entire political spectrum and direct engagement with electoral efforts of any one party runs the risk of alienating millions of adherents who identify with the other.
Dolan’s decision to do exactly that, at a time when Americans and Catholics are more deeply politically polarized than ever, exemplifies just how far the American bishops have gone in uniting church hierarchy with Republican politics.
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Analyzing the Catholic dimensions of the 2012 Presidential race now that Paul Ryan has joined the Republican ticket, Catholic conservative Deal Hudson attempts to minimize the critique of Ryan’s budget plan levied by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Hudson decries that media who covered the critical letters from the USCCB failed to note that they came from only two bishops, suggesting that their concerns only represent some bishops, not all.
That’s the same defense Ryan employed when questioned about the bishops’ rebuke earlier this year. Unfortunately for both Ryan and Hudson, the conference definitively shot down their excuse.
Responding to reporters who inquired about Ryan’s apparent discrepancy in understanding, the USCCB said:
“Bishops who chair USCCB committees are elected by their fellow bishops to represent all of the U.S. bishops on key issues at the national level. The letters on the budget were written by bishops serving in this capacity.”
While there might be individual bishops who disagree with these committees’ criticisms of the Ryan budget, they (and Hudson and Ryan) do so as dissenters from the official position of the U.S. Catholic Church.
Photo from the National Catholic Reporter
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