Catholic Politicians v. Catholic Prelates

by Patrick J. Buchanan – November 24, 1998

No matter how devoutly Republican leaders may wish it were so, the issue of life is not going away. Last week, ever so gingerly, the U.S. Catholic hierarchy steered itself toward a direct, public confrontation with pro-choice Catholic political leaders.

By 217-30, the bishops conference issued “Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics.” “As chief teachers in the church,” they declared, “we must … explain, persuade, correct and admonish those in leadership positions who contradict the gospel of life through their actions and policies.”

“(N)o appeal to … majority will or pluralism ever excuses a public official from defending life to the greatest extent possible,” said the bishops. Neither court decisions nor democratic votes can alter truth. Moreover, being right on other issues does not justify a “wrong choice” on abortion.

The old seamless-garment argument, whereby pro-choice Catholics insisted that abortion was just one of a host of social- justice issues, has just been shredded. Now, life — no abortions, no euthanasia, no assisted suicide — is the paramount Catholic issue.

The bishops’ original draft, however, was tougher. It read: “Catholic public officials who disregard church teaching on the dignity of the human person indirectly collude in the taking of human life. In doing so, they jeopardize their own salvation, erode the community of faith and give scandal to the faithful.” That last sentence was dropped at the insistence, says a source, of two cardinals who did not want to confront their famous Catholic politicians.

With 35 million unborn babies destroyed since Roe vs. Wade, and two states in 1998 rejecting even a ban on the act of infanticide called partial-birth abortion, many might say of the bishops’ call, “About time!” Moral authority, after all, like muscle tissue, atrophies when not exercised, and surely, that has been happening to the church.

But better late then never, though some bishops fretted, and others felt compelled to reassure the press that no pro-choice Catholic would be denied the sacraments. “We run the risk of creating another anti-Catholic backlash,” warns Albany, N.Y.’s Howard Hubbard.

But so what? Like Supreme Court justices, bishops have life tenure and job security; they are not term-limited. What do they have to worry about? And how can the bishops continue to indulge pro- abortion Catholics now attacking pro-life opponents, who echo the Holy Father, as “extremists”?

If preaching Catholic truths to a hedonistic society that does not want to hear them reaps a few nasty editorials, doesn’t that go with the franchise? Surely, it is a tiny price compared to what Catholics are paying to uphold the faith in Indonesia, China and Sudan.

The day the conference closed, Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., applied the gospel of life by telling the popular Republican governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, who is pro-choice, to no longer appear at Catholic events in his Erie diocese.

Ridge agreed, saying that while he is “personally opposed” to abortion, he still supports a woman’s right to choose.

It will be interesting to see if the cardinals and bishops of Boston, New York, Baltimore and Chicago adopt the unpopular but courageous stand Bishop Trautman did when next they meet their pro-choice Catholic governors, senators and congressmen.

Sources say that high among the reasons the U.S. bishops are moving toward confrontation is that, on their episcopal visits with John Paul II, they have been sharply admonished to speak out by a pope frustrated by the timidity of his American prelates.

Yet another sign of Vatican resolve, perhaps even of a papal willingness to accept a schism among American Catholics, may be seen in Rome’s choice of a new president of Catholic University.

Rev. David M. O’Connell was installed last week as Catholic University’s 14th president, and the former academic dean at St. John’s in New York immediately warned that no campus activities would be tolerated that legitimized the homosexual lifestyle.

“I want the university to be faithful to the church,” said Fr. O’Connell. “I want it to be unambiguously so.”

“I know not everyone will agree with that,” he cheerfully added. Those who dissent can go someplace else.

On his arrival on campus, the Vincentian priest spotted a sign that dissented from church teaching against the ordination of women. Fr. O’Connell happily ripped it down. Looks like a good old- fashioned Catholic brawl may be headed our way.