US Bishops' Roman Connection: Politics with a Rightward Slant
Enda, Jodi, Conscience
OSTENSIBLY NEUTRAL WHEN IT COMES TO PARTISAN POLITICS, THE UNITED STATES Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has made a stronger-than-usual case this election year for conservative cultural issues favored by Republicans while downplaying more progressive social justice issues supported by Democrats. The palpable shift comes with a nod from the Vatican, as Pope Benedict XVI continues to appoint conservative bishops and to move some of the most outspoken conservative American church leaders to Rome.
Although the Vatican remains faithful to its longstanding positions on poverty, immigration and capital punishment, its messages on those issues have been diminished in the US by the bishops' intense focus on abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage. Combined with investigations of nuns and even the Girl Scouts, the bishops' emphasis on sexual behavior and reproductive rights has accentuated the notion that the church--along with the Republican Party--is engaged in a war on women.
"I think there's been a gradual, but constant, shift to the right, and the bishops have taken every opportunity to use the political process to shore up some influence in the culture, having lost so much of it in the ecclesiastical realm," said Mary E. Hunt, a feminist theologian and co-director of the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual, or WATER. This year, she noted, bishops have spoken out against same-sex marriage in states facing referendums, in addition to opposing the implementation of President Obama's signature healthcare overhaul, which requires employee insurance plans to cover preventive medications, including birth control.
"They've staked their claims on those two issues in this cycle," she said. "I think it's both because of ideology and because of this effort to make up for the lost terrain they have squandered over the sexual abuse stuff."
The result, Hunt said, is that "they are running roughshod over women's agency."
While bishops are not supposed to endorse specific candidates, a number of them have made it clear that Catholics have a moral choice to make at the polls. And the issues they choose to highlight--again, abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage--leave Catholic voters with just one choice: Republicans.
In late September, for instance, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, used his column in the Catholic Times to point out that planks in the Democratic Party platform backing abortion rights and same-sex marriage "explicitly endorse intrinsic evils."
"My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote," Bishop Paprocki wrote. "But I do have a duty to speak out on moral issues. I would be abdicating this duty if I remained silent out of fear of sounding 'political' and didn't say anything about the morality of these issues. People of faith object to these platform positions that promote serious sins. I know that the Democratic Party's official 'unequivocal' support for abortion is deeply troubling to prolife Democrats."
As for the Republican Party platform, the bishop wrote that "there is nothing in it that supports or promotes an intrinsic evil or a serious sin."
When the National Catholic Reporter asked Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia whether a Catholic "in good faith" could vote for President Obama, he responded: "I can only speak in terms of my own personal views. I certainly can't vote for somebody who's either prochoice or proabortion.
"I'm not a Republican and I'm not a Democrat," the archbishop continued. "I'm registered as an independent, because I don't think the church should be identified with one party or another. As an individual and voter I have deep personal concerns about any party that supports changing the definition of marriage, supports abortion in all circumstances, wants to restrict the traditional understanding of religious freedom. …