Bishops and the Politicians: A Bad Mix

National Catholic Reporter, August 11, 2000 | Go to article overview

Bishops and the Politicians: A Bad Mix


The recent claims by powerful Catholic Republicans that their party best represents the church's views should come as no surprise. Such claims (see story,) are a sad, if predictable, end to the kind of political manipulation some of the nation's bishops have accommodated, if not encouraged, during the past 20 years.

If, as a group, the bishops now find themselves squirming uncomfortably, they have only themselves to blame.

We're talking, of course, as we do every presidential season, of how, during the last two decades, many U.S. bishops have aligned themselves with a narrow band on the political spectrum -- those forces seeking a complete overthrow of Roe v. Wade. These choices have left them compromised in the political arena.

But the point is worth repeating for the millions of voting Catholics who take seriously church teaching and can't help but wonder about the Republican claims. It isn't even a subtle strategy. Politicians who espouse an antiabortion stance, regardless of other positions they might take, get special treatment from the bishops. One needs only to look through diocesan newspapers to see which politicians are getting the best photo opportunities.

We're not suggesting the bishops back off from opposing abortion or teaching forcefully on the issue. Nor do we suggest that their teaching should not have public consequences.

But their handling of the antiabortion issue in the political arena has been so inept that they have accidentally or deliberately given the impression of supporting the Republican Party.

Some in the church who have been most active at the highest levels in the antiabortion campaign will admit privately that the hierarchy has been terribly used. They won't say it openly, but they should. It would help restore some credibility.

Some prelates have put themselves in the company of figures and movements on the extreme religious right, accepting their literature and "voter guides" for distribution in their parishes.

During the last 20 years, the bishops squandered enormous amounts of political capital on the bet that Republican antiabortion candidates would overturn Roe v. Wade and they got precious little for it. At the same time, the bishops all but abandoned forceful advocacy on other issues. In the tumble of real world politics, you can't have it both ways. …

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