The following is excerpted from a longer article in the LA Times. It deals with the battle over the nomination of Governor Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
The author, Tim Rutten, makes serious points about the possible future of this clash between conservative Catholic bishops and Catholic democrats.
For conservatives who've been trying for years to pry Catholic voters out of the Democratic Party, the Holy Grail of political advantage is a long-sought clerical edict that would prohibit any Catholic officeholder who ever has cast a pro-choice vote from receiving Communion. From there, it would be a relatively small step to extend the ban to any Catholic who has voted for a pro-choice candidate. Catholic Democrats would be forced to choose between their party and their church. (It also means Catholic voters of any stripe would be placed in the position of acquiescing to the notion that there is no other issue which trumps abortion, and no other moral strategy save criminalizing abortion.)
For years, most bishops -- though unswervingly pro-life -- have avoided such an either/or moment, not least because, on the vast majority of issues apart from abortion, their social agenda coincides more closely with the Democrats than the GOP.
But time is gradually changing the character of the American Catholic hierarchy. The generation of pastoral, politically savvy bishops and cardinals appointed by Pope Paul VI and John Paul II in his early years -- the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington come to mind -- are aging and passing from the scene. In their place a new, more brittle and ultramontane group of bishops appears willing to elevate the abortion issue over all others. (One wonders why men who are supposed to be spiritual pastors have instead chosen to be spiritual dictators.)
That's important because in the past, when more conservative bishops have forbidden Communion to Catholic officeholders, some cardinals -- McCarrick and Mahony in particular -- have declined to enforce the ban. Now, however, the new archbishop of Washington, Donald Wuerl, and Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Va., have said they expect Sebelius to obey her local bishop's order if she moves into their sees.
If conservative activists can persuade enough local bishops to do to, say, Vice President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Christopher Dodd what Naumann has done to Sebelius, the long-sought national edict is a fait accompli.
George W. Bush's former advisor on Catholic affairs, Deal W. Hudson, said this week that Wuerl's and Loverde's acquiescence in denying Sebelius the sacrament "will send the message to other bishops that if they choose to pronounce members of Congress from their dioceses unfit for Communion, their authority will be respected in D.C. and across the Potomac in Virginia. The ramifications are enormous." (That's very true Deal. The ramifications will be enormous, not just for Republicans and Democrats but for Catholics. Unfortunately the ramifications will not extend to the unborn. Not one life will be saved, but many souls could be lost.)
This is a nasty business with serious implications, and the bishops might want to consider where they'll find themselves if even their own co-religionists come to believe they're in the business of dictating officeholders' actions rather than forming consciences. (Or using abortion to further their political ambitions or those of their wealthy friends.)
One thing Tim Rutten did not address is that some of the conservative bishops have taken to attacking other bishops, as evidenced by Archbishop Burke. Burke's rant, courtesy of Randal Terry, may have actually had an impact on Archbishops Wuerl and Bishop Loverde, since their names figured prominently on the list of 'bad gutless bishops' Randall Terry went to Rome to have corrected for their gutless badness.
It's kind of flattering really, to know that the Republican party is so enamored with getting the Catholic vote. It's just too bad their strategy is so top heavy. Rather than make their appeal on reason, they are using the hierarchy to dictate it from above. That's an interesting choice of strategy which says quite a bit about the Republican party and what the movers and shakers of that party really think about the average Joe Sixpack. Lead Joe to the water and then shove his head in until he drowns or says uncle. That would be kind of like the intent of water boarding I guess. Of course, in the case of Catholics, the threat is not to one's physical life, but to their spiritual life. Same idea though.
I absolutely believe there are bishops who would be more than glad to extend the Communion ban to any Catholic who voted for a pro choice candidate and that there are numerous Republican activists who are agitating amongst those bishops for just such a ban. What I'm curious about is how the rest of the American bishops would handle such a blanket ban. I suspect the contrived 'unity' amongst the bishops would show some serious and irreparable fissures. The kinds of fissures we're beginning to see in other national bishoprics like in Germany, Austria, Brazil, Paraguay, Ireland, and even in the Vatican itself.
Yesterday I wrote that what we're seeing is a collision of different energies regarding human consciousness. This collision is being played out in many different areas, but not surprisingly, Roman Catholicism, and especially the American version are front and center. It's why these internecine battles seem so intense and frankly mind boggling to the rest of the Catholic world.
The truth is, there is no better battle ground than America in which to play this conflict out. This country was founded to guarantee the right of individual choice, but especially the right of religious choice. The abortion battle, and the strategies surrounding it, calls those very freedoms into question. American Catholics are additionally being caught between a monarchical religious structure and a pluralistic political structure. It's not surprising then that bishops whose main thrust seems to be maintaining their monarchical authority would posit the conflict between the two as "vote your conscience, or save your soul and vote my way."
Exploitation is not the future, it's the past. Virtually every Catholic controversy has been fought around some form of exploitation or another. Whether that's the Brazil rape case, the anti Semitic SSPX, lay educators, Vatican investigations, the use of condoms, gay marriage, and on and on, these issues are all about the exploitation of persons or groups for the benefit of other persons or groups. Especially for the benefit of those who have historically held some form of autocratic authority or power over many of these others.
The real question for bishops and politicians should be "how do I exercise my authority in a changing human concsiousness"? Barack Obama has chosen dialogue, and to respect the people he chooses to see as his adversaries, rather than his enemies. He listens, and he admits mistakes. Sometimes our Pope does too.
Perhaps our pro life bishops should take a look at those strategies, because if they don't, their attempt to exploit their authority is going to blow up in their faces. Pope Benedict found that out with his autocratic SSPX decision. In this new energy, dialogue, respect, and genuine listening is the wiser course of action, because in this new consciousness no body in authority gets a free pass. It won't matter how many times one shakes one's crosier or thunders from the pulpit, the days of blind obedience and mindless loyalty are over.
PS. My daughter would like me to inform readers of this blog to consider buying Tropicana orange juice as for every jug bought they will plant a tree in the rain forest. One needs to go to their website and type in the product code. Don't be surprised if the code is already entered as certain people's children are copying them off bottles and entering them 'just in case the person who buys the bottle can't be bothered to do it."