Persuasion and Engagement?

The retirement of Cardinal Ted McCarrick as Archbishop of Washington has generated a lot of reflection on how McCarrick and other bishops tried to deal with politicians who reject the Churchs teaching on abortion or other important moral questions. Peter Steinfels most recent column deals with this issue, as do some recent posts in DotCommonweal (click here and here).

Let me just offer a few thoughts for reflection on this without necessarily trying to drive toward a conclusion.

First, those who favored the use of canonical sanctions against pro-choice Catholic politicians ought to concede that the 2004 election year produced some ironies.  As far as I can recall, the only politician sanctioned by his own bishop was David Obey (D-WI).  Last time I checked, Obeys lifetime National Right to Life voting score was higher than his lifetime score from NARAL.  The issues over which Bishop Burke chose to sanction Obey were 1) his support for embryonic stem cell research and 2) his unwillingness to prevent military hospitals from providing abortions.  While Im not suggesting that these issues are unimportant, neither is really central to the abortion debate in the
United States/>/>.  The fact that Obey was hit with sanctions while Catholic politicians who had been far more vociferous in their support for abortion rights did not suggests the real limits of a strategy where individual bishopsrather than the Conference as a wholeare the major actors.

That said, those who support what Peter Steinfels calls a strategy of persuasion and engagement ought to concede that the outcome of the 2004 election was a real wake-up call to the Democrats with respect to abortion.  Does anyone think that Senator Clinton, for example, would have making conciliatory noises on the issue if Bishops Burke, Chaput, Vasa, and
Sheridan/>/> had not significantly ratcheted up the pressure in 2004?  Would anyone deny that Bob Casey Jr.s path to a Pennsylvania Senate seat has been significantly smoothed by the willingness of the party establishmentchastened in the wake of the 2004 resultsto support a pro-life nominee?

A related point that I think supporters of engagement should concede is that many Catholic politicians who have the highest public profiles are not, by and large, wringing their hands in Cuomo-like anguish about abortion.  Until relatively recently, most appeared to take their talking pointsand significant sums of moneyfrom NARAL.  I think Amy Welborn captured this point well a few days ago:

As I said in a comment below, I think, my irritation lies in the fact that in this discussion, from the USCCB side, there is a failure to frankly acknowledge how Catholic abortion-rights advocates play this. We are not, repeat not talking about men and women whose hearts are torn between ideals and lesser evils and such, who agonize in the dark at night before the a crucifix lit only by a flickering candle.

We are talking about politicians who a) determine their stance according to what will curry them party favor (and this is not just a Democratic issue. In certain elements of the GOP - in the Northeast, particularly, pro-life Republicans are almost as rare as pro-life Dems) and votes; b) are shamelessly, forthrightly and vigorously promoting, not some middle way but full-blown, radical abortion rights, who curry the support of NARAL and such, who speak at abortion rights events and fundraisers. People like Nancy Pelosi, who have voting records consistent with abortion rights groups 100% of the time. People like Pataki, Schwarzenegger and Giuliani.

Here's the issue. Most of the prominent Catholic politicians of both parties - in this country are supporters of abortion rights. Unashamed, unconflicted supporters of abortion rights, whose votes and support are crucial in maintaining protected legal abortion in this country.

So heres the question I pose: would the Democratsand Catholic Democratic officeholders in particularbe having a serious discussion about abortion if they hadnt run into a small, yet vocal episcopal buzz saw in 2004?

Also by this author
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