On Wednesday, May 4, Religion News Service (RNS) carried a dispatch headed “Roe v. Wade: Faith leaders react to leaked SCOTUS opinion.” The article quoted twenty different “faith leaders” speaking for or against Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion. Not one of these religious leaders was a Catholic bishop.
That silence was quickly broken, by individual bishops across the country and by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, the head of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee. They all said what was expected and in order: Catholics must care about every unborn child and every mother. The Church was doing so through many ministries and programs. If the law was changed, as they hoped it would be, Catholics would have to be ready to do far more.
I don’t know why the bishops were a lap behind other religious leaders in commenting on the leak, and I’m not unhappy about it. Perhaps RNS simply didn’t call them. Perhaps they wisely decided to take a few breaths before plunging into the scrum. They may well recall one very distinguished prelate who, for all his smarts and likeability, seemed to hew to the motto “Ready, fire, aim!”
I suspect that many Catholics also welcomed the recent announcement by the bishops’ conference that its June 13–17 semi-annual meeting would eschew all public sessions and statements in favor of a closed-doors retreat. Last June’s meeting, when the conference muddled the most genuine sacramental concern about the Eucharist with the most partisan political gesture of censuring President Biden, is all too fresh in our memory.
Unfortunately, episcopal silence at the very time when a landmark Court decision on abortion is going to be announced will be a lapse with grave consequences.
Everyone knows of the bishops’ opposition to Roe v. Wade and other Court decisions defending abortion rights, although it wouldn’t hurt to see this restated in a reasoned, sensitive, and pastoral manner. What the public has not heard is a matching statement from the Church’s leaders spelling out the components of a “culture of life” that would protect and empower vulnerable women and children. Those components would have to include the guaranteed provision of health care, paid maternal leave, childcare, income support, and a variety of anti-discrimination measures. They would have to include a firm cultural and legal rejection of violence against women and sexual predation. They would have to include personal compassion and a vigorous mobilization of Catholic generosity for women and families confronting troubled or tragic pregnancies.