Another presidential election cycle is nearly ended, and once again the Catholic bishops in the United States have sadly distinguished themselves for the narrowness and, in too many cases, barely concealed partisanship, of their political views.
Cycle after cycle they have promulgated the same message: Abortion trumps all other issues and the only credible approach to fighting abortion is voting for candidates who express a wish to overthrow Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
We have persistently criticized the American bishops on this page for such a limited political strategy. For more than a quarter of a century they have generally used whatever political capital they might have in attempts to deliver the Catholic vote to whomever is making the most agreeable promises that year.
Year after year, however, the bishops get little in return for their antiabortion political endorsements, while often aiding in the election of politicians who have little regard for the rest of the church’s social agenda.
The abortion rate has been going down steadily in America, from a high of 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 in 1981 to 19.4 abortions for the same demographic through 2005, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
No one has the definitive answer on why the rate is decreasing. Depending on political persuasion and which side of the debate one falls on, the possible reasons range from more emphasis on abstinence programs to better education and more funding for prevention of pregnancy. Undoubtedly, one unquantifiable element is continuing education about the reality of abortion and the sacredness of life that has persuaded some to bring pregnancies to term.
No one, however, is suggesting that politicians promising to overturn Roe had any influence on a woman’s choosing to bring a child to term.
I know my readers are a talented and well-educated bunch, but it's just possible that a few among you might not speak "Progressive Catholic." I was, sadly, immersed in it in parochial schools until my parents courageously took us out of school and taught us at home, where I learned to my astonishment that such concepts as "mortal and venial sin" "male priesthood" and "respect for life from conception until natural death" had not, as my "progressive" teachers insisted, been done away with by a new church that was being sung into being, albeit by tone-deaf singers wailing truly unfortunate songs.
I did, however, become relatively fluent in "Progressive Catholic," and will translate the above paragraphs into ordinary English (warning to the progressives among us: I may even use non-inclusive pronouns!!):
Although only a little more than a quarter of U.S. bishops have urged their flocks to remember the unborn when they are voting, we find this an alarming trend away from the narrowness and, indeed, naked partisanship of former ages, when we could count on the U.S. bishops all but endorsing the Democrat candidate. We've never had a problem with bishops talking about preferential options for the poor, a "seamless garment" ethic, illegal immigration and access to health care, and so long as it was tacitly understood that all of these issues in the balance scale outweighed the whole abortion problem we were fine with bishops being narrow and partisan. But this new trend of 1/4 of the bishops failing to be narrowly partisan in favor of the Democrats is alarming to us, since we've believed for ages that only the Democrats correctly reflect Jesus' social Gospel of wealth redistribution.
Though this is the first time in living memory so many bishops have pointed out that when a choice exists between two candidates one of whom is a much greater enemy to unborn human life than the other, Catholics must place abortion as an issue of primary importance in making their selection, we know some bishops have consistently done so (probably the malcontents who don't like liturgical dance and yelled at Sister Helen when she offered to give the homily). Even though it's pretty foolish to pretend that bishops have routinely counseled their flocks to remember what we owe in solidarity to our unborn brothers and sisters when we vote, since if they had done so all these years we'd probably be closer to outlawing abortion altogether than we are now, we're going to assert this anyway. After all, we feel as though it's true.
This descends into utter ridiculousness. If the bishops over the past twenty-five years have expended any political capital at all, it has been in the "peace and justice" arena, and has involved bishops withholding their taxes to protest nuclear weapons and sternly lecturing their flocks about the need for amnesty for illegal aliens. No one can credibly make the claim that the American bishops have been in the pocket of the Republican party for the last twenty-five years--or at any other time. Still, we feel justified in engaging in pure snit because we feel abandoned and betrayed, and are this close to talking about brokenness and nourishing each other. We mean it--don't push us.
This paragraph contains the money quote, which, in case you missed it, was this sentence: "Year after year, however, the bishops get little in return for their antiabortion political endorsements, while often aiding in the election of politicians who have little regard for the rest of the church’s social agenda." This is our unshakable paradigm: Democrats are true Christians in every way (even if you have to squint to get past that speck in their eye called abortion) while Republicans take as their model the innkeeper at Bethlehem, whose concern for his evil profit margin made him put the Holy Family in a stable and made the Baby Jesus cry. Democrats champion the oppressed; Republicans try to figure out new ways of oppressing the poor, coming up with such evil strategies as objecting--can you believe it!--to giving federal income tax rebates to people who don't actually pay federal income taxes in the first place. Since it is perfectly clear (to us anyway) that Jesus would have insisted on wealth distribution and community organizing "power" strategies as the only basis for a just Christian society, we can't understand how the bishops could possibly let concern for the unborn trump all of this.
Paragraphs Four (b), Five and Six:
Of course, the abortion rate has been going down. But it's not because the bishops keep talking about it, and it's certainly not because pro-life politicians have been elected and continue to be elected. We don't know why the abortion rate has been going down--education, maybe? We like teachers, so we'll call it that. Of course we're ignoring the abstinence-focused education programs pushed by those pro-life politicians, because we know that had absolutely nothing to do with the decline in abortion. We mention it briefly, but we don't want our readers to stop and think about it, because if abstinence education works, and if abstinence education is proposed by pro-life Republicans and hated by pro-abort Democrats, then our entire premise that the bishops are shilling for pro-life political candidates without getting anything in return is as faulty as a lay-led liturgy workshop at a bishops' conference. Lucky for us, our readers aren't terribly strong in making logical connections--if they were, they wouldn't read our paper for very long.
Having carefully translated most of the NCR editorial for the benefit of And Sometimes Tea readers who may have escaped the "Progressive Catholic" dialect in their own youths, I'll just repeat the title of this post in summation: balderdash.