The bishops “essentially got signoff. They dictated [the Stupak Amendment], and it’s totally inappropriate — it’s blatant interference between church and state.” — Eleanor Smeal of the Feminist Majority
“It is profoundly disturbing that the Roman Catholic Church appears to be using threats and fear to manipulate a democratic political process to enforce Catholic doctrine regarding abortion and human sexuality.” — Diana Butler Bass, a Protestant commentator
Commentators are falling over each other to attack the Catholic Church and its leadership. Since the Stupak Amendment banning abortion funding of any sort in the House health care reform bill was passed with the help of 64 Democrats, the voices of outrage have been pillorying the Democrats for caving in to the U.S. bishops and Church doctrine. Add to that the unexpected defeat of a gay marriage referendum in Maine and a conflict over the scope of a same-sex marriage bill in the District of Columbia, and the Church has become the archvillain of frustrated abortion and gay rights activists.
As happens whenever such conflicts arise, the critics dip into the rhetoric of anti-Catholic fear mongering, raising the specter of sinister Roman Catholic leaders imposing their beliefs on all citizens, and questioning the Church’s tax-exempt status. Dissenting Catholic politicians and celebrities are trotted out to explain how their own Church has it all wrong.
Except that it doesn’t.
In any society, the Church has a duty to speak out on behalf of its principles. It has a right to remind its own members of the significance of these principles, and it has the responsibility to defend these principles in the public square.
Efforts to punish the Church and silence its voice are profoundly anti-democratic, and to obscure this fact the rhetoric is escalated against the Church, suggesting that it is somehow un-American and therefore not deserving of such rights.
Catholics should not be fooled. This is a baldly political campaign. In terms of the Stupak Amendment, the politicians, at least temporarily, have bowed to the fact that there are many anti-abortion votes in the ruling party, that they depend on Catholic support for health care reform, and that more than 60 percent of Americans now tell pollsters they are pro-life.
In Maine, a state that is fairly libertarian in its leanings, a democratic election led to the defeat of a gay marriage bill, affirming again that Americans — when given the right to vote — do not accept the proposal that marriage is a right to be extended beyond a man and a woman.
And in Washington, D.C., where efforts by that city’s council to pass a same-sex marriage bill may mean that individuals and organizations would not be exempt from anti-discrimination statutes, the Catholic Church has simply said it will not comply with what runs contrary to its teachings. If forced to submit to the law, the archdiocese would cease running the social service programs that serve the District.
In all of these cases, the real power play is what the politicians and their allies are doing to force the Church’s silence.
The Catholic Church has been remarkably consistent in its views: It supports health care reform. It defends the rights of the weak, including the unborn, the elderly and the poor. It is critical of the use of the death penalty. It is dedicated to the common good.
These beliefs are animated by its teachings, and it cannot and will not yield to political blackmail or blogosphere thuggery. Catholics can be proud of the bishops who are speaking out, for they are acting both as leaders and citizens.
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