Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bishops sounding moral voice in the public square

By John Andrews
Director, Department of Communications

A number of major news outlets including CNN, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times have focused recently on what they call an aggressive campaign by the Catholic Church in America to shape health care reform legislation. The Church lobbied successfully into the 11th hour, they note, to prevent public funding of elective abortion in the House bill that eventually passed.

As the Bishops gather in Baltimore this week for their Fall meeting, the unapologetic presence of the Church in the public policy arena is, indeed, hanging in the air. The Bishops are again stepping into the fray on the subject of marriage with consideration of a new pastoral letter “Married Love and Life and the Divine Plan.” The letter was described Monday as part of the ongoing pastoral initiative on marriage that began five years ago. But it was also described as an invitation to Catholics and people of good will to defend and promote marriage as being between one man and one woman – a direct reference to the ongoing battle over same sex marriage.

Also on the agenda at this week’s meeting, the Church’s stance on reproductive technologies and a potential revision of policy on advanced directives for end-of-life care – both issues capable of fostering vigorous political discussion. _______________________________________story continues below

At their Fall meeting in Baltimore, U.S. bishops respond to questions about recent high profile advocacy by the Church in national public policy issues. From left to right, Bishop William Murphy (Rockville Centre, NY), Archbishop George Niederauer (San Francisco), Cardinal Francis George (Chicago) and Bishop John Wester (Salt Lake City).
Health care reform didn’t look to have a prominent place in the Bishops’ deliberations. That is until Cardinal Francis George raised the issue during the first hour of the first general session of the meeting. Cardinal George, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, struck a steadfast tone in reviewing the events of recent weeks and offering a response to charges that the Church overly involved itself in politics.

“Long before these issues became political, they were moral questions,” Cardinal George said.

By the end of the session, the Bishops had voted to make Cardinal George’s recent letter on health care reform an official statement of the Conference. Later, at a press conference following the general session, Cardinal George and other bishops involved in public policy issues, showed no signs of retreating from the recent strategy on health care reform legislation, saying they will lobby U.S. Senators with the same intensity. Reporters questioned the Bishops about the context of the Pastoral Letter on marriage within the context of recent same-sex marriage votes in Maine and Washington state. Again, they did not shy away from the public policy connection.

“The American people seem to resonate more with the idea that marriage is what it is,” Bishop William Murphy told reporters at the press conference. “No amount of public pressure can redefine it as something that it isn’t.”

Early Tuesday, Bishop John Wester raised another high profile public policy issue – immigration reform. He announced a new grassroots effort to spur the Catholic faithful to lobby their local legislators to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

At the same time, the Bishops put forth the idea that the Church is not interested in politics so much as it feels bound to voice the teachings of the Gospel – hardly a new development in the history of the Catholic Church, they note.

Said Bishop Murphy, “The issues are both moral and political. Our job is to be the moral voice.”

1 comment:

  1. Great points in your discussion John!

    We cannot separate our political views from the moral impact they have on society. What may seem politically just in our society, may be spiritually and morally damaging.


    Brian Joos


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