The U.S. Catholic bishops are expressing mixed feelings over Barack Obama's presidential election victory. At their semiannual meeting in Baltimore, they praised the historic nature of electing an African-American man to the highest office. But they worried that he will make abortion easier to come by.
When the Catholic bishops woke up on Nov. 5, two stark realities stared them in the face. First, 54 percent of Catholics voted for Obama — despite the bishops' teachings that abortion is evil. Second, the president-elect has promised to loosen restrictions on the procedure.
During their meeting Tuesday in Baltimore, one bishop after another echoed the words of Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb., who said the church can't let that happen.
"One cannot compromise between the fire and the fire department, the fly and the fly swatter," Bruskewitz said. "There are things that don't admit of compromise — and a vile ... intrinsic evil such as abortion do not admit us any such compromise."
The bishops are writing a letter to Obama and the Democratic-held Congress, urging them to refrain from making an abortion easier to obtain. The bishops fretted most about the Freedom of Choice Act, which Obama has promised to sign if it lands on his desk. That legislation would knock down most federal and state restrictions on abortion, including parental consent and waiting periods.
The bishops also told politicians they cannot leave their faith at the door of Congress. Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, Pa. — Vice President-elect Joe Biden's hometown — went further at the meeting. He suggested the bishops use "canonical measures" — such as denying Communion — to make their point.
"I cannot have the Vice President-elect coming to Scranton and saying he learned his values there," Martino said, "when those values are — at least in the area of abortion — utterly against the teachings of the Catholic Church."
But Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and scholar at Georgetown University, says Martino's position is rare. And he notes that Biden will soon be moving to Washington — the archdiocese of the more moderate Donald Wuerl.
"And Archbishop Wuerl has made clear he does not believe in using the Communion as a weapon against Catholic politicians," Reese said. "So Vice President Biden will be able to go to Communion in Washington, D.C., and I would guess in at least 180 other dioceses in the country."
Reese adds that most bishops want to work with the Obama administration. Even though Obama advocates abortion rights, he has pledged to reduce the number of abortions through programs for poverty, health care and other social justice issues.
Nicholas Cafardi, a legal scholar and prominent anti-abortion Catholic who voted for Obama, says attempts to restrict abortion and overturn Roe v. Wade have failed for the past 35 years. He says the bishops should take another approach.
"For me, the problem isn't that abortion is legal. The problem is that it's become acceptable," Cafardi says. "And I think the bishops would be well-advised not so much to worry about whether abortion is unlawful, but to really make it unimaginable, unacceptable, unspeakable. But that's a moral battle. It's not a political battle."
Cafardi believes the best way for the Catholic Church to address abortion is to act like a church — preach against it and help women in need — rather than tell politicians what to do.