RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And on another question of religion and politics, some U.S. Catholic bishops are expressing mixed feelings about Barack Obama's election as president last week. At their semiannual meeting in Baltimore, they praised the historic nature of electing an African-American, but they also raised concerns that he'll make abortion easier to come by. NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: When the Catholic bishops awakened on November 5, two stark realities stared them in the face. First, 54 percent of Catholics voted for Barack Obama, despite the bishops' teachings about the evils of abortion. Second, the new president-elect has promised to loosen restrictions on the procedure. During the bishops' meeting yesterday, one bishop after another echoed the words of Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, who said the church cannot let that happen.

Bishop FABIAN BRUSKEWITZ (Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska): One cannot compromise between the fire and the fire department, the fly and the fly swatter. There are things that don't admit of compromise. And vile and horror - intrinsic evils such as abortion do not admit us any such compromise.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: The bishops are writing a letter to Senator Obama and the Democratically-held Congress urging them to refrain from making abortion easier. The bishops fretted most about the Freedom of Choice Act, which Obama has promised to sign if it ever comes to his desk. That act 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, Pennsylvania, Vice President-elect Joe Biden's hometown, went further. He suggested the bishops use, quote, "canonical measures" - things like denying Communion - to make their point.

Bishop JOSEPH MARTINO (Bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania): I cannot have the vice president-elect coming to Scranton and saying that he learned his values there, when those values are - at least in the area of abortion - are utterly against the teachings of the Catholic Church.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: But Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and scholar at Georgetown University, says Martino's view is rare. And he notes that Biden will soon be moving to Washington, the archdiocese of the more moderate Donald Wuerl.

Reverend THOMAS REESE (Jesuit Priest; Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University): And Archbishop Wuerl has made clear that he does not believe in using Communion as a weapon against Catholic politicians. 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 around the country.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Reese adds that most bishops want to work with the Obama administration. Even though he's pro-choice, the president-elect has pledged to reduce the number of abortions through poverty, health care, and other social justice programs. Nicholas Cafardi, a legal scholar and prominent pro-life Catholic who voted for Obama, says attempts to restrict abortions and to overturn Roe v. Wade have failed for the past 35 years. And the bishops should take another approach.

Dr. NICHOLAS CAFARDI (Legal Scholar): For me, the problem isn't that abortion is legal. The problem is that it's become acceptable. 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. You know, unacceptable, unspeakable. But that's a moral battle. That's not a political battle.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Cafardi believes the best way for the Catholic Church to address abortion is, quote, "to act like a church." Preach against it and help women in need, rather than telling politicians what to do. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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