Monday, October 13, 2008

How the Bishops Found Their Voice

Austin Ruse has a provocative piece at The Catholic Thing regarding the U.S. Bishops, abortion, and presidential elections. Here's a snippet:
... The [Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians] came into being [in 2004] at the request of Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, then Archbishop of Washington, DC, and was approved by the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Having initiated the idea, McCarrick was the obvious person to run it.

The first observable effect of the task force was to silence the staff of the USCCB Pro-Life Secretariat. My wife was the principal public spokesman for that office at the time. She was told not to answer any questions about Kerry and abortion in light of the task force.

Less easy to gauge was the effect of the task force on bishops’ willingness to speak out. Were they also made to understand that they should hold their tongues in deference to the official group and the guidelines they produced?

And when would the task force issue its guidelines? It became clear that the guidelines would not be issued until after the election – long after they could have any bearing on the candidacy of the first pro-abortion Catholic in American history to run for president.

Was it Cardinal McCarrick’s purpose to establish a study group in order to bury the problem until after the election? It’s impossible to know, but we can consider the effects of his actions: the task force was established at his request, the Pro-Life Secretariat was silenced on the most pressing pro-life issue of the time, the bishops in large part stayed mum likely in deference to the ongoing study, a study which was timed not to end until well past the election.

This is old news, but sheds new light on the current debate. This year there is no McCarrick Committee keeping the conversation sotto voce among an elite few. And this year the bishops are thundering. It is not just the heroic few – Chaput, Burke, and a few others – who were willing to suffer criticism in 2004. Now it is a whole bunch of them, more than thirty at this point. Moreover, the list includes those – like Edward Cardinal Egan of New York and McCarrick's successor Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington DC – who have tended to work quietly behind the scenes in the past.


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