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Is There a Political Plan B for the Bishops?

ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/GettyImages

Bishops arrive for a meeting of Roman Catholic Church leaders at the Vatican. ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/GettyImages

As the bishops gather in Baltimore this week for their annual meeting, they like everyone else in the country will be talking about last week’s election. The U.S. Catholic bishops took a beating at the polls. Not only was President Obama reelected, despite their attacks on him, the bishops also lost on state referendums on same-sex marriage.

Like all Americans, the bishops have a constitutional right to participate in the political process. They can debate the issues, criticize candidates and publicly express their views. They can even endorse candidates as long as they don’t do it on church property and don’t use church funds in supporting a candidate or party. In fact, they can even run for president as did Rev. Pat Robertson and Rev. Jesse Jackson. The U.S. Constitution does not forbid this; Roman Catholic canon law forbids it.

But what is constitutional is not always effective or prudent. Clearly the political strategy of the bishops is not working. A majority of Catholics voted for Obama and gay activists won every referendum. The Missouri and Indiana Republican senatorial candidates, who took the toughest positions on abortion, were also defeated when the Republicans were expected to win these races.

So where do the bishops go from here?

Catholic Bishops Make Last-Minute Pitch for Romney

Priest image,  l i g h t p o e t / Shutterstock.com

Priest image, l i g h t p o e t / Shutterstock.com

A number of Roman Catholic bishops are making forceful last-minute appeals to their flock to vote on Election Day, and their exhortations are increasingly sounding like calls to support Republican challenger Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama.

The most recent example: a letter from Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky accusing the administration of an unprecedented “assault upon our religious freedom” and implying that Catholics who pull the lever for Democrats who support abortion rights are like those who condemned Jesus to death.

“Since the foundation of the American Republic and the adoption of the Bill of Rights, I do not think there has ever been a time more threatening to our religious liberty than the present,” Jenky writes in the letter, which he ordered priests in his Peoria diocese to read at all Masses on Sunday.

In the letter, Jenky blames Obama and the Democratic majority in the Senate for trampling on the Catholic Church’s rights and moral convictions by requiring health insurers to provide contraception coverage. Jenky also compares abortion rights supporters to the Jewish crowd in Jerusalem that pledged loyalty to the Roman Empire and demanded that Pontius Pilate crucify Jesus.

“For those who hope for salvation, no political loyalty can ever take precedence over loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life,” Jenky writes.

Dolan Criticized for Inviting Obama to Al Smith Dinner

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

By tradition, the storied Al Smith Dinner has provided a few hours of comic relief from the angry volleys of the campaign trail – a white-tie charity banquet held in the weeks before Election Day, hosted by the archbishop of New York and featuring speeches by the two presidential candidates on the condition that they lob nothing more than good-natured jibes.

But the Catholic hierarchy’s fierce feud with President Obama, abetted by the increasingly sharp tone of the 2012 elections, is threatening to invade this demilitarized zone and give New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan a case of pre-dinner agita.

Dolan has reportedly extended an offer to Obama (as well as his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney) to attend this year’s dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria, scheduled for Oct. 18, and the president has accepted. That has mobilized abortion opponents, who view Obama as the worst thing since Roe v. Wade and an enemy of religious liberty because of his administration's controversial birth control mandate.

The Rev. Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life, a leading abortion opponent based in Staten Island, said on Aug. 6 that “the polite putting aside of differences for a while amounts to scandal.”

Poll: Catholics Side With Bishops on Religious Liberty, But Warm to Obama

new poll shows that American Catholics tend to agree with their bishops’ concerns that religious liberties are at risk in the U.S.

Nevertheless, Catholics seem to be warming to President Obama, even as the bishops lambaste his administration in their fight to roll back a federal mandate that requires employers — with some exceptions — to cover birth control in their health plans.

The poll, released on Aug. 1 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life as the contraception mandate took effect, found that among Catholics who are aware of the bishops' protests, 56 percent say they agree with the bishops’ concerns, as opposed to 36 percent who disagree.

Fortnight for Freedom Kicks Off, But Who is Funding It?

On June 21, Catholics across the country will amplify what is an already loud outcry from the hierarchy over the federal government's so-called contraception mandate.

With rallies, marches, lectures and special publications, the U.S. Catholic Bishop's Fortnight for Freedom campaign will seek to galvanize Catholic opposition to President Obama's proposed mandate to require employers — including religious institutions — to provide free contraception insurance coverage to employees.

But while Catholic leaders frame the events as a fight for religious liberty, critics see signs of political partisanship and electioneering. Questions over the financing of the bishops' campaign have caused those suspicions to multiply.

"The activities around the Fortnight for Freedom cost money," said Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington. "What groups are paying for this, and what's the accountability for that money?"

Catholic Bishops Told to Follow Their Own Policies Against Sexual Abuse

Priest image, Alistair Cotton / Shutterstock.com

Priest image, Alistair Cotton / Shutterstock.com

Amid continuing headlines about cover-ups of child abuse in the Catholic Church, an oversight board of lay Catholics on June 13 warned the nation’s bishops that they must follow their own policies against abuse more rigorously if they hope to restore their fragile credibility.

“If there is anything that needs to be disclosed in a diocese, it needs to be disclosed now,” Al J. Notzon III, head of the bishops’ National Review Board, told some 200 prelates gathered in Atlanta for their annual spring meeting. “No one can no longer claim they didn’t know.”

The meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops comes 10 years after the hierarchy met in Dallas and passed a series of reforms to respond to a siege of bad publicity about sex abuse by priests. It also comes as a jury in Philadelphia weighs the fate of a high-ranking priest who's facing criminal charges of concealing abuse by clerics, and as a bishop from Missouri awaits trial on charges that he failed to report a suspected child molester to authorities.

Catholic Bishops Say Ryan Budget Fails Moral Test

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) on March 27. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A week after House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan claimed his Catholic faith inspired the Republicans' cost-cutting budget plan, the nation’s Catholic bishops reiterated their demand that the federal budget protect the poor, and said the GOP measure “fails to meet these moral criteria.”

That and other strongly-worded judgments on the GOP budget proposal flew in a flurry of letters from leading bishops to the chairmen of key congressional committee.

The letters to Capitol Hill were highlighted in a Tuesday (April 17) statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that came after Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican and rising conservative hero, told an interviewer last week (April 10) that his fiscal views were informed by Catholic social teaching.

Catholic Bishops Issue Rallying Cry for ‘Religious Freedom’

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Protestors gather to oppose requiring insurance coverage for contraception. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

The nation’s Catholic bishops are calling on the faithful to pray and mobilize in a “great national campaign” to confront what they see as a series of threats to religious freedom, and they are setting aside the two weeks before July 4 for their “Fortnight for Freedom” initiative.

The exhortation is contained in a 12-page statement released Wednesday (April 12) by the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, and its chief concern is the Obama administration’s proposal to provide contraception coverage to all employees with health insurance, including those who work for religious groups.

The statement represents the hierarchy’s latest effort to overturn that policy, and it includes an explicit threat of widespread civil disobedience by the nation’s 67 million Catholics.

Bishops Say Obama Compromise is `Unconstitutional’

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Demonstrators protest requirement that employers provide insurance coverage for contraception.TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

The nation’s Catholic bishops say the Obama administration’s proposed revisions to a mandate that requires insurers to provide birth control coverage are still unacceptable and even “radically flawed" -- signaling a long drawn-out election-year fight between the White House and the Catholic hierarchy.

The bishops also say that they will continue to try to overturn the contraception regulations in Congress and the courts even as the bishops carry on negotiations with the White House.

The critical judgments on the government proposals, which were published by the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services on March 16, are contained in an internal, two-page March 29 memo from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The memo’s contents were first reported Tuesday (April 3) by Catholic News Service.

The Ryan Budget and Moral Cowardice

By Win McNamee/Getty Images.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks at the Heritage Foundation March 22, 2012 in Washington, DC. By Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Remember Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2011 budget, The Path to Prosperity? Well, it’s baaa-aaack — and this time the path is smoother and wider and offers a quicker trip to judgment.

Christianity and most of the world’s faith traditions explicitly demand protection for the poor and the preservation of the lives and dignity of all. Well, the Chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan, high-tails it down his Path, budget rolled in-hand, in the exact opposite direction from those moral commitments.

Bob Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), concluded that the Ryan budget “is Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids. It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation's history)."

Any responsible budget plan requires a balanced approach that would both increase revenue and reduce spending. This proposal would cut taxes, merely hope for revenue, increase military spending, and slash most everything else that isn’t protected by large corporate interests.

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