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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Whither the culture wars?

A whole lot of folks must have been out of the office yesterday because I am quoted in a Foxnews.com article on political clashes between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration. Although I am not sure that it quite captures my remarks to say that "Catholic politicians have been excommunicated in recent years for not supporting positions consistent with the church's teachings," I did note what seems to me to be an increased insistence upon on at least certain Bishops on faithfulness to the Church's position on life issues (as opposed to postions generally) and a willingness to enforce that through denial of the Eucharist and cited, for context, New Orleans Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel's excommunication of three segregationist politicians in 1962. 

Just how aggressive the Church should be in insisting that Catholic politicians follow Church teachings is a topic that has been debated for as long as I can remember (a period that has come to be distressingly long) and I am not sure that I can add anything to on this cold January morning. I am a confirmed opponent of privileged status for public reason and a staunch supporter of political moderation by the church.

But I do think that the Freedom of Choice Act presents the possibility for political total war. The key, it seems, is whether there will be 41 votes in the Senate to block it and how aggressively the administration and pro-choice movement pushes for it. Whatever the outcome, a concerted effort to pass FOCA will energize the pro-life movement in a way that may help GOP candidates in 2010.

At a larger level, potential controversies over abortion, assisted suicide and stem cell research and certain other biomedical developments can't be dismissed as "childish things" or "wedge" issues designed to take our eye off the economic ball. The Catholic Church supports (often wrongly, I think) much of what might be characterized as a "liberal"position one economic issues, yet insists on a view of the human person that is inconsistent with what seems to be the consensus view of political liberals. This difference will continue to be contentious because it matters.

Cross posted at Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog and Shark and Shepherd.

Posted by Richard Esenberg on January 29, 2009 at 10:28 AM in Religion | Permalink


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I am not (other than Rummel) which is why I tried to correct what was attributed to me at the beginning of the post. What I said was that some bishops have been more aggressive in declaring that pro-choice politicians should be denied communion and, in the course of saying that this type of conflict has not always been and may not always be about abortion, I cited Rummel's actions in 1962.


Posted by: Rick Esenberg | Jan 30, 2009 10:22:05 AM

Richard -- I am not aware of a single politician in this country who has actually been declared excommunicated by his or her bishop for supporting policies inconsistent with Church teaching. Are you? Certainly, I might have missed the story. Best, Rick

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Jan 30, 2009 9:01:24 AM

I agree that FOCA is major, and I wonder why various actors -- especially the Catholic Church, but also the pro-life movement and the presidential and Senate campaigns -- did not use it more last fall. True, abortion generally took a back seat to economy, war, etc., but to the extent that those voices did speak up, it was more on the "born-alive" issue than FOCA. FOCA seems so evidently more politicaly potent to me, and it did at the time. Born-alive addresses an exceedingly rare situation, and had already been passed at the federal level, and the whole "what was Obama's position" in Illinois made it a sideshow. By contrast, FOCA trumps large supermajorities that support parental consent and other limited restrictions, and it trumps federalism, etc. And Obama promised FOCA in strong terms.

I actually suspect that the bishops did not push FOCA specifically because they did not want to actually tilt the election and get McCain. They'd rather have Obama, with better odds for the rest of the Catholic social agenda, and hope to stop this one very bad thing in Congress. I know that seems hard to believe, but all the other explanations seem even less believable -- it can't be that they did not see it coming, or did not know how far it went, etc. That was all out there, just bubbling below most discourse.

I have no idea what the President and Congress will do, but I suspect that this seemingly sleeper issue could be what guns were in 1994, and even the thought of that would be an immensely stupid political gamble. Obama's wins in Ohio and Indiana do not change the fact that those states' voters will not look kindly on Reps and Senators who override parental consent.

Posted by: anonner | Jan 29, 2009 4:04:03 PM

The Catholic Church would probably agree that it is to be as politically abstinent (no pun intended) as possible. It consistently calls abortion a human rights issue, a religious issue, and not *simply* a political issue.

I'm not sure there is room for dialogue here. Calling abortion, stem cell research, and assisted suicide "political" issues and debating over the appropriate scope of Church involvement in "politics" is ex post rejecting the Church's position.

Posted by: AndyK | Jan 29, 2009 12:27:08 PM

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