The current attack campaign of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the
Obama Administration for its mandate that Catholic hospitals must provide contraceptive insurance for its employees is part of a pattern that has seen the Bishops oppose every pro-choice Democratic candidate for president for more than three decades.
With few exceptions, the bishops have urged Catholics to be single issue voters -- that issue being of course the sexual politics of an anti-abortion and anti-gay rights agenda.
The century-old Catholic social justice tradition in America has been pushed to the side.
There is evidence now, however, that bishops are not just ignoring social justice causes
but actively opposing them in both direct and indirect ways
The most conspicuous example, of course, is the bishops' public opposition to the health care bill. This opposition came as a major shock to many Catholics. The right to health care has long been promoted by the Church. The Vatican is surrounded by Italy which has had universal health care for decades.
The bishops, however, based their opposition on the possibility that federal funds might be used for abortion. However, the Hyde Amendment prevents that and no reputable organization had such a tortured interpretation of the health care law. Nevertheless, the bishops were willing to kill health insurance for 30 million Americans.
In early 2010, the Ohio Conference of Bishops listed on its website its support of collection bargaining. The Church had long cooperated with organized labor on the rights of working class men and women, so this support was greeted with a yawn and a big no surprise.
However, the Republican governor of Ohio then attempted to kill collective bargaining for state employees and the issue became a ballot choice. Without any explanation, the bishops' guide
to voters suddenly became neutral on collective bargaining. A century of Vatican and American Church tradition was no longer relevant.
One possible explanation is that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, a Republican and Catholic, is from Ohio. The bishops' wish to support Boehner
was evident when, in May 2011, he gave the commencement speech and received an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University of America.
Boehner had been Speaker less than four months when he was cited by Catholic University. The award was controversial with lay Catholics because the House Republicans under Boehner's leadership had jest passed the Paul Ryan budget, which continued tax cuts for the ultra-rich while taking $2.9 trillion away from programs for the low-income.
A committee of the USCCB wrote to Congress urging it not to balance its budget on the backs of the poor. The letter was posted and received pro-forma publicity.
But the real publicity came when the chair of the chair of the USCCB, Archbishop, now Cardinal-Designate Timothy Dolan of New York, wrote a letter to Paul Ryan in effect giving him assurance his budget was in guidance with Catholic social justice principles. Ryan immediately posted the letter on his website.
Prior to coming to New York, Dolan was in Milwaukee, where he became friends with Ryan. One politician covering the behind of another politician was the view of many Catholics, and let the poor worry about themselves. It was the type of crony clericalism that reminded too many of the child abuse scandals.
The Catholic bishops, however, state their views on public policy not only what by they do but also by what they don't do.
Pope Benedict issued an Encyclical in 2009, "Charity in Truth," a powerful argument for economic morality and protecting the rights on the poor. It was barely noticed by the bishops
who made no effort to promote its message.
Again, in 2011, the Pontifical Institute for Justice and Peace, headed by Cardinal Peter
Turkson, issued an eloquent appeal on the world wide need for financial regulations in order to avoid the recessions that so decimate the poor.
The bishops' fall conference followed shortly after the statement. This would have been the perfect opportunity to delve into the theme of poverty and inequality in America. But the bishops had other ideas and the institute's statement was never formally discussed.
Instead, the bishops announced their theme for the year would be to fight for religious liberty -- there would be an action alert and the churches would and are being used now in an election year attack on the Obama Administration and its pro-choice agenda. The issues of jobs and poverty are being ignored.
Some Catholics will no doubt listen to the bishops' letters as they are read from the pulpits of churches, but early indications are the majority will simply realize this is the rather regular four-year attack by the bishops on pro-choice candidates. Like other Americans, Catholics will vote on themes of jobs and the economy, poverty and inequality.