John Leo's column in the April 17 U.S. News & World Report is one of the better commentaries to date about Catholic bishops, Catholic politicians and public policy on abortion. Leo points out the crucial role played by Mario Cuomo, who in his 1984 speech "Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor's Perspective" explained how he reconciled his church's teachings on abortion with his responsibilities as governor of New York. Leo mentions that Gray Davis took a more aggressive approach toward the bishops who are, at least in theological theory, charged with leading the church:
Davis, replaced by Schwarzenegger after his recall last year, skipped all of Cuomo's angst and the usual hand-wringing about not imposing his personal beliefs on a pluralistic society. He simply ignored what the church and his local bishop had to say, repeating over and over that he is "100 percent pro-choice and proud of it." He became the first major American Catholic politician to define his abortion stance by simply telling his church to take a hike. When the bishop of Sacramento suggested that Davis refrain from taking Communion, Davis put out a statement suggesting that the bishop refrain from "telling the faithful how to practice their faith."
Some readers of GetReligion have raised a good question: Why are the bishops more concerned about abortion than about the death penalty or other social issues on which the church has made declarations? Leo takes a shot at it:
Protection of fetal life has been theologically developed and defined over the years as essential to Roman Catholic belief, in a way that, for instance, Pope John Paul II' s opposition to the death penalty has not. The bishops must be in shock when they look around and see that an entire generation of Catholic politicians has turned out to be a group of enablers for the spread of a practice that the church clearly defines as "intrinsically evil."
Leo's conclusion -- that the bishops "probably should raise their voices a bit and just keep trying to persuade Catholic pols, present and future, to take their religion seriously" -- does, as he grants it may, sound weak. But it also sounds like the best that pro-life Catholics can hope for in the "separation of faith and self" atmosphere that prevails in so much of American culture (and among some Catholics).
Elsewhere in the same issue of U.S. News, Paul Bedard's Washington Whispers column offers another tantalizing morsel of religion-related punditry. Bedard asks George Stephanopoulos, who helped give us the grating slogan "It's the economy, stupid," to offer similar nuggets of advice for the 2004 election. Stephanopoulos offers seven points, and this is the sixth:
"Catholics count." His hint to Kerry: "The swing vote is white Catholics."
Would GetReligion's readers like to break out their decoder rings on this hint? It sounds like "separation of faith and [the Catholic Soccer Mom's] self."