Sunday, November 11, 2012

2012 Elections as Day of Reckoning for Catholic Bishops: Recent Commentary

His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, President of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Now that the 2012 U.S. elections are over and the dust settling, there's weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth among the religious right, which failed to deliver the vote promised by long-time activists like Ralph Reed.  Reed had foretold that the nation would turn solid red as right-wing evangelicals and right-wing Catholics swept to the polls to elect Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan (on Reed's promises, see Rob Boston at Talk to Action).

Rev. Mike Huckabee predicted the national Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day that he organized in the summer would be a "dress rehearsal" for election day, as an "enormous level of voters" from the religiously conservative heartland turned out to vote GOP.  He was referencing, of course, the droves of conservatives who wolfed down fried-chicken sandwiches for Jesus and religious freedom back in August. 

Among those now forced to take stock are the Catholic bishops (if, indeed, they choose to do so), whose "religious freedom" crusade over the course of the summer spectacularly bombed, and who failed to convince voters in four more states to block the human rights of gay citizens to civil marriage.  Here's a selection of recent news commentary on what the elections portend for the bishops--if they choose to listen:

Laurie Goodstein at New York Times, "Christian Right Failed to Sway Voters on Issues":

The election outcome was also sobering news for Catholic bishops, who this year spoke out on politics more forcefully and more explicitly than ever before, some experts said. The bishops and Catholic conservative groups helped lead the fight against same-sex marriage in the four states where that issue was on the ballot. Nationwide, they undertook a campaign that accused Mr. Obama of undermining religious liberty, redoubling their efforts when a provision in the health care overhaul required most employers to provide coverage for contraception. 
Despite this, Mr. Obama retained the Catholic vote, 50 to 48 percent, according to exit polls, although his support slipped from four years ago. Also, solid majorities of Catholics supported same-sex marriage, said Dr. Jones, the pollster.

Stephanie Mincimer at Mother Jones, "Obama 1, Catholic Bishops 0":

These fights [i.e., over the Obama administration's HHS guidelines] prompted the bishops to mobilize during the presidential campaign. They staged a two-week "religious freedom" campaign over the summer that was only a thinly veiled attack on Obama. Throughout the election season, priests across the country were heard urging their congregations to vote against Obama. 
Despite all the protests and occasional polls suggesting that Catholics would vote against Obama by a 3 to 1 margin, American Catholics ended up supporting Obama over Mitt Romney by two percent, according to exit polls analyzed by the nonprofit Faith in Public Life. Obama did see a drop in his share of Catholic supporters, but mostly among those who also fall into the "white male" category that represented Romney's strongest base.

Commonweal editorial, "Now for the Hard Part":

Among those who should be chastened by this election are the U.S. Catholic bishops. There is little evidence that Catholics or others were persuaded by the bishops’ arguments against the ACA or its contraception mandate, let alone their exaggerated claims about threats to religious freedom. Voters also dealt the bishops’ ongoing campaign against same­-sex marriage a series of setbacks. Perhaps it is time for the bishops, like the Republican Party, to rethink their increasingly confrontational approach to divisive social and political questions (see “Morbid Symptoms”). In light of Obama’s re-election, a change in tone and style would be both gracious and shrewd. The bishops might even try modeling what a more civil political discourse should look like.  

But as Gerelyn Hollingsworth reminds the Commonweal editors:

There is little evidence that Catholics or others were persuaded by the bishops’ arguments against the ACA or its contraception mandate, let alone their exaggerated claims about threats to religious freedom. 

And Gerelyn is right, of course.  If the bishops refuse to initiate a public dialogue about their failed pastoral leadership of our church, which has been on full display in the abuse crisis for some time now and is on glaring display again due to their sinful waste of resources in trying to unseat the current president and snatch rights from a vulnerable minority group, then we lay Catholics have to prompt such dialogue.

And Catholic centrists who persist in acting as cheerleaders for the bishops around the bogus issue of "religious freedom," and who fail to speak out forcefully about the bishops' immoral attack on the gay community, have hardly positioned themselves to lead such a critically important dialogue, despite their pretension to be the chief managers of the American Catholic conversation.  The bishops' defeat at the polls in 2012 signals the emptiness of the centrist powerbrokers who do everything in their power to control the identity-making conversation of American Catholicism, as it does the bishops' impotence.

*I've taken the liberty of embedding a link that Gerelyn's comment provides without embedding.

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