Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Bishops and the Elephant (In the Living Room)

For those wanting more information on the not-so-tacit alliance the U.S. Catholic bishops have made—as a body—with the Republican party, and about the real-life implications of that alliance as these play out in the politics of large numbers of “pro-life” Catholics, I recommend a recent open letter of Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea to Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte, North Carolina. The letter is published at the website of National Catholic Reporter (

Dr. Frawley-O’Dea has outstanding credentials to deal with the full gamut of issues comprised by an authentic pro-life ethic. In 2002, she was the only mental health professional to address the bishops at the historic Dallas meeting at which the entire scope of the bishops’ cover-up of the clerical sexual abuse crisis began to dawn on the public at large. She has published a book on the effects of childhood abuse on adults, and has co-edited another about the cover-up of the Catholic abuse crisis.

Frawley-O’Dea’s open letter to Bishop Jugis calls on him to become “a credible pro-life advocate.” The letter recounts what happened when she took her daughters aged ten and seven to an Obama rally in Charlotte in late September. They encountered Catholic pro-life protesters holding signs with what the protesters claimed were pictures of late-term aborted babies.

Frawley-O’Dea notes that the actions of these Catholic protesters traumatized her children, and suggests that they traumatized other children in attendance. She also carefully analyzes the scientific and ethical data about abortion, noting that many credible thinkers differentiate between abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (which comprise 89% of all abortions in the U.S.), and after 20 weeks of pregnancy (0.2% of abortions).

Dr. Frawley-O’Dea concludes,

Surely, the Church could redirect their ostensibly pro-life advocates to use more representative advertising, to refrain from ad hominem and distorted attacks on politicians, and to expand their efforts in directions that support the life of ALL of God’s little ones. The Catholic Church would have a heck of a lot more credibility if it
seemed as concerned with protecting the born as it does with shaming women who choose to end pregnancies they are not equipped to confront. In the meantime, you can add my daughter to the list of children traumatized by activities sanctioned by the Catholic hierarchy.

Interestingly enough, the rally at which Dr. Frawley-O’Dea’s daughters were traumatized by “pro-life” opponents of Obama in Charlotte occurred some ten days after the diocese of Charlotte hosted this year’s meeting of the secretive and politically powerful Catholic Leadership Conference. Since the meeting is closed to the public and media and is attended by invitation only, it is difficult to ascertain what goes on at this annual conference of Catholic political operatives affiliated with high Republican officials.

Nonetheless, the Catholic Leadership Conference’s annual press releases, all of which have strong political significance, indicate the tenor of the Conference’s thinking. As a press release following this year’s conference and uploaded to the website notes, the Conference issued a statement this year calling on Catholics to make the “non-negotiable” issue of abortion paramount as they vote (

An interview with Baker, Oregon, Bishop Robert Vasa, who attended the Conference, which is also on the website, leaves little doubt that the voting guidelines released by the conference seek to compel Catholic voters to vote for McCain-Palin in the coming elections ( Among those identified with this Conference whose names have been made public is Barbara Henkels, who is closely associated with one of Mr. Bush’s most prominent Catholic advisors, Deal Hudson (

Unfortunately, as in the case of that other advocate of traditional family values and pro-life politics I discussed earlier today—Randall Terry—Mr. Hudson’s star has been somewhat in descent since news broke in 2004 that he left Fordham University in 1994 where he was an Assistant Professor of Philosophy, after he had been charged with molesting an 18-year old coed (see and As with Mr. Terry, Mr. Hudson is now with a second wife, having divorced his first—though the non-negotiables of most right-wing Catholic voter guides call for Catholics to support the “traditional” one-man, one-woman definition of marriage.*

And for what it’s worth, Mr. Hudson also continues to be active in the campaign of Mr. McCain this year ( This despite requests from a number of religious groups for Mr. McCain to drop Mr. Hudson as a Catholic advisor . . . .

*I want to make it crystal clear that I am not lambasting those who divorce and remarry or divorce and don't remarry. I have no right to judge anyone else's marital arrangements. And I believe that many marriages should not be held together when they cause misery to one or both partners, just as I believe that people have a right to pursue another relationship when a marriage dissolves.

What I am doing is noting the hypocrisy of people who claim to stand for traditional one man, one woman marriage, and who, on that basis, oppose gay marriage, when their own lives are clear testimonies to their failure to observe their own one man, one woman rule.