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Europa, Italy

USA 2012: Bishops versus Obama

By Massimo Faggioli

Translated By Simone Urru

26 November 2011

Edited by Kate­rina Kobylka

Italy - Europa - Original Article (Italian)

Those expecting the American bishops to be passive, awaiting the presidential elections of 2012, were wrong. The new publication of the long and complex Faithful Citizenship document in November 2007 came a few weeks before the autumn plenary assembly of bishops, which just ended in Baltimore. However, the new edition doesn't include any update with respect to the economic and social crisis enveloping the country, as if the political landscape and pastoral thought had not changed at all in the last four years.

On the other hand, many bishops had accused Faithful Citizenship of not having persuaded the faithful Catholics not to vote for Democrats. The United States bishops' conference, now led by the militant archbishop of New York and future Cardinal Timothy Dolan (since he defeated the natural candidate as vice president, the talkative Kicanas, in last year's elections for the presidency), has chosen head-on collision with the liberal policy of the Obama administration.

In late September 2011, the bishops' conference created an "ad hoc committee for religious freedom." The thesis of the bishops' conference is that the laws on abortion, contraception and gay marriage are an "attack on religious freedom."

The cases mentioned are those of Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., where Catholic welfare agencies, partially supported by public money, have ceased to offer support to the practices of adoption and foster care because of their refusal to extend those services to homosexual couples. Another issue is the requirement, resulting from the health care reform, for all insurance companies (including those that insure the workers at Catholic organizations) to cover the medical expenses for contraceptive, reproductive and abortive practices, in contrast to the teachings of the church (on this second issue, the bishops' conference is backed by the Catholics who in March 2010 criticized the health reform with the bishops).

The bishops see a motion, coming in particular from Obama's Democratic administration policy, to reduce the freedom of the church to defend its "non-negotiable values." The desire to leave behind the sexual abuse scandals, which saw a few weeks ago — for the first time — a bishop (Robert Finn from Kansas City) being sued in court for not having denounced a pedophile priest, is evident.

The sexual abuse scandal in the football team of Penn State University gives the Catholic Church the opportunity to show the American public that the conspiracy of silence around child abuse is not a problem exclusive to the Catholic clergy. The meeting between Obama and Dolan, which took place in confidence in recent days, has not calmed the waters and has only served to warn the White House.

Backed by bishops like the future Cardinal of Philadelphia, Chaput, and the Cardinals of Boston and Washington, Wuerl and O'Malley, President Dolan has raised the level of confrontation with Obama's Democratic administration in the crucial months for the campaign for the presidential election of November 2012.

As an adviser of the bishops (who declined to be named) said, the policy of the bishops has entered the "no enemies in the right" phase. In 1919, the U.S. Catholic bishops helped pave the way to Roosevelt's New Deal, proposing minimum wage and a social safety net for the elderly, disabled and unemployed. Dolan's leadership continues the course inaugurated by the former president, Cardinal of Chicago George, with a clear shift from the episcopate of the ‘80s and ‘90s, which in a Reaganian atmosphere had published very courageous documents on social and economic justice and disarmament.

The bishops of the 21st century seem to have nothing to offer to a poor and unjust society, similar to the one that preceded the New Deal. In an America characterized by social inequalities in the style of the "robber barons" of the late 19th century, even the Catholic Church seems to be back in that period. From the fighting of the American Catholic Church for the religious freedom of the church of minorities and immigrants in the 19th century, we came to the 21st century, where the Catholic Church — which in the meantime became the majority among the other American churches and religions — acts as an interpreter, in the name of "non-negotiable values," of the idea of a "moral majority," almost a revival of the moral majority of Republican Pastor Jerry Falwell in the early ‘80s.

Unlike the issues in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is little that Obama can do to stop the "culture war" of the American bishops. Obama won in 2008 thanks to the votes of Catholics as well: the White House hopes that Catholics continue to consider an episcopate increasingly sided with a Republican Party, whose presidential candidates stood out so far only for the liberalistic extremism of their proposals for social and fiscal policies, politically irrelevant.



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