Peter Steinfels takes the gloves off this morning in his portrait of the Catholic bishops and the election. What he points to is a deep divide between the increasingly large numbers of bishops (more than 60) who more or less told their flocks to cast their vote based on the candidate’s position on abortion and the official bishops’ position–as outlined in the USCCB’s 2007 statement on faithful citizenship. Peter managed to get hold of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, who had charge of the drafting of that document, and who warned against what in fact many bishops all but did: endorsing particular candidates:
“It goes against our tradition to do that,” he said. “It hasn’t done any good for the candidate, or for the church or for conscience.”
Bishop DiMarzio lamented the fact that “people want black and white answers” rather than the whole legacy of moral analysis and reflection that “the Catholic Church can offer.” At the same time, it was clear that the possibility that a well-informed, sincere Catholic might use that legacy to vote for Senator Obama strained his imagination.
So on the one side, you’ve got bishops who appear to despise a document that opens the door to supporting voting for pro-choice politicians, and on the other, bishops who believe that the door needs to be open, on grounds of principle and prudence, but not, it seems, because they think a faithful Catholic could actually vote for a pro-choice candidate. Or at least, no bishop has as yet gone there. How this is dealt with at the bishops semi-annual meeting in Baltimore next week is, for my money, the biggest post-election religion story out there.
Update: By way of perspective, here’s John Allen’s month-old report on Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, explain why he would “obviously” vote for Barack Obama, despite his pro-choice views on abortion:
“Of course I believe that abortion is wrong, that it’s killing innocent life,” he said. “I also believe, however, that those who are against abortion should be consistent.
“If my choice is between a person who makes room for abortion, but who is really pro-life in terms of justice in the world, peace in the world, I will prefer him to somebody who doesn’t support abortion but who is driving millions of people in the world to death,” Onaiyekan said.
“It’s a whole package, and you never get a politician who will please you in everything,” he said. “You always have to pick and choose.”
It would be interesting to see what would happen if an American Catholic hierarch articulated such a position publicly.