Mitre v. Mitre

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Mitre.jpegOn dotCommonweal, David Gibson has a pithy summation of where the Catholics bishops came down and where they didn’t. I’m feeling in need of a good history of the bishops’ public positioning on abortion since Roe v. Wade was handed down. It’s been 35 years; the Church’s position has not changed; the position of the American electorate has not changed; the position of American Catholics is stable; and the number of abortions is in decline; and yet never have the bishops seemed more agitated. It doesn’t seem as if there’s some new wind blowing from Rome; the word I get is that there’s less agita about abortion and the American political order in the Vatican than there is in the American episcopate. So what gives?
The best answer that I can summon at the moment is that what’s going on has to do with the internal dynamics of the USCCB. John Allen reports that abortion hardliners largely lost out to moderate in voting on committee chairmanships. So it seems that for the moment, those best described as moderates rule the roost. But the conservatives are restless. Very.
Update: OK, I’ve found such a history. It’s “The Politics of the U.S. Catholic Bishops: The Centrality of Abortion” by Margaret Ross Sammon, in a new collection of essays edited by Kristin E,. Heyer, Mark J. Rozell, and Michael A Genovese entitled Catholics and Politics: The Dynamic Tension Between Faith & Power, from Georgetown UP. It’s useful not only in tracing the trajectory of the bishops’ engagement in politics via abortion but also in providing a context for viewing the current contention over the bishops’ document on Faithful Citizenship. That document is essentially a continuation of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s idea of placing abortion within a “consistent ethic of life”–thereby, among other things, reducing abortion’s salience. Abortion hard-liners didn’t like Bernardin’s approach then, and they don’t like Faithful Citizenship now (even though they voted for it last year).