ControlWatch.org (U.S.), March 03, 2009
Catholic Extremists Swiftboat Sebelius
Are you a "fake" Catholic? Don't worry,
the majority of Catholics are. That's at least according to the religious right
which has taken to doling out titles like "alleged Catholic." The most
recent Catholic to earn the epithet is Kathleen Sebelius --current Governor of
Kansas and Obama's choice for Secretary of HHS. Her nomination has drawn fire
from right wing Catholic groups including the Catholic League and the American
Life League, which refers to her as an "alleged Catholic." After the
pro-life group Catholics United came to her defense, Life News, an "anti-abortion"
online news site, labeled it "fake Catholic."
According to these
extremists, to be a "real" Catholic one must agree with the U.S. Bishops,
and through them, the Vatican, on every issue, but especially on abortion. Kathleen
Sebelius is pro-choice, as are the majority of U.S. Catholics. But Bishops who
don't live in the real world where people juggle complicated lives, are free to
be moral scolds. For these doctrinal purists, you're either with us or against
us. And lately the Bishops enemy's list grows: John Kerry and recently Nancy Pelosi
and Joe Biden, among the high value targets. And so they oppose Sebelius who the
archbishop of Kansas City said should refrain from receiving communion.
sad irony is that the Bishops end up in cahoots with pro-life extremists who shun
even those fighting to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. Sebelius,
for instance, while pro-choice, has achieved many of the goals the pro-life community
supposedly endorses. While Governor she has focused on preventing unwanted pregnancy,
resulting in a dramatic 10% decline in abortion rates during her time in office.
(Genuine pro-lifers, those who actually seek to lower abortion rates, will find
much in her record to commend.)
But results matter little for the religious
right, and so they wage war on her nomination to head the Department of Health
and Human Services (and on any group that supports her). No matter that she expanded
access to adoption and provided pregnancy support for low-income women. No matter
that Sebelius has a nuanced view of abortion, one that differentiates between
personal morality and public necessity. Sebelius says, "Personally I believe
abortion is wrong. However, I disagree with the suggestion that criminalizing
women and their doctors is an effective means of achieving the goal of reducing
the number of abortions in our nation." Sebelius may well be an interesting
figure for the times. She appears to understand both sides of this fierce struggle,
and, better than most, might be able to push ahead a common.
come as no surprise that the locked-in-a-time-capsule groups attacking Sebelius
are the very same resisting every effort to reach common ground. They appear too
invested in their struggle to actually embrace solutions. But their very resistance
may have advanced the common ground case, which has been swept in with President
Obama. The attacks on Sebelius has prompted the nascent common ground movement
to take a step together. Both sides have come together to defend her. The pro-choice
side welcomes Sebelius. Leading Christian leaders "dedicated to common ground
solutions to reduce the number of abortions in America" spoke out today via
press release stating,
"[Sebelius] is a Democratic Governor who has
been elected by wide margins in a state where registered Republicans outnumber
Democrats two to one. Her nomination has already won not only the support of Democrats,
but also praise from Republican pro-life senators such as Sam Brownback and Pat
Roberts and governors such as Sonny Perdue of Georgia. Her record and her relationships
with leaders in both parties are proof that pro-choice and pro-life leaders can
work together to advance a pro-family agenda."
And yet, in a relentless,
ad hominen attack, the religious right dwells on circumstantial connections, hoping
to imply dark motives. Kathleen Sebelius once stood in a room with an abortion
provider who won, in a fundraising auction, a chance to meet her. Seems guilt
by acquaintance is the right's new cudgel, so be careful who you Facebook friend.
For Sebelius' upcoming Senate confirmation hearing, the religious right
has chosen Senator Tom Coburn as its hatchet man. Coburn is the redmeat "pro-lifer,"
the kind with a decidedly pro-death streak: he's called for abortion providers
to get the death penalty, leads campaigns against the condom (in doing so he also
held up legislation that helped uninsured women dying of cancer pay for treatment)
and opposes the cancer-preventing HPV vaccine among other career highlights. (Even
though he's a Baptist, on these points, Coburn qualifies as a "real"
If falling in line with the US Bishops is a requirement for
being a "real" Catholic, that's bad news for Catholics, as well as for
the Church which, on this issue, seems to ever more devoutly move to the fringe
of American life. According to a poll of Catholic voters taken by Catholics for
a Free Choice in the 2008 election, 73% say Catholic politicians should be under
no religious obligation to vote on issues the way the bishops recommend. And like
Sebelius, the majority of Catholics are pro-choice (58%). They vehemently disagree
with the Church on birth control - the church opposes every form but the as-ineffective-as-it-is-unpopular
natural family planning. In fact, three-quarters of Catholics want health insurance
plans to cover contraception. Nearly 80% of Catholics oppose pharmacists who refuse
to fill birth control prescriptions. A comfortable majority, 64%, oppose abstinence-only
education, another favorite of the moralizing bishops, and their activist enablers.
Based on these numbers, the Church might want to reconsider its campaign to deny
pro-choice Catholic public officials the eucharist. The Church may refer to pro-choice
politicians as extremists but the majority of Catholic congregants agree with
pro-choice politicians like Sebelius on every one of these issues.
thus represents the mainstream view of Catholic believers. And so the Catholic
clergy and its political arm, the so-called 'anti-abortion" movement, misleads
and incites. It creates a caricature. This may be effective with some, but they
are fewer and fewer. Indeed, deriding moderate politicians like Sebelius marks
the Church as out of step with the majority of Catholics. The Church has been
reduced to focusing on issues that most Catholics, and most Americans, no longer
consider most important, if they ever did.
In the last election, abortion
didn't even make it in the top ten on the list of Catholic voters' priorities.
Instead, the most important issues for Catholic Americans were, in order of importance:
improving the nation's economy; protecting the US from terrorism; resolving the
war in Iraq; making health care more affordable; and protecting social security.
The Church has been noticeably absent in the public discourse on these issues
making its rabid attacks on even moderate pro-choice officials seems all the more
extraneous. (Those who would argue that Catholic hospitals help make healthcare
more affordable by offering charity care should know that a study showed that
non-sectarian hospitals were three times more likely to provide charity care than
religious hospitals--the bulk of which are Catholic.)
Meanwhile, the US
Conference of Catholic Bishops returns to the same well. As Time magazine exposed
last week, it has been staging a massive campaign against a non-existent abortion
bill--a costly and useless campaign intended to foment anger among the trusting
faithful. Campaigning against a fictional bill instead of focusing on the real-life
struggles of ever-more-pressured Americans. (And, while fiddling with the sex
lives of Americans, the Bishops have failed to tend to their own business. A survey
by researchers at Villanova University found 85 percent of Roman Catholic dioceses
responding had recently discovered embezzlement of church money. One in Delray
Beach, Fla., involved two priests who spent $8.6 million on trips to Las Vegas,
dental work, property taxes and other expenses over four decades.)
campaigns like the one against Sebelius, the Catholic right wing is succeeding
at making the Church less and less relevant to the majority of the faithful. But
then perhaps the church realizes the deep danger to the religious right posed
by the rise of Catholic moderates like Sebelius.
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