From ............ National Catholic Reporter

December 1, 1995

page 1


The U.S. bishops' meeting in Washington Nov 15-18 was barely a half-hour old before it became obvious that politics and the poor would be a central topic.

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony stood up to propose that conference president Cardinal William Keeler issue a brief statement "in response to the current unprecedented dismantling by Congress of essential health care, educational and social service programs."

Other bishops agreed. Two days later. Keeler's statement said, "We address these matters as pastors, not political leaders or policy experts. We believe these debates have fundamental moral dimensions and human consequences - [these are] measures that will hurt the very people the Holy Father six weeks ago called us to defend."

That, with the conference's letter to Congress urging members to rethink welfare reform and cutting the earned income tax credit that benefits the working poor, are both good steps.

The bishops deserve our applause.

But how can this play out practically on Election Day?

If the Catholics as voters are expected to be the ballot-box interpreters and the action arm of this Catholic social teaching, then the bishops have to understand they've long been sending a mixed message.

For Catholics, the only vote possible on the social issues defended by church teaching would be for President Clinton and congressional Democrats. But the bishops are also pushing for what many in their ranks regard as the major social issue of the day, abortion and the turning back of Roe v. Wade. And from the bishops' perspective, that's practically the only issue the Republicans and the right have that coincides with Catholic teaching.

If the bishops truly want to be heard by [Roman] Catholics, they have to say that abortion isn't the only issue. Otherwise they're still talking out of both sides of their political mouths.