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

December 8, 1995

page 14




WASHINGTON—A two-day conference here of the Catholic Campaign for America was traveling a predictable track — speeches opposing abortion and supporting a largely conservative Republican agenda — when it took some intriguing turns.

First, conservative scholar Michael Novak, in stark contrast to the tone of many of the speeches, issued to the 700 in attendance a strong plea for tolerance among the [Roman] Catholic family.

He was followed by William J. Bennett, an official with the Bush and Reagan administrations and a member of the campaign's board of directors. Bennett urged abortion foes to move away from absolute positions to a more measured approach that would take into account the degree of change society will tolerate at a given moment.

The fight against abortion is at the center of the ambitious agenda of the conservative Catholic Campaign for America, formed three years ago to increase the influence of Catholics on public policy. The organization, advocating a new "public Catholicism," has only about a half dozen chapters in cities along the East Coast. But its directors and leaders, including notable players in the worlds of politics and business, are among the elite of U.S. conservative Catholicism.

The conference, billed as the group's first national convention, also was a showcase for the growing political ties between conservative Catholics and Protestant evangelicals. Ralph Reed, head of the Christian Coalition, was one of the main speakers.

Novak, a noted conservative author and winner of the Templeton Award for Progress in Religion, approached the topic of civility by asking the crowd to give special consideration to long-time labor leader and social activist William Doherty, "a man I very greatly admire."

Doherty, who began his career as a local union leader and now heads the American Institute for Free Labor Development, clearly came from a different perspective. Where others here chided the U.S. Catholic bishops for their statements condemning planned federal budget cuts and declaring their solidarity with the poor and marginalized, Doherty praised them.

In his workshop, he declared himself "a magisterial Catholic" who "buys it all": the whole range of Catholic teaching, including those on abortion and birth control. He scolded his audience for being "cafeteria Catholics" — a term usually applied to liberals in the church — and for concentrating on abortion while ignoring other elements of Catholic social teaching.

Said Novak, "Bill and I don't always agree in our analysis of what's going on in society." But, he said, he has a high regard for Doherty and his decades of Catholic activism.

One of the tasks of public Catholicism, Novak said, is to engage in social discourse "in which people are civil to one another" and in which people of faith "assume that each one is reasonable, assume that each one may have a part of the truth even when we dramatically disagree."

He argued that Catholic social thought "is not an ideology. You don't have to sign up on a dotted line. It is not part of a political party."

He urged Catholics to have "a fundamental respect for one another not only at the communion rail but in our conversations " He drew on the analogy of Thanksgiving dinner, when

Such an expression of love, he said,

Reed, whose Christian Coalition is the political arm of evangelical broadcaster Pat Robertson, was in no mood for civil discourse over differing points of view.

The political disputes of the day, Reed said, involve

Reed's coalition has recently launched a new division - the Catholic Alliance - and is aggressively recruiting Catholic members.

[Roman] Catholic Campaign executive director Michael Ferguson, in his opening remarks, called repeatedly on statements of Pope John Paul II to draw a broad portrait of "public Catholicism" that included compassion for the poor and immigrants.

But the scope was immediately narrowed by the first of eight general session speakers: U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde, R Ill., the premier congressional opponent of abortion. Hyde read from the recently released Statement on Political Responsibilities by the nalion's Catholic bishops.

In that statement, the bishops declared that they stood "with the unborn and the undocumented while many politicians seem to be abandoning them. We defend children in the womb and on welfare. We oppose the violence of abortion and the vengeance of capital punishment."

He said the pope during his U.S. visit did not suggest that abortion, "which takes one and a half million innocent lives every year is one issue among many. No, he argued quite rightly:

"There are other challenges to be sure, but the issue of the right to life of the unhorn cuts to the heart of the American experiment like no other issue. I'm afraid this is more than a mere stylistic difference of opinion. It's an affirmation of the seamless garment metaphor that is based on, in my opinion, an unwarranted moral equivalence."

Twelve years ago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago fashioned the seamless garment approach in which all life issues and [Roman] Catholic social concerns are inextricably joined. Hyde's comments were modified a bit by Bennett, who argued that while not abandoning principle in thc fight against abortion, "I do believe that reasonable people of goodwill can and do disagree on the means to that end."

Bennett said he believes "there is a pro-life agenda that is both incremental and principled. ..... Our nation as it is today will sustain ending late-term abortions and sex-selection aboltions. It will sustain promoting informed consent and it will sustain requiring parental notification. ..... That is where we ought to concentrate our legal efforts."