He also said the answer is increased catechesis for adult Catholics.
"The gospel calls us to look at the world through the eyes of Jesus.
That is not, a prism many people are looking through.""
[ to the great relief of the RC hierarchy ..... JP ]
From .............. National Catholic Reporter
December 1, 1995
BISHOPS, OLD ALLIES SPLIT ON AID TO POOR
By TOM ROBERTS NCR Staff
WASHINGTONÑAs the election season heats up in the coming months a complex but largely hidden struggle looms between the U.S. bishops and the religious right for the loyalty of [Roman] Catholic voters.
At the heart of the struggle is the difference in social vision between the bishops and groups like the Christian Coalition, which is actively recruiting Catholic members. The competing claims on the consciences of Catholic voters also highlight anew a nagging modern dilemma: How to apply broad and consistent moral teaching in the fractured world of partisan politics.
While the Christian Coalition, the political arm of religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, lines up neatly with the bishops in opposing abortion, it is in direct conflict with the bishops on a host of other social issues, including federal assistance to the poor and immigration.
Unlike the conference of bishops, the coalition has warmly embraced the budget-cutting campaign of Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the rhetoric of extreme conservative Pat Buchanan. The organization also spent about $1 million, according to press reports, supporting the conservative Republican "Contract with America."
Further, the coalition's newly formed Catholic Alliance recently stirred controversy in some quarters with its aggressive recruitment of Catholic voters.
The differences between the hierarchy and the religious right were on full display when the National Conference of Catholic Bishops met here Nov.15-16, loudly condemning the planned welfare cuts and other economic measures emergind from Congress.
As staunch an antiabortion force as conservative Archbishop J. Francis Stafford of Denver said in an interiew that he believes that the differences in social vision in part motivated the strong statements in defense of the poor.
"I think it was in all of our minds to disassociate ourselves from those elements within the Christian Coalition who would be unmindful of Christ's presence in the poor."
Bold statements aside, Stafford and others see the situation as a
"difficult dilema'' for those who hold abortion "as the predominant question in defining the culture as a culture of death."
When he returns home, he said,
"I'll have to be much more vocal in trying to delineate these issues."
No mention of the conflict was made in public sessions of the gathering here and none of the bishops interviewed in the halls of the Omni Shoremam Hotel were willing to go as far as Bishop Walter Sullivan of Richmond, Va., who last month issued a letter notifying the Catholic Alliance that its recruiting efforts were not welcome and outlining the long history of church social teachings as the primary guide for forming Catholic thinking on public policy issues.
Sullivan also confirmed that he had sent a letter to Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, president of the conference, expressing his distress that he had not been consulted before Robertson was invited to meet Pope John Paul II at the residence of New York Cardinal John O'Connor during the pope's visit to the United States. Robertson's operation is headquartered in Sullivan's diocese.
The Christian Coalition, led by Ralph Reed, is a model of successful grassroots organizing. Through an elaborate system of local training seminars and what have been dubbed "stealth candidates," it has managed to take over the controls of the local Republican Party apparatus in many communities.
That organizing know-how is now being put to use across the country in recruiting Catholics [NCR, Oct. 27]. Direct mailings are being used to garner donations and attract active members.
According to a spokesperson for the Catholic Alliance, the group estimates that about 16 percent, or 272,000 of the Christian Coalition's 1.7 million members, are Catholic. Whether all belong to the alliance is not known, she said, but all alliance members are automatically members of the coalition.
The group will be gearing up for special recruiting efforts in the coming months. No one at the coalition or alliance was available to answer questions about the apparent differences between the group's agenda and that of the bishops. According to Russell Shaw, spokesman for the Knights of Columbus, leadership of the Christian Coalition has approached the Catholic fraternal organization to explore possibilities for cooperating. He said a meeting "to hear what they have to say" will be held in the coming weeks.
If the coalition, through the alliance, is successful in drawing in significant numbers of Catholics, a clash at some point with the bishops would seem inevitable, given the tone of the statements issued during the meeting here.
In language that got as partisan as possible without naming names, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony and Bishop John Ricard, auxiliary of Baltimore, placed the bishops at the center of the national debate over budget cuts and services to society's vulnerable.
Mahony, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, came to the podium early on the first day of the gathering to propose a statement be issued by the bishops "in response to the current unprecedented dismantling by Congress of essential health care, educational and social service programs."
Ricard spoke of a U.S. economy that
"sometimes seems to be leading to three nations living side by side , one growing more prosperous and powerful, one squeezed by stagnant incomes and rising economic pressures, and one left behind in poverty, dependency and hopelessness."
Twelve years ago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago tried to bridge the widening divide between those who viewed opposing abortion as the most important issue on the political agenda and those who held as most important initiatives to help the poor and disenfranchised. He articulated a consistent-ethic, or seamless garment, approach to public policy issues that permits no separation of concerns along the spectrum of human life.
But that moral consistency is sundered by the hard reality of politics. And Catholics are often left asking how they can apply a seamless -garment approach in a political climate where so many seem intent on tearing the garment.
So far, there has been no consensus on how to handle an outside group seeking the Catholic vote. Bishop Joseph Sullivan, auxiliary of Brooklyn, said "there is a great wariness in the conference not to align too closely" with the Christian Coalition. He noted that his diocese refused to allow the Christian Coalition to distribute voter guides a few years ago during a controversial New York school hoard election.
Next door in Manhattan, however, O'Connor, with great fanfare, invited in the coalition and its voter guides.
Ricard said he sees increased evangelism and catechesis as the answer.
"We are teachers," said Ricard. "Our message is not partisan, it's moral. This is consistent teaching, there is nothing new. This is a position the church has consistently maintained for a hundred years."
All the bishops can do, he said, is help [Roman] Catholics to achieve informed consciences. Beyond that, he said,
"people of good will can come to different conclusions."
Mahony agreed. He also said the answer is increased catechesis for adult Catholics.
"The gospel calls us to look at the world through the eyes of Jesus. That is not, a prism many people are looking through."
[picture caption]- Baltimore Archbishop William Keeler presides over the meeting of Catholic bishops.