Fr. Reese: Bishops Attacked Obama, and “Took a Beating”
Jesuit Fr. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, outrageously accused the bishops of attacking President Obama and said that the bishops then “took a beating at the polls” in a column that appeared in The National Catholic Reporter. His prescription is that the bishops should surrender on issues like the legalization of abortion and gay “marriage” and immediately allow pro-abortion rights politicians to speak on Catholic campuses.
“The U.S. Catholic bishops took a beating at the polls,” wrote Fr. Reese. “Not only was President Obama reelected, despite their attacks on him, the bishops also lost on state referendums on same-sex marriage.”
Notice, that he didn’t say President Obama’s violation of religious liberty with the enactment of the HHS contraceptive mandate. No, he criticized the bishops for attacking Obama.
Fr. Reese recommends that in light of the “beating,” bishops should adopt a “Plan B” that includes a number of steps including not fighting too hard to support traditional marriage because it’ll only make getting concessions harder later.
First, it is clear that there is an approaching tsunami of young voters who will eventually make same sex marriage legal in most states of the union. The likelihood of stopping this tsunami is very low. As the older opponents of gay marriage die, they are replaced by younger voters who have friends who are gay. This is a new world. If you know you are going to lose a fight, you want to fight in a way that does you the least amount of damage. Tactics that enrage their opponents will make it more difficult for the bishops to get the exemptions they desire under this new reality.
For example, after the bishops spent $1 million fighting gay marriage in Massachusetts, it was not surprising that gay activists fought exempting Catholic foster care and adoption services from serving gay couples. They saw it as political payback. Ultimately, the bishops may be forced to treat same-sex couples the same way they treat divorced and remarried couples whose marriages are not approved by the church. The church does not like these marriages but they are acknowledged as legal under civil law.
Fr. Reese’s “Plan B” also includes surrendering the “impossible” fight to make abortion illegal. Instead, he writes that the bishops should side with pro-abortion rights politicians to seek to increase federal funding for women.
Despite all the efforts by the bishops and by pro-life activists, the country is just as divided on abortion today as it was decades ago. Public opinion polls show people do not like abortion but they do not want to make it illegal. No one has come up with a strategy to change the public’s mind. Even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, abortion would still be legal in most of the country. Those living in a state where it is illegal could easily drive to a state where it is legal.
If making abortion illegal is an impossible dream in the current political environment, what is plan B? Plan B has to be working with politicians of any stripe (including pro-choice politicians) in supporting programs that will reduce the number of abortions.
The bishops must reach out to all politicians and groups who are willing to support programs that help women to keep and raise their children. It is possible to agree with politicians on some things and disagree with them on other things. Simply aligning the church with Republican politicians, who promise to do something about abortion but then cut programs that help women, is a failed strategy. Instead of making things better, it makes them worse. Plan B means returning to the consistent ethic of life promoted by the bishops in the past.
Some bishops will reject such a strategy as pragmatic and not prophetic. But we live in an imperfect world. Granted the impossible dream of making abortion illegal, then the moral imperative is to do everything possible to reduce the number of abortions.
Finally, (and of great interest to The Cardinal Newman Society) Fr. Reese suggests lifting the ban on colleges hosting and honoring pro-abortion rights and pro-gay “marriage” politicians.
Banning pro-choice politicians and gay-marriage supporters from Catholic universities is also counterproductive. It makes the bishops look weak rather than strong. It tells the world that the bishops think their arguments are so weak that they cannot allow students to hear their opponents. Any strategy based on censorship rather than persuasion has failed before a word is spoken. The church should be on the side of free and open debate because “Catholic tradition maintains,” in the words of Benedict XVI, “that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation.”
So, in short, Fr. Reese’s post-election plan for the Catholic Church looks a lot like his pre-election plan for the Catholic Church — it would simply make the Catholic Church a lot more like Georgetown University.