The National Catholic Review
The Editors
No Common Ground?

“This is not a matter of political compromise or a matter of finding some way of common ground,” said Bishop Daniel Conlon of Steubenville, Ohio. “It’s a matter of absolutes.” His comments came during a discussion on abortion at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which led to a statement addressed to President-elect Barack Obama, released on Nov. 12. “Abortion kills not only unborn children; it destroys constitutional order and the common good, which is assured only when the life of every human being is legally protected,” the conference wrote. Some bishops expressed frustration with the election’s outcome. Despite statements from some bishops, Catholics favored Senator Obama over Senator John McCain. There is no evidence, however, that the bishops failed in their effort to form consciences in advance of the election. To draw that conclusion, one must conflate church teaching with a partisan political victory.

In response to the election outcome, the U.S.C.C.B. decided to focus its efforts to an even greater extent than before the election. But a one-issue approach may be risky, and putting abortion at the center of the dialogue may leave the church with less sway in the new administration. Abortion is the pre-eminent life issue, but it is not the only one on which the bishops hope to have a voice. And that voice must be one that people, including the new administration, can hear. Without a search for some small piece of common ground, the bishops may find that they have ceded the ground to less informed parties, or find themselves with no ground left on which to stand.

The bishops might also take the president-elect at his word. In April 2008, during a forum in Pennsylvania, Senator Obama spoke about the divide between pro-choice and pro-life forces: “We can certainly agree on the fact that we should be doing everything we can to avoid unwanted pregnancies that might even lead somebody to consider having an abortion.” Surely this points to common ground and the possibility of working together. As the bishops wrote in their document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, when morally flawed laws already exist, “the process of framing legislation to protect life is subject to prudential judgment and ‘the art of the possible.’”

A Forgotten Battle

Senator Barack Obama will be the first American president in a generation who has not faced some controversy over his military service or lack of same. George W. Bush served in the National Guard (well, more or less), while both his opponents in the general election, John Kerry and Al Gore, served in Vietnam, the latter as a reporter. Bill Clinton’s infamous draft deferment during his student days was the subject of much derision by his two presidential opponents. In this campaign Obama’s opponent, John McCain, was a decorated veteran widely praised for his heroism; yet Obama’s lack of military experience did not become a major issue in the presidential race. Could it be that Americans are sick of games of patriotic one-upmanship?

Or is the issue simply one of age? In fact, Barack Obama was too young to have been drafted. He was 12 when the draft was suspended and barely into his teens when the last U.S. marines left Saigon in April 1975. Has time done what our politicians and pundits could not—has it made military service irrelevant as an indicator of a candidate’s suitability for office? Only momentarily, perhaps. We may have ended the draft, but we have not ended our wars.

In All Things (Really)

Milwaukee was abuzz last month with news that the Milwaukee Public Museum’s exotic titan arum bulb was blossoming for the first time since it was planted six years ago. Native to Sumatra, the titan arum is a very unusual plant. It requires sustained humidity and heat of at least 80 degrees for a number of years; then it suddenly sprouts and grows rapidly to a height of as much as 10 feet before blossoming for just 48 hours.

Along with the blossom comes a stench so nasty that the titan arum is commonly referred to as the “corpse flower,” or “Get that thing outta here!” The odor draws certain bees, as well as beetles and flies that mistake it for a dead animal. The plant traps the insects in its leaves until they are covered in its pollen, then releases them to find another corpse plant (and take a long shower).

Considered from a distance, an enormous flower that smells like rotting flesh sounds less attractive than a pooper-scooper. Yet in the course of eight days over 6,500 people came to see it. Uninformed coastal types might wonder, what else is there to do in Milwaukee? (They know not the glories of Kopp’s Custard, the Milwaukee Art Museum and fresh air.)

No, the attention given to this most strange and noisome of life forms would seem to point instead to that fundamental intuition of our faith—somehow all of God’s creations are wondrous and good. In the kingdom of God, even the fetid get feted.

Comments

Mariel Birnbaumer | 12/1/2008 - 2:35pm
Where is the condemnation of the prevailing greed threatening the world markets and the social network for the poor? Is abortion supposed to be the only moral issue for Catholics? The last time I looked we still had seven capital sins and many of them have nothing to do with sex.
STEVEN DZIDA | 11/24/2008 - 11:37am
As a pro-life Catholic who voted for Obama, I believe that we must work for a conversion of hearts regarding abortion, but we must also use our God-given talents and creativity to take all prudent action to reduce the number of abortions actually performed. We in the pro-life community have spent the last 35 years spending enormous resources of time, talent and treasure in an as yet unsuccessful effort to make abortion illegal. What has been the result of that effort? We now lose 1 million + lives per year to abortion. The party occupying the White House doesn't seem to matter. Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr.--still 1 million + lives lost every year. A case can be made that our effort to make abortion illegal has actually INCREASED the number of lives lost to abortion. The pro-abortion side feels compelled to expend enormous resources of its own opposing us in this effort. What if BOTH sides invested instead all those resources into mutually acceptable programs which would actually reduce the number of abortions? We must never concede the principle that abortion is a grave, moral evil. But abortion's legality or illegality is not itself a moral issue. Trying to make abortion illegal is only one means to honor the moral principle. Thus far it appears to be a singularly unsuccessful means. What if we try another strategy, another means to honor the principle? While we continue efforts to effect a conversion of hearts on this issue, let's suspend indefinitely our efforts to make abortion illegal and instead concentrate on joint efforts by people of good will on both sides of this issue to reduce the number of abortions performed each year. What if such a new strategy would save 100,000 lives each year or even 250,000 lives each year or even more? If we refuse to undertake this new strategy while stubbornly persisting in a strategy that results in 1 million + abortions each year, year in and year out, how can we rationalize the 1 million + lives which will likely be lost NEXT year and the NEXT? How can we rationalize the loss of thousands of lives that might have been saved by a new strategy? Would that not be "material cooperation with intrinsic evil?" What if abortion was legal, but none ever happened? Wouldn't that be OK? If abortion was illegal, but we still had a million performed every year, our work as pro-lifers would not be done, right? So let’s change the approach. We continue to hold and declare that abortion is wrong and should be eliminated, but we give up (for now) the effort to make it illegal. These efforts have done nothing but create a large wedge issue which has been used by pro-abortion rights people to deflect attention and resources from all the other initiatives which might actually DECREASE the number of abortions. Let's reach out across the chasm and join with the pro-abortion rights people in substantial, targeted efforts to make abortions "rare." Let's put them to the test. Let's say that, while we continue to believe that abortion is morally wrong, we will set aside our efforts to make it illegal and instead join with them in their avowed objective to make abortions rare. That means collaboration in all the support systems for pregnant women facing hard choices--education, day care, medical services, career counseling--so that they might NEVER choose abortion simply because they think they have no alternative. If the combatants put down their arms and instead sit down to work toward what BOTH sides say is their common goal--making abortions rare--wouldn't we have a MUCH better chance to actually do it? If we undertake this new strategy to eliminate abortions, we certainly are NOT giving “material cooperation with intrinsic evil.” Rather we are exercising prudential judgment about the best means to achieve the moral good of eliminating abortions. The dictatorial approach of certain bishops condemning our voting for any candidate who supports continued legalization o
Mike M | 11/24/2008 - 8:48am
I collected votes from the nursing home residents. What struck me was the enthusiasm and thought they put into the process. Like the editors of America, many took to the Democratic message. However, I was most struck with those that voted Democrat but did NOT vote for Obama. Those voters all said the same thing. Voting for Obama was a vote for abortion. They did not want that on their consciences. I was inspired that those folks took a moral stand for life. What about the editors of America? FOCA is just wrong.
Francis | 11/23/2008 - 10:27pm
Editors of America, A) Are you trying to tell me that most of that majority of Catholics that voted for Obama are even remotely familiar with the bishops' Faithful Citizenship campaign? I know you're all smart enough to know that the bishops only reached practicing Catholics, and we voted overwhelmingly for Sen. McCain. B) Doesn't Obama's platform pretty well cover what you consider the rest of Catholic social teaching to be? i.e., Should the bishops only praise his platform, only talk up when they agree with him about something? No, for God's sake, they should not, and I expect some of them know their very souls depend on their willingness to speak up. I implore you to consider if you should use more of your editorial space to awaken more to the genocide in this country that our President-elect is interested in defending to the best of his ability. Your magazine is a becoming more and more a shame to the great saints and martyrs of the Society of Jesus.
V Gatto | 11/22/2008 - 2:05pm
It does seem time to find points of agreement to build intelligent discussion on the value of human life. There seems to be an impossible and entrenched standoff in the "pro life" / "abortion right" battle. This past election it seems both Obama and Biden cracked a seam that could lead to further dialogue. I find this a bit hopeful. Up to now, it appears to me that both sides have been busy just throwing smoke bombs, or possibly more lethal barbs.
V Gatto | 11/22/2008 - 2:04pm
It does seem time to find points of agreement to build intelligent discussion on the value of human life. There seems to be an impossible and entrenched standoff in the "pro life" / "abortion right" battle. This past election it seems both Obama and Biden cracked a seam that could lead to further dialogue. I find this a bit hopeful. Up to now, it appears to me that both sides have been busy just throwing smoke bombs, or possibly more lethal barbs.
THOMAS FARANDA | 11/21/2008 - 6:51pm
On January 22, 2009, President Obama will reverse the Mexico City policy, and allow millions of dollars in US foreign aid money to go to overseas abortion providers. This will result in the killing of additional hundreds of thousands of Third World unborn babies. On July 17th, 2007, speaking to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Mr. Obama said: "The first thing I'd do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do." FOCA would eliminate parental consent laws, full disclosure laws, and possibly force Catholic healthcare providers to toe the pro-abortion line - or else. After subscribing for 19 years to America, I find your version of the Consistent Ethic of Life pretty lame. Yes, we must be consistent, but there are priorities. One wonders when the editorial board of America will finally say "enough is enough" ...

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