.- Prominent Catholicsâ reactions to the election of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as president have been cautionary, advising increased catechesis and cultural engagement while for Catholics warning that Obamaâs use of the presidency to advance abortion rights must be opposed.
Austin Ruse, President of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, told CNA Catholics should support Obama where they can and oppose him âwith all of our beingâ on issues like abortion. He also emphasized a focus on catechesis.
âIf Catholics were really acting on a proper understanding of their faith, Barack Obama would never have been elected,â he claimed.
Voicing his suspicion that regular Mass-goers favored McCain but âgeneric Catholicsâ favored Obama, Ruse said he thought the organized Catholic effort in the McCain campaign was âvery weak.â
âIt never really got off the ground and was hamstrung by bad planning and bad execution. I was fairly close to it and I know it was sadly gummed up with personal agendas that had little to do with electing John McCain and mostly with protecting turf. The Catholic outreach for the McCain campaign was extremely unedifying.â
However, Ruse said, the bishops were âstars.â
âWe have never seen anything like it. More than 100 came out publically against the Culture of Death. I suspect that many of them will be hassled by the IRS. I hope they remain strong. I suspect they will and that they will be even stronger as the months progress.â
Ruse cautioned that Obama and his allies will be âthe most pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage of any administration in history. The Church will be in semi-permanent opposition to the adminstration on these most important public policy issues in the church. I expect that the bishops will be very active as will faithful Catholic laity,â he told CNA, saying the Church will have to fight more vigorously for âlife and family.â
Father Frank Pavone, President of Priests for Life, said Catholics should focus on challenging Obama âevery day of his Presidency to stop the ongoing killing of children in America, and to work for âchangeâ in the Democratic Party so that it no longer is a herald of death for the unborn.â
Father Pavone noted that Catholics always play a âkey roleâ in deciding who will be president and said bishops have made âmany excellent statementsâ on the primacy of the right to life as an election issue. He claimed that the bishopsâ teaching in âForming Consciences For Faithful Citizenshipâ was âabused and distorted both within and outside the Church,â calling for those distortions to be corrected by the same mechanisms that created the document.
He added that the Catholic Churchâs effort to register voters could have been âmuch stronger,â urging that registration drives for the 2010 election cycle begin now.
Turning his attention to voter education material, Father Pavone criticized many diocesesâ policies against allowing material from âoutside groups.â
âIt fosters a view of the Church which is bureaucratic and institutional rather than one of the Spirit-filled Body of Christ with many different parts, gifts, and ministries all encouraging one another,â he told CNA.
âI find it particularly unhelpful to be referred to as an âoutside groupâ and to have our vigorous efforts to educate our fellow Catholics in the teachings of the bishops be greeted with âwe can only use our own materials,â as if the teaching ministry of priests or the unity of the Church gets shut down at election time.â
When CNA asked about the role of the Church in the public square under an Obama administration, Father Pavone replied:
âThe Church will face increasing pressure to not interfere with the positions of public officials on issues like abortion and marriage; yet the actions of a pro-abortion administration and a pro-abortion Vice-president will necessarily prompt a response from the Church. In other words, we have to be ready to fight.â
Vatican journalist John L. Allen Jr. told CNA that the Catholic Church âisnât a political party, and its primary concerns arenât about policy or legislation.â
The Churchâs focus should be âwhere itâs always been â spiritual life, the sacraments, fostering a relationship with God through Christ.â
âThat said, the Church is obviously interested in public affairs from the perspective of justice, and as it does with every government, it will want to try to work with the Obama administration to promote human dignity. In practice, that will mean continuing to make moral arguments on behalf of unborn life, while also pursuing natural areas of agreement with the new administration such as immigration reform, economic justice, peace, and environmental protection.â
Allen suggested the Church and the Obama White House could work together to promote development in Africa, saying 2009 is shaping up to be a âYear of Africaâ for global Catholicism. Pope Benedict XVI plans to visit Cameroon and Angola in March and the Synod for Africa will be held in October.
Citing exit polls, Allen said Obama captured a majority of overall Catholics while narrowly losing among white Catholics. Noting that many of those white Catholics were âundoubtedlyâ motivated by life issues such as abortion, he said that if Obama truly wishes to be a unifier, âhe needs to reach out and find common ground on the life issues, especially abortion.â
In Allenâs view, most of the bishops adhered to the position of their âFaithful Citizenshipâ document, with only a âsmall minorityâ making statements with âa clear partisan edge.â
âI think it would be a mistake to treat the result as a âdefeatâ for the bishops; for the vast majority of bishops who taught that making specific political choices is the task of a well-formed laity, the election of Obama (or McCain, had it turned out that way) could not be a victory or a defeat.â
He explained that the Church now faces the challenge of establishing a relationship with the Obama administration that isnât âexclusively one of chronic opposition.â Allen suggested the bishops study the work of Vatican diplomacy, which has âcenturies of experienceâ in dealing with regimes that are âin one way or another are hostile to some aspect of Church teaching.â
Allen stated that the prospects for an outright reversal of Roe v. Wade are âextremely limitedâ under an Obama administration.
âPerhaps the challenge is therefore to shift gears a bit, investing greater resources in winning the argument for life at the cultural level. In other words, perhaps we should rely less on the coercive power of the state, and more on the disposition of the human heart to respond to the truth,â Allen wrote.
George Weigel, political commentator and biographer of Pope John Paul II, said serious Catholics should focus on trying to protect pro-life legal gains over the past thirty years from âPresident Obama and a radically pro-abortion Congress led by a self-described âardent Catholicâ.â
Weigel reiterated the necessity of defeating the federal Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which would eliminate abortion restrictions and could remove protections for pro-life conscientious objection.
The Catholic vote also needed to be studied, he told CNA:
âIt will be interesting to see how the âCatholic voteâ finally broke, but it will be essential to pick that vote apart and look at how regular-Mass-going Catholics voted as distinguished from occasional church-goers and other âtribalâ Catholics.â
Weigel argued that the bishops can âno longer ignoreâ the question of the reception of Holy Communion by national leaders âwho persistently and willfully advance the culture of death.â
He added that if Congress repeals the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited federal funding for abortions, bishops and theologians will have to consider the ethical consequences.
âThe Washington State euthanasia victory was a large blow to the cause of the Culture of Life, and we clearly need to revisit the question of how we argue that issue,â he closed.