Countering predictions that they would try to find “common ground” with President-elect Barack Obama and the Democratic Party on the abortion issue, the U.S. Bishops went clearly out of their way to deliver a strong message that the right to life of the unborn is a non-negotiable issue.
In fact, according to the bylaws of the conference, the body of bishops cannot write and approve a statement that is not submitted through the conference’s Administrative Committee. But the tight agenda of the three-day Fall meeting did not give sufficient time to follow the process to issue a statement.
Red tape was not enough to prevent the majority of bishops from pushing for a document that would make very clear to the upcoming administration that abortion is a non negotiable issue.
In lieu of the normal process, the bishops asked the President of the USCCB, Cardinal Francis George, to write a “letter” to be published “with the bishops’ approval.” Thus, while it would formally remain a statement of the President, it would not have to wend its way through the Administrative Committee and still retain the public force of a document issued by the U.S. episcopate as a whole.
For that purpose, the document is peppered with constant references to the collective nature of the text. “On this issue, the legal protection of the unborn, the bishops are of one mind with Catholics and others of good will,” the text says, for example.
According to John Allen Jr. reporting from the Baltimore’s meeting, “‘No retreat, no surrender’ is perhaps the best way to sum up the spirit of the U.S. bishops’ discussion of abortion and politics.”
In fact, by finding a way to issue a strong statement, the U.S. Bishops rejected “predictions” and even formal requests from Catholic commentators such a Fr. Thomas Reese S.J. and Peter Steinfels to use a “smooth” language and avoid the abortion issue in order to secure a good relationship with the Obama administration.
Dr. Patrick Whelan, President of the group “Catholic Democrats,” had also warned on Tuesday that “angry statements” –meaning strong pro-life language- “from church leaders were counterproductive and would only alienate Catholics.” “We're calling on the bishops to move away from the more vicious language,” Whelan said.
But on Wednesday, the bishops decided not to follow his recommendations.