Under the Glass places both the secular and religious media’s coverage of the Church and other issues of importance under a magnifying glass to uncover what is hidden between the lines.
February 20, 2009

FOCA: You should be embarrassed to be a Catholic

On Sunday, February 24, 2008, Amy Sullivan wrote: "I'm an Evangelical and a Liberal. Really. As an evangelical who worked in Democratic politics before entering journalism, I'm used to getting looks from liberals who are embarrassed for me when I use the E-word to describe myself."

Almost a year later, Sullivan, now a Time Magazine senior editor and the author of a book that attempts to make the case that Democrats are "Closing the God Gap," should certainly not be getting any surprised looks from her friends.

"Why," you ask?

On February 19, Sullivan penned an article titled The Catholic Crusade Against a Mythical Abortion Bill, in which she applies her evangelical and liberal analysis to the Catholic Church - meaning, she just doesn't get it.

To begin, Sullivan does not choose the word "crusade" by chance. Her obvious intention is to try to make sound this effort as ridiculous, outdated and embarrassing as possible for Catholics.

Sullivan would never call an effort by the U.S. Catholic bishops to convince a million Americans to fight against worldwide hunger a "crusade." For a liberal evangelical, such effort would be entirely kosher and perhaps worthy of being dubbed a "heroic effort." But for the U.S. bishops, a campaign against world hunger is no different than their current efforts to prevent the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) from passing.

For Sullivan, this effort is useless.

There is only one hitch. Congress isn't about to pass the Freedom of Choice Act because no such bill has been introduced.

At a time when the United States is gripped by economic uncertainty and faces serious challenges in hot spots around the globe, some American Catholics are finding it both curious and troubling that their church has launched a major campaign against a piece of legislation that doesn't exist and wouldn't have much chance of becoming law even if it did.

For her, the fact that a FOCA bill has not been introduced should make Catholics feel embarrassed about how worked-up their bishops have become. But I say, thank God, there are "some American Catholics" who find this "curious and troubling."

One wonders, of course, how representative these "troubled Catholics" are of the larger Church. Well, thanks to Sullivan we have an idea of their numbers, since she concedes that when the campaign against FOCA began, "Anti-FOCA groups on Facebook soon had more than 150,000 members and added thousands more each day."

Sullivan next moves on to argue that FOCA does not actually exist, and that it was just a nervous attempt by pro-abortion Democrats to "counterbalance" George W. Bush.

A Freedom of Choice Act was first introduced in the 108th and 110th Congresses (from '03 to '05 and '07 to '09, respectively), by Rep. Jerold Nadler, a New York Democrat. It was developed at a time when the future of Roe was in doubt because it was unclear if George W. Bush would have the opportunity to appoint another justice to the Supreme Court. But FOCA had a hard time gaining traction — even under Democratic control of Congress, the bill was not only never voted on but never made it out of committee. And now abortion rights advocates are breathing easier with Obama in the White House — so much so that when a coalition of 63 organizations sent the Administration its top 15 priorities for reproductive rights and health, FOCA did not even make the list.

Sullivan recognizes in her article that "in some respects, President Obama only has himself to blame for the current controversy," but that’s just a token offering she makes to objectivity so she can continue to make her ideological point: the bishops are overreacting and Catholics should be embarrassed of fighting – actually "crusading"- against FOCA.

But FOCA has also provided ammunition for those on the right who want to paint Obama as "the most pro-abortion president ever." It's been less than a month since he took office, but so far the President has given social conservatives little evidence to back up that charge.

After looking so well-informed about the history of FOCA and Obama’s role in its drafting, one wonders if Sullivan honestly believes that "social conservatives" can’t make a case that Obama is "the most pro-abortion president ever."

With the exception of a handful of Catholics and Evangelicals, most practicing Christians are aware that Obama’s pro-abortion record is unmatched by any previous Democratic candidate, especially when it comes to the Born Alive Act in Illinois.

Obama is the most pro-abortion politician ever to take office. Period.

"Social conservatives" do not need more evidence; Obama’s track record as a senator is enough.

It is the President who must show that he has changed from the pro-abortion fanatic he has always been, and so far he hasn’t given any proof of it. On the contrary, the reversal of the Mexico City Policy and the appointment of pro-abortion activists to prominent positions within his Administration give no sign that he desires "common ground" with pro-lifers.

Sullivan then quotes one of the usual suspects:

James Salt, director of organizing for the progressive organization Catholics United, thinks the USCCB has been prodded into focusing on FOCA by misinformation from right-wing groups. "These right-wing organizations are deliberatively misleading people in order to stoke the culture war," says Salt. "They're using this as a fundraising tool, as a way to gin up their relevancy. And unfortunately some of these groups have the ear of certain bishops."

Nobody can blame Sullivan for doing her job as a liberal evangelical. But Salt, who claims to be a "non partisan" Catholic, implies that the bishops are "useful idiots" of right wingers.

According to Salt, "certain" bishops are controlled by the right wing conspiracy, and those "certain" bishops control the whole USCCB. Is Salt implying that the American bishops, who unanimously voted in favor of fighting FOCA, were manipulated and are still being manipulated by some shadowy extremists, and that the bishops don’t really believe in what they say?

Catholic or not, Salt has a well-known background as a Democrat field operative, and as such, he is making a very wrongheaded move. Telling the bishops "you are idiots" is not the best way to get their attention.

Sullivan tries to reiterate her point that some Catholics are embarrassed and that every other Catholic should be too:

Some of the USCCB's own policy staffers are reportedly frustrated by the attention given to FOCA. And a few Catholic officials have even taken the rare step of speaking out to correct misinformation about the issue.

As an example of these "frustrated" Catholics, Sullivan points to a recent article from Catholic News Service quoting Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, who basically "corrects" the bishops on FOCA.

Sullivan ignores –but Salt & company should know- that the article has not moved the bishops one inch over their concern about FOCA, and instead has placed CNS in hot water with several of them.

The fact is that the bishops’ attention on FOCA is not going to wane, and they won’t be embarrassed into relaxing the pressure. They know that the bill is moribund, but they want to make sure it stays that way. Also chief among their concerns is that Catholics not grow complacent to the threat of the same anti-life measures being achieved through other legislative means, as witnessed to by the stimulus package.

Sullivan is, in other words, asking Catholics to give the current government, completely controlled by pro-abortion leaders, "a break" on the pro-life front. But the bishops have no reason to trust Barak Obama or Nancy Pelosi. Not when they know their respective records on life issues. If the issue is saving babies, the pressure must stay on. Sullivan and Salt will just have to get used to it.

Alejandro Bermudez



* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.