Donohue and Obama advisors scuffle over Catholic identity, abortion

Sen. Barack Obama / Bill Donohue
Sen. Barack Obama / Bill Donohue


Bill Donohue has stepped into the U.S. presidential fray by claiming that Senator Barack Obama’s Catholic National Advisory Council is composed entirely of people who are "dissenters" from the Catholic Church. In response, the advisory council has replied that they view abortion as a “profound moral issue” and that they consider candidates based on a broad set of issues, rather than a single issue. 


The scrap with Obama’s advisors, which has developed over the last few days, began when Bill Donohue, the President of the Catholic League, asserted that, “not one of the 26 former and current public policy holders who constitute the group stand with the Catholic Church on all three major issues: abortion, embryonic stem cell research and school vouchers.”


Donohue also provided evidence showing that the overwhelming majority of Obama’s Catholic advisors have a 100% NARAL voting record.


The 26 member advisory council, which includes two sisters and one priest, responded to Donohue’s accusation that they are “dissenters” from the Catholic Church by writing him a letter. 


In their letter, the council members counter Donohue’s charge that they don’t follow Church teaching on abortion by saying, “Unlike the Catholic League, the U.S. Catholic Bishops advise careful consideration of candidates’ positions on a broad set of issues.” This type of consideration, according to the council, is bolstered by the U.S. bishops’ document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”.


The advisors quote from paragraph 29 of the bishops’ document, where the bishops explain that Catholics cannot be against abortion and simultaneously ignore other offenses against human life.


They advisors point out that this means, “particular issues must not be misused ‘as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity’ such as ‘racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care or an unjust immigration policy’."


However, the council’s letter fails to mention that the bishops’ document also emphasizes the other extreme position which cannot be held by Catholics. This worldview involves “a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.”


Instead, the advisors call abortion a “profound moral issue” and deride the Republican Party for promising to end abortion, but in the end only seeking to use the issue to divide voters.


Bill Donohue replied to the council’s letter by saying, “It is more than embarrassing—it is shocking—to read how these Catholics view abortion. The Catholic Church regards abortion, as well as embryonic stem cell research, as ‘intrinsically evil.’ But not these folks. For them, abortion is merely ‘a profound moral issue.’”


He also addressed the advisors’ categorizing of abortion, saying, “Sadly, it has been apparent for years that many who fancy themselves ‘progressive’ Catholics do not treat abortion the way they do racial discrimination. No one in his right mind says that the best way to combat racial discrimination is by changing people’s hearts and minds, not the law. Which is why we do both. But when it comes to abortion—including partial-birth abortion—the progressives settle for dialogue.”


The National Catholic advisors see their role much differently however. They write, “We are proud to be counted among Senator Obama's Catholic advisors. Collectively our experience spans decades of scholarship and service working for and with the Catholic Church on the broad set of issues under the ‘consistent ethic of life.’”


In their letter to Donohue, Obama’s advisors also say that the presidential candidate thinks abortion “presents a profound moral challenge”, but Donohue remains unconvinced.  


“It is so nice to know that Obama thinks abortion ‘presents a profound moral challenge.’ Is infanticide another ‘profound moral challenge’? To wit: When he was in the Illinois state senate he led the fight to deny health care to babies born alive who survived an abortion. That, my friends, is not a moral challenge—it’s a Hitlerian decision,” Donohue said.

Obama’s Catholic National Advisory Council Members

Former Congressman Tim Roemer of Indiana
Sr. Catherine Pinkerton, Congregation of St. Joseph
Governor Jim Doyle of Wisconsin
Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas
Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut
Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont
Representative Xavier Becerra of California
Representative Lacy Clay of Missouri
Representative Rosa. DeLauro of Connecticut -
Representative Anna Eshoo of California
Representative Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona
Representative George Miller of California
Representative Linda Sanchez of California
Mary Jo Bane, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School
Nicholas P. Cafardi, Catholic Author and Scholar, Pittsburgh, PA
Lisa Sowle Cahill, Professor of Theology, Boston College
Tom Chabolla, Assistant to the President, Service Employees International Union
M. Shawn Copeland, Associate Professor of Theology, Boston College
Ron Cruz, Leadership Development Consultant, Burke, VA
Sharon Daly, Social Justice Advocate, Knoxville, MD
Richard Gaillardetz, Murray / Bacik Professor of Catholic Studies, University of Toledo
Grant Gallicho, Associate Editor, Commonweal Magazine
Margaret Gannon, IHM, A Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Scranton, PA
Don Guter, Judge Advocate General of the Navy (2000-2002); Rear Admiral, Judge Advocate General's Corps, U.S. Navy (Ret.), Pittsburgh, PA
Teresa Heinz, Chairman, Heinz Family Philanthropies
Cathleen Kaveny, Professor of Law and Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame
Victoria Reggie Kennedy, President, Common Sense About Kids and Guns
Peggy Kerry, Independent Consultant, New York, NY
Jim Kesteloot, President and Executive Director, Chicago Lighthouse
Vincent Miller, Associate Professor of Theology, Georgetown University
David O'Brien, Loyola Professor of Catholic Studies at the College of the Holy Cross
Reverend Michael Pfleger, Pastor of Faith Community of St. Sabina, Chicago, IL
Sr. Jamie Phelps, O.P., Director and Professor of Theology, Institute for Black Catholic Studies, Xavier University
Peter Quaranto, Senior Researcher and Conflict Analyst, Resolve Uganda (Notre Dame Class of 2006)
Dave Robinson, International Peace Advocate, Erie, Pennsylvania
Vincent Rougeau, Associate Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame
Mary Wright, Inter-Faith Liaison, Louisville, KY

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