The Catholic Tea Kettle Continues to Boil

Deal W. Hudson
September 23, 2010

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had extensive discussions with a wide group of Catholic leaders about the state of the Church in the United States. The frustration and impatience among Catholics, which I discussed last February in “Is It Time for a Catholic Tea Party?” continue to grow.

The occasions for this discussion were the Catholic Leadership Conference held in Philadelphia earlier this month, immediately followed by the Faith & Freedom Coalition Conference and the 15th Annual Partnership Dinner benefiting InsideCatholic, both held in Washington, D.C.

The broad background for this discontent is well known: Lay Catholics cannot understand why, over the past 30 years, more bishops haven’t taken a stronger public stand on Catholic politicians who openly dissent on life and marriage issues.

This level of discontent remained at a simmer until the 2008 presidential campaign and the election of Barack Obama as president – at which point it reached a boil. From parishes around the nation came reports of priests and lay staff making clear their preference for Obama, in some cases arguing openly that their support for Obama was offset by “proportionate reasons,” such as Sen. John McCain’s support for the Iraq War.

When the concerned faithful began to hunt down this “proportionate reasons” argument, they found it in the bishops’ own 2007 document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility.” Stunned Catholics wondered aloud how the bishops themselves could have provided Obama’s Catholic supporters the very argument they needed to rebut any concern about his advocacy for infanticide as a state senator.

In response to the outcry, a record number of bishops issued statements during the presidential campaign either seeking to clarify “Faithful Citizenship” or to correct misinterpretations of the Catholic faith set forth by Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Joe Biden. Yet none of them targeted the grassroots and parish-based campaign efforts of pro-Obama groups, like Catholics in Alliance, using the “proportionate reasons” argument to distract Catholic voters from Obama’s abortion record.

The one bishop to confront this interpretation of “Faithful Citizenship” head-on was Bishop Joseph Martino in Scranton, Pennsylvania, who famously interrupted the speakers to say, “No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese. The USCCB doesn’t speak for me. The only relevant document… is my letter. There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”

Obama was elected with the help of the self-identified Catholic vote, though weekly Mass-attending Catholics slightly preferred McCain. Some Obama sympathizers publicly applauded his election given the history of racism in our nation, and although they never explicitly called this a “proportionate reason,” it was certainly treated as such.

President Obama’s record has, unsurprisingly, tracked closely to his record as an Illinois state senator. Immediately discarding the Mexico City Policy upon his election, he has undone or sought to undo, every aspect of the “abortion reduction” policy put in place by the Bush administration.

Most importantly, he found a way around the Hyde Amendment by inserting a massive abortion mandate in his health-care legislation. With the passage of Obamacare and the inability of USCCB lobbying efforts to either defeat it or strip out its abortion funding loopholes, many lay Catholics have come to assume a Tea Party posture of “enough is enough.”

Many of them wonder why Sr. Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, is still in the good graces of the USCCB. It was Sister Keehan, after all, who neutralized the bishops’ opposition to the health-care bill and denied the presence of its abortion funding.

Sister Keehan has become a virtual symbol of what is wrong with the Church: There is no accountability, and no consequences for open dissent on the preeminent moral issues. Thus, when it came to light that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of the USCCB has been funding organizations that openly support abortion and gay marriage, the reaction of the laity was a cynical “more of the same.”

Some of the leadership I spoke with cited examples of overall improvement in episcopal leadership, both in individual dioceses and at the USCCB, and warned of becoming too negative.

Attention to tone is always important, but the simple fact is this: Of the 97 Democrat Catholic members of the House, only 9 voted against a health-care bill containing abortion funding, in spite of the fact that the USCCB and cardinals like Justin Rigali and Francis George spoke out clearly against it. (All 38 GOP House members voted against the bill.)

Something has gone wrong when those who publicly profess the Catholic faith feel no compunction about openly defying its teachings at the urging of their bishops. On top of that, a group called “Catholics United” announces it will spend $500,000 to reflect those same politicians, all Democrats – and not a single bishop makes any comment.

The Catholic tea kettle continues to boil, as the patience of many of the lay faithful is running out.

♦ ♦ ♦

On a related point, here’s a brief but informative new article by Leon Suprenant on the challenges of Catholic social justice. I recommend it.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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