Sed Contra: The Bishops’ Conference in a Political Season

Deal W. Hudson
July 1, 2004

Catholic pundit Kate O’Beirne famously called the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) the “Democratic Party at prayer.” In an ongoing series on the bishops in CRISIS, we only slightly amended that by noting the USCCB’s commitment to the defense of innocent life—a stance not shared with the Democratic Party.

Soon the USCCB will deliver its presidential questionnaire to candidates George W. Bush and John F. Kerry. All of us will then have a chance to see whether or not we were correct in drawing so close a line between the bishops and the Democrats. Indeed, the rumor here in D.C. is that the questionnaire will mirror the letter the 48 pro-abortion Catholic Democrats in Congress sent to Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, as well as the already-infamous Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) analysis of the Catholic voting record in the Senate. (Just to remind you, Durbin’s analysis listed Kerry as the most Catholic senator, and put Rick Santorum near the bottom!)

Common to both the “Letter of the 48” and the Durbin report is the ridiculous assumption that a vote for the ban on partial-birth abortion is of equal importance to a vote for Congressional bills like the Collins Mercury Reduction Act, which limits the use of mercury in thermometers. (The USCCB lobbied against both.) In other words, the Democratic approach is to group all of the USCCB’s legislative actions together, giving each equal weight with the others. And so the defense of innocent human life equals regulating mercury thermometers, equals the Dorgan Joint Resolution rejecting “the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission with respect to broadcast media ownership.”

Obviously, there isn’t the slightest basis for this approach to public policy anywhere in Church teaching.

Will the questionnaire adopt this dodge? Will it ask a long list of policy questions that allows Kerry to get away looking like the Ideal Catholic Senator? Or will the questionnaire actually reflect the priorities of Catholic teaching by focusing on the central life issues—abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, stem-cell research, cloning, and judicial nominations?

For the 2000 presidential election, the USCCB questionnaire was designed in a way that allowed candidate Al Gore actually to describe himself as “pro-life” without any editorial comment by Catholic News Service or the USCCB. Let’s hope the same mistake isn’t made again.

A few weeks ago I was part of a group of religious journalists who interviewed the president at the White House. At the time, I asked why he thought he was being criticized for expressing his faith in public. He replied that he simply didn’t know what motivated people to criticize him about this and added that as a Christian, he believed he had a responsibility to “let the light shine.”

This statement captures what I myself have observed about the president’s faith. He is neither a religious zealot nor an ideologue from the religious right. He reads the Bible through every year and sees no reason to deny that it influences him. He freely admits that letting “the light shine” is part of his reason for signing legislation to protect innocent life, as well as supporting the federal marriage amendment.

Catholics deserve a real look at the candidates—one that respects the Church’s hierarchy of values. Senator Durbin and the 47 other pro-abortion Catholics in the Congress have ignored that hierarchy. Let’s hope the conference doesn’t do the same.

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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