CatholiCity 2004

The Dissenter’s Secret Meeting

Deal W. Hudson

This morning, the Boston Globe dropped a bombshell of a story… though they seem to have little idea just how major it is.

The title was “Bishops seek out opinions, in private: conference focus is church future,” and began by explaining that some top bishops “met secretly with a group of prominent Catholic business executives, academics, and journalists to discuss the future of the church.”

The gathering was convened by former Boston College trustee Geoffrey Boisi and was called “The Church in America: The Way Forward in the 21st Century.” Cardinal McCarrick hosted the event at the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, DC.

The fact that any bishops were involved in a “secret meeting” is strange… but it gets a whole lot worse.

Reading through the article, the author refers over and over to the “prominent” Catholics – men and women, both lay and religious – who were called to the secret meeting. Some of them, it turns out, isn’t so prominent. In fact, I didn’t recognize half of the names on the list, and I like to think that I’m pretty familiar with the Catholic world.

As for the others – well, they’re prominent all right. The list is full of the kinds of liberal and dissident Catholics that would make a Call To Action conference jealous.

These are the people who are supposed to be representing the Church in a discussion about its future? Just look at a few of these names…and make sure you’re sitting down:

  • Monika Hellwig – director of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Dr. Hellwig needs little introduction. Most people by now are familiar with her infamous statement calling Humanae Vitae Pope Paul VI’s “personal opinion” and her questioning whether Jesus is the only savior.
  • R. Scott Appleby – left-leaning professor at Notre Dame and media darling who has been critical of Church conservatives for not being open to women priests and a married priesthood.
  • John Sweeny – president of the AFL-CIO and open supporter of abortion.
  • Kathleen Kennedy Townsend – former lieutenant governor of Maryland and an infamous and enthusiastic pro-abortion “Catholic.”
  • Peggy Steinfels – the former editor of Commonweal magazine, Steinfels is very open about her dissenting views. In fact, she laid them out in an article called “Holy Mother Church’s Loyal Opposition: Disagreeing with official Catholic teaching on birth control and other issues should not cut us off.”
  • Kathleen McChesney – executive director of the Office for Child and Youth Protection under the USCCB. McChesney has been reprimanded by some bishops for her willingness to meet with such dissident groups as Call to Action and Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), calling into question her impartiality when working for the lay review board. Her presence at this secret meeting certainly doesn’t help.
  • Mary Jo Bane – professor of public policy at Harvard. Also intimately involved with VOTF, she laid out her “personally opposed but publicly supportive” position regarding abortion rights in a paper presented at a Commonweal colloquium.

And these are just the names I recognize at first glance. If these people are representative of those invited to the conference, I think it’s safe to say that the real criterion for involvement was not prominence or influence in the Catholic Church but sympathy with dissenting points of view.

Other names seem to be big players in Catholic businesses and philanthropy organizations. Frank Butler, president of FADICA (Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities), is one such name. Why were these people there? You have to wonder if they’re being corralled in to fund a liberal reform agenda.

Another thing I notice when scanning the list is the number of names associated with Boston College and the city of Boston in general. More and more, Boston College appears to be the very epicenter of dissent. Should it be surprising that the home of VOTF is also the home of those convening secret dissenting meetings?

And that’s what’s so frustrating. Why on earth would high-ranking bishops – including the president of the USCCB, Bishop Wilton Gregory – entertain a meeting with such known liberals and dissenters…and do it in private? The author of the article mentioned the difficulty he had in finding participants willing to talk about the meeting in even the most general terms, let alone allow their name to be published. Those who participated were “sworn to secrecy,” he wrote.

Frankly, I find it ironic that the same people who lambaste the bishops for being “secretive,” the same people who want openness and transparency in the chancery, are now sneaking around behind the scenes, trying to escape the public eye.

In addition, these are the PRECISE questions about the future of the Church that liberals claim the laity has a right to address. (Predictably, the issues of women’s ordination and priestly celibacy came up in some of the meeting’s breakout sessions.) But how can we be a part of the great dialogue they champion when it’s held in secret?

This says nothing of the fact that there isn’t a single person on the list known for his or her stand in support of faithfulness to the Magisterium, the pope, and the teachings of the Church. If this was a meeting of “prominent Catholics,” where are the prominent orthodox representatives? Where are George Weigel, Michael Novak, and Father Neuhaus? Why fly in representatives from little-known colleges in Boston when the orthodox president of Catholic University in DC, Rev. David O’Connell, has his office literally right across the street?

It’s absolutely absurd to call the meeting a discussion of the direction of the Church and not include representatives from the very heart of Catholic thought. Apparently, those Catholics faithful to the Church don’t count.

Honestly, can you imagine these bishops holding a conference for a group of prominent conservative Catholics… listening to their concerns…noting their advice? Don’t hold your breath.

When the pope called on bishops to crack down on dissent after the sex abuse scandal, I doubt this is what he had in mind. One final irony to top off this nonsense is the fact that the meeting was held at the John Paul II Cultural Center – the Institute constructed in his honor as a testament to his life and dedication to the Truth.

But alas, the pope probably wouldn’t have heard about the meeting anyway. After all, it was supposed to be a secret.

Rest assured that we’re going to be following up with this story.

ADDENDUM
We’ve received some very reliable inside information that the cardinal was duped into attending the meeting, and was not happy with the way it turned out. I’m not sure he should be held responsible for it.

~ Crisis Magazine

Passion, Not Prejudice

Deal W. Hudson

When the ridiculous charges of anti-Semitism have finally passed, two questions will have to be asked. First, why was the attack on Gibson so prolonged, so vicious, so multifaceted? Second, why did none of the liberal crowd who joined in the public hounding of Gibson ever concern themselves with his artist freedom?

It was not long ago when Andres Serrano was dipping a crucifix in urine to the delight of the New York Times and the anti-Catholic elites of the art world. Catholics who were offended at such vulgarity on display in an exhibit funded by public dollars were accused of censorship and the Philistine refusal of artistic license. Indeed it has been a virtual calling card of the left to place unflattering portrayals of Christianity in the arts beyond criticism. How, they ask, can the imagination of the artist be measured by the traditional religious creeds?

But what happens when an artist puts the central fact of the creed–“He suffered, died, and was buried”–on a movie screen? Apparently, concern for Gibson’s freedom as an artist no longer applies. When a major movie star employs all his talent and celebrity to put a conventional Passion play on film, everyone from seminary professors to movie critics and liberal pundits forget their defense of film director Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ a generation ago.

Once we acknowledge that the intelligentsia defends anything religiously heterodox, it then becomes apparent why Gibson’s film has drawn so much heavy fire. It’s perfectly fine if the meaning of Christianity is seen through the humanist vision of a Martin Scorcese or a Martin Sheen. Soon we’ll have a film version of The Da Vinci Code with its preposterous thesis about the marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and about which liberal scholars and critics will say nothing.

But a film about Jesus Christ by Mel Gibson simply cannot be allowed. First, he’s a genuine celebrity, a mega-star whose film will be influential for that very fact. Second, he really believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that his death was not simply an example of love for his fellow man but the redemption of humankind. Third, as witnessed in Braveheart, Gibson is capable of making a classic film sure to be admired as long as film endures.

All this adds up to a movie that will be a powerful witness to the truth of traditional Christianity, precisely that force that liberal elites have been trying to still for decades. It’s Christianity–and especially orthodox Catholicism and evangelicalism–that denies them their total victory in the culture wars. Proponents of abortion, gay marriage, radical feminism, multiculturalism, and postmodernism all harbor a deep fear of the truth claims of Christianity about the fixed nature of God’s creation.

Gibson surely knew that making a film about Christ was scandalous to the unbelievers in Hollywood, but I doubt if he realized the threat it represents to the intellectuals who employ a neutered Christianity for their own ideological enterprises.

One final word on the question of anti-Semitism (an ugly and destructive force both here and in Europe): It’s possible that some bigots may have their prejudice reinforced by Gibson’s film. But that doesn’t make the movie anti-Semitic, nor does it justify the attacks on Gibson. Films are released every week that exacerbate the sick tendencies of child molesters, rapists, murderers, and Rambo wanna-bes. We can’t censor ourselves just because some nut somewhere may be influenced negatively by our work.

I thank Mel Gibson for his film and for all he was willing to endure in making his faith public. His life and career will never be the same–would it were that more men had such courage.

Catholic Opinion By the Numbers

Deal W. Hudson

Nanci Pelosi is a conservative Catholic. Sure, she may be in favor of abortion, women priests, and homosexual marriages, but according to the House minority leader, that has no bearing on her life as a Catholic.

How does she define “conservative Catholic”? In a January interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Pelosi explains, “I was raised…in a very strict upbringing in a Catholic home where we respected people, were observant, [and where] the fundamental belief was that God gave us all a free will and we were accountable for that, each of us.”

Pelosi’s brand of Catholicism—one concerned with culture, roots, and a vague notion of “respect”—is fairly common in the ranks of Catholic politicians. Believing their faith to be merely a cultural heritage rather than a living guide, they are happy to call themselves Catholic at election time and then, once in office, behave inconspicuously un-Catholic ways.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem reserved for campaigning politicians. Catholics in all walks of life, prelate and layman alike, manage to rationalize the disjunction between the demands of their faith and the reality of their voting habits. In an attempt to shore up the distance between faith and practice, the Vatican published its Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life earlier this year. Put simply, the document points out that “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals,” specifically including such divisive issues as abortion, euthanasia, and homosexual unions.

Whether they are simply unaware of this fact or choose to ignore it, studies have shown that Catholic voting trends on these issues tend to be no different from those of the general public. Such studies have led many pundits to disregard the possibility of a unified Catholic vote to which a politician could appeal with any sort of regularity. Catholics may account for a quarter of the nation’s population and a third of its voters, but these numbers alone aren’t enough to effect any sort of positive change.

However, what the pundits fail to recognize—but most any Catholic could tell you—is that there’s a significant difference between the habits of a practicing Catholic and one who, like Pelosi, keeps the title as a cultural reference only. The number of such “inactive” Catholics is relatively high, and their voting practices will not differ substantially from the population at large. Group all these Catholics together in an opinion poll and the results will be inconclusive at best, with no clear voice prevailing.

This realization was the driving force behind a survey conducted by Crisis in 1998. The poll asked self-identified Catholics questions on issues of politics, faith, and morals, and responses were broken down according to how often that person attended Mass in a standard month. The results were telling: The more often a person attended Mass, the more likely his answers were in line with Church teaching. After clearing away the various views of inactive Catholics, what was left was a relatively uniform group of Catholic opinions. With a solid core of committed Catholics, the survey proved that active Catholics were indeed a well-defined constituency. Based on an analysis of their past voting trends, these Catholics were found to be moving out of the Democratic Party, where they had long been entrenched, and instead becoming the swing voters in any given election.

As a follow-up to the 1998 survey, Crisis conducted another survey in November 2002 structured in a similar fashion with many of the same questions regarding political and moral issues (for the full results of the survey, visit our Web site at http://www.crisismagazine.com). This second survey established once again that when it comes to voting and public opinion, the distinction between an active and an inactive Catholic is crucial. Even then, however, Catholics still have a long way to go in acting consistently on the teachings of the Faith.

The Laity

No matter how else they may disagree, Catholics of all stripes identify the decline of individual morality in America as a serious problem. Seventy-three percent of all Catholics and 79 percent of active Catholics acknowledge the reality of this crisis, while similar numbers attribute the problem to the negative influence of popular culture. It can hardly be surprising that there should be such consensus, especially given recent revelations about the sex-abuse scandal in the Church. If such an erosion of personal morals could be found among leaders of the Church—the very institution responsible for guiding the laity in matters of morality—then it’s no wonder that Catholics have little faith in society at large.

But while both active and inactive Catholics can agree on the existence of a moral crisis, the two groups have little in common when it comes to political legislation regarding moral issues. Take the question of same-sex marriage: Inactive Catholics are generally opposed to laws that would grant married status to homosexual couples (66 percent), while active Catholics would oppose such a motion much more frequently (75 percent). The same holds true for abortion: Only 36 percent of inactive Catholics would favor “enacting legal restrictions on abortion in order to reduce the number of abortions being performed,” compared with 55 percent of active Catholics. In the case of human embryo cloning, not even a majority of inactive Catholics would outlaw it: 55 percent would allow cloning for medical research, while 58 percent of active Catholics would outlaw cloning in all cases.

One may ask how inactive Catholics could be so out of step with Church teaching. The more pressing question, however, is why aren’t active Catholics more in step with that teaching? Though the numbers may be higher than a similar response from the general population, the fact that only 55 percent of regular church-goers would favor restrictions on abortion is baffling. Indeed, it seems to fly in the face of everything one would expect from committed Catholics. How could it be possible?

It’s likely that had the question been worded differently to emphasize the morality of the issue rather than the legislative procedures surrounding it, active Catholics might have stood more firmly behind the Church’s teaching on such issues. A small comfort, however, when one considers the implications of holding such beliefs without the commitment to act on them. As a result, many Catholics have fallen into a sort of Cuomo Catholicism, one that is active in private worship but not in public practice.

This sad conclusion is consistent with the reaction of some Catholics to political and moral questions of a lesser magnitude that were also in the survey. Seventy-six percent of active Catholics are in favor of school vouchers, for example, and 68 percent would oppose forcing Catholic hospitals to provide contraceptives and abortions to its patients. Just as these Catholics seem hesitant to force their beliefs on society, so too would they resent the advances of society on their own institutions and beliefs. The “live and let live” approach sits well with such Catholics.

But the Vatican says that isn’t enough. The doctrinal note maintains that “there cannot be two parallel lives in [Catholics’] existence; on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life,’ with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture.” The dignity of life is not the private opinion of select Catholics but a truth that transcends human institutions. “Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles,” the note states, “which are the underpinning of life in society.”

The Bishops

While it’s ultimately the responsibility of the laity to make the connection between beliefs and voting habits, blame for letting such behavior pass without comment has often been laid at the feet of the bishops. Members of the clergy are called to task for being conspicuously silent on the standard hot-button issues of abortion, euthanasia, and their respective counterparts. After reports of sexual abuse surfaced, however, the similar silence was seen not only as irresponsible but morally reprehensible. The lack of action by certain bishops is jeopardizing the authority of all bishops.

Should they think otherwise, the bishops need only read the results of the survey. Only a slim majority of active Catholics—52 percent—is supportive of the manner in which the bishops have responded to the abuse crisis; inactive Catholics are much more critical, with only 35 percent being satisfied by the bishops’ response. There is no group firmly in the bishops’ corner; even large donors and those who attend Mass more than five times a month have a high rate of dissatisfaction. Given that much of their support—monetary or otherwise—generally comes from these groups, all bishops will likely feel a strain in clergy-laity relations as a result.

The approval ratings for bishops may gradually recover over time. A more disturbing and, perhaps, more lasting trend is that a large percentage of Catholics have less faith in the moral teachings of the Church as a result of the scandal. Sixty-six percent of active Catholics claim their faith is unshaken, but the fact that even 29 percent would now doubt those teachings is a serious issue (5 percent remained unsure). And unfortunately, those in the best position to reassure the doubters are part of the cause for doubt.

Bishops can do a number of things to stave off further disappointment and disaster. For one, they must remain diligent in their work to repair past cases of abuse. But the laity also needs proof that everything possible is being done to prevent these crimes in the future. A full 65 percent of all Catholics believe the abuse is still occurring today, so an appeal to forgiveness for past mistakes will not be enough to allay those fears. Visible, public steps must be taken at this point: Whether going into seminaries or going out to comfort the abused, members of the flock need to feel that their shepherd is leading the fight in this scandal, not being dragged along unwillingly.

Once again, the Vatican has clear directives for those in power: “A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good. Nor can a Catholic think of delegating his Christian responsibility to others; rather, the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives him this task, so that the truth about man and the world might be proclaimed and put into action.” The bishops must shoulder this responsibility if the laity will ever be encouraged to follow.

The President

With such emphasis placed on the laity’s involvement in the political sphere, it becomes important for politicians—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—to understand where the support of active Catholic voters is likely to be found. The political press core identified the 1998 poll as providing a valuable tool to then-Governor George W. Bush in his campaign for the White House. President Bush was able to appeal to specific concerns and interests of active Catholics, attracting support with his platform of “compassionate conservatism.”

The work paid off: Bush was elected and is currently enjoying fairly regular support from Catholics. Seventy-two percent of active Catholics approve of the job Bush is doing as president (well above the usual numbers for general public opinion), and 57 percent feel that he’s supportive of Catholic values. One could say that Bush has won the respect of active-Catholic voters, but there are still a lot of voters who need to be convinced of his dedication. It’s one thing to note that 22 percent of active Catholics don’t think he’s supportive of their values; the fact that 22 percent aren’t sure one way or the other shows that Bush still has a lot of room to persuade them.

Part of the reason for this ambiguity among Catholics may be the result of the president’s stand on the war in Iraq. In a departure from the usual trend, support is greater among inactive Catholics on the issue. Only 52 percent of active Catholics favored intervening in Iraq. Most likely, the words of the bishops condemning the idea of war had a great impact on active Catholics—a reality that could be problematic for a president who may be largely remembered for his stand against Saddam Hussein.

How, then, does one win back those active Catholics who did not support the president’s stance on the conflict? This subsection tends to be more disapproving of Bush’s job as president, with only 50 percent supporting him, and is more skeptical of his support for Catholic values (32 percent). There’s room for improvement, however: 27 percent of these Catholics are unsure of his commitment—a window of opportunity for the president to convince them otherwise.

Most active Catholics who opposed Bush on Iraq identify themselves as Democrats; they were more apt to vote for Al Gore in the last election than the general population of Catholics but consider themselves more moderate than anything else. They had the same ambiguity regarding the question of abortion legislation, and yet—curiously enough—would more readily identify themselves as pro-life.

Bush can appeal to these voters by raising the bar. These Catholics are attracted to the ideas of compassionate conservatism: work permits for immigrants, protection of the unborn, tuition vouchers for schoolchildren. They want government out of Catholic institutions and evidence that the president is fighting the general moral decay they see in society. The answer is not to vacillate on these issues in the hopes of attracting greater numbers but to demonstrate that he will be a champion for life and those policies he already supports. Bush cannot present himself simply as the lesser of two evils but must be seen as a proactive leader who will attain results.

Whatever choices the candidates represent, however, the responsibility ultimately returns to the laity. Without the dedication to vote their Catholic conscience, an army of committed Catholic politicians will be of no use. Catholics—those in public office and those who vote for them—need to be reminded of their duty to the universal truths taught by the Church and upheld by natural law, a responsibility that can never be shirked.

Dominant-Issue Voters

Deal W. Hudson

Several Catholic leaders have recently commented that Catholics should not be “single issue” voters, meaning that they shouldn’t vote exclusively on the abortion issue. I agree. But it’s not necessary to be a single-issue voter to give the life issues the priority they deserve. Catholics should be “dominant issue” voters.

The Catholic Church proposes a vertical—not horizontal—list of moral and social issues for political consideration. The life issues—including abortion, euthanasia, fetal stem-cell research, and cloning—are at the top of that hierarchy. These issues should be considered dominant in determining how to vote for two simple reasons: First, the protection of life—the right to life—is a moral principle that sits at the foundation of morality itself. And it’s one of the three foundational rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. There could be no right to liberty or happiness unless there was a living person in the first place.

Second, the Catholic injunction to oppose abortion is unqualified: Individuals are not required or allowed, to make prudential judgments of the principle to a specific case. Appeals to private “conscience” cannot override this infallible teaching. In the Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Public Life, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes:

In this context, it must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good.

Opposition to abortion, therefore, binds every Catholic on pain of mortal sin; it admits of no exceptions. There is no question, then, that as the dominant issue, a politician’s position on abortion qualifies him or her for the Catholic vote. From the perspective of the Church, not all the policy positions taken by candidates are of equal importance. Catholics, by understanding themselves as dominant-issue voters, can preserve the hierarchy of values at the core of Church teaching while not ignoring the legitimate spectrum of issues important to political consideration.

Furthermore, by understanding the dominance of life issues, Catholics will overcome their confusion about the difference between moral principle and prudential judgment. Unlike the admonition against abortion, most of the general principles proposed in Church teaching can be implemented in a variety of ways; it’s simply a mistake to assume—as the left often does—that one kind of implementation is more “Catholic” than another.

(The bishops’ conference issues dozens of policy recommendations every congressional session on issues ranging from broadband legislation to minimum wage and partial-birth abortion. Unfortunately, the average Catholic doesn’t discriminate between simple policy recommendations made by the conference and doctrinal statements and often wrongly assumes that they have equal authority.)

One final advantage to the dominant-issue approach is that it can help close the unnecessary divide between pro-life Catholics and “social justice” Catholics. There’s a clear continuity between providing someone with food and shelter and the willingness to defend his life when it’s threatened. The Church often employs the phrase “social justice” when addressing “the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation. Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1928).

The demands of social justice, then, begin with the right to life and end with the right to be protected from euthanasia or the temptation of assisted suicide. It’s a mistake to detach the idea of social justice from the protection of vulnerable life: The source of moral obligation to protect the unborn and to feed the hungry is one and the same—the inherent dignity of the human person.

Lobbying For The Bishops

Deal W. Hudson

There are two things I need to bring to your attention…

First, the biannual meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Colorado came and went last week. Of course, you’d never know it from the minimal coverage. This is a shame since the bishops released a very important statement that the mainstream media appear to have missed.

It can be found in “Catholics in Political Life,” a preview to the full report that the bishops will be releasing later this year (but not until the election has already come and gone, unfortunately). The statement answers a lot of questions that have been floating around lately about the duties of Catholic politicians and our duties as Catholic voters – especially when our political and religious priorities are crossed.

The bishops touched on the hot topic of denying pro-abortion Catholic politicians Communion, but they ended up just putting it back to the individual bishops. So each bishop will have to decide how to proceed in his own diocese.

It certainly would have been nice to have something a little more concrete here. But at least the state doesn’t play down the danger pro-abortion Catholic politicians put themselves in: “To make [abortion] legal is itself wrong. …The legal system as such can be said to cooperate in evil when it fails to protect the lives of those who have no protection except the law. …Those who formulate law, therefore, have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they are guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good.”

But the most encouraging – and concrete – part comes later in the document. Regarding the public platforms that are sometimes given pro-abortion Catholic politicians, the bishops clearly state: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

This is important. As noted in an article in the June issue of CRISIS (“The Enemy Inside The Gates,” by Patrick J. Reilly), numerous Catholic schools and institutions have invited pro-abortion Catholics to speak or be honored. Not only does this undermine the Church’s position on important moral issues, but it also comes dangerously close to sanctioning the anti-Catholic activities of these individuals.

Now that the bishops have stated unequivocally that these politicians should never be given ANY kind of award, honor, or platform, we can start looking to Catholic institutions to fall in line. While I won’t hold my breath on the colleges, I’m certainly happy to see the bishops taking a strong step in the right direction.

But that wasn’t the only thing I wanted to tell you about in this letter…

There’s a battle brewing right now in the Senate, and it could have a huge impact on all of us. I’m referring, of course, to the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) – which is a Constitutional amendment that says marriage is restricted to a man and a woman.

As you may already know, the FMA will finally be put to a vote in the Senate on July 15th. That means there’s little less than a month to rally the troops on this important issue in order to get the required 67 votes needed for passage.

Enter the lobbyists… those individuals who try to shape public policy to reflect the positions of their particular interest group. The Catholic Church in America has its own lobbying arm – the Office of Government Liaison (OGL), directed by Frank Monahan. Headquartered at the USCCB, the Office represents the bishops’ (and, in turn, Catholics’) concerns before congress.

You probably remember that a few weeks ago, Monsignor William Fay, the conference’s general secretary, wrote us to insist that the bishops were fully behind the FMA and were doing everything they could to urge congressmen to support it.

Well, it’s now time for the USCCB to step up to the plate and deliver on their promise. Currently, the FMA only has about 30 senators behind it, with another 23 senators undecided. As I mentioned, the bill needs 67 votes to pass, so it’s still far from a sure thing. The next four weeks will be crucial in determining the ultimate success or failure of the bill, and that’s where Frank Monahan and his staff come in.

While the OGL should be petitioning all senators for their support of the FMA, it’s especially vital to focus on the 24 Catholic senators. Shockingly, 15 of those 24 senators are currently OPPOSED to the bill, and four more are undecided. (I’ll tell you who in a moment.)

Think about that: Only 1 in 5 senators who claim to be Catholic actually support a bill that would enshrine marriage as the union of one man and one woman. That’s truly devastating.

And that’s why it’s crucial that the USCCB does its very best in the next few weeks to lobby these senators – to remind them of the Church’s clear teaching on marriage and their duty as senators in light of that teaching (especially on the heels of the bishops’ statement from their Colorado meeting). For the record, those senators currently opposed to the bill are:

Joseph Biden (D-DE)
John Breaux (D-LA)
Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Susan Collins (R-ME)
Tom Daschle (D-SD)
Christopher Dodd (D-CT)
Richard Durbin (D-IL)
Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Ted Kennedy (D-MA)
John Kerry (D-MA)
Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Patty Murray (D-WA)
John Reed (D-RI)

Four senators are still, astonishingly enough, undecided. They are:

Mike DeWine (R-OH)
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
John Sununu (R-NH)
George Voinovich (R-OH)

It’s also important for us to recognize and appreciate those Catholic senators who have already taken a stand in support of the FMA. They are:

Jim Bunning (R-KY)
Pete Domenici (R-NM)
Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL)
Sam Brownback (R-KS)
Rick Santorum (R-PA)

Monsignor Fay, Frank Monahan, and the rest of the folks at the USCCB certainly have their work cut out for them. But we’re fully behind their efforts to persuade these senators to act in line with their self-professed faith.