- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2008

BALTIMORE | U.S. Catholic bishops at their annual meeting Monday brushed off an apparent disregard among Catholic voters for church doctrine on abortion, saying the economy, not their teachings, was to blame.

“It’s 1932 revisited,” Chicago Cardinal Francis George told reporters at the Waterfront Marriott, referring to the election pitting Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt. “We have a Republican president, the depression has begun and, once again, the American voters have turned to another party. The economy was the foremost challenge.”

Exit polls from the presidential election show that most Catholics favored Sen. Barack Obama, a pro-choice Illinois Democrat, despite pleas by 89 bishops before the election for believers to consider a candidate’s position on abortion before voting.

“Very few people answered they were voting on social and moral issues,” San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer said, referring to exit polls. “What people had on their minds was the economic situation.”

“We’re going to discuss what worked and didn’t work,” Cardinal George said, referring to off-the-record sessions the bishops will hold during their three-day meeting. “We will have to come back and ask whether or not the way we’ve taught has been helpful.”

Several bishops released statements this fall saying Catholics are morally obligated to vote for pro-life candidates.

Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn warned Catholics in his flock that they risked their “eternal salvation” by voting pro-choice.

Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput called Mr. Obama the “most committed abortion-rights presidential candidate” since abortion was legalized in 1973.

Cardinal George, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, added that the conference will “have to enter into negotiations” with the Obama administration “so that some of our concerns get ironed out.”

Other bishops interviewed also blamed the economy.

“In their own minds, they prioritized things differently,” said Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Cistone of Philadelphia, whose suburbs favored Mr. Obama last week.

“There were so many factors in the election,” said Auxiliary Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, also of Philadelphia. “It wasn’t a vote against the Catholic position. There was the economy, a historic election involving an African-American. There was a multiplicity of items on the table.”

“This was a time when people were dealing with all kinds of issues,” said Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, who oversees a heavily Democratic voter base in the District and Maryland suburbs. “People were perhaps focused on the immediacy of the hour.”

Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese of the District of Columbia said people were so eager for change that they would have voted for anyone other than a Republican.

“Most people did not vote for Obama because of his position on abortion,” he said, “but in spite of his position on abortion.”

One of the few bishops happy with the way his flock voted was Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb. His state voted for Republican candidate John McCain on Nov. 4. “The Catholics voted in a pro-life way in my part of the world,” he said.

During Monday’s opening sessions, Cardinal George challenged Mr. Obama on the issue, saying a society cannot be good “when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice.”

“If the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision that African-Americans were other people’s property and somehow less than persons were still settled constitutional law, Mr. Obama would not be president of the United States,” he added.

Cardinal George then exhorted Catholic politicians to vote according to church teaching, saying that Mr. Obama “was not asked to renounce his racial heritage in order to be president as, effectively, John Kennedy was asked to promise that his Catholic faith would not influence his perspective and decisions as president a generation ago.”

Tuesday afternoon, the bishops will discuss strategies on dealing with pro-choice Catholic politicians, an issue that became prominent this summer when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, made sweeping remarks about the church’s stance on abortion.

The discussion was first slated for a tiny Tuesday morning slot, then was moved into executive session late last week. After some bishops complained, the discussion was moved to a longer afternoon time period.

The bishops also were asked Monday morning to approve a “blessing of a child in the womb,” which does not presently exist in Catholic liturgy.

The prayer, which is expected to be approved Tuesday, includes a plea to God to “bless the child in your womb. The Lord has brought you the joy of motherhood: May he bless you with a safe and healthy pregnancy.”

The rite includes a prayer for men, asking that God “bless you as the spiritual head of this family.”

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