BALTIMORE | The nation’s Catholic bishops on Tuesday served notice to the future Obama administration that they will oppose “a culture of coercion” on abortion, even if they have to suffer doing so.
The five-paragraph statement, which was debated at length during an afternoon session of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual meeting, said the 223 bishops present were “completely united and resolute in our teaching and defense of the unborn child from the moment of conception.”
Several bishops said church leaders must be prepared to suffer for their beliefs.
“We have lost 50 times as many children in the last 35 years as we have lost soldiers in all the wars since the Revolution,” said Bishop Robert J. Hermann of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
“I think any bishop here would consider it a privilege to die tomorrow to bring about an end to abortion,” he added. “If we are willing to die tomorrow, then we should be willing to, until the end of our lives, to take all kinds of criticism for opposing this horrible infanticide.”
The statement singled out the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) for criticism, saying it would “reduce religious freedom, and the Church must work against its passage.”
If passed by Congress, FOCA would nullify all state laws limiting abortion. President-elect Barack Obama has promised to sign FOCA into law.
Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki said FOCA would have a “significant and adverse effect” and that bishops “need to be prepared in the face of increasingly militant threats to unborn life.”
“The next step would be for federal law to require abortions by all hospitals, including Catholic hospitals, which we cannot do,” he said. “We’d need to consider taking the drastic step of closing our Catholic hospitals completely.”
Several bishops warned that Mr. Obama may issue executive orders as early as January, removing all limits on stem-cell research and approving the use of taxpayer money for abortions. Others mentioned reaching out to pro-life Protestants and other groups.
“It is not only us who will be attacked,” said Bishop Kevin W. Vann of Fort Worth, Texas. “But as we have seen in the fight for the marriage amendment, the Mormons are being attacked in Salt Lake City.”
Scranton, Pa., Bishop Joseph F. Martino said the bishops must concentrate on reaching out to Catholic politicians who disagree with them, even if they have to threaten excommunication in the same way that bishops in St. Louis and New Orleans threatened segregationist Catholic officials in 1947 and 1962.
“We must speak to Catholic politicians who are stridently anti-life,” he said.
Referring to Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Scranton native, Bishop Martino said, “I cannot have the vice president-elect coming to Scranton, saying he learned his values there, when those values are utterly opposed to the teachings of the Catholic church.”
The statement, which is in draft form, will be finalized later this week as an open letter signed by USCCB President Cardinal Francis George.
In other business, the USCCB announced it would stop controversial grants to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) made by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), a sub-agency.
The CCHD, which gave more than $1 million to ACORN in 2007, is stopping the grants because of “serious concerns about financial accountability, organizational performance and political partisanship,” said New Orleans Auxiliary Bishop Roger P. Morin.