The latest editorial from the National Catholic Reporter lambastes the pro-life effort of bishops. I’m trying to make heads or tails out of their point of view but it just seems to follow the already stale Kmiec-isms that the real pro-life position is to ignore Roe V Wade and just give money to poor women.

Try as I might to find some logic in their stance I’m not being rewarded for my efforts. But here’s what I’m getting so far – The pro-life bishops are so narrow-mindedly pro-life that they’re actually helping the pro-choice side and hurting the Church.

Another presidential election cycle is nearly ended, and once again the Catholic bishops in the United States have sadly distinguished themselves for the narrowness and, in too many cases, barely concealed partisanship, of their political views.

Cycle after cycle they have promulgated the same message: Abortion trumps all other issues and the only credible approach to fighting abortion is voting for candidates who express a wish to overthrow Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Yes. How silly of them to want to overturn the legalization of murdering babies. So narrow-minded.

We have persistently criticized the American bishops on this page for such a limited political strategy. For more than a quarter of a century they have generally used whatever political capital they might have in attempts to deliver the Catholic vote to whomever is making the most agreeable promises that year.

Year after year, however, the bishops get little in return for their antiabortion political endorsements, while often aiding in the election of politicians who have little regard for the rest of the church’s social agenda.

The abortion rate has been going down steadily in America, from a high of 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 in 1981 to 19.4 abortions for the same demographic through 2005, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Wait. I thought the bishops were getting nothing for their efforts but then they say the abortion rate is going down. I’m confused. But that’s ok because they’re even more confused.

No one, however, is suggesting that politicians promising to overturn Roe had any influence on a woman’s choosing to bring a child to term.

The point is significant, especially this year when highly credible voices in the Catholic community have been successful in reframing a Catholic approach to the abortion issue. Legal scholars Douglas Kmiec and Nicholas Cafardi, who have unimpeachable antiabortion credentials, among others have advanced compelling arguments regarding the futility of using a legal ban as a political litmus test.

Kmiec, who worked on briefs attempting to overturn Roe, said earlier this year when explaining his support for Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama: “We have been at the business of trying to find the elusive fifth vote on the Supreme Court for 30 years. We haven’t found it and even if we do find it, overturning Roe would not save a single life, but instead merely return the question to the states. While that would be important, it is not intended and never was intended to close the American mind or, for that matter, the Catholic mind to different or alternative ways to discourage abortion.”

Let’s hit the logic here. The Supreme Court makes it illegal for the legislature to restrict abortion in any way. And then NCR blames the legislature for not restricting abortion and advises bishops to give it up.

Look, Republicans have been nibbling at the edges of abortion-on-demand for years with parental notification and pushing ultrasounds but they’ve had a hard time of things because the Supreme Court for years even shut down laws against partial birth abortion before President Bush finally stacked the court enough to let the law stand.

And the NCR editors referring to that “elusive fifth vote” on the Court, is just a lie. For years, we were down 7-2 on the court. And we’ve had disappointments over the years with Souter and Sandra Day O’ Connor. But seemingly, President Bush got it right with justices Alito and Roberts. So now we might really be able to push real change without it being overturned by the court. So just when we might be able to right the ship, NCR is advising us to abandon ship and help fund swimming lessons for the poor.

Republican candidate Sen. John McCain has found favor among many bishops by agreeing with their conviction that Roe should be overturned. If that conviction is the sole guiding criterion, the choice becomes easy.

This year, however, Democrats have added a plank to their platform promising to enact programs aimed at reducing abortions by attacking some of the root causes, especially among the poor and minorities. It is distressing to witness so many members of the hierarchy eagerly dismissing the possibility of an alternative approach.

Are these people deranged? The bishops are standing up for life. They’re pointing out that murder has been legalized. They’re simply asking that murder be classified as murder again by the law no matter how small the person is.

The NCR staff has this wrong. They see the bishops as being closed and narrow minded on this. I think they’re asking us to be open to life.

Instead of a thoughtful discussion of the political options, the Catholic community has been overwhelmed by shouting from the most extreme ideologues and partisans. Among the bishops it is easy to spot — and hear — the most imprudent. There are exceptions, of course.

It is the extremes, however, that drive the news and the general impressions of the Catholic community. No one among the bishops has had the courage to stand up to such misuse of office and distortion of the documents that the bishops themselves have promulgated over several decades.

Bishops who hold that a legal ban is the only approach to the abortion issue, as one observer put it, damage the church and the pro-life cause.

Certainly the conduct of many of the bishops this election cycle has diminished the significance of abortion and undermined the importance of the rest of the Catholic social agenda by turning the abortion issue into a partisan rallying cry. Their conduct further erodes the legitimate authority of an already beleaguered episcopal conference.

I love when these types predict the downfall of the church every time the bishops actually stand up and do something right. They’d rather the bishops followed the gospel of the New York Times. Oh and by the way, I guarantee the Times will go out of business before the Church.

Related: See Erin Manning’s Progressive to English Translation of the NCR piece.