Peter Steinfels, the former editor of Commonweal (’nuff said!) writes in the New York Times that among the biggest losers this election season are the courageous Catholic Bishops who stood up and taught truth.
Anyone constructing a list of the big losers on Tuesday would probably include the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops. Will that fact be candidly addressed when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops meets next week in Baltimore?
After a presidential campaign in which it was widely perceived that the dominant message from the bishops was that Catholics were morally obliged not to vote for a candidate supporting abortion rights, exit polls show that Catholics voted 52 percent to 45 percent for Senator Barack Obama. That was seven percentage points more than the Catholic vote in 2004 for Senator John Kerry, a fellow Catholic.
Hispanic Catholics, a group the bishops often hail as representing the future of the church in the United States, led the way. Latinos voted 67 percent for Mr. Obama, 16 percentage points more than their vote for Mr. Kerry. Latino Catholics, usually more Democratic than Protestant Latinos, almost certainly voted for the Democratic nominee at an even higher rate.
Exit poll figures for young Catholics are not yet available, but much information indicates that they also voted at high rates for Mr. Obama.
If the bishops sweat a little over these figures next week, the reason won’t be worry about their political prowess but about their pastoral and moral effectiveness. By appearing to tie their moral stance on abortion so closely to a particular political choice, have they in fact undermined their moral persuasiveness on that issue as well as their pastoral effectiveness generally
One can imagine Mr. Steinfels standing outside the Upper Room after the crucifixion mocking “Where is your Messiah now?”
Steinfels misses the point, the Bishops who spoke up are the heroes of this election season and signal a new start for the Catholic episcopacy in the U.S. Sure, the majority of “Catholics” voted for Obama, but the Majority of “Catholics” don’t even go to Church. Among Church going Catholics, it was unfortunately just a slight edge for McCain.
The sad fact is that you do not undo 40+ years of rampant cafeteria Catholicism in one election season. But I am convinced that if the Bishops continue to stand up, to teach, and to ignore nay-sayers like Mr. Steinfels they will eventually make a difference. Mr. Steinfels says if at first you don’t succeed, go liberal.
What Mr. Steinfels doesn’t realize is that this is essentially missionary work. This group of courageous Bishops is merely the first wave into uncatechized territory. They will face criticism (Such as Steinfels NYT piece), ignorance, and superstition suffering martyrdom of different shapes and sizes along the way. But like their missionary brethren of centuries past, the faith will eventually take a foothold. When that happens these brave Bishops will change the world, not the other way around.
I hope this is the lesson that the Bishops take from this election defeat. Round 1 goes to the enemy, but we know how this fight ends. We win.