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No political home for U.S. Catholics

When the politicians and the lobbyists choose up sides they don’t know where to put the Catholic church.

“There are very few organizations that actively fight abortion and actively fight capital punishment, that actively work for family leave and actively support family choice in education, that oppose the administration’s stealth plans to undermine the safety net, and for the same reasons support the Faith-Based Initiative,” John Carr, secretary of the U.S. bishops’ Office of Social Development and World Peace, told the more than 500 social ministry workers gathered in Washington Feb. 9-12.

Carr cast a pox on both political houses: “For the Democrats, culture trumps economics, and for the Republicans conservatism trumps compassion.” That scenario was played out late last year, said Carr, when Democrats blocked $1.3 billion in social service funding that was part of the president’s faith-based initiative, while Republicans stalled an extension of unemployment benefits because they wanted to use the money for tax cuts.

Said Carr: “On the left, our friends say, ‘We love what you’re doing on the death penalty, we love that you’re one of the few voices standing up against this war, we love that you’re trying to fix the [welfare reform] bill, but when you get to that abortion stuff, stop trying to impose your values on us.’ ”

On the political right, meanwhile, “when you stand up for human life -- even including those on death row -- that’s politics.” Carr approvingly cited former Bush White House faith-based initiative director John DiIulio’s comment that the “compassion agenda got lost when the conservatives got control of both houses of Congress.”

Carr saved his harshest criticism for the Democrats. “What do they stand for, except abortion on demand? In the last election, you couldn’t figure it out. They seem to have lost their voice, if not their values.” He noted that the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates had their first joint appearance “not at a homeless shelter, not at a meeting of Enron employees,” but at a National Abortion Rights Action League gathering “where they fell all over themselves to say that the most fundamental issue was protecting abortion at all times and all places, no restrictions.”

“Remember when they called us single issue?” asked Carr.

-- Joe Feuerherd

National Catholic Reporter, February 21, 2003