Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Bishops, politicians, abortion, and a witch-hunt

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 06, 2021

The rhetorical battle among the American Catholic bishops is heating up. Sooner or later, some bold bishop is actually going to do something about Catholic politicians who promote unrestricted abortion.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has once again challenged those politicians—and his fellow bishops—with an op-ed that appeared in the Washington Post. Decrying the continued slaughter of the unborn, he wrote:

As a faith leader in the Catholic community, I find it especially disturbing that so many of the politicians on the wrong side of the preeminent human rights issue of our time are self-professed Catholics.

Archbishop Cordileone named names (Biden, Pelosi), and he pointedly mentioned the precedent that was set in 1962 when Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans excommunicated three segregationist leaders. Perhaps most important, from a pastoral perspective, he mentioned the happy ending to that story: “Two of the three later repented and died Catholics in good standing.”

The thrust of the archbishop’s argument was unmistakable: Church leaders must call these erring Catholic politicians to account—not only in order so that the scourge of abortion might cease, but also so that the politicians themselves might be ready, when their time comes, to die as good Catholics.

That Post op-ed is certainly a challenge to President Biden and Speaker Pelosi, and to the many other Catholic politicians whose support the abortion lobby commands. It is also a challenge to Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the Catholic leader of the city in which these politicians ply their trade, and in which the Washington Post is published. But the op-ed also presents a challenge to Archbishop Cordileone himself. Because this essay contains an implicit threat—particularly to Speaker Pelosi, who resides in Cordileone’s archdiocese—and a threat that is made repeatedly but never carried out loses all its force.

And if Archbishop Cordileone is at last making “pro-choice” politicians uncomfortable, other Catholic prelates are pushing—hard—in the opposite direction. Just hours before that Post op-ed appeared, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, loosed an insidious message on his Twitter account:

Those who vehemently fight legal abortion but are uninterested in providing basic healthcare for pregnant mothers or needy children, who are unconcerned about refugee children or those lacking quality education with no hope of escaping poverty cannot really claim to respect life.

The argument that Bishop Stowe used here—that pro-lifers stop caring about babies when they are born—sounded clever when Congressman Barney Frank made it about forty years ago. But it has not aged well, because it is a falsehood: the sort of falsehood that no honest man, let alone a Catholic bishop, should promote.

Who are these people against whom Bishop Stowe directs his ire? Where are the people who oppose health care and quality education? Archbishop Cordileone can name names, because President Biden issues public promises to secure access to abortion and Speaker Pelosi Speaker Pelosi claims her support for unrestricted abortion is compatible with her Catholic faith. There are no politicians who endorse poverty. There are no politicians who condemn education. Bishop Stowe cannot cite the same sort of examples, because the people he denounces do not exist.

So why does Bishop Stowe make this fraudulent claim? For the same reason, I suspect, that Barney Frank introduced the line of argument years ago: to advance a partisan political line. Bishop Stowe, like the erstwhile Massachusetts lawmaker, wants to call down opprobrium on those people who do not want to advance health care and education by the means that he prefers. He is putting disagreements on tax policies and Medicare levels and immigration laws on the same moral plane as debates about the deliberate destruction of human life.

What do you call the political strategy that cites the menace posed by non-existent enemies, and distracts attention from real-life problems? I call it a witch-hunt.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Sep. 08, 2021 6:49 PM ET USA

    The bishops have given up territory on every moral issue for the past 50 years. The majority of Catholics don’t believe church teaching and the bishops have stopped trying. They can’t get their own house in order, how do they expect to influence public policy. Read the comments in the WaPo op Ed and see how much credibility the bishops have left in the public square. None!

  • Posted by: till8774 - Sep. 07, 2021 9:10 PM ET USA

    I could be naive, but I'm hoping Archbishop Cordileone is setting the stage for eventual excommunication of Pelosi if she continues her support for all things related to continuing abortion on demand. We shall see.

  • Posted by: td4207 - Sep. 07, 2021 5:20 PM ET USA

    When American Bishops fail, as an institution, to act with courage in defending the Gospel of Jesus Christ out of sensitivity to American politics, they squander the respect of the 30% of the self-declared Catholics who actually go to Church and faithfully support their parishes' budgets and ministries.

  • Posted by: feedback - Sep. 07, 2021 3:29 AM ET USA

    The goal of that imaginary witch-hunt is to create shelter for the real witches (in this case: pro abort politicians) and let them hide from criticism, or calls to repentance. All that's done under pretense of a "greater virtue." It's actually an old method of manipulating public opinion used under totalitarian political regimes. But it's coming to the shores of America.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Sep. 06, 2021 9:34 PM ET USA

    You're far too restrained. It finally comes down to the fact that neither one of these bishops is better nor worse than the other. The Lion lacks courage and the Straw man lacks the brains. Tis a pity the Church is structured so that this raging dichotomy has to be resolved on multiple fronts in our expansive country. At least Cordileone has heart. How can he be persuaded to take that necessary step that Bishop Rummel embraced? I think it would certainly shake bishops and politicos to the quick.