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Analysis: Cardinal George sees America overcoming racism but not anti-Catholicism November 11, 2008

In his address yesterday to the fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Cardinal Francis George said that the election of Sen. Barack Obama is a sign of the progress American society has made against racism but noted that deeper challenges remain for faithful Catholics who take part in public life.

‘This is a moment that touches more than our history,’ said the USCCB president, ‘when a country that once enshrined race slavery in its very constitutional order should come to elect an African American to the presidency. In this, I truly believe, we must all rejoice … We can also be truly grateful that our country’s social conscience has advanced to the point that Barack Obama was not asked to renounce his racial heritage in order to be president, as, effectively, John Kennedy was asked to promise that his Catholic faith would not influence his perspective and decisions as president a generation ago.’

‘Echoes of that debate,’ Cardinal George continued, ‘remain in the words of those who reject universal moral propositions that have been espoused by the human race throughout history, with the excuse that they are part of Catholic moral teaching. We are, perhaps, at a moment when, with the grace of God, all races are safely within the American consensus. We are not at the point, however, when Catholics, especially in public life, can be considered full partners in the American experience unless they are willing to put aside some fundamental Catholic teachings on a just moral and political order.’ Cardinal George sees this anti-Catholicism as connected with American individualism: ‘The hubris that has isolated our country politically and now economically is heard, but not usually recognized, in moral arguments based simply and solely on individual moral autonomy. This personal and social dilemma is not, of course, a matter of ultimate importance, for America is not the Kingdom of God; but it makes America herself far less than she claims to be in this world.’

Cardinal George then emphasized the importance of the defense of the abortion. ‘In working for the common good of our society, racial justice is one pillar of our social doctrine. Economic justice, especially for the poor both here and abroad, is another. But the Church comes also and always and everywhere with the memory, the conviction, that the Eternal Word of God became man, took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, nine months before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This truth is celebrated in our liturgy because it is branded into our spirit. The common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice.’

In a clear reference to arguments made by some Catholic supporters of President-elect Obama’s campaign, Cardinal George added, ‘If the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision that African Americans were other people’s property and somehow less than persons were still settled constitutional law, Mr. Obama would not be president of the United States. Today, as was the case a hundred and fifty years ago, common ground cannot be found by destroying the common good.’

Cardinal George called for the unity of the Church amidst these challenges. ‘Those who would weaken our internal unity render the Church’s external mission to the world more difficult if not impossible. Jesus promised that the world would believe in him if we are one: one in faith and doctrine, one in prayer and sacrament, one in governance and shepherding. The Church and her life and teaching do not fit easily into the prior narratives that shape our public discussions. As bishops, we can only insist that those who would impose their own agenda on the Church, those who believe and act self-righteously, answerable only to themselves, whether ideologically on the left or the right, betray the Lord Jesus Christ.’

This unity, Cardinal George noted, does not necessary involve Church administrative structures that have developed through the centuries. ‘As we all know, the Church was born without episcopal conferences, as she was born without parishes and without dioceses, although all these structures have been helpful pastorally throughout the centuries. The Church was born only with shepherds, with apostolic pastors, whose relationship to their people keeps them one with Christ, from whom comes authority to govern the Church. Strengthening people’s relationship with Christ remains our primary concern and duty as bishops.’

In additional comments quoted by Associated Press, Cardinal George said that the new administration’s likely decision to use federal funds to destroy human embryos for stem cell research would ‘alienate tens of millions of people, not just Catholics, and militates against the type of unity the administration hopes to achieve.’ President-elect Obama’s opponent, Sen. John McCain, also called for federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research.