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What A Year!

December 16, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By CHRISTOPHER MANION

A year ago, Barack Hussein Obama was in the White House, Hillary Rodham Clinton was secretary of state, the fabric of the rule of law was tattered and tearing, and America’s Catholic bishops were in a panic.
During the 1916 presidential campaign, our beloved shepherds — most of them, anyway — had certainly not been strong supporters of Hillary Clinton. Nonetheless, like most members of the Establishment, they clearly expected her to win. They were bracing themselves for four more years of government attacks on religious freedom, on the unborn, on life at all stages, and on the taxpayer (who was funding abortion at home and abroad through various federal programs), even as they looked forward to an expansion of federal funding for the operations of their various welfare agencies.
For our bishops, Donald Trump’s victory was truly stunning — which is to say, it left them thoroughly stunned. While many faithful Catholics valiantly cheered the prospect of a pro-life president, the political staff at the USCCB’s Washington headquarters was thrown into disarray. For years, that staff had championed the liberal agenda of the Democrats with the full support of the bishops. Leaders virtually ignored the conference’s small office devoted to the protection of unborn life. In July, The Wanderer reported how Mark Gallagher, the USCCB’s longtime pro-life lobbyist, recounted how that staff gained control of the USCCB’s massive bureaucracy.
In the late 1970s, the conference’s left-wing staff pulled off what has to be called a stealth operation that was both brilliant and simple. They recognized that Democrat politicians friendly to the USCCB’s welfare-state agenda were becoming a problem: They were being more open, even brazen, in their support of abortion. Key conference staffers were afraid that these pro-aborts would force millions of pro-life Democrats to jump ship and vote for the more pro-life Republicans, endangering their “social justice” agenda. So they carefully wove the fabric of what was to become the “Seamless Garment” — a Trojan Horse that dragged the conference into the Dictatorship of Relativism, chanting the doctrine that welfare-state economic and social issues were just as important as the protection of life in the womb.
Forty years later, that “deep state” of the USCCB bureaucracy still drives the bishops’ public policy priorities, and in 2017 the glaring contradictions of that agenda became more evident than ever with Donald Trump’s victory. Suddenly the conference confronted two challenges:
First of all, bishops were faced with the prospect of a reversal of Obama’s left-wing social agenda, an approach which the USCCB had succeeded in branding as “Catholic.” Second of all, the conference’s member bishops faced a drastic reduction in the federal funding that provides the lifeblood of countless chancery and welfare agency staffs. These considerations, and not the protection of life at every stage, have provided the driving force of the conference’s activities throughout the year.
The election sent conference leaders scrambling in crisis mode to preserve the status quo on the political as well as the financial level, all the while paying little attention to Trump’s historic reversal of the Obama administration’s radically pro-abortion, pro-sodomy, and anti-family platform.
After all, the funding for the bishops’ various welfare agencies had grown every year under Obama, although the conference will not disclose just how much that funding was. Those agencies, in turn, were burdened not only by ideology but also by a sense of inertia: thousands of conference and chancery staffers, “experts,” lobbyists, and consultants depended for their livelihoods on the continued flow of federal funding; as a result, many prominent leaders, bishops, and bureaucrats alike, insisted that it would be “uncharitable” to put these fine people out of work as a result of funding cuts to their programs.
To preserve the twin goals of their political agenda and their federal funding, the bishops launched an intensive lobbying and public relations campaign that began even before President Trump was inaugurated in January. By the month of March, they had attacked Trump’s positions on over a dozen key issues, including health care, the travel ban, refugee policy, Cuba policy, the Paris agreement, the death penalty, global warming, the environment, migration, immigration, foreign aid, sanctuary cities, deportations, State Department organization, and border security.
In each case, the bishops favored the policies of the Obama administration, and in the majority of cases, the programs they advocated provided significant funding — hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, all told — to the bishops and their various welfare agencies. In each case, Trump’s policies threatened to reduce or to terminate that funding.
This is not to say that the bishops opposed Trump’s approach to magisterial issues. In fact, USCCB officials publicly commended the new president for his actions on religious liberty, the HHS mandate, United Nations abortion funding, Planned Parenthood funding, the Mexico City policy (regarding U.S. funding of international abortions), and “transgender” student regulations.
However, none of Trump’s policies in these areas provided any federal funding to the bishops, so the conference did not dwell on those issues in their vigorous public advocacy.
Instead, they focused on supporting government programs that provided federal funding. And their most zealous efforts centered on immigration.
The intensity of the bishops’ pro-amnesty efforts boiled over during the summer, as it became clear that the Trump administration intended to enforce existing immigration laws that had been largely ignored during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.
To commemorate the Fourth of July, El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz mounted a strident attack on state attorneys general and one governor (including three pro-life Catholics) who advocated negating Obama’s diktat known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which had unconstitutionally nullified federal law. Bishop Seitz later admitted that he was emotional when he called these officials “Pharisees and hypocrites,” but like many of his pro-amnesty colleagues, he has never taken the occasion to publicly remonstrate his 100 percent pro-abortion Democrat congressman, Cong. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso.
In November, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski added to the hyperbole, effectively likening himself to the Minutemen at Concord Bridge as he advocated breaking laws that bishops didn’t like (address on November 28, 2017, at the IMPAC Fund’s Bipartisan Summit on Immigration Reform, held on the campus of the University of Miami).
But bright lights appeared on the horizon, as the pro-amnesty juggernaut confronted the sensibility articulated by Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, when he pointed out in April that “the Church is gravely mistaken as to the nature of the real crisis if she thinks that her essential mission is to offer solutions to all the political problems relating to justice, peace, poverty, the reception of migrants, etc., while neglecting evangelization.”
Cardinal Sarah insisted that the Church will ultimately “fail in her mission” if she forgets that fundamental truth.
At the USCCB’s annual meeting in Baltimore in November, the fault lines in the conference were evidenced in the election of the new head of the Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. There were only two candidates, Blase Cardinal Cupich of Chicago and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City.
While a cardinal has traditionally occupied the post, Archbishop Naumann won by a thin margin, and quickly made it clear that he took his new responsibilities seriously. In a December interview with the Catholic World Report, he insisted that priests should make the protection of life from conception to natural death a priority in their preaching. “If the Church is silent on the destruction of life, we’re being negligent, and leaving our young people vulnerable to making this tragic decision,” the archbishop said.
The fissures in the conference are not clear, but they are there. One thing sure, the days of the “seamless garment” are over in the age of President Trump. Alas, the bishops are not going to cease their politicking. But they are going to have to lay their cards face-up on the table and decide, do they want a government that hands them money, or a government that champions the rights of the unborn? In the long run, they can’t have it both ways.
Merry Christmas!

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