Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Fearful of losing its favor with the Dems’ big honchos and Federal goodies as well, when the Dems said “shove it,” timid Prelates changed the subject and haven’t regained their footing since.

[A column for The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest Catholic weekly, updated since publication].

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—If you come from the same Cro-Magnon pre-modern political era as I, you remember the days when pop folklore had (a) Democrats as the protectors of the little guy and (b) Republicans the watch-dogs of vested interests, the rich and the High and Mighty. I can never forget how Hubert Humphrey extolled (time after time in the `50s while I covered him as a Minnesota newsman) the Democrats as defenders of those who “are in the dawn of life, those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” If he had perceived that the danger of legalized abortion were threatening, it’s a cinch he would have added “unborn” to the sentence. But that was when the Catholic vote meant something because bishops stood for principle.

You could be pardoned if you wondered what the Republicans were doing to help the helpless. In that Paleolithic age the mightiest blue-collar, largely white, religious ally the Democrats had was the Catholic Church. Well do I recall my marble-layer Irish Catholic Democratic grandfather telling me, “you can say all you want but the Republicans were always for those who have got power-- not those who are weak.”

How, then, has it come to be that we now see the Democrats actively supporting the tearing-up…cutting into segments…and the sucking out of the brains of the unborn? Indeed His Messiah-ness, Barack Hussein Obama, endorsed by Mayor Richard M. Daley, voting down measures as a state senator to supply emergency nutrition and prompt care to live, lingering and pitifully suffering babies in the last throes of agony after having been born following botched abortions? How did of all people the bankers’ friends, the stuffy Republicans come to be —not 100% but mainly--the refuge of those who oppose abortion and infanticide?

Did it happen after the Democrats milked the last drop of political value out of the special interests? When feminist refugees from the bar scene of Star Wars like 250-lb Bella Abzug in her witch-hat and Mammy Yokum look-alike man-hating, pipe-smoking Molly Yard strode into the Democrats’ special interest carnival rousing them to save women from death by clothes-hangers in back alleys?

Nope, women feminists didn’t do it. Men did.

Now comes a valuable article in The Human Life Review by George McKenna, emeritus professor of political science at City College [of New York] which caused me to read it thoroughly after it was excerpted in Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’ excellent magazine First Things. For one thing, the Equal Rights amendment was a Republican thing, a feature of the party’s 1940 platform. Feminism (though not abortion) which sprang from the temperance battles was a GOP staple, pushed by upper class women Susan B. Anthony and Frances Willard of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (all early suffragettes bitterly opposing abortion, Anthony describing it bitterly as “a vile exploitation of women.”).

In contrast, Dems were the party of the guys, the drinkers, the wets, the unions, the workingmen who believed in a man’s right to take a drop or two—and the Church, as the haven of immigrants, was right with them. So it went for decades: the Church was with the Dems, not the fems. So it was with pro-life—for a time.

Right down to 1971, none other than Sen. Ted Kennedy to declare in 1971 that “the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life.” George McGovern, though pro-abort himself, spurned attempts to put support of abortion in the 1972 platform. He rallied Democrats against it. Why? He didn’t want to antagonize the Dems’ historic ally, the Church. Even in 1976, three years after Roe v. Wade, Kennedy was saying “abortion is morally wrong. It is not a legitimate or acceptable response to any problem of society. And if or country wishes to remain true to its basic moral strength, then unwanted as well as wanted children must be unfailingly protected.”

Originally, women were far from the front-lines of the abortion rights movement. Betty Friedan never mentioned it in her 1963 bible, The Feminist Mystique. The “statement of purpose” she wrote to launch the National Organization of Women (NOW) in 1966 says nothing about it. pro-abortion feature of feminism began with men: two men—Lawrence Lader, an east Harlem organizer for Cong. Vito Marcantonio, a member of the American Labor party, the closest member of Congress to being an official Communist (not just a radical liberal but quite possibly an order-taking member of the Soviet-led party). Lader teamed up with a gynecologist, Dr. Bernard Nathanson. Nathanson believed he was doing a social service by removing women’s concern with unwanted pregnancies (he repented his early advocacy, became a pro-life activist, Catholic convert and author of several books that tell how the pro-abortion movement began).

Lader and Nathanson held a meeting with Friedan in 1966. They offered her a deal: if she would put a pro-abortion plank in her 1967 NOW platform, they would publicize the horror of “back alley” abortions in the mainstream media. Friedan reluctantly agreed. She gave the issue only secondary mention in the platform. Lader and Nathanson then collaborated on the fictionalizing of a synthetic “horror.” They invented the term “back alley abortion.” Nathanson’s big contribution was imagining a home-made abortion procedure using wire coat-hangers--a fact he admits in his book Aborting America. Moreover, to magnify the issue to national proportions, the two connived to make up the number of deaths from abortions each year, inflating a figure they guessed at by at least a factor of ten.

Armed with this colorful imagery, the two pushed stories in Newsweek and The Saturday Evening Post. By 1968 Friedan made legalized abortion her issue number one. Lader’s facility at devising simple explanations for scientific subjects led to widespread publicity for the practice and his writings were cited eight times by Justice Harry Blackmun’s majority opinion in Roe v. Wade. Other men who made the selling easy were Garrett Hardin, a libertarian Republican, who wrote a 1968 pop environment article in Science warning that a tidal wave of population growth down the road would make living with scarcity a reality for all of us. His pop science led to the `60s-`70s best-seller, The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich.

Others who helped pave the way for popular acceptance of legal abortion included Colorado Dick Lamm, a Democrat (not a Republican as McKenna and Fr. Neuhaus erroneously list him). And there were a number of Republicans—Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-IL) who once took to the Senate floor to calculate the savings to the federal budget through the snuffing out of numberless lives through abortion; Sen. Robert Packwood (R-OR) who was forced to resign after condemnation by the Senate Ethics committee after a good number of his women Senate staffers and others—a total of 29--accused him of aggressive harassment and abuse.

The big GOP population-controller and pro-abort was former vice president Nelson Rockefeller of New York who, as governor, after leaving his wife of 32 years, convinced a married woman with four children, to leave her husband and marry him (whereby she was denied custody of her children), Rockefeller ultimately dying in flagrante delicto at the age of 71 in the arms of yet another woman, his staffer, age 27.

California Governor Ronald Reagan’s signing of a permissive abortion law was a step on the road to Roe v. Wade although he repented sorely and in a discussion with me in 1979 blamed his father-in-law, Dr. Royal Davis, for misinformation that led him to affix his signature to the bill. While there is enough bipartisan blame to go round, the Democrats now are largely the abortion party; the Republicans have supported pro-life since Gerald Ford’s time. Richard Nixon’s final biographer, Monica Crowley, herself a pro-abort Catholic, personally told me after Nixon’s death that he was pro-abort although he did not speak publicly on the issue.

What were the dynamics that led the bishops of the Roman Catholic church in America from a position of unalterable opposition to one which, under Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, watered it down stunningly to one of a few important issues? A desire of many ex-`60s JFK devotees still active in the church to keep pace out of loyalty with the Democratic party’s leftward move. They gloried in the “cool” nature of the first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy who, while a church member, was not “too Catholic.”

Here I feel McKenna doesn’t finish the evaluation. One was certainly the weakening of catechetics; another undeniably misinterpretations that grew about “the spirit of Vatican II” (which was appropriated for any change regardless of reason). McKenna cites the growth of a trendy but mystifying New Age cult associated with the French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin in his book The Phenomenon of Man, a catchall of nihilistic optimism leading to a goofy so-called “noosphere” of expanded human consciousness—although if many were like me, they ditched the tedious book after the first chapter. .

McKenna concentrates on the old JFK Catholic fans. “The young Catholic students who cheered Kennedy in 1960 were in their thirties now. They had gone into business, medicine, law, academia, the media and…the clergy. In a few more years some of the priests would be bishops and even now some were staff members and advisors to bishops and cardinals. There were nuns with doctorates who were professors and college deans and presidents…None would forget the struggles of the `60s and the friends they made across religious lines.”

Now the bishops: At the outset, the Catholic bishops were strongly in opposition to abortion; in 1976, in fact, came the bishops’ “most conspicuous muscle-flexing” when Catholics were courted by both sides—President Ford favoring his support for a constitutional amendment and Jimmy Carter emphasizing for the first time his “personal opposition” to abortion which translated meaninglessness once he was elected and was surrounded by pro-aborts.

Appropriately, McKenna draws a two-faced portrait of Archbishop Joseph Bernardin. The Bernardin of 1976, then representing the National Council of Catholic Bishops, was a strong anti-abortion advocate. Bernardin’s testimony before the House Judiciary committee where he refuted Mario Cuomo’s rationalization of abortion was the “high-water mark” of the bishops’ opposition. Then, in 1980 with Carter’s drive for reelection, the Democratic party officially became the party of abortion endorsing the license in its platform while the Republicans who nominated Reagan turned into the party of pro-life.

Writes McKenna: “The Democratic party was now the abortion party and, in case the bishops had any objection, there was an implied response: stuff it.” Meaning that the Dem pols felt the bishops would cave faced with the animosity of their once favored party. He says as result of the Dems’ tough approach “the bishops were literally dumbstruck.”

From that tough-minded response of the Democrats, “abortion was thrust right in the bishops’ faces and they said nothing—not that year, not for the next three years. And when they finally did speak, abortion was no longer their main topic.” The self-same Bernardin and his colleagues backed down from confrontation. Not long thereafter, the word was passed informally that the bishops were still palsies with their historic good friends the Democrats for old times sake. It was too politically tough to break ranks with the famous old Irish names of the past.

That was where, with few notable exceptions, the collective spine of the Catholic bishops fluttered and parsing semantics took the place of intransigent advocacy. McKenna doesn’t elucidate why—a major weakness of the article, but as one who saw it first-hand, it’s easy for me to document since I saw it happen in Chicago and elsewhere. Eyeball to eyeball between a key tenet of the Faith and pragmatism—threatened loss with high status with big-name Irish pols—the Kennedys, the Bidens, the Daleys. Moreover, fear of eroding support, money and favors, from the graying band of old JFK fans, worry about punishment in the Congress and legislatures with loss of school aid and federal social service goodies--the bishops blinked. McKenna skips by it for what reason I know not. More than anything else, as I can testify, having worked in the legislative arena of two states and a governor, it had to do with gelt—the German word for money: money for hospitals and other Catholic institutions that is conveyed on a public-private belt by those with hallowed old Democratic connections.

What he does say is that between November of 1976 and August of 1980 was “the breakdown of the Democratic party’s immune system”—subverted “from within by liberal Catholics who could not put aside the friendships they had formed in the 1960s” without further elucidation. Then the thunderclap was the election of Ronald Reagan who by strongly opposing abortion enraged Catholic liberals. It hit the august marble temple where the Catholic bishops meet as a wannabe UN security council very hard. Now McKenna details a truism for anyone who has watched the snail-like deliberations of ultra-cautious bishops in action—or rather inaction. Here McKenna is very good:

“Anyone who thinks that the bishops operate independently, handing down decrees and getting those below to obey, has it almost exactly backwards. The bishops’ pronouncements well up from currents of thought circulating among people below them…Not from the pews, though. From Catholic seminaries, from Catholic journals and theological associations…from the staffers of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The overwhelming majority of those occupying these seats of influence are Democrats and some are Democratic activists.”

So frightened by the Dems’ rebuff, the bishops changed the subject which, intentionally or not, courted the Dems. It came in the form of a “long-winded” document, written largely by Bernardin and his staff, The Challenge of Peace. It recommended a list of popular liberal goodies: nuclear freeze, mutual disarmament, a comprehensive test-ban treaty and talks with adversary nations. It meshed “perfectly with what congressional Democrats were proposing that year and what the Mondale presidential campaign would offer in 1984.” Only near the end of the long tract was a plea to end abortion.

It was at that precise time that while in Washington I bumped into former vice president Walter Mondale, then the Democratic presidential nominee opposing President Reagan. The elevator door opened at the Madison hotel and in trooped Mondale, whom I had known collegially many years earlier when we worked across the hall from each other in the Minnesota state capitol. He greeted me with a friendly but unmistakable taunt: “Roeser, you old sonuvagun Republican. Glad to see you! As a Catholic you will be interested to see that your own bishops say I am more pro-life than Reagan—judging from your own bishops! Here’s the scorecard!”

It was the lovely creation of “consistent life ethic” as devised by that superb pragmatist Archbishop Bernardin, soon to become archbishop of Chicago and a cardinal. Mondale courteously held the document in his hand, pointing out his plus votes with his forefinger. If the “seamless garment” wasn’t a bailout for the Democratic party to spare it from giving way on abortion—a capitulation of venal bishops to the Democratic party-- I’ve never seen one. McKenna and Fr. Neuhaus are too gentle to call it that.

From that time on, thanks to the cue that came from the Bernardin tract, Democrats followed what McKenna calls “the shopping cart defense” before Catholic audiences: “look at my votes against cutting welfare, standing up for the hungry and the homeless and the undocumented immigrant. Look at my votes on tax policy, employment generation [through federal hiring, sic] welfare, nutrition and feeding programs, health care, the nuclear arms race. Then they point their finger at their opponent’s shopping cart, noting he had voted `wrong’ on all these `quality of life’ issues.”

In 1998 the bishops tried to recapture their lost ground. They “finally remembered the reply to this ruse” by reminding politicians that abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide “can never be justified no matter how many meritorious programs are thrown into the cart.” To McKenna “there are grounds for hope, at least within the ranks of the Republicans…The Catholic-evangelical coalition of pro-life activists remains active, which is one important reason why Christine Todd Whitman was never talked of as a Republican presidential candidate, why Arlen Specter never had a chance of becoming Senate majority leader and why pro-abort Catholic Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe will never become co-chairs of the Republican platform committee. They are in the Republican `big tent’ but nearer the exit-flaps than the center.” While the Democrats have some pro-life adherents in Congress, they vote o.k. but shut up about it.

Fr. Neuhaus comments that the bishops at least had a high-point in opposing abortion before they backed down due to the Dems’ forceful refusal to assent. I suppose you can look at their strength before the ultimate sell-out as a sign of hope. But I must say it’s a sanguine, unrealistic assessment. Many bishops recognize that Cardinal Bernardin was lionized in the liberal secular media for being a broad-minded prelate i.e. “recognizing the distinction between church and state” and media adulation is a sublime reward for wishy-washyness.

As one who went—and still goes--to the Illinois state capitol often, Bernardin’s lobbyist, Jimmy Lago, (“Jimmy” is his formal first name just as his brother’s is “Timmy”), proud that he had marched with Cesar Chavez, laughed haughtily when an evangelical minister-lobbyist asked if Lago would support him on key social issues of pro-life and anti-gay rights. Lago’s interests were far more important to the real world of mammon: fatter subsidies for education and charities. He was a chief implementer of Bernardin’s wishes.

The good news is Lago (pronounced “la-GO”) is no longer the archdiocese’s lobbyist. A far more aggressive pro-lifer is. But stay for the answer. The bad news is instead, Lago is now chancellor of the archdiocese, holding the highest rank a layman can possibly hold, appointed and with a term extended by Francis Cardinal George in response to those who pointed out that he, thanks largely to Lago, missed the boat on the vital issue of safeguarding children from clerical abuse.

What of the future? Is the majority of bishops standing tall, nose-to-nose with the reigning Democrats? Is the Speaker-ess, Mme. Nancy Pelosi, the pro-abort Dem, supporter of partial birth abortion with all the ramifications, feeling any heat? Wasn’t that the giddy retired Washington, D. C. prelate Theodore Cardinal McKerrick pictured glad-handing Ted Kennedy and John Kerry like long-lost fellow buddies as the Dems took over Congress? No prelate luxuriates as prize tame puppy in the Democratic party’s charmed circle more than McKerrick. Also, wasn’t that the current archbishop of Washington, Donald Cardinal Wuerl trying to edge into the picture?

By all means read the article in Human Life Review; it’s good--but don’t buy for a minute the idea generated by it and First Things that we’ve won the war, or even a recent significant battle against abortion with this team of bishops on the basis that before the sell-out there was strength. The smiling faces under the miters have changed but the faint-hearts which trembled when the Dems said “shove it” (in McKenna’s words) are still palpitating, still hoping to please the one-time party of the working-man, now the party of unconscionable decadence in social policy. They will only revert to their old Democratic ways if they are reminded of the bishops’ one-time courage—and see no more of the current namby-pamby pragmatism.


  1. First, it's spelled "McCarrick".

    Second, while the current crop of bishops leaves much to be desired, it is at least a marginal improvement over the crowd from the late '70s and early '80s.

    Finally, a real improvement in this area will come later, when bishops are selected from generations of priests who have no recollection of any special relationship between being Catholic and being Democrat. (How many vocations have Democrat-leaning families been producing lately?)

  2. I seem to recall that St. John Bosco had a dream of which he later related: "The streets of hell are paved with the skulls of bishops."
    Lots of construction work for pavers forthcoming!

  3. I think you hit the nail right on the head!