President Bush was honored by Republican Catholics again last week for the second year in a row at an event in Washington DC called "The National Catholic Prayer Breakfast." Mr. Bush offered self-deprecating humor and lavish compliments for Pope Benedict and the leadership of the Catholic Church. To his credit, he had the good taste to avoid the praise he offered last year for his war effort in Iraq, intimating (erroneously) that Pope John Paul had supported the killing there.
The event was again a purely partisan spectacle, with one of the organizers (Leonard Leo) being a co-chairman of the Republican National Catholic Outreach for the mid-term elections. Senator Rick Santorum's candidacy was promoted, despite his pro-war, pro-death penalty, and pro-poverty legislative voting record.
The surprise this year was not Mr. Bush's need to further ingratiate himself to Catholics, but the fact that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and other Church dignitaries again attended the event despite the pledge of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in a 2004 statement condemning events like this. "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions," read the statement that was published just prior to the 2004 presidential election.
The organizers of the event cheerfully honored Mr. Bush despite new evidence of plans to launch military action in Iran, dramatic cuts in social services planned for the coming fiscal year, and new abortion data showing that the Bush Administration is overseeing the first abortion increases since 1990.
In a piece this week by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, the Administration's plans are detailed for a possible bombing campaign against Iran--with the potential loss of tens of thousands of lives. Donald Rumsfeld responded to this news, which included credible reports of planning for the use of tactical nuclear weapons, in the same fashion that the Administration responded in June 2002 to similar reports about their planning for an attack on Iraq. They called it "a fantasy."
On the domestic front, Republicans sought dramatic cuts this past winter from social service programs in the current budget, while further boosting military spending above the $600 billion mark (including the "emergency" allocations for Iraq and Afghanistan). These distorted, anti-Christian spending priorities, were apparently of no concern to the event planners.
Lastly, the organizers of the Communion Breakfast seem blissfully unaware of new CDC data showing the first increases in abortion since 1990 on this Administration's watch--correlating with economic policies that have dramatically driven up the number of Americans below the poverty line, escalated the medical uninsurance rate, and stagnated the real income among average Americans. All the anti-abortion rhetoric in the world cannot make up for these pro-abortion policies that are the result of the unqualified Republican advocacy for the moneyed interests that have benefited so richly from the Bush tax agenda. The Bishops' 2004 statement was directed primarily toward dealing with the issue of politicians' stances on abortion, and all the evidence would suggest that Mr. Bush has now distinguished himself as the most pro-abortion president in recent history. He mouths the right words, but the proof of his failure on the abortion issue is unfolding in the data that will be marching out over the next six years.
If policies that promote poverty, war, environmental degradation and abortion aren't enough to constitute "defiance of our fundamental moral principles," then Church directives like that articulated by Cardinal George, Archbishop Chaput and Bishop Wuerl in their 2004 letter have no meaning. We applaud what our bishops sought to do in their letter, namely calling our lawmakers to a higher standard of defense for the dignity of human life. We are working to assure that Republicans are held to the same standard that seems to be applied so often now to Democratic lawmakers, in order to avoid letting our Church fall further prey to the manipulation of the Religious Right. Karl Rove is smiling this week at how beautifully he is playing the Republicans' tune on the Catholic harp.