By Catholic Leaders See Hope, Challenges In Election | Published November 13, 2008
“The people of our country have entrusted you with a great responsibility,” the cardinal said in a letter to Obama on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “As Catholic bishops we offer our prayers that God give you strength and wisdom to meet the coming challenges.”
But he also said, “We stand ready to work with you in defense and support of the life and dignity of every human person.”
In Nov. 5 statements, blog postings and other comments, Catholic leaders praised Obama for his history-making victory. Some said the Democrat’s win “best reflected” Catholic values “of hope, personal responsibility and care for the common good.”
But others, including Catholic bishops, said they hoped the new administration would make decisions that show a “commitment to the sanctity and dignity of all human life.” Still other Catholics, including pro-life leaders, expressed profound disappointment that a candidate who supports keeping abortion legal was elected and vowed that the pro-life movement would grow in strength.
In his letter to Obama, released by the USCCB in Washington, Cardinal George said that “the country is confronting many uncertainties. We pray that you will use the powers of your office to meet them with a special concern to defend the most vulnerable among us and heal the divisions in our country and our world.”
Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington said in a statement: “We offer our prayers today for our nation and for our newly elected leaders, including President-elect Obama, as they take on their new responsibilities.”
“We rejoice with the rest of our nation in the significance” of Obama’s victory, Archbishop Wuerl said. “May our nation’s new leaders be guided in their decisions with wisdom and compassion and at the heart of all of their decisions may there be a deep respect for and commitment to the sanctity and dignity of all human life and support for the most vulnerable among us.”
“My hope and prayer is that our new president will truly treasure and advance the principles that make us who we are as a great nation,” said Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh in a letter to Catholics in his diocese.
“As he spoke to the nation for the first time, our newly-elected president offered a litany of hopes for our country. To each of those hopes, the crowd gathered responded: ‘Yes we can!’ May that litany also include ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’” Bishop Zubik said.
In an e-mail response to a Catholic News Service query, Rick Gebhardt, founder of Knights for Obama, said: “I believe we made a difference.”
Patrick Whelan, president of Catholic Democrats, said his organization “is thrilled that Sen. Obama has been elected to the highest office in the land today, and that Sen. Biden will be our first Catholic vice president.”
He added that his group “argued all along” that Obama and Biden “were the candidates that best reflected our Catholic values of hope, personal responsibility and care for the common good.”
He said the two Democrats also “best addressed the issues of meeting our energy needs, feeding our families, ensuring access to quality health care, promoting peace and prosperity, and restoring the progress that was made against abortion during the 1990s.”
“I am sure, like me, you are disappointed with tonight’s results,” said a posting on the Catholics for McCain Web site by Billy Valentine, a student at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Ohio, and president of Catholic Students for McCain.
Valentine said the Web site will “most likely change in name and become more of a grass-roots issue-advocacy group. We will also start tracking key 2010 races to make sure we elect pro-lifers in key races.” However, he noted that “for the nine different political races I have seriously been involved in over the past two years, only one has resulted in victory. It is tough to take. It is not easy.”
He also exhorted readers, “Continue to pray. Continue to be involved. Continue to fight for the unborn.”
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said in a statement the electorate made “a grave mistake,” pointing to a comment Obama made during the campaign that the priest paraphrased by saying that “he does not know when a human being starts to have human rights.”
“Governing is about protecting human rights; to do it successfully, you have to know where they come from, and when they begin. The president-elect has already failed that test miserably,” Father Pavone said, adding that the pro-life movement will grow in strength.
“We will keep marching toward that pro-life America we seek and won’t stop until we get there,” he said.
In a posting on dotCommonweal, a blog run by the Catholic magazine Commonweal, journalism professor Paul Moses said: “John F. Kennedy blazed the trail for Catholics. But it has taken nearly 50 years for another Catholic to follow him to victory on a national ticket,” with Biden winning the vice presidency.
He noted that “Biden had to weather some serious criticism from bishops about his views on abortion—and his bad theology on the subject.”
Moses, who teaches at Brooklyn College in New York and the journalism graduate school at the City University of New York, said Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pa., “became a national emblem of the fight for Catholic votes.”
Despite Scranton Bishop Joseph F. Martino’s condemnation of the Obama-Biden ticket because of its support for abortion and “Catholics who supported it,” Moses said that there, “as in the nation, a majority of Catholics” supported the winning ticket.
“It would appear from the pre-election polls that more than half of American Catholics voted for Barack Obama. How could they do that when their bishops ordered them to vote for John McCain?” said priest-sociologist Father Andrew Greeley in a column in the Chicago Sun-Times daily newspaper. “In fact, no such order was issued, though some bishops came pretty close to it.”
“Some bishops and priests argue that abortion is such a horrible evil that there can be no proportionate reason” to vote for a candidate who supports legal abortion, Father Greeley said.
He argued that view “goes beyond Catholic ethical demands” and said opposition to abortion doesn’t “exhaust the moral obligations of the Catholic social ethic. … Catholics must strive to persuade others by the depth and power of their commitment to life issues.”
In a posting on her blog, Catholic cultural critic Amy Welborn said, “I am quite disappointed, from a policy perspective, that Obama won the election. I’m fearful of what his presidency will mean on many issues, particularly that of life as well as religious freedom and transparency in government.”
Still, she said she was “very glad that the barrier has been broken,” with Obama becoming the nation’s first African-American president, and looked “for more barriers being broken in the future.”
Sister Virginie Fish, a member of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, said that as she watched the election returns on TV she thought of her great-grandmother who was a slave in Southern Maryland.
The sister, who belongs to the first order started for and by African-American women, thought Obama would promote peace, justice and equal opportunity for all Americans. “I think God is going to use him for great good,” she added. “And I thank God I am alive to witness what has taken place in this country.”
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory of Beaumont, Texas, told Catholic News Service Nov. 6 that Obama’s election reflects the perseverance of many people throughout American history “who have pushed for equality or to make the Constitution a reality for everyone.”
He said perseverance, especially as it is portrayed in the Scriptures, often stems from hardships, but then yields new life.
The bishop, one of 10 active black bishops in the country, cited men and women who paved the way for black Americans—Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. DuBois, Rev. King and Rosa Parks—as people who “persevered and who believed in the end there would be a new birth.”
He said Obama’s victory signifies a culmination of this hope “not just for African-Americans but for young people and people across the spectrum.”
“He inspires hope” and demonstrates that “whatever your cause may be, perseverance is extremely important,” he added.
Bishop Guillory also noted that just as Obama’s victory is a positive sign for “freedom and equality” he hopes the president-elect will also fully recognize the dignity of all people from the unborn to those who die a natural death.
Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory similarly stated that the Catholic Church will “continue to challenge and urge the country’s leaders to enact laws that respect human life at each stage of its existence.”
In a Nov. 6 statement he said Obama’s election as the country’s first African-American president “shows the degree of maturity reached by Americans and, I hope, is a definitive sign of reconciliation.”
The archbishop, elected in 2001 as the first African-American to be president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said the 2008 presidential election could even pave the way for a future black pope.
In an interview published Nov. 6 in the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Archbishop Gregory compared Obama’s presidential election to the first time man stepped on the moon. If that can happen in the United States, he added, “it can certainly happen at the threshold of St. Peter’s.”
“My own election as head of the U.S. bishops’ conference was an important signal,” he said. “In 2001 the American bishops elected someone they respected regardless of his race, and the same thing could happen with the election of a pope.”
In a letter to Obama, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles said one issue in particular must be addressed by the new administration in early 2009: immigration.
He called for implementing a plan that “covers all of our needs: safe and secure borders, a just way to permit people living here for many years to regularize their legal status, a mechanism to allow temporary foreign workers to enter (the U.S.) as our economy warrants and … family reunification.”
Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, said his organization will now work “to advance some key legislation with the new administration and the new Congress.” Top priorities include a plan to reduce abortions, as proposed by Obama, the Employee Free Choice Act and universal health care, all of which Korzen called significant justice issues.
Catholics United describes itself as a nonpartisan organization that promotes justice and the common good as expressed in Catholic social teaching.
“We have work to do,” said American Life League president Judie Brown. “I think it’s time for the pro-life movement to focus on personhood and stop accommodating the Republican Party. We have to unify around personhood. We’re now waiting for those who have resisted (the idea of personhood for the unborn) to finally decide that maybe they were wrong.”
Alexia Kelley, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, said members of her organization, “as faithful citizens,” will challenge the Obama administration “to bring a responsible end to the Iraq War, ensure all Americans have health care and enact comprehensive solutions to reduce abortions.”
Jack Smith, editor and general manager of The Catholic Key, newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., simply posted Psalm 145 on his newspaper’s blog. It says: “I will praise your name, my king and my God.” He reminded readers in whom they should have trust—regardless of who won the election.
Contributing to this report were Gary Gately, Mark Pattison and Dennis Sadowski.