Bigger stakes behind the battle over Sebelius

by on April 25, 2009  •  In Reproductive rights

UPDATE April 28: The silver lining of having a swine flu pandemic is that it shamed the Republicans into letting go of their efforts to delay Sebelius, who is now confirmed.

An article in this morning's LA Times offers a pretty chilling take on why the stakes and the slowdown in Kathleen Sebelius' inevitable confirmation to be Secretary of DHHS are more significant than just your garden variety right-to-life political gambit.  The stall has given conservatives in the Kansas legislature time to pass a law that would impose unconstitutional limits on a woman's right to decide (details below), which Sebelius as governor vetoed just a few days ago. More important, it may signal a stepped up effort, supported by a new generation of more conservative cardinals, to enforce bans on communion for Catholic officeholders who don't follow the Church's teachings in their official actions. From there, the next step would be to extend such bans to any Catholic who deviates from the doctrinal line. Republicans see this as their best hope to argue that Americans can't be good Catholics and good Democrats — even though the Democratic Party aligns with Catholic social teachings on far more issues than does the GOP.

From the LA Times:

…The measure [that Sebelius vetoed this week] would have amended an existing statute on late-term abortions, which Kansas permits after the 21st week of pregnancy only if the mother is at risk of death or severe physical or mental injury. The amendment would have required far more detailed reporting by physicians and would have allowed prosecutors who disagreed with the doctor's judgment to file criminal charges. Husbands who objected to the abortion would have been allowed to file civil suits….

Earlier this year, when Sebelius vetoed another measure that would have allowed a third party to seek a court order restraining a woman from obtaining an abortion — even if it was necessary to save her life — Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City forbade the governor to receive Communion unless she changed her views….

For conservatives who've been trying for years to pry Catholic voters out of the Democratic Party, the Holy Grail of political advantage is a long-sought clerical edict that would prohibit any Catholic officeholder who ever has cast a pro-choice vote from receiving Communion. From there, it would be a relatively small step to extend the ban to any Catholic who has voted for a pro-choice candidate. Catholic Democrats would be forced to choose between their party and their church….

…The generation of politically savvy bishops and cardinals appointed by Pope Paul VI and John Paul II in his early years — the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington come to mind — are aging and passing from the scene. In their place a new, more brittle and ultramontane group of bishops appears willing to elevate the abortion issue over all others.

That's important because in the past, when more conservative bishops have forbidden Communion to Catholic officeholders, some cardinals — McCarrick and Mahony in particular — have declined to enforce the ban. Now, however, the new archbishop of Washington, Donald Wuerl, and Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Va., have said they expect Sebelius to obey her local bishop's order if she moves into their sees.

George W. Bush's former advisor on Catholic affairs, Deal W. Hudson, said this week that Wuerl's and Loverde's acquiescence in denying Sebelius the sacrament "will send the message to other bishops that if they choose to pronounce members of Congress from their dioceses unfit for Communion, their authority will be respected in D.C. and across the Potomac in Virginia. The ramifications are enormous."


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