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Hudson & Fournier: Catholic Countdown to Election 2012, Day 7. Rev. Thomas Reese, SJ, A Jesuit Calls the Bishops 'Just 200 Votes'

By Deal W Hudson and Keith A Fournier
October 30th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

More alarming was Father Reese's support for Obama's policy forcing Catholic institutions to pay for contraception. The Bishops, Reese said, have ignored economic studies that insurance companies would actually save money by providing contraception. "Contraception is a lot cheaper than live births, especially if the live births are problematic."

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Last week, as we reported, Holy Trinity Catholic Parish in Washington, D.C. printed an article about the upcoming US Presidential election election in its parish bulletin dissenting from settled Church teaching on the priority of moral issues in politics.  A number of parishioners communicated with Pastor Mark Horak, S.J., their concerns about the article, written by Dean Vincent Rougeau of the Boston College School of Law. 

This past weekend at Holy Trinity, as part of their Sunday Speaker Series, Rev. Thomas Reese, S.J.
gave some remarks on the election, now only a week away. Father Reese's remarks certainly kept the attention of the 250 or so people in attendance.

About Republicans, Father Reese imagined them saying to themselves, "Maybe we can pick up some Catholic votes if we oppose Obama's original contraception mandate."

Such charity is rarely met in political speech in the nation's capital - much less among the Catholic clergy who dare to discuss politics.

Father Reese seems to know a great deal about the Republican mind: He claimed that initial Republican opposition to the HHS mandate was driven by polls, but once Republicans found out that women like the contraception mandate, they "ran away" from their opposition.

Perhaps Father Reese has missed the steady drumbeat of references to the HHS mandate made by both Gov. Mitt Romney and Cong. Paul Ryan during the campaign?

Given that the GOP was not alone in opposing the HHS mandate, that the Catholic Bishops made even more noise about it with their "Fortnight for Freedom," what did Father Reese have to say about them?

"Bishops may be unhappy about the contraception mandate, but they have only 200 votes in this election," was the view expressed by Father Reese.

Father Reese evidently takes not only a quantitative view of the issues but a quantitative view of the Bishops' authority, as least in regard to the upcoming election. A Bishop is just one more vote, nothing more.

Father Reese argues the Bishops should support what he euphemistically calls "accommodation" with the Obama mandate. What it should be called is "selling out," at the very least. Reese thinks the Bishops just keep making different "excuses" so they can oppose the mandate.
 
More alarming was Father Reese's support for Obama's policy forcing Catholic institutions to pay for contraception. The Bishops, Reese said, have ignored economic studies that insurance companies would actually save money by providing contraception. "Contraception is a lot cheaper than live births, especially if the live births are problematic."

There were no gasps or grimaces at these remarks.  There was overwhelming support for everything Father Reese had to say, almost every time he mocked the bishops the majority of those in attendance laughed loudly.

The Bishops, Father Reese added, "are on a political campaign" to have the contraception mandate regulations changed. In fact, some of the Bishops use language saying religious liberty is a moral absolute, but it is "not."

Father Reese, evidently, is not too concerned about the Bishops' role in this election: "What the Bishops say would be important if Catholics actually followed them."

At the same time, Father Reese cited the Bishops' own document, "Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship," in order to summarize, and add authority to, his own view of how a Catholic can vote for a pro-choice candidate, "if they are voting for that candidate out of other moral concerns."

We know that Father Reese has read and understands the bishops' New Introduction to Faithful Citizenship, so it must be the case that he has chosen to ignore its explicit rejection of the position he stated.

Unfortunately, it's Father Reese's one-liner on "Faithful Citizenship" that is the dominant message being communicated to most Catholics across the nation, a message corroborated by the alphabetical voter guides being distributed by state Catholic conferences. 

Father Reese, former editor of the Jesuit magazine, America, is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University where he focuses on religion and public policy.

Few Catholic churches in our nation are as venerable as Holy Trinity Catholic Parish in Washington, D.C.  Founded in 1794, Holy Trinity's first pastor was Francis Neale, S.J.; the second pastor of Holy Trinity, Benedict J. Fenwick, S.J., became the second Bishop of Boston and founded Holy Cross College; the third, John McElroy, S.J., founded Boston College.

Today, Holy Trinity serves over 3,500 families, 10,000 people, and is still administered by the Society of Jesus. Holy Trinity, in our opinion, is a shining example of the institutionalized dissent that has characterized the Catholic Church in this country for the past forty years. 

This type of dissent is rarely ever addressed by anyone of authority in the Church and, as a result, is considered as representative of what the Church stands for by the media and other observers.

Both the message delivered by Father Reese at Holy Trinity Catholic Church and its enthusiastic reception this past weekend is a paradigm of the vacuous and bitter mentality that still pervades the majority of our most prestigious Catholic institutions. We are fortunate that so few of the younger clergy embrace it -- our academics, however, that's another matter, and another story.

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