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Cardinal's Blunt Challenge to Obama

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The leader of the American bishops' conference has issued a blunt challenge to President-Elect Barack Obama over abortion.


By Ed West
The Catholic Herald (UK) (
11/14/2008 (1 decade ago)

Published in Europe

LONDON (The Catholic Herald, UK) - Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago, Mr Obama's home town, said on Monday that all Americans should "rejoice" that a country that once tolerated slavery had elected a black man as the 44th President of the United States.

But he notched up the pressure on the pro-choice President-Elect by comparing the treatment of the unborn today with that of black slaves in pre-Civil War America.

Cardinal George said: "If the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision, that African Americans were other people's property and somehow less than persons, were still settled constitutional law, Mr Obama would not be President of the United States.

"Today, as was the case 150 years ago, common ground cannot be found by destroying the common good. The common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice."

Cardinal George's comments were greeted with applause at the US bishops' plenary meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Democrat candidate Barack Obama beat Republican John McCain in the presidential election on November 4 and will become the first black president when he takes office on January 20. During the long campaign several US bishops attacked the Illinois senator's pro-abortion views.

The most outspoken was Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, who called Senator Obama the "most committed" abortion rights candidate since the landmark Roe vs Wade Supreme Court judgment of 1973.

The President-Elect has promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which would abolish all state restrictions on abortions. Despite this, Senator Obama won 54 per cent of the Catholic vote at the election, slightly more than President George W Bush four years earlier. His running mate, Senator Joe Biden, became the first Catholic to win the vice-presidency.

A record 31 Democratic pro-life candidates were elected to Congress. According to Democrats for Life of America, five new Democratic pro-lifers were elected, joining 26 pro-life incumbents who were re-elected.

Kristen Day, director of Democrats for Life of America, said: "This will be only the second time in 30 years that the number of pro-life Democrats increases instead of decreases."

The bishops voted at their plenary meeting to send a forceful letter to the President-Elect outlining their concerns.A draft of the letter, released on Tuesday, said the bishops wished to work closely with the new administration "especially in the areas such as economic justice and opportunity: immigration reform; health care for the poor, especially for women and children; education; religious freedom; and working for peace".

But the draft added: "The Church is also intent on opposing evil. The bishops are completely united and resolute in our teaching and defence of the unborn child from the moment of conception. The bishops therefore express our concern for those left unprotected by law in our present situation: children in their mother's womb."

Referring to FOCA, the draft added:_"In the last Congress, a law that would make abortion a 'fundamental right' and remove any restrictions now in law would consequently forbid the involvement of the parents of a minor child in a decision to abort, would permit partial-birth abortion, would apparently reject freedom of conscience for health care workers and place Catholic health care in jeopardy, would deregulate abortion clinics, and use tax money to pay for abortions. Such a law would reduce religious freedom and the Church must work against its passage."

In an interview on Tuesday Cardinal O'Malley of Boston welcomed Mr Obama's election but strongly criticised the President-Elect's links to America's most powerful abortion lobby group, Planned Parenthood.He said: "My joy, however, is tempered by the knowledge that this man has a deplorable record when it comes to pro-life issues and is possibly in the pocket of Planned Parenthood, which in its origins was a very racist organisation to eliminate the blacks, and it's sort of ironic that he's been co-opted by them.

"However, he is the President, and everyone wishes him well, and we will try to work with him. However, I hope he realises that his election was not a mandate to rush ahead with a pro-abortion platform."

Meanwhile, America's leading black Catholic has suggested that Senator Obama's election could lead to the election of the first black pope in modern times. Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, who in 2001 became the first African-American to lead the US bishops' conference, said the election was "a great step forward for humanity and a sign that in the United States the problem of racial discrimination has been overcome".

Archbishop Gregory said that Pope Benedict XVI had said a black pontiff would "send a splendid signal to the world" about the universal Church. He said that recent popes, by bringing in prelates from across the world, had created "an international vision of a Church rich in diversity", while Pope Benedict's theology had "opened hearts and minds on five continents".

Pope Benedict XVI congratulated Mr Obama on his historic victory, offering congratulations to Mr Obama and his family, and prayers for the next president "and for all the people of the United States". Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the Pope's message was personal, but that the Holy Father "assured [Mr Obama] of his prayers that God would help him with his high responsibilities for his country and for the international community".

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Fr Federico Lombardi later confirmed that the President-Elect had telephoned Benedict XVI on November 11 "to thank the Pope for his telegram, his congratulations" on winning the election.

While Mr Obama's election was applauded around the world, in Iraq it was met by scepticism. Latin-rite Archbishop Jean Sleiman of Baghdad urged the President-Elect to make the protection of Iraqi minorities a priority. The Lebanese-born Carmelite prelate told Aid to the Church in Need that it was "very important that the US should help protect minority rights in Iraq".

He said:_"I hope that the US will encourage Iraq to improve and become a country where the rule of law is upheld, where there is equality and where human rights are at the heart of the constitution."

About 10 per cent of the estimated 15,000 Christians who recently fled the city of Mosul after religious violence have returned to Iraq's second city.Senator Obama has said he will pull US troops out of Iraq, leading many Iraqi Christians and people of all denominations to fear the violence could worsen.

Archbishop Sleiman said: "I do not detect a real enthusiasm for Obama. People here think that a change in president will not bring about a change in strategy - maybe in style."

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