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Catholics must include abortion in moral agenda.

Whatever political debts Bill Clinton may have to pay off as president, he owes nothing to the U.S. Catholic hierarchy. This is the moment the dark side of single-issue politics comes home to roost.

Many of the prelates regarded as influential nationally made their Republican sympathies clear. Four cardinals -- James Hickey of Washington, Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, John O'Connor of New York and Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia -- posed with President Bush in nice "photo-op" lifts in the weeks leading up to the election. Boston Cardinal Bernard Law has long boasted of his tight ties with Bush.

In a most extraordinary move, Bevilacqua acceded to a Bush request to meet and pose for pictures the very day before the Nov. 3 election. They discussed "life issues" and Bush's efforts "to relieve tuition costs to Catholic and private schools," an archdiocesan spokesperson said. That's giving the whole church away.

Only Chicago's Joseph Bernardin, among active cardinals, kept his political distance from presidential candidates.

While other "religious" issues such as school choice and school prayer came into play, the overriding reason for this Republican partisanship was one issue, abortion. Bush followed the political antiabortion position, Clinton the political pro-choice position.

After Clinton's victory, both Rome and Mahony urged the president-elect to remember the unborn. The pleas had a desperate quality, even a begging tone.

For more than a decade, most of the U.S. hierarchy has fought abortion almost solely as a political battle while condemning other approaches. The result? They are now political outsiders, abortion is the law of the land and they have alienated natural allies.

The episcopal mistake has been to narrowly focus their political agenda and, in the process, gain the widespread appearance of placing politics above persuasive morality.

But if Clinton owes nothing to the bishops, he cannot ignore the general Catholic population, who this time returned from Republican ranks to vote for him. Clinton, 44 percent; Bush, 35.

It is now up to the Clinton Catholics -- indeed, all Catholics -- to reshape the moral and political discussion and, in the process, to rescue the bishops. A Catholic sacramental view of life supports it as sacred and God-given. All life, fabric of an interwoven web, is precious and needs other life networks to exist and flourish.

But Clinton Catholics must now avoid being co-opted by someone else's political agenda. If Clinton Catholics end up pressing all the issues except abortion, they will have repeated the bishop's mistake. The effects will be no less pernicious. Catholics need to share their moral views, educate and apply morality.

It needs to be shown and understood that abortion, capital punishment, aid to inner-city mothers, the rejection of war are all the same issue. It is a vision out of which a social, political and economic future can be built. Education, not intimidation and coercion, will carry the day.
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Title Annotation:Bill Clinton administration
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Dec 4, 1992
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