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Clinton and Catholics. The first month - what do we know? What are the costs of East Coast U.S. cardinals appearing in public for 12 years as religious handmaidens of the Republican Party?

* We've seen Washington Cardinal James Hickey not invited to the inaugural, until Catholic Democrats pleaded that case (NCR, Jan. 29).

* We've seen The New York Times headline that the Catholic-Clinton breach (Feb. 3) is "complicated."

* We've seen Rome and the new White House out of sync and Clinton do a divisive nasty when he dumped his executive orders on L.A. Cardinal Roger Mahony at the apex of Right-to-Life Day (NCR, Feb. 5).

What if we look at these things from some middle ground? Clinton is not going to bring the cardinals along on his choice stance. Is he going to bring Southern conservatives along on his social-justice program? Has Clinton, despite all the Jebbie education stuff that's trotted out whenever the word Catholic comes up, really got a handle on social issues that is just and long-term?

Father Tom Harvey, former head of Catholic Charities USA (NCR, March 13, 1992) and now at Michigan University's Center for the Study of Youth Policy, muses this way:

"Clinton is just putting together a commission on welfare that includes among the five members, Michigan Gov. (John) Engler." Republican Engler is a well-known, budget-slashing Tory subject to a blistering though unsuccessful Michigan recall drive because of his social policies. Other Bipartisan Commission on Welfare members are James Florio (D-N.J.), Vereton Jones (D-Ky.), Zell Miller (D-Ga.) and Tommy Thompson (R-Wis.).

"From a philosophical point of view," says Harvey, "to look at the needs of one group (the welfare population) through the biases of another group puts us back into the era of planning by resource availability, rather than asking what is best for the community and what are long-term solutions to these horrendous problems."

"Under Reagan, too," Harvey said, "society was examined from the perspective of one group: the wealthy elderly. Now we're moving to the middle class to ask them how they see welfare - though about their only direct contact with it is when they lose jobs."

One month into the Clinton era, maybe we can say The New York Times headline had it partly right: The Clinton-Catholic relationship is "complicated," but no less so than the political relationships and balances he is trying to seek elsewhere. Keep watching. This is not just interesting - we've a nation's health and welfare at stake.
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Title Annotation:Bill Clinton and Catholic concerns
Author:Fox, Tom
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 12, 1993
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