Thursday, July 16, 2009

Let's give Obama a chance to reduce the abortion rate

Last night, I got my conference registration materials for Camino a Emaús: The Word of God and Latino Catholics at the end of this month at Notre Dame and receiving them -- plus some other stories -- made me think again of the polarizing brouhaha surrounding President Obama's Commencement Address at that institution. I'm glad to be able to support Notre Dame in a small way by attending this conference since they showed themselves to still be a beacon of academic freedom.

One of the main protagonists in that donnybrook was Randall Terry, the leader of Operation Rescue, who is continuing his divisive tactics by disrupting the confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Terry, unlike anyone else, thinks he knows Sotomayor's position on abortion, thinks he knows that for a fact she will never vote in a way that overturns Roe v. Wade. This is simply not a conclusion that can be reached from the available evidence. There is no decision pattern in this matter that can be relied on to predict how this nominee might rule if she makes it to the U.S. Supreme Court and in the hearings, Judge Sotomayor has steadfastly refused to "rule" on hypothetical cases presented to her by various senators. Meanwhile, Terry's tactics again only serve to drive a wedge between the pro-life movement and minorities -- in the case of his anti-Obama actions, African Americans, and in this case, Hispanics who overwhelmingly champion Judge Sotomayor's candidacy.

Pro-life Catholics need to stop, take a deep breath, give President Obama a chance and not jump to conclusions.

Perhaps we can take some guidance from our Pope who managed to have a very cordial meeting with President Obama where he did bring up bioethical issues and even presented the President with a copy of Dignitas Personae, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's instructions on this matter in addition to his own latest encyclical Caritas in Veritate. According to Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, SJ, Obama confirmed that "he has every intention, with the commitment of the government, to reduce as much as possible, the number of abortions."

Of course, the ink was barely dry on the Vatican press statement about the meeting before conservative American Catholics leaped into the fray. Deal Hudson, the director of the Morley Institute for Church & Culture, accused Obama of "misleading" the Pope and said that his new health care bill would actually increase abortions.

The conservatives are so hot to promote their mistrust of President Obama's will to reduce the number of abortions that the headline for the Catholic News Agency story on Dr. Regina Benjamin, Obama's nominee for Surgeon General reads "Catholic surgeon general nominee supports Obama abortion stance, White House says". While the White House did say that, we are stunned that the CNA would believe them over Monsignor Michael L. Farmer, the rector at the cathedral in Mobile, Alabama where Dr. Benjamin had served as a lector, who is also quoted in the article as saying that he does not “explicitly” know the nominee’s position on abortion and other life issues, but that to his knowledge she has been “in conformity with the Catholic Church." The article goes on to quote the White House spokesperson as saying of Dr. Benjamin that, like Obama, "she believes that this is an issue where it is important to try and seek common ground and come together to try and reduce the number of unintended pregnancies." The retired Archbishop of Mobile, Msgr. Oscar Lipscomb has also said that, to the best of his knowledge, Dr. Benjamin's positions are consistent with those of the church.

Several major Catholic health organizations have expressed pleasure at the nomination. Lloyd Dean, CEO of Catholic Healthcare West, said: "I am delighted that President Obama has selected Dr. Benjamin for this important position." He added: "As national health care reform continues to move forward in our nation's capital, she will be a strong voice for efforts to improve the health and well being of all in need." Sr. Carol Keehan, CEO of the Catholic Health Association, opined that "this nation is so fortunate to have Regina (Benjamin) as surgeon general."

Dr. Benjamin is founder and CEO of Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in Bayou La Batre, Ala. She is renowned for her outreach to the poor, seeing patients regardless of their ability to pay for her services. When her clinic was destroyed by Hurricane Georges in 1998 and again by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Benjamin personally financed a significant portion of its reconstruction.

Benjamin grew up attending Mass at the Shrine of Holy Cross Church in Daphne, Ala., which is in the Mobile Archdiocese. Benjamin's mother helped found the historically African-American parish on land procured by Benjamin's grandmother. For years the parish was run by the Josephite priests and today is staffed by the Missionary Society of St. Paul.

"If you look at her resume, she could have made a ton of money," Sister Keehan said. "Instead she chose to stay in one of the poorest communities in Alabama to take care of people."

Pope Benedict XVI awarded Benjamin the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross, a papal honor, in 2006. Lipscomb said Benjamin was nominated for the papal honor "first of all for her strong Catholic faith." The archbishop added that Benjamin's compassionate care for the poor also was a significant factor in her receiving the honor. "In the medical profession she has been outstanding, particularly for poor people," he said.

Lipscomb expressed delight at Dr. Benjamin's nomination to the post of Surgeon General. "She is a person who has a great sense of responsibility and is authentic in her Catholicism."

Flash: Maybe President Obama is sincere in wanting to reach out to pro-life Catholics and try to find a common ground in reducing the number of abortions by methods other than criminalizing them. Shouldn't we at least give him a chance?

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