Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley yesterday talked with me about his thoughts on the election of Barack Obama as president and the abortion issue. I have a story in today's paper; here is a transcript of our conversation:
Q: So many bishops spoke out on abortion in recent weeks, and yet a majority of Catholics voted for Barack Obama. What do make of that?
A: It was a very complicated election. I don’t think that the abortion issue is what decided the election. It was more the economy, the war, and the dissatisfaction with the present administration.
When I was in high school (in Ohio) I joined the NAACP and did voter registration in black neighborhoods, when I wasn’t old enough to vote myself. And I was there at Resurrection City after Martin Luther King was murdered, and living in the mud with thousands of people on the lawn of the Lincoln Memorial and having off-duty redneck policemen throwing canisters of tear gas at us and shouting obscenities. So, to me, the election of an Afro-American is like the Berlin Wall falling. I mean, for my generation, I suppose young people today can’t appreciate that, but to me it is something very big.
My joy, however, is tempered by the knowledge that this man has a deplorable record when it comes to prolife issues and is possibly in the pocket of Planned Parenthood which in its origins was a very racist organization 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 realizes that his election was not a mandate to rush ahead with a pro-abortion platform. And the fact that in states like Florida and California, where he won, the referendums on marriage showed that the people who were more socially conservative voted for him, but voted for him for other reasons than for issues like this.
Q: There’s been a lot of discussion about whether the bishops’ teaching on voting is too nuanced, because it was used in all kinds of ways by all kinds of groups during this election, because it said Catholics are not single-issue voters. What do you think?
A: I think that most Catholics understand what the church’s teachings are and those voter guide things are always problematic but I think in general people understand. It was interesting, if one considers Massachusetts, which is so overwhelmingly Democratic, and 8 years ago Gore got 75 percent of the Catholic vote and four years ago, Kerry, who is Catholic and from Massachusetts, got 50 percent of it, so they lost 25 percent of the vote in four years, and I think a lot of that was the influence of people’s concerns about life issues and things like that. And obviously when you look at the differential between the way that Catholics who are church-going Catholics vote and those who are not church going Catholics, I think that the Catholics reflect the church’s teaching. Not as much as we’d like them to, but certainly this last election there were many other factors that intervened.
Q: You just alluded to the fact that many of the people in your archdiocese are Catholics who support abortion rights, including leading politicians, and both US senators. What is your position on whether they should present themselves for Communion, and whether you should be giving it to them?
A: The church’s teaching on worthiness for Communion and proper disposition is in the Catholic catechism, and it’s no secret, and I support that. There is perhaps a teaching where we have not done as good a job of late as we used to. When I was growing up, we would go to confession every Saturday, we would fast from midnight, there was much more of an awareness of the need to be spiritually prepared and in communion with the church and in a state of grace. Today I think we need to reinforce that teaching a lot. And once that teaching is better understood, then, I think, it will be obvious as to who should be coming to Communion and who shouldn’t. But until there’s a decision of the church to formally excommunicate people, I don’t think we’re going to be denying Communion to the people. However, whatever the church’s decision is, we will certainly enforce.
Q: Your position four years ago was that you did not want confrontations at the altar rail.
A: That’s right. We do not want to make a battleground out of the Eucharist.
Q: There’s been a lot of conversation about whether there’s another strategy on abortion, whether trying to reduce the number would be more effective at this point. What do you think about that idea?
A: We’re always for reducing the number. But we cannot turn our back on the obligation to work for just laws that protect human life, from the first moment of conception until natural death. So obviously we want to do all that we can to reduce the number of abortions, but as long as those unjust laws are on the book, human life is threatened. Now they’re talking about pushing this FOCA, which doesn’t sound to me like it’s going to try and reduce abortions, but simply make them much more accessible to people, and pay for them, at home and abroad. So we must work diligently and tirelessly to change the laws, and work diligently and tirelessly to change people’s hearts, so that there’s a greater realization of the seriousness of this, and how our humanity is diminished when we are not respectful of human life.
Q: Is there anything you would like to see the conference do? Is there some action that you think should be taken?
A: I would just like to see us have a united voice, and a strong response, one that will reinforce that there’s no new way of being prolife, and that we must work on both tracks, trying to reduce the number of abortions and trying to change the laws.