President Obama's nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to head the US Department of Health and Human Services is illuminating a sharp divide in the Catholic world over the primacy of the abortion issue, and how best to achieve abortion reduction. Sebelius is Catholic, and says she believes abortion is wrong, but has repeatedly supported abortion rights while declaring that she has also brought about a reduction in the abortion rate in her state; her own bishop, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, has asked her not to present herself for Communion.
Catholics United immediately leapt to Sebelius's defense, setting up a Catholics for Sebelius web site, and declaring, "The governor has had disagreements over public policy with leaders in her Church. Yet their disagreement has never been over the morality of abortion, but over what prudential policy is best in dealing with abortion in Kansas." Among the 26 signatories to the group's statement of support for Sebelius are many from Massachusetts, including Boston College theology professors Lisa Sowle Cahill, Rev. David Hollenbach and Rev. Thomas J. Massaro; College of the Holy Cross professor David O'Brien; Steve Krueger, the former executive director of Voice of the Faithful; Jerome Maryon, the president of the lay committee on Contemporary Spiritual & Public Concerns at St. Paul's Parish in Cambridge, and Dr. Patrick Whelan, a Boston physician who is president of Catholic Democrats. Faith in Public Life issued a similar statement of support from moderate evangelical leaders and others, declaring, "As Christians dedicated to finding common ground solutions to reduce the number of abortions in America, we welcome President Obama's nomination of Governor Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services."
But Catholic League President Bill Donohue called Sebelius "one of the most extreme pro-abortion zealots in the nation"
There's lots of commentary in the blogosphere today. Over at dotCommonweal, David Gibson predicts that the Sebelius nomination "is likely to set off another round of the Catholic Culture Wars." At God & Country, Dan Gilgoff describes Sebelius as "a pro-choice pro-lifer" and reviews what she's said about reconciling her faith and her politics. At Politico, Ben Smith writes that, "the nomination is a bit of a proving grounds for a 'religious left' still trying to establish itself as a player, and one in which it's quite likely to be able to claim victory." And at Spiritual Politics, Mark Silk declares the nomination to be "a poke in the eye of pro-lifers" but says "this seems to me a smart move for the president on his own abortion-reduction front. It reassures the pro-choice community while sending this message to the pro-life one: 'We are committed to reducing the number of abortions but not by doing anything to make it harder for women to get them. Join us in creating better adoption services, sex education, and access to contraception, neonatal care, and daycare. Or don't.'"
(Photo, by Ron Edmonds/AP, shows Obama and Sebelius at the White House today.)