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Catholic bishops warn Obama they'll fight on abortion: Statement to focus on 'opposing evil'

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BALTIMORE - The nation's Catholic bishops decided yesterday to fire an opening salvo at the incoming Obama administration, pledging to work with the new president on issues such as immigration and healthcare but also warning that the Catholic Church will do everything it can to oppose his support for abortion rights.

Meeting a week after Democrat Barack Obama, a strong supporter of abortion rights, won a majority of the Catholic vote en route to a relatively easy victory, the bishops were clearly agitated by the prospect of eased restrictions on abortion rights over the next four years.

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Chicago warned that Catholic hospitals might have to close if, as he and other bishops fear based on legislation considered by Congress this year, a Democratic Congress and a sympathetic Obama administration decide to eliminate the right of doctors to refuse to perform abortions.

Paprocki said he sees "increasingly militant and virulent threats to preborn life." Another bishop, Jaime Soto of Sacramento, said, "There really is plenty of choice for women in this culture" and warned that legislative changes supported by Obama would create "a culture of coercion for women."

"We have lost perhaps 50 times as many children in the last 35 years as we have lost soldiers in all the wars since the Revolution, and that is a horrible, horrible thing to answer to," said Bishop Robert J. Hermann, administrator of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

"I think any bishop here would consider it a privilege to die tomorrow to bring about the end of abortion," he said. "If we're willing to die tomorrow to bring about the end of abortion, then we should be willing to spend the end of our lives dedicated, to take whatever criticism, to bring about the end to this genocide."

The bishops, reeling from an election in which voters seemed to disregard their counsel, have talked about abortion and politics repeatedly during their semiannual meeting here. They agreed to authorize Cardinal Francis E. George, the archbishop of Chicago and the president of the bishops' conference, to write a statement for publication that will spell out their concerns.

Also yesterday, the bishops for the first time approved a new "blessing of a child in the womb," which could be said by priests for pregnant women. The blessing was in the works for several years, but took on new significance in light of the bishops' heightened concern about abortion, given the election results.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville called the blessing "a very tangible way of us to witness, pastorally and sacramentally, the life of the unborn child," and Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli, of Paterson, N.J., said, "It is important to reaffirm and focus our attention on the life of the unborn."

George planned to write the statement on "the opportunities and dangers for our country at this time" last night, and he said it would then be published on the bishops' website today. During the discussion yesterday, several bishops offered conflicting views on how the statement should be shaped.

George said the statement would offer cooperation with the new administration in areas of agreement but strongly spell out the church's commitment to "opposing evil," meaning abortion.

Finally, the statement would address Catholics in political life, many of whom support abortion rights. George said the statement would say something like, "We again express our desire that all Catholics in public life be fully committed to public good."

Some bishops wanted to go further. Bishop Joseph F. Martino of Scranton, Pa., the birthplace of Vice President-elect Joe Biden, said, "I cannot have a vice president-elect coming to Scranton and saying he learned his values there, when those values are utterly against the teachings of the Catholic Church."

Martino was referring to Biden's support for abortion rights.

The discussion offered a window into the differing views among bishops over their strategy for opposing abortion. Some suggested a narrow and direct statement - Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York, for example, said, "I believe we have one very important thing to say. I think we should say it clearly, and with a punch, and not let it be lost amid a whole lot else."

But others suggested more conciliatory language. Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., said, "Keep in mind a prophecy of denunciation quickly wears thin, and it seems to me what we need is a prophecy of solidarity, with the community we serve and the nation that we live in."

Michael Paulson blogs about religion at, and can be reached at



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