Bishops trying to help the president navigate the minefields

Cardinal Francis George, president of the USCCB, issued a letter to
Barack Obama asking him to consider deeply some of the social moral
issues of our time.

It was to the point.

I recently wrote to assure you of the prayers of the
Catholic bishops of the United States for your service to our nation,
and to outline issues of special concern to us as we seek to work with
your Administration and the new Congress to serve the common good.

I am writing today on a matter that could introduce significant
negative and divisive factors into our national life, at a time when we
need to come together to address the serious challenges facing our
people. I expect that some want you to take executive action soon to
reverse current policies against government-sponsored destruction of
unborn human life. I urge you to consider that this could be a terrible
mistake — morally, politically, and in terms of advancing the
solidarity and well-being of our nation’s people.

This comes from what the bishops hope is their shared belief in the common good.

Obama speaks of reducing the number of abortions, the bishops
respond that’s their goal as well as making abortion “unthinkable as an
answer to unintended pregnancy.” It’s an exercise in reason, this

On one occasion, when asked at what point a baby has
human rights, you answered in effect that you do not have a definite
answer…Uncertainty as to when human rights begin provides no basis for
compelling others to violate their conviction that these rights exist
from the beginning. After all, those people may be right. And if the
goal is to reduce abortions, that will not be achieved by involving the
government in expanding and promoting abortions.

Which addresses the Mexico City policy that, under the Reagan and
Bush administrations, prevented federal funds for abortion outside US
borders. That policy, Cardinal George states

has ensured that family planning funds are not diverted
to organizations dedicated to performing and promoting abortions
instead of reducing them. Once the clear line between family planning
and abortion is erased, the idea of using family planning to reduce
abortions becomes meaningless, and abortion tends to replace
contraception as the means for reducing family size. A shift toward
promoting abortion in developing nations would also increase distrust
of the United States in these nations, whose values and culture often
reject abortion, at a time when we need their trust and respect.

Then there’s the stem cell controversy. That debate needs the
clarity, first of all, of naming which kinds of stem cells are being
used or sought for cures. The media usually just reports that some
group or politician ‘opposes stem cell research’, when it’s embryonic
stem cells in particular. George argues that government ought

to ensure that Americans are not forced to use their tax
dollars to encourage expanded destruction of embryonic human beings for
their stem cells. Such destruction is especially pointless at the
present time, for several reasons. First, basic research in the
capabilities of embryonic stem cells can be and is being pursued using
the currently eligible cell lines as well as the hundreds of lines
produced with nonfederal funds since 2001. Second, recent startling
advances in reprogramming adult cells into embryonic-like stem cells -
hailed by the journal Science as the scientific breakthrough of the
year - are said by many scientists to be making embryonic stem cells
irrelevant to medical progress. Third, adult and cord blood stem cells
are now known to have great versatility, and are increasingly being
used to reverse serious illnesses and even help rebuild damaged organs.
To divert scarce funds away from these promising avenues for research
and treatment toward the avenue that is most morally controversial as
well as most medically speculative would be a sad victory of politics
over science.

Obama has been saying lately that we must appeal to our ‘better
angels’, to that spirit of shared humanity we innately have and stop
partisan bickering and political posturing. On behalf of the nation’s
bishops, Cardinal George makes that appeal to President Obama.

I hope you will consider these comments in the spirit in
which they are intended, as an invitation to set aside political
pressures and ideologies and focus on the priorities and challenges
that will unite us as a nation. Again I want to express our hopes for
your Administration, and our offer to cooperate in advancing the common
good and protecting the poor and vulnerable in these challenging times.

May they work together, for peace, social justice and human rights…..for all.


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