The victory of Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts special election to fill the Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy stunned not only the Democrats but also meant that the Catholic bishops would have little opportunity to press for a change in the Senate bill. That's because Brown -- a supporter of abortion rights -- had vowed to vote against health care reform and thus gave the GOP 41 votes and the ability to block the legislation from coming to the floor again.More:
That in turn revealed another serious political weakness for the bishops -- namely, their inability to convince even one Republican in the Senate to allow the bill to go to a vote even if only to toughen the abortion language. For decades the bishops have pointed to the Republican Party as representing the pro-life position in American politics, and the Democrats the "party of death," as many of them put it. Yet when the chips were down and the bishops needed a vote, they could not summon a single Republican to support them, either in the Senate or, in the end, in the House.
Steadily, inexorably, pro-life Democrats who had been against the Senate bill over the abortion issue began to peel away from the opposition forces, and at the same time Pelosi and the White House continued courting Stupak and the few holdouts whose votes would be critical to passage.His conclusions are accurate:
At the same time, however, the Catholic bishops kept digging in their heels. They began coordinating their efforts more obviously with the Family Research Council and other conservative groups close to the Republican right wing, to the extent that it wasn't clear whether the point was to oppose the abortion provisions in the Senate bill, or the bill itself.
Their run as political dealmakers was cut short by their own miscalculations, and within the church they did little to burnish their already strained credibility. Politically conservative Catholics were already angry that the bishops supported such a repellent idea as universal health care in the first place, and many blame them for not succeeding in killing the bill altogether. The more liberal members, including pro-life elements, of the church, on the other hand, saw the greater (and common) good of health care reform as so obvious that they just shrugged the bishops off.
"Catholic members of Congress showed that they will not bow to the bishops when it comes to something that is outside their area of expertise -- namely the interpretation of legislative language," said Father Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and longtime observer of politics both inside the church and the Beltway.
And in the background, of course, is the other dominant Catholic story line of the last decade, that of the sexual abuse of children by clergy, which is emerging again in Europe and even the Vatican, doing the reputation of the hierarchy no favors.