By Jacqueline L. Salmon
For conservatives seeking a buck-up in these bleak times, the always lively Archbishop Raymond Burke did not disappoint this morning at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, launching an all-out attack on President Obama, liberal Catholic members of Congress, Catholic voters who voted for them and abortion rights and same-sex marriage, and the University of Notre Dame for inviting Obama to the school. He also said that Jesus Christ is on the side of those who oppose abortion and same-sex marriage.
“What those who were so enthusiastic about the strong message of hope and change delivered during the last election are now discovering is a consistent implementation of policies and programs which confirm and advance the culture of death,” he told the crowd at a Washington D.C. hotel.
It was vintage Burke, and the 1,300 mostly conservative Catholics at the event interrupted his 45-minute address more than a dozen times with applause.
Burke was giving voice to the frustrations of conservative Catholics leaders, who haven’t been unable to budge Catholic opinions of Obama despite recent decisions that they believe violate Catholic teachings. A recent Gallup poll found that Catholics, who voted 54 percent for Obama, continue to give him high approval ratings — 59 percent as of April, down only slightly since January. Among weekly Mass-attending Catholics, considered the most conservative, two-thirds approve of him, a percentage that is unchanged from January.
You can trust Burke not to mince words. He attacked Obama for lifting the ban on embryonic stem-cell research, for reversing the ban that prohibits funding to international family planning groups that provide abortions, and for plans to reverse a Bush policy allowing health-care workers to refuse to provide services based on moral objections and Obama’s verbal support of the Freedom of Choice Act. Burke labeled new HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic who supports abortion rights, as a “source of deepest embarrassment to Catholics.”
“Christ is with us, always in the church and in a particular way in the struggle to restore the respect for life…and to safeguard the integrity of marriage and the family,” Burke said.
The breakfast, in its 6th year, is a project of Catholic lay leaders–former evangelicals who converted to Catholicism and decided to set up an event for Catholics that paralleled the evangelical National Prayer Breakfast. It has turned out to be wildly popular among many Republican Catholics and has spurred local such events around the country.
Two conspicuous absences from the breakfast this year: Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C. and Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, Va., local bishop who don’t take a hard line of refusing communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. Both say they will respect the wishes of the politician’s local bishop, while Burke has long advocated for the blanket refusal.
Burke, former archbishop of St. Louis who now heads the Vatican Supreme Court, has long been vocal on all these issues, so his remarks here were no surprise. But they serve to highlight the growing tensions between right-leaning Catholics who prioritize abortion and same-sex marriage, and “social justice” Catholics, many of whom also oppose abortion but focus more on poverty, immigration reform, health-care reform and anti-war activism. The tensions seem to be rising with the coming of the Obama Administration, which seems closer with the latter group, while Bush was closer with the former.