The Bishops: the Election’s Biggest Losers

The biggest losers in the 2012 Election were the American Catholic bishops. 

After a full court press the bishops were unsuccessful in their attempt to frame the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Mandate as a violation of religious freedom. The Mandate being imposed by the Obama Administration is forcing Catholic institutions to provide contraception, abortifacients and sterilization in their health-care plans; all of which are violations of Catholic morality. Tellingly, the election data indicate that President Obama retained the Catholic vote 50-48 percent. The bishops also failed in their strong effort to block legalizing “Gay Marriage” in Maryland, Maine and Washington State.  According to polls, solid majorities of Catholics support same sex marriage. And, in Florida, voters turned down two Amendments, strongly encouraged by the States’ bishops, which would limit abortion and provide funding for Faith Based Organizations (FBO).

Why did this happen? And, what can be done?

First, it is obvious that most Catholics see no problem with contraception, in any form. This can be laid at the feet of the bishops and the lower clergy. The majority of Catholics do not understand the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. This is because at least two generations have rarely if ever, heard the Church’s position preached or taught in Church or in Catholic schools.

The solution is that bishops should mandate a strong catechesis on Humanae Vitae (1968).  In this encyclical Pope Paul VI articulated the Church’s non-fallible teaching regarding procreation and the evils of contraception.  This instruction must be included in a series of Sunday sermons and be part of the school curriculum throughout all levels of Catholic education.

Secondly, polls indicate that Catholics are on par with most Americans (59%) believing that abortion should remain legal. This attitude can be directly traced to the bishops’ inconsistent application of Canon 915 which allows them to bar Catholic pro-choice politicians from receiving Communion. Also, great confusion has been caused in the minds of Catholics when bishops permit huge Funeral Masses for politicians and judges who promoted abortion by their legislation and judicial opinions.  Senator Ted Kennedy’s funeral and that of Justice William Brennan are cases in point.

To ameliorate the above, bishops must apply Canon 915 more consistently and more often. They should also appeal to the Vatican for a revision in the Code of Canon Law to make it easier for them to excommunicate notorious pro-choice public figures. Funerals, for pro-choice politicians if they are not excommunicated, should be small and private family affairs.

Thirdly, many Catholic colleges and universities have been notorious in their failure to teach Catholic morality. Often professors openly disagree with the Church on vital areas regarding human sexuality.   Some schools also fail to enforce Catholic values on campuses.  Needless to say, honoring President Obama at Notre Dame, in 2009, and having HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, at Georgetown, as a Graduation Speaker in 2012, sent out the wrong message.

To clear up the moral ambiguity as to what is “Catholic”, and what is not, bishops must enforce Ex Corde Ecclesiae (1990). This Vatican document allows them to remove the name Catholic from offending institutions of higher learning. Not to do so makes them complicit in the false teaching now being presented at these schools as morally acceptable or viable Catholic life-style alternatives. Also, pro-choice politicians should be banned from Catholic campuses.

Fourthly, many FBOs have little relationship to the Church, other than administratively, although they bear the name Catholic.  These agencies simply use Catholic structures to deliver social services. Studies show that few people who use these FBOs identify them as being in any way religious. They are seen, for the most part, as being no different from any other governmental agency. As a matter of fact, some FBOs are run and staffed by uncatechized Catholics and non-Catholics who have little or no understanding of Catholic morality or ethics.

To protect the Catholic brand the bishops need to be humble enough to downsize these extra-ecclesial organizations and refuse government funding. Because, as the old saying goes, “Once you accept Caesar’s coin, Caesar owns you”.  Charity should be charity freely given and not a façade for the distribution of services paid for by forced taxes. Sociologists have found that local charity by churches makes a difference in people’s lives, not government funded programs.

Pages: 1 2

Fr. Michael P. Orsi


Chaplain and Research Fellow at Ave Maria Law. Father Michael P. Orsi was ordained for the Diocese of Camden in 1976 and has a broad background in teaching and educational administration. Fr. Orsi has authored or co-authored four books and over 300 articles in more than 45 journals, magazines and newspapers. He has served as Assistant Chancellor, Assistant Vicar for Pastoral Services, Director of Family Life Bureau, and Coordinator of Pope John Paul II’s visit to New Jersey for the Diocese of Camden. He has also served as a member of The Institute for Genomic Research at the University of Pennsylvania and as a member of New Jersey’s Advisory Council on AIDS. Fr. Orsi holds a Doctorate in Education from Fordham University, two Master degrees in Theology from Saint Charles Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts from Cathedral College. He is presently serving as Chaplain and Research Fellow in Law and Religion at Ave Maria School of Law, Naples, Florida. He is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. In 2005 Fr. Orsi was appointed as a Senior Research Associate to the Linacre Center for Bioethics, London, England. Fr. Orsi co-hosts a weekly radio program The Advocate which discusses law and culture on WDEO-AM 990, WMAX-AM 1440 in metro Detroit and WDEO-FM 98.5 in southwest Florida [also linked at].

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Debbie

    Thank you for your honest assessment. The Bishops as a body have repeatedly, for generations, refused to lead and differentiate on these critical issues. Only a few heroic, prophetic Bishops have faithfully led in truth. Thank you for your wisdom, honesty and courage in laying out a course correction. Let’s hope and pray, now that their backs are against the wall, that the Bishops are humble and wise enough to do so.

  • djsmith57

    Fr. Orsi…. wonderful piece. Many years ago I wrote a letter to the editor of OSV decrying an article they had printed praising then Archbishop Mahoney for his ‘vision’ in social justice and re-affirming how important government monies were in the process. I run a non-profit that takes NO GOVERNMENT money and God has provided nicely. It is nice, finally, to have company. I’m just a person in the pew but could see this coming a mile away. To OSV’s credit, they did print my response. It is, I’m afraid, too little, too late. May God help us.

  • Te

    Thank you Father for your assessment. Would that you had been able to give it at the bishops conference rather than here. I unfortunately have no confidence that the bishops will do any of this. Still hope springs eternal, and prayers, even for those things we think unlikely often bear fruit.

  • THX1

    With respect Fr. Orsi, it would seem quite the stretch to think that any of that will happen. While I agree with your assessment and proposed solutions, we must also face the almost certain reality that any meaningful implementation of these suggestions is simply, even now, incredibly unlikely. Thus I would enjoy and be thankful for your thoughts continuing with this theme from the point of view: “When however these partial solutions to the problem fail to materialize, then what needs to happen is…….”
    Thanks. God bless.

  • CharlesOConnell

    Paul A. Rahe wrote in “American Catholicism’s Pact With the Devil” (, 2/10/12): “[In the 1930s] the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church
    …. did not stop to ponder whether [Social Security] would subvert the moral
    principle that children are responsible for the well-being of their parents.
    They did not stop to consider whether this measure would reduce the incentives
    for procreation and nourish the temptation to think of sexual intercourse as an
    indoor sport….In the process [of supporting the New Deal], the leaders of the
    American Catholic Church fell prey to a conceit that had long before ensnared a
    great many mainstream Protestants in the United States – the notion that public
    provision is somehow akin to charity – and so they fostered state paternalism
    and undermined what they professed to teach: that charity is an individual
    responsibility and that it is appropriate that the laity join together under
    the leadership of the Church to alleviate the suffering of the poor. In its
    place, they helped establish the Machiavellian principle that underpins modern
    liberalism – the notion that it is our Christian duty to confiscate other
    people’s money and redistribute it. At every turn in American politics since
    that time, you will find the hierarchy assisting the Democratic Party and
    promoting the growth of the administrative entitlements state. At no point have
    its members evidenced any concern for sustaining limited government and
    protecting the rights of individuals. It did not cross the minds of these
    prelates that the liberty of conscience which they had grown to cherish is part
    of a larger package – that the paternalistic state, which recognizes no
    legitimate limits on its power and scope, that they had embraced would someday
    turn on the Church and seek to dictate whom it chose to teach its doctrines and
    how, more generally, it would conduct its affairs. I would submit that the
    bishops, nuns, and priests now screaming bloody murder have gotten what they
    asked for. The weapon that Barack Obama has directed at the Church was
    fashioned to a considerable degree by Catholic churchmen. They welcomed
    Obamacare. They encouraged Senators and Congressmen who professed to be
    Catholics to vote for it.”

  • kirk

    I agree with you THX1 – It seems that whenever something does not go the way we want it to, it is our natural human thing to try to pin it on somebody (or several bodies). Perhaps that’s unavoidable. Whenever there’s a wound, it itches and until the scab comes off and we try to blame what caused it instead of formulating a plan to fix it. So – what’s the question – fix blame or go back to the drawing board? Obviously we will never give in to the state when it comes to the moral choice between serving God or man (or the Borg). Resistance is never futile!

  • Great insight, Fr. Orsi. A couple more points I see are:
    1. Because of a few weak Bishops who protected their predator priests, all Bishops are viewed as weak. The proverbial bad apple spoiling the whole bunch at work here. So anything the sheep hear from the weak is just discarded and even derided. No Bishop should any longer project that they are protecting a suspect priest.
    2. My sister and brother-in-law actually believe that same-sex marriage won’t harm society and I had to send them the new study by Regnerus. The point is that very few priests and bishops talk about the harm of same-sex marriage. No point just saying that God is against it – time to show why, now that the data exists.

    As a marketer, I can say that a message has to repeated consistently and persistently, before it sinks in. Time for our pastors to do the same – they must all speak the same language.

  • kirk

    Well, okay – if you say so. I tell you what – you start a movement to convince people to give up their entitlements, die of treatable causes, and live in poverty (I don’t see too many people helping them out of the goodness of their hearts). In return for that voluntary giving up entitlements, require the government to remove from the general fund and refund all SS and MC payroll taxes from 1935 on, and give it to those who paid it (or to their survivors). You go first.

  • We could add Cardinals not having big lavish dinners and photo ops honoring presidents that promote abortion no restrictions even until the ninth month and support gay marriage.Great article and it would be great if the church hierarchy takes those steps.But we must remember that the majority of catholics are not true catholics and probably not christian.They are NOMINAL catholics.Just chaff among the weat.the blessing in disguise with Obamas persecution of the Catholic church is that it will purge the church of all these phony Catholics.even if it means the number of catholics would go from 100 million to only a million faithful ones it will be worth it

  • TAm

    Even now the bishops are in talking about economics and immigration rather than the real issues –so well stated by Fr.Orsi

  • THX1

    But that is rather dramatically understating the truth of what happened. In point of fact QUITE a few Bishops (and from all I have read it seems it would be the harder task to find a Bishops who’s hands are clean) protected and hid serial child rapists, willfully and deliberately exposing countless other children to rape and molestation. And many of them still hold offices and jurisdiction in the Church.

    But in any case, there are rather quite a few more legitimate reasons why the Bishops are viewed as weak. For example I read several stories of priests across the country preaching in support of homosexual “marriage” during the Mass, to standing ovations, and with impunity.

  • Poppiexno

    The bishops behavior (or rather the lack of it) toward “Catholic” pro-abortion poliiticians has been scandalous. I use that word with its definition in the Catholic Catechism in mind.

  • florin

    Nov. 14th: This is the best summary of what ails our Church and our people today. As for denying ‘Catholic’ politicians who promote abortion publicly and aggressively Holy Communion, Pope John Paul, Pope Benedict and Cardinal Burke, among others, have said this should be done. By not doing this, those who are publicly standing against the Church on grave moral issues and urging others to follow them in this are being affirmed in their sin, and others are led to believe that grave moral sins/evils, such as abortion, are not so bad. Card. Dolan publicly declared he celebrated the Catholicity of both Paul Ryan and Joe Biden causing people to believe that both were practicing their faith in an honorable way. Not only does Joe Biden aggressively promote abortion in this country but he went to Kenya and told the government that if they would put abortion rights in their new constitution, the ‘money would flow’ but if they refused…well. Now Cardinal Dolan is saying he wants to bring back ‘meatless’ Fridays…what!! How is that going to help lost and confused Catholics who have little or now understanding of the Faith and a weak relationship to Christ? You don’t bring people to Christ by imposing restrictions on them…propose, not impose! Even Pope Benedict said that we ought not to present our faith as a faith of you must and you must not…but show the goodness and beauty and compassion of Christ and His Church. If Cardinal Dolan wants to fast and abstain and ask others to join him, that’s up to him. It’s time the Bishops and Pastors started leading the flock, first by example and then by teaching as this article proposes. And don’t wait until the government threatens to either cut off funds or mandate that you pay for insurance that would include paying for what goes against our moral principles…there are over 230 Bishops meeting at the Bishops’ conference…why haven’t they all been standing up and crying out: “Stop the killing!” in the face of millions of lives being terminated in the wombs of their mothers? Someone told me that Raymond Arroyo said that there were Bishops who voted for Obama…I don’t know how he would know that but I don’t find it hard to believe…when some Priests read a letter explaining how Catholics should and should not vote a few days before the election, it was too little, too late…we need to stand up now and witness to Christ and His Church…for that, it is never too late!

  • MaryE

    Pardon my ignorance, but what’s an FBO?

  • We have also reached a point where people definitions of morality are more formed by the media , than they are by the church because the media gets far far more of their attention

  • kirk

    FBO – For the Benefit Of

  • CDville

    Faith Based Organization

  • James_Locke

    One issue. the only way we would be allowed things like exemptions if we remain religious in the eyes of the tax code. Blah, this is terrible.

  • James Grant

    Look at the USCCB website. Their priorities for the next four years do not include anything about preaching about the social issues. I see no sign that anything will change.

  • DM Ruth

    Frankly, I think too many Sunday-goin’ Catholics get caught up in the Rape/Incest/Maternal Health aspect of abortion, but are unaware that this is less than 1% of abortions. If there are 1 million abortions a year in the US, and less than 1% are for Rape/Incest/Maternal Health, then open legalized abortion still results in 990,000 annual abortions of convenience – equaling the entire population of the city of San Jose, Cal. That logic needs to be proclaimed from the housetops – and more immediately from the pulpits – over and over. Repetition is the mother of all learning.

  • Phil Ferguson

    “American” Catholic Bishops? Why not “Catholic” American Bishops? The “losers”? we’re all the “losers,” esp. the unborn. Rely only on Jesus the Christ!

  • Cyril

    Thank you, father. I’m glad to hear that there is at least one other person out there who thinks as I do.