Special Report

Sebelius and Kmiec Catholicism

In nominating Kathleen Sebelius to serve as his HHS Secretary, President Obama has again moved to undermine Catholic pro-life efforts.

By 3.4.09

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After focusing on the economy as long as he could, Obama necessarily had to face abortion again. He filled many lower appointments directly from groups like NARAL, but on Saturday he announced the queen of all pro-abortion nominees, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. 

Pro-life advocates are forming ranks against Sebelius as Obama's choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Sebelius is a long-time opponent of even moderate abortion regulations, and is the patron of notorious late-term abortionist George Tiller of Wichita. Her nomination came a day after Obama announced his plan to refuse to enforce decades-old laws that protect doctors from being forced to kill unborn children.

But the most intriguing component of Sebelius's nomination is her Catholicism. Not that Catholic abortion supporters are rare -- see Obama's failed nominee to HHS, Tom Daschle. But Sebelius is significant as an attempt by Obama to foment a civil war within Catholicism to neutralize its pro-life efforts.

Like a shrewd general, Obama is using Catholics themselves as his ground troops. Two dozen prominent Obama supporters quickly launched a letter supporting Sebelius, and claiming that they are Catholic and pro-life. The letter's signers are the same liberal Obama Pro-Lifers from his presidential campaign, led by Professor Doug Kmiec and the Soros-funded group "Catholics United." 

What is different about this new strain of cafeteria Catholics is not their support for abortion politicians, but their claim that they are the true abortion opponents within Catholicism. They reveled in Obama's season of audacity, and simply claimed that the most extreme pro-abortion candidate in history was really a pro-lifer. It worked. In an election about economics, they gave Catholics the rationalization they needed to vote for political celebrity but against the unborn.

Yet pro-lifers hoped that the Obama Pro-Lifers might really oppose Obama’s pro-abortion policies. They dreamed that Doug Kmiec might actually do some good, by using Obama’s listening ear by convincing him to moderate his extremist abortion agenda.

Till now it was unclear which path the new Catholic left would take. They were silent when Obama awarded international funding to abortion organizations. But doubts were raised when several of them actually attacked the pro-life campaign against Obama's Freedom of Choice Act, even though that campaign is the only thing keeping FOCA from becoming reality.

The Obama Pro-Lifers' letter has smashed any such hopes. They have declared full-scale war against Catholic and evangelical pro-life political activity. In its place they seek elevate themselves as the arbiters of their own Vichy Catholicism and liberal Christianity, which actually supports the specific goals of an abortion-loving government regime. 

It is a bold move. Their letter plants the flag of Catholicism in the heart of late-term abortion advocacy, declaring that Sebelius "has made clear that she agrees with church teaching that abortion is wrong and has lived and acted according to that belief." 

Ironically, pro-lifers in the past, by fighting Democratic administrations, actually made it theoretically possible for liberals to vote pro-abortion, because the pro-lifers negated the damage. But this new brand of self-styled Catholicism has chosen to engage in media campaigns precisely for the purpose of blunting pro-life efforts, so that the specific pro-abortion agenda item will succeed. They hope that "Catholics" like Sebelius will define a new generation of Christian abortion advocacy.

Yet the Obama Pro-Lifers are taking a risk. By claiming that Sebelius "lives and acts" not just any high-minded ideals, but specifically pro-life Catholic teaching, the letter's signers are donning their own mitres and claiming to teach Catholics what the faith is. That is a role only a Bishop can fill, and if Catholic Bishops recognize the attempt to usurp their own authority they just might respond. 

As George Weigel notes, the Bishops can largely neutralize the Obama Pro-Lifers. They relegated the last attempt at a Trojan Horse group, “Catholics for a Free Choice,” to fringe status by repeated condemnations. Likewise, an unprecedented number of Bishops embarrassed Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden when they played theologian on abortion last fall, and simultaneously made abortion a possible winning issue before the economy collapsed. 

The Bishops' pro-life director Cardinal Rigali declared in September that it is spurious to speak of "abortion reduction" or pro-life intent while wedding oneself to the a pro-abortion regime and opposing even modest restrictions on abortion. Yet Sebelius and the Obama Pro-Lifers now define such abortion stumping as "living and active" pro-life Catholicism. 

Finally, Sibelius's own Bishop in Kansas City met with her and afterwards declared that she is assuredly not "living and acting" her pro-life Catholic faith -- he even told her not to come to Communion. When Doug Kmiec writes a letter claiming the opposite, he is trumping the authority of a local ordinary. Even the gentlest Catholic bishop might not give up his seat so easily. And Kmiec is not likely to be satisfied merely with the See of Kansas City.

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About the Author

Matt Bowman is a constitutional law attorney in Washington, D.C.