By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Though the U.S. bishops took a tough line this afternoon on the abortion policies of the incoming Obama administration, two of the bishops most associated with public challenges to Obama during the campaign were defeated in races for committee chairmanships.
At the same time, two bishops who struck a more Obama-friendly line by advising Catholics not to be "single-issue voters" went 1-1 in this afternoon’s elections.
Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Missouri, who advised Catholics considering a vote for Obama that their “eternal salvation” may be at risk, was defeated in the race for chair of the Committee on Communications by Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles.
That race offered the sharpest contrast between what one might call the “hardliners” and the “moderates” in the conference. Unlike Finn, Zavala said in a mid-October interview that “we’re not a single-issue church” and that issues such as “racism, torture, genocide, immigration, war, and the impact of the economic downturn” deserve consideration alongside abortion.
Zavala drew 129 votes to Finn’s 97, meaning 57 percent to 43 percent.
In the race to head the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston defeated Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas by a margin of 165 votes to 59.
Naumann, long known as an outspoken pro-life advocate, had warned Obama that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who at one point was on the short list of possible vice-presidential candidates, is not a “good Catholic advisor.” In May, Naumann publicly announced that he had instructed Sebelius to refrain from receiving communion because of her “30-year history of advocating and acting in support of legalized abortion.”
While DiNardo is known as a strong pro-life voice, he has not to date been among those bishops who have publicly clashed with pro-choice politicians.
One other bishop, however, regarded as having all but obliged Catholics to vote against Obama won a race today. Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas defeated Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston to head the Committee on National Collections, 139-84.
In October, Farrell issued a joint pastoral letter with Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth which said, “To vote for a candidate who supports the intrinsic evil of abortion or ‘abortion rights’ when there is a morally acceptable alternative would be to cooperate in the evil - and, therefore, morally impermissible.”
In the race to head the Committee on Cultural Diversity, Bishop Jaime Soto, coadjutor of Sacramento, California, defeated Bishop Terry Steib of Memphis to head the Committee on Cultural Diversity, 134-92.
In the run-up to the elections, Steib issued a pastoral letter advising Catholics, “Don’t base your vote on one issue,” a phrase interpreted in some quarters as giving Catholics license to support Obama.
In other results in today’s voting, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington defeated Bishop Jerome Listecki of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, in the race to head the Committee on Doctrine, 140-85.