As previously reported here, Archbishop Michael Sheehan is one of the major voices in the church’s hierarchy for forging collaboration with politicians that don’t always agree with the church’s teaching. Governor Bill Richardson was influenced by Sheehan to oppose the death penalty and that helped abolish the practice in their great state of New Mexico.
In a very measured and thoughtful interview with NCR’s Tom Roberts, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, New Mexico had this to say about his fellow Bishops regardling relations with pro-choice politicians.
Sheehan said that in June he told his fellow bishops, “I don’t feel so badly about Obama going [to Notre Dame] because he’s our president. I said we’ve gotten more done on the pro-life issue in New Mexico by talking to people that don’t agree with us on everything. We got Governor Richardson to sign off on the abolition of the death penalty for New Mexico, which he was in favor of.”
Gov. Bill Richardson, in explaining why he reversed his long-standing support for the death penalty, said he was persuaded in part by discussions with church activists and with Sheehan.
“We talked to him, and we got him on board and got the support in the legislature,” Sheehan said. “But you know, he’s pro-abortion. So? It doesn’t mean we sit and wait, that we sit on the sides and not talk to him. We’ve done so much more by consultation and by building bridges in those areas. And then to make a big scene about Obama – I think a lot of the enemies of the church are delighted to see all that. And I said that I think we don’t want to isolate ourselves from the rest of America by our strong views on abortion and the other things. We need to be building bridges, not burning them.”
Asked if there were any other bishops who agreed with him, he said, “Of course, the majority.”
He was asked why none of the bishops who disagreed with the protests that dominated the news for weeks had spoken up.
“The bishops don’t want to have a battle in public with each other, but I think the majority of bishops in the country didn’t join in with that, would not be in agreement with that approach. It’s well intentioned, but we don’t lose our dignity by being strong in the belief that we have but also talking to others that don’t have our belief. We don’t lose our dignity by that,” he said.
“We’d be like the Amish, you know, kind of isolated from society, if we kept pulling back because of a single issue.”
He acknowledged the loudest voices were creating what appeared to be the Catholic position for the general public.
“Of course. I mean that’s always been the case,” he said. “That’s news, you know.”
He said that in speaking to the other bishops he wondered aloud what was so bad about inviting Obama and giving him a degree. “Last month,” said Sheehan, “the pope made the president of France an honorary canon of St. John Lateran’s — and he [President Nicolas Sarkozy] is pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, married invalidly to an actress, and the pope did that. It doesn’t seem that [the Vatican] had quite as big a concern about this matter of Obama and Notre Dame as some of us.”
Noting that the Vatican has consistently been more positive about Obama than some of the leading critics among the U.S. bishops, Sheehan said, “The Vatican is a little more diplomatically sensitive. But you’ve got to have the big picture.”
He also said given Obama’s association as a young man with priests and nuns during his time as a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side that the “issues of social justice that we teach and preach would resonate in his own work and in his own mind.”
If Sheehan disagreed with the tactics of some of his fellow bishops, he believes at least that Obama may have “a greater awareness now of how passionately and how deeply the church people feel” about abortion. “I think he probably had to come to grips with it in a way that, I suspect, has had a positive effect.”
He said the bishops might revisit a controversial statement on Catholic politicians but he said he opposes withholding communion based partly on the church’s own historic experience. Making reference to Giuseppi Garibaldi, who campaigned to unify Italy in the mid 1800s and who advocated abolition of the papacy, Sheehan said the church then said Catholics would be excommunicated or refused communion if they voted for him. “Well, it didn’t work.”
Excellent points and exactly my own perspective. I wish they had done this interview in April or May though.
Archbishop Sheehan is simply the man. And he had the coolest looking Pectoral Cross that I’ve ever seen.