N.Y. Times Finds "Surging" Catholics on Immigration, "Strident" Catholics on Abortion

As a Catholic, I'm long used to finding the media has a chronic case of schizophrenia on the Catholic bishops conference: they are an oppressive caucus of Nosy Nates if they get involved on social issues like abortion, an emerging threat to the separation of church and state. But if they get involved on the liberal side of the divide -- as the American bishops did on nuclear weapons and economics in 1980s, or when they oppose capital punishment -- they're great moral authorities demonstrating a surge in public opinion. Clay Waters finds that case of the gymnastic splits again today at TimesWatch:

Reporter Nina Bernstein evidently caught the spirit of the weekend protests by illegal immigrants and their supporters in Los Angeles, judging by the positive tone of her Monday article, "In the Streets, Suddenly, An Immigrant Groundswell"....Bernstein gushes in the next sentence: "But if events of recent days hold true, they will be facing much more than that. Rallies in support of immigrants around the country have attracted crowds that have astonished even their organizers. More than a half-million demonstrators marched in Los Angeles on Saturday, as many as 300,000 in Chicago on March 10, and -- in between -- tens of thousands in Denver, Phoenix, Milwaukee and elsewhere..."

Supporters of the illegal immigrants outnumber opponents 7-1 in Bernstein's story, with Dan Stein of Federal for American Immigration Reform given a single blunt sentence of dissent compared to 14 sentences of quotes from pro-immigration sources.

The Times also gives a religious body credit for rallying the pro-illegal immigrant troops. "One of the most powerful institutions behind the wave of public protests has been the Roman Catholic Church, lending organizational muscle to a spreading network of grass-roots coalitions. In recent weeks, the church has unleashed an army of priests and parishioners to push for the legalization of the nation's illegal immigrants, sending thousands of postcards to members of Congress and thousands of parishioners into the streets."

[Bernstein's next paragraph begins: "The demonstrations embody a surging constituency demanding that illegal immigrants be given a path to citizenship rather than be punished with prison terms."]

But the Times coverage of Catholic officials taking political stances is far less favorable when it comes to the liberal cause of abortion. When some Catholic bishops condemned John Kerry's pro-abortion stance during the 2004 presidential campaign, reporter Ian Fisher suggested they were strident for doing so.

"But interviews with Vatican officials, many who did not want to be named, and experts who watch the church closely turn up a bottom line in which many Vatican officials seem to differ with hard-line American Catholics: while opposition to abortion is nonnegotiable for the church, that does not necessarily translate into uniform hope here that President Bush wins re-election….In recent weeks several conservative bishops in the United States have done just that, particularly over the issues of abortion and the use of embryonic stem cells for research. In public statements and published articles they have told parishioners that no other issues are as mportant in the election and that they should support the candidate who opposes abortion and stem-cell research. But other American bishops are less strident, urging parishioners simply to 'vote your conscience.'"

For more on John Kerry and the Catholic bishops, see my Special Report on religion news here.

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