By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 9, 2009 ( – The bevy of dissident Catholics appointed to leading positions in the Obama administration has swelled even further following President Obama's nomination of Alexia Kelley, a co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CAGC) and an ardent Obama supporter, to head the faith office at the Department of Health and Human Services. Voices on both sides of the abortion debate responded with criticism to news of the nomination: though claiming to reject abortion, Kelley has advocated in favor of “abortion reduction” techniques while treading carefully around the legality of the procedure.

Obama nominated Kelley this week to head the Health and Human Services department's Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships office, which coordinates the federal government's relations with, and funding of, faith-based organizations in health matters including “family planning” grants.

A former advisor to John Kerry's presidential campaign, Kelly and CACG are generally affiliated with the Democratic Party and promote “abortion reduction” tactics. Since its inception, CACG has alienated itself from pro-life Catholic conservatives by carving out what it calls a “middle ground” on the abortion issue, claiming that Catholics could support the more pro-abortion candidate in good conscience.

CACG clashed with pro-life Catholics soon after its inception when a 2006 CACG booklet titled “Voting for the Common Good: A Practical Guide for Conscientious Catholics” drew ire from Catholic leaders as it claimed that social justice issues, such as war and poverty, were on an even moral keel with abortion.

“Despite what Catholics in Alliance says, there is a moral hierarchy of issues, and as important as ending poverty is, it does not rival the right of a child to be born,” said Catholic League president Bill Donohue in criticizing Kelley's booklet. 

In 2004, when Pope Benedict XVI presided at the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pontiff stated that a Catholic would incur guilt of cooperation with the evil of abortion if he or she voted for a pro-abortion advocate without “proportionate reasons.” 

In the same document, “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,” Ratzinger noted that “not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia,” citing war and the death penalty as examples of less important issues. ”There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia,” Ratzinger wrote.

Archbishop Raymond Burke, the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, clarified the matter further in a November interview with “Inside the Vatican,” saying: “a good citizen must support and vote for the candidate who most supports the inalienable dignity of innocent and defenseless life, and the integrity of marriage.”

“To do otherwise, is to participate, in some way, in the culture of death which pervades the life of the nation and has led to so much violence,” he added.

Donohue pointed out that CACG urged the Senate to raise the minimum wage, while making no statement concerning the partial-birth abortion ban. The group has also been criticized by pro-lifers for supporting embryo-destructive stem-cell research.

“The best Catholics in Alliance can do is say it is opposed to abortion,” said Donohue. ”But it makes it painfully clear that it will never join any effort to ban any abortions, including partial-birth.”

Liberals and pro-abortion Catholic groups are also displeased with the nomination, decrying Kelley's lack of unequivocal support for abortion, and her acceptance of the Church's teaching against contraception. Catholics for Choice president Jon O'Brien criticized Kelley's leadership of CACG for focusing “on reducing the number of, not the need for, abortions.” 

Ironically similar to the complaints of pro-life Catholics, O'Brien warned against Kelley's equivocating approach to the abortion debate. 

“Rhetoric around 'finding common ground' (or common good, as Ms Kelley would have it) and 'reducing the need for abortion' has framed the abortion debate for the past few months,” said O'Brien. ”While this rhetoric and subsequent efforts may indeed help to move us past the culture wars over abortion and contraception, it is dangerous when these efforts devolve into an abandonment of ideals.”

Former president of Catholics for Choice Frances Kissling also lambasted the choice in a Salon article, expressing particular concern over Kelley's opposition to contraception. One of the few groups voicing support for the nomination was the “progressive” group Catholics United, who lauded Kelley's “common ground” ethos.

Discussing the quarrel over Kelley's selection in a column for Inside Catholic, Deal Hudson said many of Kelley's seemingly Catholic policies amounted to “lip service to Church teaching” maintained in order “to have any credibility as a Catholic organization.” 

Hudson noted “the delicate situation Kelley was required to navigate by leading a Catholic organization – with access to chanceries and parishes – which supported the Obama-Biden ticket.” ”Everything depended upon maintaining the illusion that Catholics in Alliance was against abortion while making the abortion reduction pitch to protect the Democratic ticket from pro-life criticism,” he said.

Hudson expressed doubt that Kelley was as “anti-abortion” as her left-leaning detractors claimed.

“O'Brien, [Frances] Kissling, and their comrades think Alexia Kelley is unsympathetic with their aims,” wrote Hudson. ”I hope they are right, but from my vantage point, the language they cite from Kelley and Catholics in Alliance was a political tactic to operate as a Catholic organization supporting the Democratic Party ticket – nothing more.”

See related coverage:

Obama Selects Yet another Pro-Abortion “Catholic” for Leading Office 

Editorial: A False Theology: Obama's Appeal to Faith Runs Contrary to Christian Faith


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