By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 6, 2009 ( – With the appointment of Leon Panetta as the new head of the CIA, president-elect Barack Obama has continued a trend of appointing pro-abortion “Catholics” to high-profile positions in his government. Some pro-life leaders fear that these highly public Catholic dissidents could deal a serious blow to the pro-life Catholic image in America.

Panetta, a practicing Catholic who teaches a course each year at the Jesuit-run Santa Clara University, accumulated a strong pro-abortion record as a California congressman, including co-sponsoring the Freedom of Choice Act in 1990.  During his run as Clinton’s Chief of Staff, he supported the president’s veto of the partial-birth abortion ban.

Panetta joins the ranks of a growing list of Catholics Obama picks who openly reject the Catholic Church’s pro-life teachings.  The highest-ranking among these is VP-elect Joe Biden, who on Meet the Press in 2007 incorrectly asserted that his pro-abortion position is allowed by Church teaching, a remark that incited a barrage of rebukes from dozens of U.S. bishops.  Biden’s bishop has, however, so far refused to formally excommunicate him, although the VP-elect is considered automatically excommunicated by virtue of his support for abortion.

Former Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle, who is preparing to take over as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama White House, is a professed Catholic who as a congressman tenaciously pursued and defended unrestricted abortion.  Demands for Daschle’s formal excommunication have also been denied so far, although according to an April 2003 article in the Weekly Standard he was informally ordered by his diocese to cease his public association with the Church.

Obama recently selected as the next DNC chairman Democratic Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Catholic who rejected the death penalty by invoking the Catholic belief that “life is sacred,” yet who supports Roe v. Wade for protecting the “personal liberty” to choose abortion.

Last month, Sen. Ken Salazar, another pro-abortion Catholic, was announced as Obama’s future Secretary of the Interior. The Democratic senator endorsed government funding for Planned Parenthood and voted against prohibiting minors from dodging abortion restrictions in their home state by obtaining abortions in neighboring states.

Though New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson recently refused his nomination as Commerce Secretary due to a looming corruption scandal, he was on track to rounding out Obama’s Cabinet as a Catholic who claims to be personally opposed to abortion despite being named a “Champion of Choice” by NARAL in 2007 for his efforts in spreading abortion.

Though some U.S. bishops have publicly denounced dissident Catholics, and corrected erroneous statements by Daschle and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi about Church teachings on life, few have said they would go so far as to deny communion to such politicians.  Many bishops, perhaps most notably Biden’s own, Bishop Malooly, have insisted that while they disagree with certain statements by the pro-abortion politicians, formal excommunication or refusal of communion, as required by Canon law, would only “politicize” the Eucharist.

Jim Hughes, president of the Campaign Life Coalition, told today that in his opinion the growing collection of dissident Catholics in the national spotlight is likely to harm the face of American Catholicism unless bishops take action to reclaim it.

“From the Canadian experience, it’s clear that having dissident Catholics in top leadership positions creates an atmosphere of dissent within the faith,” said Hughes.  “The only remedy is for the bishops to either excommunicate them or at the very least publicly refuse communion to them so as to communicate loud and clear that this anti-life Catholicism is simply unacceptable. The U.S. is now going to pay the price for too many years of silence on the part of the Catholic hierarchy.”


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